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Denis Ring ’84 Discusses the Business of Organic Food

Dennis Ring ’84, the CEO of consulting firm Bode International, which provides marketing services in the natural/organic food industry, recently spoke to students about the industry and the story behind how Whole Foods came to launch its store brand.

When Ring met Whole Foods CEO John Mackey in 1997, the national retailer had a problem that Ring said he could fix with his team.

Whole Foods was facing stiff competition from Trader Joe's, which had a popular inexpensive store brand. After negotiations with Mackey, Ring, then an independent consultant, signed a contract with the health-conscious chain and went about creating 365 Everyday Value, now Whole Foods' hugely popular store brand.

Ring’s team had complete authority over the new line, including its products, sourcing, and branding, right down to the package design and logo.

From the outset, Ring said he wanted 365 to stand alongside premium labels as an “unapologetic store brand,” in contrast to the many store brands that present themselves as inferior discount products. “What I wanted above all was beauty and an emotional connection with the customer,” Ring said. “I wanted people to feel good about having it in their house.”

Ring spent five years at Whole Foods, serving as vice president for corporate brands and was appointed to the National Leadership Team. In 2004, he launched Bode International. He helped to create the Safeway O Organics line and worked with retailers that include Target, Costco, HEB, and others. He recently launched the organic candy bar startup OCHO, which is retailing at Whole Foods markets and several other retailers up and down the West Coast.

Ring advised students interested in the grocery retailing industry to employ an entrepreneurial approach that addresses the industry's most challenging issues. “Trust in your ability to solve problems and trust in your intelligence,” Ring said. “Start with a smaller, interesting company that has enough mojo to be able to branch out into other product lines.”