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Executive Insights: Shahe Manoukian


As many organic and natural foods purveyors will tell you, high-priced produce doesn’t often make it on the grocery lists of cash-strapped consumers under 30. Last month, Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods Market Inc. announced its plan to launch a sister chain of lower-cost, separately branded stores across the country in an effort to target millennials and combat the retailer’s pricey reputation.

According to Shahe Manoukian, global director of data mining and category analytics, Whole Foods made the decision after analyzing in-store purchase patterns and competitor data, as well as millennial shopping behaviors. The effort is just one result of the company’s overall data and analytics strategy, in which Manoukian and his team work to funnel product- and consumer-oriented insights to individual stores.

Marketing News recently caught up with Manoukian to learn how Whole Foods is using data to inform product choices, and the importance of internal relationship building.

Q: Tell me about Whole Foods’ overall insights and analytics strategy.

A: We’re trying to help our [store] operators analyze products or programs and pick more winners than losers, and take into account that a lot of what we’re selling is art, which is the human experience. You can go anywhere and buy chocolate milk or cereal, but there’s something additional to the experience that people are getting out of it [at Whole Foods]. …

We’re coding data to analyze and go beyond basic features of an item: It isn’t just gluten-free or organic, or a customer isn’t just 34 and lives in this area with this income. We’re trying to get into the experience of that product to capture the brand positioning, the flavor profile—sort of like a sommelier for wine but applying that across the store for customers. We don’t just want to know that they buy organic, but why: Because it’s sustainable? Taste? They think it’s healthier?

They might be price sensitive but in different ways. They might be a wealthy person who just loves getting great values versus a mission-driven [customer] who buys into the sustainability and community giving that Whole Foods does. … The first insight just starts the conversation. [We’re] trying to deliver a great experience for customers by getting in their heads.

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