Whole Foods Market was born on September 20, 1980 in Austin, Texas, the product of a merger between two small local grocers. The store was committed to organic, safe products and quickly developed a dedicated following in liberal Austin. Within four years, satellite Whole Foods locations opened in other Texas cities, and by 1989 had made it west to California. During the 1990s, the chain grew rapidly by buying out many smaller, more regional natural and organic food chains, including Bread & Circus in New England and Fresh Fields Markets on the East Coast and in the Midwest. In 1999, less than twenty years since opening the first store in Austin, the 100th Whole Foods Market was opened in Torrance, California.

In the 2000s, Whole Foods has continued to acquire more stores and chains, including the controversial purchase of the national (U.S.) chain Wild Oats, which raised antitrust (monopoly) concerns. The grocer also developed its own line of products, 365 Everyday Value, their version of a generic line. In 2002, Whole Foods opened its first store outside of the U.S., in Toronto, Canada. The next year, Whole Foods became the first national (U.S.) "certified organic" grocer. In 2004, the grocer began its journey into the United Kingdom, with plans calling for having up to 40 states in the nation eventually.

Whole Foods gained much national attention on April 22, 2008 – Earth Day – by becoming the first national chain to refuse to use plastic grocery bags any longer. All bags now must be made of 100% recycled paper, or customers must bring in their own reusable bags. Reusable bags sold by Whole Foods have become something of a fashion statement in the current "green" craze in the U.S. and abroad, and customers who reuse the bags receive refunds of 5-10 cents (USD) with each purchase.

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