Natural Foods Merchandiser

What's next in naturals: oil spill, NPA, perennial grains

Gulf spill focuses attention on seafood
There’s no question that the millions of gallons of oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico is a horrific tragedy. However, one side effect of the spill is that it’s leading consumers and retailers to reevaluate what’s in the seafood case and is encouraging more sustainable consumption. “If there is a silver lining to this incredibly vast cloud, it is that it’s shedding a little light on our exploitation of the world’s oceans and our never-ending quest for seafood,” says Casson Trenor, who heads Greenpeace’s seafood campaign. “It’s highlighted the fact that we use our ocean for so many things, and if we’re not careful, the impacts from a careless move can be felt across every industry.” In the past year, Greenpeace has been pushing Costco to implement a more comprehensive sustainable seafood policy, and Target, Safeway and Publix have launched new sustainable-seafood initiatives at their stores.

What’s next: Most consumers don’t realize that the Gulf supplies only about 2 percent of America’s seafood, says Gavin Gibbons, spokesman for The National Fisheries Institute. So while Gulf shrimp and oysters are becoming scarcer and pricier, Gibbons says the retail impact of the disaster has been largely mitigated by the diversity of the country’s seafood supply. Still, as the seafood market continues to grow, Gibbons says suppliers will rely on better sustainable management of wild-captured stocks to meet demand.

What this means for retail: Retailers need to be smart about sourcing, Gibbons says. “Sourcing should be a sustainable initiative, not a public relations initiative. If retailers understand responsible management equals sustainability, they are going to be in good shape.” For example, Publix’s new seafood grading system isn’t just a marketing gimmick; the retailer ranks 300-plus items on environmental standards and vows to stop working with suppliers who aren’t up to par.

NPA requires fragrances to be 100 percent natural

As of Sept. 1, the Natural Products Association has ruled that all products submitted for certification under its 2-year-old Natural Standard for Personal Care Products must contain only all-natural fragrances, thereby eliminating synthetic fragrance elements made with petrochemical solvents that previously had been allowed.

What’s next: “I would say every brand will be affected by this,” says Daniel Fabricant, PhD, NPA’s vice president of global government and scientific affairs. “Any firm positioning themselves as a natural brand will need to be able to address whether or not their fragrances are indeed natural.” The good news, says Fabricant, is that enough new natural ingredients and techniques have been developed to make the transition fairly painless. For example, many brands already use natural mint fragrances rather than synthetic versions, and essential oil blends are being developed that recreate ever more complex fragrances.

What this means for retail: The NPA can’t ask stores to pull personal care products that don’t comply with the natural standard. But Fabricant does encourage retailers to ask manufacturers if their products are going through the certification program and, if not, why. “Retailers should ask themselves how the manufacturers they’re putting on their store shelves are committed to the greater good,” he says. He also suggests retailers help educate consumers about natural fragrances by pointing them to the NPA’s website,, as well as the Environmental Working Group’s cosmetic safety list,

Perennial grains pick up speed
As concerns grow about the environmental impact of conventional agricultural methods, excitement is growing about perennial grains—crops such as wheat and corn being developed that don’t need to be planted every year, and therefore provide a variety of benefits, from reducing erosion and cutting down water needs to requiring less farm equipment and fewer herbicides.

What’s next: Perennial grains could bring huge benefits for organic farmers, says Ted Quaday, communications director for the Organic Farming Research Foundation, because the crops, which would reseed automatically, would no longer force farmers to expend significant amounts of fossil fuels and degrade the soil by tilling their fields every year. “You can allow nature to take its course, which is really what organic farming aspires to do,” Quaday says. While 10 of the 13 main grain crops have a perennial cousin ripe for development, viable perennial-grain crops won’t be field-ready for at least 10 or 15 years, says Ken Warren, managing director at the Salina, Kan.-based Land Institute, which has already spent decades working on the concept. That said, Warren says work is picking up steam: Researchers around the world are developing perennial alternatives for everything from rice to wheat to sunflowers.

What this means for retail: While perennial grains won’t be hitting the shelves anytime soon, retailers can support agricultural operations that are moving toward more sustainable practices, says Warren. “We need to start living and eating as if the future matters.”

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.