6 natural businesses boosting the economy

6 natural businesses boosting the economy

Layoffs and cutbacks—this is the reality for many major corporations around the world as the economy struggles to recover. Despite this, the spotlight's shining on natural businesses as they expand and make a difference on a local and national level.

The steady drumbeat of layoffs and cutbacks continues for major corporations across the world as they look to revive profitability in a still sluggish global economy. Consumer packaged goods (CPG) giant Procter & Gamble announced in February 2012 that it planned to lay off 1,600 employees in various roles as it shifts more of its budget towards digital marketing.

Likewise, packaged foods maker Kraft Foods—which announced last year that it would split into two separate companies—plans to lay off 1,600 North American workers through 2012. And, taking the cake, PepsiCo—which forecasts diminished earnings this year as commodity and material costs rise—announced this month that it will cut 8,700 jobs globally through 2012 and will put more money into domestic advertising for its soft drinks.

But on a brighter note, natural products and nutrition companies—benefiting from a high-growth market and steadily increasing consumer demand—are picking up some of the slack left by large-scale cutbacks by opening up new job opportunities and giving back to their communities.

Here are six companies making a difference in their local economies and beyond.

Natural businesses expand, give and thrive in economic downturn

NOW Foods' and Chobani's new digs

In the manufacturing sector, NOW Foods and Chobani both have new facilities slated to open this year. NOW Foods has a 130,000-square-foot manufacturing center set to be up and running by the fourth quarter of 2012. Located in northern Nevada, the plant will create 100 new jobs for the area.

And Chobani—the Greek yogurt that has quickly risen to become the No. 1 brand in the United States—recently broke ground on a 940,000-square-foot facility in Twin Falls, Idaho. Production is expected to start in the second half of 2012 and should open up 400 new jobs.

While these new job openings may be small beer in comparison to the raft of jobs lost at larger food and consumer products companies, growth of the nutrition industry is expected to fast outpace growth of overall U.S. GDP in coming years, potentially paving the way for future employment growth. According to data from Nutrition Business Journal’s soon-to-be-published 2012 Global Supplement & Nutrition Industry Report, the U.S. nutrition industry is slated to grow at an average of 7 percent per year through 2017.

BrightFarms' hyper-local food

It's official: There's finally proof of local food's financial staying power. The USDA reported in November that farmers earned nearly $5 billion in 2008 from local food.

Capitalizing on this boom is BrightFarms, a New York-based non-profit that started building greenhouses on the roofs of urban schools and affordable housing developments. The organization is now partnering with grocers. The goal: super-local produce that cuts out the middleman, saving retailers and consumers money. McCaffrey's Markets in New Jersey and Pennsylvania signed on in October, and promises its produce will be on shelves within 24 hours of harvesting. Talk about reducing one's carbon footprint and keeping things local.

KIND Healthy Snacks' KIND mission

KIND Healthy Snacks is a natural foods company that makes bars and grain mixes, but founder Daniel Lubetzky has a mission that's even more transparent than his snacks' packaging. The Do the KIND Thing campaign, which launched last year, has inspired more than 175,000 acts of kindness and benefited the lives of more than a half a million people in need. How it works: People take part in monthly KIND challenges, such as thanking their local volunteer firefighter, and if enough people complete the challenge, then KIND will respond with a BIG KIND Act for a larger group of volunteers.

At Natural Products Expo West 2012, the team is launching their KINDspotting program. Throughout the show, those wearing KIND t-shirts or spotted doing a random act of kindness, will be entered to win a chance to create their own BIG KIND Act with the company—one that gives back to a cause of their choice.

Tom's of Maine's smile support

Natural personal care company Tom's of Maine doesn't just sell toothpaste—its Dental Health for All campaign supports community organizations that provide dental care to the uninsured and people who would otherwise go without basic dental care. As healthcare costs rise, and healthcare professionals get paid less, funding such as this becomes even more important for America's long-term health.

So far, $1 million has been provided to more than 35 dental clinics, adding an additional 200,000 annual patient visits and giving away 238,000 tubes of free toothpaste. This year, dental clinics in states with the highest percentage of the population living below the poverty level (Alabama, Kentucky, New Mexico, Mississippi and Washington, D.C.) could apply for a portion of $100,000 in funding. Winners will be announced in April.

VAXA International's free gift to retailers

Who doesn't like free stuff? In a sluggish economy, freebies seem even harder to come by, especially for businesses. Last year, homeopathic medicinals and dietary supplements manufacturer VAXA International took an unexpected approach to giveaways. To help its retailer customers attract new business, VAXA provided countertop displays, educational materials and allowed retailers to choose (for free!) one new product they weren't currently carrying.  Some $30,000 in new retail sales landed directly in retailers' bank accounts.

What natural companies did we miss in this list? Share in the comments.

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