Natural Foods Merchandiser

Naturals industry unites to aid hurricane survivors

The natural products industry has rallied to provide relief to those affected by Hurricane Katrina's devastation in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. And everyone from the largest supernatural stores to the smallest retailer was deeply affected.

Claudia Dumestre, owner of Eve's Market in uptown New Orleans, left Sunday before the hurricane hit. She showed up at the home of Cindy Greene, president of Newmarket Sales Associates in Little Rock, Ark., expecting to stay for just a few days, until the news reports came in detailing the total devastation. "They own the property there, so they're going to at least have a viable piece of property that other people won't have," Greene said of her friend. In Arkansas, which is taking in 100,000 evacuees, the response by local businesses has been overwhelming, offering everything from free lunches to free tours of the Clinton Library for evacuees. Greene is teaming up with a local restaurateur, Peter Brave of Brave New Restaurant, to host a benefit featuring performances by local musicians. "Fifty dollars a ticket, 400 people, we hope to raise 20 grand just like that," she said. "We?re an awfully poor state to take an extra 100,000 people all at once—people who have nothing. But it?s what you have to do."

Many others in the natural products industry are heeding the same call. Trinity Springs and BIOTA are donating bottled spring water to survivors of what is being called the worst natural disaster since the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. "One of the biggest dangers after a natural disaster is contamination of local water supplies, which puts residents at risk for disease," said Andy Mitchell, president of Boise, Idaho, based Trinity Springs. Indeed, Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt declared a state of emergency Aug. 31 for the entire Gulf region. "We are gravely concerned about the potential for cholera, typhoid and dehydrating diseases that can come as a result of the stagnant water and conditions," Leavitt said. Other experts cited concerns about hepatitis A as a result of sewage contaminating the water. Trinity Springs is donating 27,000 liters of water, in the form of 1.5 liter bottles. Idaho National Guard members will deliver the shipment to the National Guard members in Louisiana and Mississippi, who will distribute it to the community.

Likewise, BIOTA, headquartered in Telluride, Colo., is distributing 121,000 gallons of its Colorado Pure Rocky Mountain Spring Water to the victims. The seven semi-trucks used to deliver the biodegradable bottles of water are being underwritten by the Pensacola, Fla., law firm of Kerrigan, Estess, Rankin, McLeod & Thompson. Primo Water, based in Winston-Salem, N.C., is donating 8,800 5-gallon bottles of water.

Nature?s Path is shipping more than 100,000 boxes of products—nearly half a million portions—to Waco, Texas, where they will be distributed by the military. Nature's Path manufactures organic breakfast and snack foods.

Vitamin Angel Alliance has begun consolidating multiple vitamins and children's chewable vitamins to stave off malnutrition and lessen the likelihood of opportunistic infections and disease. "We're all in this together," said Howard Schiffer, president of the nonprofit organization, which provides nutritional support to undernourished children throughout the world. "Our neighbors need us and we will be there for them. Living in Miami, we know firsthand what they are going through," said Anthony Alfonso, president of Nutri-Force Nutrition, which is donating product to the alliance. NOW Foods, Pharmachem Laboratories, Hero Nutritionals, Rainbow Light Nutrient Systems, Healthy Horizons, Mason Vitamins and Pro Health are also participating. Vitamin Angel is working with other relief organizations, churches and emergency personnel to consolidate vitamin shipments and began trucking them last week.

Wild Oats Markets, based in Boulder, Colo., will accept donations at the register throughout September. The program will run at all Wild Oats, Henry?s Farmers Markets, Sun Harvest and Caper?s Community Markets stores throughout the United States and Canada. All money collected will be donated to the American Red Cross Hurricane 2005 Relief Fund.

Whole Foods Market, which had three stores in Louisiana and five in South Florida, is letting consumers add donations to the Red Cross to their checkout totals at stores throughout the country. Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods will match donations up to a total of $1 million. It also has established an internal relief fund and is guaranteeing affected team members jobs at other store locations. The Austin, Texas-based supernatural expects that its two stores in New Orleans and Metaire, La., "have suffered severe wind and water damage resulting in significant structural damage as well as a complete loss of inventory." Its other affected stores in the Gulf Coast region have since reopened. The company anticipates a sales impact of $5 million to $6 million in the fourth quarter, which ends Sept. 25.

The National Nutritional Foods Association launched the NNFA Retailer Relief Fund. "We want to do everything we can to help the victims … whether they're everyday citizens or fellow natural products businesses," said NNFA Executive Director David Seckman. "Let me emphasize that 100 percent of these donations will go directly to the relief agencies or retail stores." NNFA will accept donations directly (see below) and at specially marked bins at Natural Products Expo East 2005, Sept. 15-18 in Washington, D.C. A meter board highlighting the relief efforts of naturals companies will be displayed at Expo.

To donate:

NNFA Retailer Relief Fund: Make checks payable to the Natural Products Foundation. Donors may indicate whether funds should go to NNFA Retailer Relief, American Red Cross or Salvation Army. Mail to: Natural Products Foundation, c/o NNFA, 2112 E. Fourth ST., Suite 200, Santa Ana, CA 92705.

Vitamin Angel Alliance: Donate cash or product through the Web site at Retailers can distribute 'We Support Vitamin Angels' cards at their registers. Customer can donate $1, $5, or $10 with a UPC scan. Mail cash donations to VAA, 1450 Orange Grove Ave., Santa Barbara, CA 93105

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