Natural Foods Merchandiser

What's next in naturals

D.C. imposes plastic-bag fee
Due to a new city law, District of Columbia shoppers now pay a 5 cent fee for every plastic bag they receive from a food or alcohol retailer. Most of the money collected from the fee, the first of its kind in the country, will go toward cleaning up the city’s plastic bag-clogged Anacostia River.

What’s next: D.C. retailers report that a month after the fee was enacted, the use of plastic bags has been cut in half or more. While earlier bag-fee proposals were rejected in places like Seattle, New York City and Colorado, the D.C. program could be a turning point. Similar proposals are now being considered in the California, Maryland and Virginia legislatures, and Wal-Mart has launched a pilot program in several of its California stores where shoppers must pay 15 to 50 cents for each bag they need, with all bags being reusable.

What this means for retail: Natural retailers have been at the forefront of not using plastic bags for a long time. Here are some of the creative solutions natural stores and organizations have come up with: bag-recycling drives launched at local schools, empty shipping boxes available for those who forget their own bags and car-window decals reminding folks to throw their reusable bags in the trunk before heading to the store.

Grocery price comparison website launches, a new North Carolina-based website, allows consumers to compare store product prices from East Coast, Midwest and Southern grocery chains, including Harris Teeter, Lowes Foods, Piggly Wiggly, A&P, The Fresh Market and ShopRite. The site also offers coupons, promotions and nutrition information.

What’s next: representatives say they’re hoping to expand nationwide, develop a section of their website for natural products and eventually include prices from natural products stores.

What this means for retail: Comparison shopping is becoming ever easier, whether retailers like it or not. So instead of writing off price-comparison programs as a disadvantage for small retailers who can’t compete cost-wise with large chains, take advantage of this new advertising venue. Partner with price-comparison sites to spread the word about your deals and promotions, and when tech-savvy shoppers tell you they used such programs to find a better price at your competitor, be willing to meet or beat it.

British government calls for carbon footprint labels
As part of new food regulations, the British government is requesting that supermarket brands include “carbon reduction labels” on their products that display carbon dioxide amounts produced through manufacturing, packaging and transportation. Leading brands, including Tesco and PepsiCo, already use the voluntary label on their products.

What’s next: As environmental groups push to make the British carbon emission labels mandatory, similar programs are taking root in the United States. In California, legislators are considering a voluntary carbon-footprint verification and labeling system for consumer goods, and Wal-Mart is working on a green rating system for its products that would take into account carbon emissions. Several U.S. goods, including Tropicana Pure Premium Orange Juice and Stalk Market compostable products, now sport the carbon-footprint label developed by Carbon Trust, a certification company supported by the British government.

What this means for retail: There is still much debate about the accuracy and utility of carbon-footprint labels. But one thing is for sure: They’re hot. A Carbon Trust survey found that nearly two-thirds of United Kingdom consumers were more likely to buy a product that’s associated with carbon-reduction efforts. So get ready to highlight brands hitting U.S. shelves with such labels and ramp up store environmental efforts to show interested customers your eco-dedication.

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