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Articles from 2014 In January

3 trends in brand storytelling

What are top natural and even mainstream CPG manufacturers doing to share their stories in more ways and with more customers? We asked an expert. Jennifer Jones, design strategy at Sterling-Rice Group, outlines three major branding trends that are increasing companies’ presence in consumers’ everyday lives and ultimately leading to higher sales. These are good, so take notes!  

Natural Foods Merchandiser

Natural foods stores take varied approaches to GMO labeling

Natural foods stores take varied approaches to GMO labeling

Just a few years ago, a retailer taking a stand against genetically modified foods was considered avant-garde. Many store owners didn’t fully understand the depth of genetic modification, nor did they know how to guarantee their products were GMO free because GM crops can contaminate nearby organic operations as their seeds travel.

These days, however, the non-GMO revolution has caught fire. Even though ballot measures that would have required labeling of GM foods failed recently in both California and Washington, these initiatives drew the issue into the national spotlight. Whole Foods Market announced at Natural Products Expo West last March that it would label all GM foods in its stores by 2018. It also helps that the Non-GMO Project, an independent verification system launched by two natural food retailers in 2005, has gained major industry presence, having verified more than 13,000 products—and counting.

“We are seeing a tipping point, for sure,” says Corinne Shindelar, CEO of the Independent Natural Food Retailers Association. “The industry is rallying around this issue in a way we haven’t seen since it worked on establishing organic certification. It’s exciting.”

Around the country, natural retailers are addressing GMOs in a variety of ways, from making small-scale product selection tweaks to taking major political stands to hiring in-store GMO researchers. What’s the best tactic for you? Here’s a breakdown of approaches.

Baby steps

Chris Burkheimer

In 2012, Healthy Living Market in Burlington, Vt., began favoring non-GMO verified foods over GM and nonorganic options in its stocking decisions and promoting non-GMO products on endcap displays and shelf runners. But so far the 30,000-square-foot store, which has a diverse clientele with many crossover consumers, hasn’t adopted a strict GMO policy.

“We are a clean store, but not a completely non-GMO store,” says Chris Burkheimer, lead grocery buyer. “As much as many of us want everything to be non-GMO, there are still a lot of people who are not ready for that yet. We need to take baby steps. I think this is the way we’ll get to non-GMO with all of our foods.”

Non-GMO merchandising and promotional endeavors are a great way to begin the transition to non-GMO, says Chris Keefe, retailer program manager at the Non-GMO Project, especially since his organization provides free UPC data to help retailers track sales of Non-GMO Project Verified products during such promotions.

“Use shelf-tagging, signage and endcaps focused on verified products to help customers take ownership of the issue,” he suggests. “By supporting your customers in making non-GMO choices, you help them choose products they can trust, while making the transition financially positive for your business.”


In-store GMO researcher

In October 2012, Nature’s Food Patch Market & Café in Clearwater, Fla., took matters into its own hands and hired Patience Melton as its full-time GMO researcher. Along with educating her co-workers, demoing non-GMO products and responding to customer questions about the issue, Melton is tasked with researching each product in the store and verifying that all at-risk ingredients are free of genetic modification. If a product’s ingredients aren’t verified by the Non-GMO Project, she contacts the company and asks if it can provide documentation to prove its ingredients are GMO free or that it’s working on becoming non-GMO. “If they are not concerned with GMOs, I let them know they will be marked as GMO on our shelves and that we will eventually pull them,” Melton says.

And if she can’t find a company’s phone number or email address? “At that point, social media sites such as Facebook are very useful,” Melton says. “Companies want to show customers that they care, so when you ask a public question about GMOs, you get an almost automatic response.” Melton admits it’s not easy confronting brands about their GMO policies. “But you can always vote with your dollars with these companies,” she advises. “When you vote with your dollars, they will listen to you.”


Highlighting GM foods

Mark Squire

Over the past five years, Good Earth Natural Foods in Fairfax, Calif., has developed an increasingly strict non-GMO policy, and owner Mark Squire estimates there are only a couple dozen products left on its shelves that are at risk of containing GMOs. For those, the store has developed special labeling. “We put stickers up that say, this product may contain GMO ingredients, and we are only selling it because there are no alternatives,” Squire says.

Some retailers might think they’re sending mixed messages by keeping and labeling GM products, says INFRA’s Shindelar. But in reality, “you are allowing the customer to make informed decisions about the products on your shelves,” she says. As an example, Shindelar points to the FishWise labeling program, which identifies the sustainability levels of various kinds of seafood. The information has discouraged many shoppers from choosing less-sustainable options.

Squire has seen the same results from his GM labeling program. “Sales of these products shrank immediately, and we are fine with that,” he says. “If the customer has all the information and makes a different choice, that’s a positive thing.”


Going GMO free

For several years, the five-store San Diego natural food chain Jimbo’s Naturally has refused to bring in new products that contain at-risk ingredients if they’re not non-GMO verified, and it has stopped promoting GM products already on its shelves. Now the stores are down to just a few GM holdouts, and owner Jimbo Someck says the operation is taking the final step. “As we go through each category, we are starting to eliminate those products that have been grandfathered in, if we have a suitable replacement,” he says. As for the others, he hopes to eliminate most, if not all of them, over the next year. (Supplements aren’t included in the stores’ non-GMO policy because “it doesn’t appear that there is enough transparency yet in that realm for us to make decisions on it,” Someck says.)

Instead of pushing customers away, Someck believes the policy has actually increased store loyalty. “What this has done, even though it wasn’t intended, is build up a lot of loyalty in our stance and what we believe in,” he says.

Making a major move like this takes a bit of work, Someck warns. “It doesn’t make sense to take this stand without first educating your staff and your customers,” he says. Plus, he recommends some major soul searching. “Recognize who you are personally and as an organization,” Someck advises. “I didn’t make this stand because I thought it was going to be financially successful. I did it because that’s who we are. If you have a large crossover business and carry a lot of conventional products, unless you have personal investment in non-GMO, I wouldn’t encourage you to take this stand.”

No new at-risk products

Last March, Dean Nelson, owner of Dean’s Natural Food Market in Ocean Township and Shrewsbury, N.J., set a new policy: Current products are grandfathered in, but no new products containing ingredients at high risk of being genetically engineered, such as corn, soy, canola, rice or alfalfa, could be introduced in the stores unless those products were Non-GMO Project Verified. “It was tremendous for our image,” Nelson says. “We had more action on our Facebook page around that issue than anything else we have ever done.”

Nelson expects his stores will eventually discontinue the at-risk-ingredient products already on their shelves, but he admits it’s a “slow process.” In the meantime, his current policy is a clear point of differentiation from other area retailers, says Nelson, and has inspired some vendors to get their products Non-GMO Project Verified. Finally, his buyers’ jobs have become easier. “It eliminates this whole category of foods that sales reps and brokers want to get in here,” he says. “Now we just say, ‘If it’s not Non-GMO Project Verified, it can’t come in.’ That’s actually been a blessing.”


Political screening

David Hinckle, owner of Earthbeam Natural Foods in Burlingame, Calif., helped get the state’s GMO labeling initiative, Proposition 37, on the ballot in 2012. And when the issue failed at the polls after its opponents mounted a multimillion-dollar marketing campaign, “I took a pretty drastic step,” Hinckle says. His store will not only be entirely organic and non-GMO by Aug. 1, 2014, but also will no longer carry any brands owned by the major food corporations that fought the initiative. This includes Cascadian Farms (owned by General Mills), Kashi (Kellogg), Back to Nature (Kraft), Dagoba (Hershey), R.W. Knudsen (J.M. Smucker), Honest Tea (Coca-Cola), Seeds of Change (Mars) and Arrowhead Mountain Spring Water (Nestlé).

“These brands are good, and the companies are probably good,” Hinckle says. “But as for the larger companies that bought these companies for a larger share of the natural food market, it’s apparent their hearts aren’t really in it.” He says 95 percent of his customers have been supportive: “The main reaction has been, ‘I am glad you are looking out for me.’”

But ultimately, Hinckle made this decision because of his personal beliefs. “For me, the GMO issue is the issue of the century,” he says. “I am 56 years old, and I’ve been reinvigorated by this issue. I really think it surpassed all with regard to sustainability.”

Should new brands do Natural Products Expo?

Every startup natural food, beverage or supplement company hopes their Expo West or East experience will yield zillions of orders and instant return on investment. If that happens, sweet! But it might not. And in reality, immediately equaling out the balance sheet is not the reason why new brands should attend these trade shows. David Simnick, cofounder and CEO of SoapBox, explains the myriad not-so-obvious benefits that only an industry event of this magnitude can bring to your natural company.

NPA president outlines industry challenges in 2014

NPA president outlines industry challenges in 2014

Natural products have a major economic impact on consumer choices, from foods and supplements to household and personal care products, making our industry more visible than ever before. We’re beginning to see the potential for some serious roadblocks in 2014, and it’s important that we act now to control the direction of our future; ensure consumers continue to have access to healthy natural products; and preserve the rights of suppliers and retailers to sell them.

The rapid growth of the natural products industry is attracting the attention of influential forces that are putting pressure on federal regulators to change the definition of natural in a way that would not serve the best interests of natural products industry stakeholders or consumers. What’s more, at the end of last year, a surge of negative reports in the mainstream media regarding nutritional supplements has the potential to increase pressure on politicians to reopen the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), and create costly new regulations that reduce access to legitimate natural products.

Now is the time for us to tell our powerful, positive story. Please join me in helping shape our future by making sure NPA is focused on the issues most important to you. Ensure we hear your voice by taking an important survey that NPA has developed to capture your thoughts on these matters. We are looking for very valuable input from all industry retailers and suppliers, both NPA members and non-members. Please note the survey closes Friday, Feb. 14. We appreciate all you do for the natural products industry, and can’t wait to hear what you have to say.

NPA survey for member retailers can be found here.

NPA survey for member suppliers can be found here.

NPA survey for non-member retailers can be found here.

NPA survey for non-member suppliers can be found here.


Roxanne Green is the new president of the Natural Products Association and HBC coordinator at PCC Natural Markets in Seattle.

Norwegian Minister of Fisheries visits Denomega

Norwegian Minister of Fisheries visits Denomega

Norwegian Minister of Fisheries, Elisabeth Aspaker, visited Denomega’s marine oil factory in Ålesund, Norway. There she had the opportunity to hear about how Denomega’s taste-and-odor-free omega-3 oils are used in functional foods and food supplements, and to taste the oils and various foods made with the oils.

Aspaker was impressed with how the company has managed to create such a good-tasting fish oil product. The minister and her delegation visited Denomega in order to better understand how top marine ingredient companies are working with, among other things, innovation.  At Denomega they learned how the factory produces the unique taste-and-odor-free omega-3 oil.

“We were very pleased to have the minister here. She had a chance to see how we use ultra-fresh fish to create a healthy oil that can be used in many foods, beverages and supplements. Functional foods is a relatively new and interesting area in the omega-3 industry,” said Finn Giske, factory manager at Denomega in Ålesund.

“Denomega is active internationally and has our largest customers in the U.S. and Europe. The factory in Ålesund was established in 2008 and produces primarily oil from cod, salmon and trout. Over the past year, we have also worked to get taste-and-odor-free oil from herring and capelin—with good results!”

“The secret is local, ultra-fresh raw materials, unique processing which is quick, thorough and gentle and specialized equipment. Last year, Denomega received the prestigious ”iTQi Superior Taste Award” for the taste and quality of our cod liver, salmon and fish oils,” Giske said.

Get to know the halal market

Asma Ahad will talk about Halal Certification at Natural Products Expo West

More than one-fifth of the world’s consumers eat halal food products. This isn’t something new; Muslims have been following halal dietary standards for centuries. What's new today is that food companies realize the huge market for halal products and are leveraging halal certification to gain market share. Thomson Reuters 2013 Report, ‘State Of The Global Islamic Economy,’ estimates today’s global halal market tops $1.1 trillion. This includes pharmaceuticals, nutritional supplements, personal care and cosmetic products, in addition to food. Thomas Reuters predict the halal market will grow to $1.6 trillion by 2018. In other words, the global halal food market is larger than the food consumption of China.

Expo West appearance
The Specialty Diets Workshop
Thursday, March 6
8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Anaheim Marriott,
Platinum Ballrooms 2 & 3

Whether they are selling steaks, sweet teas, baby formulas or geriatric multivitamins, companies have been working hard to make sure their products and formulations meet the requirements for halal certification. Natural Products Expo West is helping companies compete in the halal marketplace by featuring halal education in its Specialty Diets Workshop on March 6. In the meantime, here’s what you need to know about this growing market segment.

Why Halal?

Muslim consumers drive halal certified product demand and represent a huge population. The Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life estimates Muslims at 1.6 billion or 23 percent of the world’s population. They are also the fastest growing consumer segment in the world with an annual growth rate of 1.5 percent. Overall, halal makes up to 16.6 percent of global food expenditures. Whether you are a distributor or a retail buyer, learning how to market halal products and connecting with Muslim consumers is crucial. These shoppers are hungry for more halal options – from frozen food to oral hygiene items – that meet their unique dietary needs. A full 87 percent of Muslims consider religion ‘very important’. Plus, many halal values - such as humane treatment of animals and proper care of one’s body with pure foods - naturally overlap with emerging ethically-minded consumer values. 

So How Do You Get Your Share of the Growth?

It’s really no different than entering any other new market:

  • Learn the requirements for producing halal products.
  • Determine if any processing changes are needed to meet those requirements.
  • Research marketing programs to connect your product with halal consumers.

This will give you a clear picture of whether halal production is an opportunity for you. A competent global halal certifier can help you with this assessment.

A Quick Review of Halal

Halal is the dietary standard prescribed for Muslims. The rules are simple. Everything is halal except for a few items, such as:

  • Pork and pork by-product
  • Alcoholic beverages and intoxicants.
  • A few other items such as blood, carnivorous animals, and carrion.

In addition, any meat or poultry product must be processed using halal procedures.

Why the Need for Certification?

It is difficult for any manufacturer to navigate complex global supply chains without technical expertise. Third-party halal certification is a critical component to earn consumer trust. Competent halal certification examines additives, processing aids, lubricants, packaging and sanitation chemicals, as well as raw materials and processing methods, in order to determine if a product meets halal requirements. For suppliers and retailers, halal certification helps consumers verify product claims, which in turn, translates into sales. Overall, consumers trust certified products more, believing that an independent pair of eyes offers extra scrutiny.

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Asma Ahad is the marketing director of the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America. She has worked with Costco, ARAMARK, FNCE, Research Chefs Association, the Food Export Association and Kraft Foods. She initiated and lead Kraft's Muslim Marketing initiative.

Celling the impact of nutrients

Celling the impact of nutrients

Bioengineered Powerbars? Not just yet. But the possibility became a bit more likely this week. Nestle announced a partnership with a biotech firm to study how different nutrients impact human cells with hopes of better understanding the relationship between diet and disease. The Wall Street Journal reports that the food behemoth's teamed up with Wisconsin-based Cellular Dynamics International (CDI).

CDI grows huge quantities of human cells for research efforts (and you thought Wisconsin just made cheese!). Nestle scientists will examine exactly how nutritionally enhanced drinks, smoothies and other products can have medical benefits, reports TIME. The Journal reports that Nestle scientists have already started studies of CDI nerve cells to determine how the fatty acid from avocados and olive oil affects them.

Nestle's increasing connecting science and food with its health science unit, established a few years ago to address the growing demand for “medical foods” for an aging population. Last year, it acquired Pamlab, an American medical foods company that produces prescription medical foods for patients with conditions such as dementia, diabetic peripheral neuropathy, high risk pregnancies and depression.

The other Nestle in the food world, Marion, professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University and no relation to the food company, told CBS News that adding nutrients to foods has never worked very well except for treating diseases caused by nutrient deficiencies.
Diseases "have multiple causes, and food is very complicated and diet is very complicated," said Nestle.

The surprising costs of a sick day

The surprising costs of a sick day

'Tis the season for the common cold and the flu, and while these sicknesses may be relatively minor, their cost on businesses and the overall economy is extraordinary. These numbers show the real story behind how the common cold impacts the American workforce and hopefully provides motivation for employers to promote employee health and wellness in the workplace.  


Join Our Plant Protein Twitter Chat!

The market for protein powders is hot! Our Twitter chat will address top questions about Plant Based Proteins and dive into why the category is trending big in today's market.  Download the FREE AIDP Gabiotein Plant-Protein Infosheet!

Join us as we explore plant based proteins – in your body, in your products. Rice protein and more, with our sponsor AIDP and Functional Ingredients editor @ToddRunestad in our #PlantProteinChat.

Date: February 13, 2014 

Time: 11 a.m. PT/2 p.m. ET.  Add the Twitterchat to your calendar!


We'll chat about: 

  • Why choose plant based proteins?
  • Digestibility
  • What differentiates the various types of plant proteins and when to select each one
  • Metabolism (plant protein vs. animal protein)
  • Are they effective for muscle building?
  • How is the market trending? Is there growth?
  • Rice protein and what differentiates the various types
  • Protein quality, non-GMO concerns and allergens

Share this event with your Twitter community!


Never attended a Twitter Chat before?

1. Log in to Twitter or create a Twitter profile if you don't have one yet.

2. Log into our Twitter Chat Room. Or you can choose to follow the hashtag #PlantProteinChat on your mobile phone or Twitter app.

3. Once in our Twitter Chat Room, type your comments (less than 140 characters) and hit Update. The #plantproteinchat hashtag will already be included, so no need to type it!

4. Hit the Reply arrow to reply to someone and the Forward arrow to retweet what someone else has said.

5. New tweets will appear at the top of the chat. Keep in mind that questions and comments you tweet may not be answered right away. Allow time for all participants to respond and for tweets to appear in the chat.

Questions? Tweet us @Engredea and use hashtag #plantproteinchat.


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Take a behavioral approach to interviewing

Take a behavioral approach to interviewing

You’ve probably heard the term "behavioral interview" floating around more and more over the last couple of years and are wondering if this is something you should be doing. Here is a quick overview to help you determine if behavioral interviews are right for you.

Behavioral interviews are based on the idea that past performance is the best predictor of future performance and the questions are designed to reveal how well a candidate matches up with the key competencies, characteristics and/or skills desired by the employer.

10 popular behavioral questions

  1. Give an example of a goal you reached and tell me how you achieved it.
  2. Did you ever not meet your goals? Why?
  3. Describe a decision you made that was unpopular and how you handled implementing it.
  4. Have you handled a difficult situation with a client or vendor? How?
  5. Tell me about a time when you had to use your skills and expertise to influence someone’s opinion.
  6. How did you handle meeting a tight deadline?
  7. Tell me how you worked effectively under pressure.
  8. Have you ever made a mistake? How did you handle it?
  9. Share an example of how you were able to motivate employees or co-workers.
  10. Provide an example of a time you handled a difficult situation with a supervisor. How did you handle it?

As with any interview, planning ahead is key. Here are the recommended steps for preparing and conducting a behavioral interview:

Skills & competencies

Review the position and determine the characteristics, competencies and/or skills you are most interested in. These often include, but are not limited to:

  • Problem solving
  • Communication
  • Creativity/innovation
  • Strengths/weaknesses
  • Decision making
  • Goal setting
  • Flexibility/adaptability
  • Integrity/honesty
  • Time management/organization
  • Leadership/initiative
  • Teamwork

Base questions on required skills

Develop your questions so that they relate to the skills identified for the position. For example:

Skill: Leadership/initiative

  • Question: Describe a decision you made that was unpopular and how you handled implementing it.

Skill: Communication

  • Question: Give me a specific example of a time when you had to deal with an upset customer.

Skill: Goal setting

  • Question: Give an example of a goal you reached and tell me how you achieved it.
  • Question: Did you ever not meet your goals? Why?

Rate candidates on an equal scale

Determine your rating scale. The interviewers need to have an idea of what they should be listening for and have a method of comparing them to other candidates. For example, rate the candidate’s on a scale of 1-10 where the numbers mean the following:

  • 10 – What is the best possible answer from a highly qualified candidate?
  • 5 – What is an acceptable answer from a qualified candidate?
  • 1 – What is a poor response from someone who has little or no knowledge of the skills required for the job?

Remain consistent. Use the same list of questions for each candidate and make sure each interviewer uses the same rating scale. This not only helps you make better comparisons between candidates, it helps all the interviewers to stay on the same page and judge all candidates fairly and equally.

Remember the basics

Following these steps is a great start to conducting a successful behavioral interview, but it’s not always enough: Make sure to always stick to the basics!

  • Listen carefully
  • Dress appropriately
  • Be on time
  • Maintain eye contact
  • Demonstrate proper posture
  • Be enthusiastic about your company and the opportunity!