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Articles from 2019 In January

Natural Foods Merchandiser

Gail Graham: Guiding good-food growth at Mississippi Market

Mississippi Market in St. Paul, Minnesota

Mississippi Market Natural Foods Co-op in St. Paul, Minnesota, is one of those legacy co-ops that has evolved, expanded and remained a vital gathering spot amidst the rapidly shifting grocery landscape. It is no coincidence, then, that the co-op’s general manager, Gail Graham, is one of those legacy natural products retailers who has been steadfast in her commitment to natural, organic, local and serving the community while also embracing change and growth.

Started as a single 1,000-square-foot outpost in 1979, Mississippi Market now has three locations, a commissary kitchen and nearly 20,000 member-owners. Graham has steered the ship for the past 19 years, following stints at two other local co-ops. She was brought on board during a tough transitional time for the business, as it had just opened a second location in a challenging environment. But with a firm dedication to Mississippi Market’s mission and meeting the community’s ever-changing needs, Graham and her team have helped the nearly 40-year-old co-op thrive.

You’ve been in the natural foods industry for decades. What inspires you to do this work?

GaiGail Graham keeps Mississippi Market growing, relevantl Graham: I just get really excited about food. I think great food makes an important difference in our lives. It brings great joy, and I’ve always appreciated working in an environment that allows me to share that joy with others. I’ve been in the industry since 1977 and worked in co-ops since 1979, and over the years we have worked hard to make a difference in our community and create a better world.

What does your role of general manager entail?

GG: I oversee all three locations and our commissary kitchen. I always think of the GM role as that of an orchestra conductor. My job is to bring together different players—those doing the hard work—to make sure we are doing our best work. I set the tempo, articulate the directions we want to go, make sure tasks are followed through on and redirect as necessary.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

GG:  I think it’s really a gift to be able to help people grow and develop. It’s great when we can help develop employees and then find new places within the co-op where they can use their skills, thrive and continue to grow. We really aim to create a climate where everyone is helping us succeed at the same time that we are helping them succeed—a mutual success story.

How has Mississippi Market evolved and changed in your 19 years?

GG: Our entire industry has changed so dramatically, and NFM has always been a great resource to help us keep up with what is going on around the country. Like other businesses, we have emphasized the foodservice element more and more over the years. Great produce has always been a strength of our store and is something consumers continue to look for.

The co-op prioritizes local, but is it tough to find enough local produce and other products given Minnesota’s short growing season?

GG: There is certainly plenty of dairy, cheese and meat available all year long, but fresh produce, not so much. This isn’t like the SacramentoMississippi Market in St. Paul, Minnesota Valley, where people grow it year-round. But in season, we bring in as much locally grown produce as possible and have a good network of local growers to choose from. Some have worked with us for decades and grown up along with us, expanding their operations to meet our needs and those of other stores. Actually, since we can sell only so much broccoli or so much cheese, the bigger challenge is bringing in all the local growers we want to.

How does Mississippi Market work to increase access to healthy food?

GG: We know our food costs more, but you get what you pay for. When you sell products that are not only certified organic but also from local growers who have higher costs—and when you’re working to be a good employer and pay a living wage—those things make a certain price structure necessary. That said, we always try to ensure that our prices are reasonable and competitive. And to make our food more accessible, we have the Limited Income Membership Entry (LIME) program, which lets people become members at a reduced rate and, if they meet criteria such as WIC or SNAP, get a 10 percent discount on every purchase. Additionally, we do a lot of education to better serve our communities, including free monthly “Shopping the Co-op on a Budget” classes, which help people understand how to shop our deals, how to buy bulk and so on.

How does the co-op interact with the community outside the aisles?

GG: We work hard to be a good partner with nonprofits in the community, from taking donations at the register to sponsoring local events. We joined with other local co-ops to start a nonprofit, Midwest Food Connection, which has teachers go into classrooms to teach kids about food at no cost to the schools. It’s a great way to reach out to new, young eaters. And at our East Seventh store, we launched a community dinner program where we offer a $3 dinner once a month. One night we served pulled pork and a vegetarian jackfruit option with coleslaw; another time we had baked potatoes with chili. We have live music and make an event of it, and it’s been really popular and fun. These events bring people into the store who might not normally come.

You also mentioned that the co-op works to create a better world. How so?

GG: Certainly, it’s partly through the very nature of the food we sell. In the natural products industry, we have been leaders in changing the way people think about food and shaping their expectations around food. We’ve seen the conventional food industry change dramatically as people have brought these expectations to the marketplace. And then, by having created these changes in the food industry, more people understand the connection between health and food.

What keeps customers loyal to Mississippi Market despite their many other retail options?

GG: People still yearn for a sense of connection and community, and many shoppers truly value the experience of going into a store, talking to the staff and tasting products. So, it is really important that we continue to succeed in providing that kind of experience. All three stores have both indoor and outdoor seating to give people community gathering spaces, and we work hard to educate and inspire the community around food and food issues. When you have values that people resonate with, it creates connection and an interest in supporting you. On top of that, people want convenience, so we try to make the customer experience as painless as possible. Our stores are all 7,000 to 10,000 square feet so they are easy to navigate and get in and out of.

Will co-ops continue to play an important role in the future?

GG: I think co-ops like ours, along with other independent natural products stores across the country, continue to be where innovation is taking place in our industry. We are all working to make sure that we’re not only talking about our values and educating around them but also employing them in the work we do within our vendor and geographical communities. It is an interesting time to be in grocery, whether you’re in natural products or not, but I think there will continue to be a place for the work we do.

[email protected]: UNFI sues Goldman Sachs | Arsenic, lead found in fruit juice


Goldman feasts at expense of food company client, suit claims

UNFI is suing Goldman Sachs for “improperly extracting more than $200 million in advising the Providence, R.I., food distributor on its $3 billion acquisition of grocery chain Supervalu Inc.” Goldman has been accused of using aggressive tactics when UNFI objected to changes Goldman made in loan terms related to the deal, as well as manufacturing a default on the UNFI debt to win their CDS bets against the company. Read more at The Wall Street Journal …


Arsenic and lead are in your fruit juice: What you need to know


New tests from Consumer Reports show elevated levels of arsenic, mercury, cadmium and lead in 45 popular fruit juices sold nationwide—enough for even a half-cup-per-day juice drinker to be concerned. This news affects one juice-drinking demographic in particular: children, who are already particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of heavy metal consumption. These effects can compound into cardiovascular disease, bone damage, fertility problems and high blood pressure. Read more at Consumer Reports 


Eating breakfast may not be that helpful for weight loss after all

A recent meta-analysis of clinical trials assessing the benefits of eating breakfast found that “those who ate breakfast tended to eat about 260 extra calories per day and on average gain 0.44 kilograms [roughly a pound].” Encouraging people who are trying to lose weight to eat breakfast, it follows, may have been inducing the opposite effect this whole time. Although the researchers note their findings shouldn’t be taken as definitive, the breakfast-as-a-metabolism-booster notion appears to have been effectively dispelled. Read more at Gizmodo …


Purina wants to feed your dog crickets and fish heads

Purina is introducing new line of pet food that features invasive fish species and insects—a hot take in an increasingly anthropomorphistic industry where dogs are often served human-grade, organic meals. These high-nutrient, abundant food sources, while unpalatable for humans, would help feed beloved pets even as the challenge of feeding the world’s growing human population escalates. Read more at Bloomberg …


With Row 7 Seeds, Dan Barber is upgrading our ingredients

Seed company Row 7 “aims to connect farmers, chefs and breeders to create a collection of vegetables that appeal specifically to chefs.” Basically, the company takes your average fruit or vegetable and efficiently genetically modifies it to better adhere to chef and consumer preferences. For example, making large, unwieldy pumpkin breeds easily portable and richer in flavor. Eventually, the company hopes to facilitate a collaborative relationship between chefs and local, organic farmers to produce and serve more never-before-seen crops. Read more at Grub Street  


Why early money is hard money

Elliot Begoun

Raising early money is hard. If you are lucky enough to have a network of friends and family that not only believe in you but have the means to put money behind that belief, that’s great. However, most don’t.

There are some terrific VC funds that get involved early and angel groups that will do the same. Reality is, however, there are way more of you than there are of them. As an entrepreneur in the natural products space, you are already facing some really tough odds. It makes no sense to put more chance and hope into the process. You must take a very active role in finding, recruiting and nurturing potential early investors.

I get asked all the time, “Do you know any angels?” Sure, I do, but angels usually invest in heart projects or within narrow swim lanes around things they deeply understand or believe in. Because of that, every project has its own set of angels. Your job is to find the right ones for your project.

When do you start?

Well, you start the moment you make the decision to become an entrepreneur. So, if you’re reading this and have a brand in the market or soon to be, you are behind. It is time to take action.

Where do you look?

Everywhere! Be as innovative and creative in your approach to raising money as you are in the building of your brand. Let all the people around you know what you are doing and that you are raising money. Make it easy for people to invest. If you are going to raise through a convertible note or SAFE (Simple Agreement for Future Equity), then work with a good attorney to develop a term sheet you can present anytime and anywhere.

Leverage tools like LinkedIn. Using the advanced search option on either LinkedIn or its premium add on, Sales Navigator, you can create a very specific search. You can specify keywords, industry, interests, role, geography and more. Reach out and connect with those who fit your search criteria. Don’t stop there; nurture a relationship with those new connections. Start sharing your journey with them. Don’t expect or ask them to invest right off the bat. Rather, recruit them over time and help them understand your hypothesis, belief and passion.

Surround yourself with some good advisors, evangelists and supporters. Tap into their networks. Ask them each to make five introductions. In all of your outreach, be both consistent and persistent. There is the old sales axiom that it takes between seven and 12 touches to get engagement. This is no different. You can’t expect one email or phone call to do the trick.

Keep it up

Don’t stop a “no.” When someone tells you they are not ready or interested in making an investment, accept it, thank them for their consideration and then ask them to make some introductions to others who may be interested.

You may grow to hate asking people for money. There is really no fun in the process. Yet, you don’t get to do what you are doing without that being part of the job.

This article is not intended to serve as a “how to.” Rather, it is meant as a call to action. Early money is hard money. Therefore, you must do everything you can to cultivate the angels whom you need to seed your business. 

Elliot Begoun is the founder of The Intertwine Group, a practice focused on helping emerging food and beverage brands grow. He positions CPG brands to raise capital, prove velocity, gain distribution, drive revenue, win share of stomach and scale. 

KeHE's top 5 natural products industry trends to watch in 2019


As part of our commitment to finding goodness and staying ahead of the trends, KeHE’s Product Innovation Gurus–who serve as our resident trend experts–have summarized the top five trends to watch in 2019. Here’s what we predict you’ll be seeing in stores, carrying in your gym bag and talking about with your friends this year.

Hemp: Yes, please

Cannabidiol–or what you’ve probably heard referred to as CBD–and hemp-based products have taken the industry by storm. For much of 2018, there were more questions than answers surrounding this buzz-worthy ingredient. Heading into 2019, both legislative and medical advancements have helped clear up some confusion–but it’s still a bit ambiguous.

Nonetheless, shoppers are starting to explore CBD products for their claimed health benefits including relief from pain, anxiety and seizures and to improve sleep. Despite several states legalizing recreational cannabis use, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) says CBD is not permitted in food or drink. We expect to see categories such as Pet and Health & Beauty Care to fuel the growth behind hemp extract oil and CBD innovation this year.

Focus on fats

Fats were in, then out, and now they are back in and on the minds of consumers in a huge way. Among Google’s top 10 searches in 2018, five of them reference the ketogenic lifestyle. Between the countless weight loss selfies shared on Instagram and word-of-mouth endorsements, Keto–a strict regimen of low-carb, high-fat foods that forces the body into a state of ketosis–was all the rage for 2018 and we expect that in 2019 it will reach new heights.

What was once a niche market has exploded into mainstream. Sales of both keto-approved and MCT oil products continue to soar. Brands are hustling to add line extensions that adhere to the keto philosophy to meet consumers’ needs. According to our partner SPINS, certified Paleo and Keto items are up $6 million, or 75 percent, over the last year in the Total US Conventional Channel, and we think it’s only getting started.

Custom fit

Consumers have spoken–a one-size-fits-all approach won’t always work when it comes to their health. Consumers want functional, great-tasting products to support them in areas of concern, such as “clean” protein, daily nutrition and healthy aging. And what works for one shopper may not work for another. That’s why the brands providing custom solutions are attracting consumers.

We’re seeing Gainful provide custom protein powder formulated based on answers to a lifestyle quiz and companies like CareOf also using that model but for personalized vitamin subscriptions. Health & Beauty Care is also seeing brands like Function of Beauty provide personalized haircare and the new Clique ID custom blend hydrator allows shoppers more control over the makeup they buy. Some even go as far as to mix their own facial oils, creams and serums themselves. It just goes to show, brands offering unique and easily accessible custom solutions will excel in 2019.

Easy (always) going

Shoppers know what they want; and they want it now more than ever. App developers have had their hands full creating solutions to answer the demand for more convenient ordering and delivery – from food to fashion, everyone has an app for that.  The need for instant gratification has allowed grocery stores to become an alternative to traditional take-out. Stores are dedicating a larger footprint to fresh grab-n-go sets including ready-to-drink beverages, prepared take-and-bake meals, and other fresh offerings. According to Mintel, 43% of U.S. adults who have bought prepared or made-to-order food or drink from a store agree it helps save them time.

Brands are also jumping on the convenience bandwagon more than ever before. With grab-and-go cups ranging from oatmeal and muffins to rice and noodles, a quick and nutritious meal is consistently easier to find. Fresh snacking like cheese and crackers or a pack of nuts are also appealing to those who are often eating on the go. Meal delivery services and frozen meal kits remain top of mind, as more and more consumers view time as their most important currency. Those that can creatively crack the instant gratification code will win in 2019.

Sustainable mindset

Remember when electric cars seemed like a concept out of the Jetson’s and manufacturers produced plastic everything? Gone are the days of periodically recycling and a new era of consumer consciousness is upon us. Even the folks you never thought would change now pack their groceries in reusable bags. Some trends explode and then fizzle out, but we know this won’t be one of them.

With more and more consumers making a dedicated push to cutting down on their environmental impact, they’re reaching for items that not only taste good, but also do good. They’re looking for sustainable packaging, whole animal (tail to snout) and whole plant (root to stem) use, and the stories behind the farmers and fishers who produced their food. Fifty-six percent of those between the ages of 18-34 say that environmental responsibility is an important factor in their food choices, according to our partner Mintel. Another concept gaining momentum is upcycling.

Forty percent of the food produced in the U.S. goes uneaten and, on average, a family of four throws away over $1,800 in food every year. This has pushed brands to adopt a process of creative reuse, the process of transforming by-products, waste, and useless or unwanted products into something usable. Think juice from ugly and surplus produce, giving a second life to whey from artisanal dairies and brine from pickle producers, and protein bars from the leftover nutritious grains from brewing beer.

The way we care for the planet is shifting and its headed underground: to the soil. 2018 saw soil health conversations bubbling up and 2019 will see a larger discussion around things like biodynamic certification and regenerative agriculture. KeHE is proud to be part of the movement by joining forces with brands that promote a higher purpose through our CAREtrade® program. We’re also proud to be a certified B Corporation. As a community, B Corporations are driving a global movement of people using business as a force for good. We can do much more together, than we can apart.

Source: KeHE Distributors, LLC

Natural Foods Merchandiser

5 supplements to stock for millennials



Nature’s Plus Infinite Planet Daily Multi

This is what the future of sustainable and ethically sourced whole-food supplements looks like. Nature’s Plus owner Meadow Williams put her money where her heart is by introducing a USDA Organic and non-GMO multi made with whole foods that are fair-trade sourced. Also, Nature’s Plus donates 100 percent of the profits to three global charities: Vitamin Angels, The Nature Conservancy and the Animal Welfare Institute. The excipients in this product are clean, as is the packaging: BPA free, recyclable bottles and a compostable box. This is the supplement that all supplements should aspire to. SRP: $24.95, 60 vegan capsules


Ora Organic Wish You Well

There is much to love about Ora: plant based, organic, always gluten and dairy free, no artificial ingredients, conjured in California and made in the U.S. of A. This immunity helper-outer contains 200 milligrams of vitamin C from organic acerola berries and 5 billion CFUs of a three-strain probiotic blend. Because Ora is so hip, the company has a chief culinary officer. This powder comes in a mango and pineapple flavor that brings out the aloha in you. The flavor profile is predicated on mixing it with only 2 ounces of water. SRP: $18.99, 10 8-gram sachets


Redd Remedies In-Joy

This great brand is producing some really innovative formulas. Anything called “In-Joy” absolutely tickles our fancy—and it’s emblematic of the new way supplement companies are communicating with millennials: Science still holds sway, and a thoughtfully curated ingredient selection is welcomed, but how about a little personality? In-Joy includes the trendy nootropics L-tyrosine and 5-HTP, plus holy basil (walking meditation in a bottle) and the adaptogen schisandra. The company devotes an entire panel on its supplement boxes to its quality-control efforts. Hey, if you’re going to spend resources on vouchsafing the quality and integrity of your supplement, you might as well sing it from the rooftops. SRP: $39.99, 60 enteric-coated tablets


Whole Earth & Sea Protein & Greens

Protein powders are, of course, in. So are greens powders. But fermented protein and greens? The fermentation process both eases digestion and boosts bioavailability. This 100 percent fermented, plant-based superfood formula has 21 grams of protein from pea, sprouted brown rice, quinoa, amaranth and hemp. A blend of fermented organic fruits, vegetables and grasses complements a mushroom blend. Most ingredients are grown on the Natural Factors’ organic farms in British Columbia, so it’s a nice vertical business that’s clean and transparent from seed to smoothie cup. SRP: $59.95, 25 ounces (20 servings)


GNC Earth Genius SuperFoods Supreme

GNC is going all in with millennials by offering Smoothie Nation a kitchen sink’s worth of plant power in a powder. SuperFoods Supreme contains only 6 grams of a five-plant protein blend, so it’s not a protein powder per se, but it’s a pretty baller blend that’s vegan, sugar free, dairy free, soy free, gluten free and non-GMO. It would’ve been nice if they had put in an efficacious dose of the clinically validated Lutemax 2020 macular carotenoids (the formula contains only 20 percent of what the research shows to be good for eye health—of prime import to gaming, screen-loving millennials). Other than that, though, it’s a balanced bolus of superfoods, prebiotics, adaptogens and greens aplenty. This is part of GNC’s new Earth Genius lineup of 40 post-modern products spanning multiple categories like energy, digestive health, relaxation and performance. SRP: $46.99, 23.28 ounces (30 servings)

Natural Foods Merchandiser

What matters to millennials: Supplements they can trust

Getty Images millennial-shopping-supplements-Getty-promo.jpg

When it comes to eating habits, millennials have a clear preference for clean.

Research from New Hope Network shows that millennials are more likely than the generations before them to see food as medicine—a way to manage their health conditions and detoxify their bodies. As a result, they’re more likely to buy food that’s grown to maximize nutrition, for example, food that’s local, organic or grass fed. In fact, while 66 percent of millennials do so, just 39 percent of baby boomers do.

Keeping in line with this trend, the percentage of millennials committed to organic food doubles that of baby boomers. Millennials are also willing to pay more for higher-quality ingredients in their foods than other groups, with 71 percent saying so (as opposed to just 47 percent of boomers).

Attracting millennials

But with this focus on whole, clean foods, where do supplements fit in? Are millennials willing to get at least some of their nutrition from a bottle, rather than a local farm?

“Absolutely,” says Kate Johnson, vice president of brand marketing at Ancient Nutrition. “Food is definitely the first line of defense, but consumers, especially health-savvy millennial consumers, are increasingly aware of just how hard it is to get the breadth and quality of the food they need, every day, to be their healthiest.”

If you ask Marvin Arciniega, social media coordinator for BioTerra Herbs, supplements aren’t at odds with millennials’ preferences for whole foods. “We believe supplements and eating nutritious foods work in conjunction with one another,” he says. So while he does see millennials as “top contenders” for using food as medicine, there is still a clear place for supplements in their healthy-eating plans. In fact, the unique attributes and preferences of millennial shoppers align quite well with the values and offerings of many supplement brands on the market today.

First, it’s good news for supplement brands that millennials assess the state of their health much differently than the generations before them. While baby boomers define their health based on quantitative measures like weight, BMI, and blood tests, millennials have a more holistic outlook, placing more weight on experiential measures like how their body feels, whether they have enough energy or if their digestion is on track. This holistic outlook aligns with the supplement industry, which can’t make disease claims but can make holistic and lifestyle claims that speak directly to how millennials assess their health.

This is a tactic that’s been successful at BioTerra Herbs, which offers products carrying simple but clear names directly reflecting a variety of health goals (for example, Fertility or Detox). A similar approach has worked well for Moon Juice, which has found great success with this generation in recent years. Its bestsellers carry condition-specific but decidedly holistic names like Brain Dust for mental clarity and Dream Dust for better sleep. Exemplifying how supplements can fit seamlessly into the whole food diets of millennials, these dusts are intended to be mixed into smoothies or teas. OLLY has also found success in the holistic goal arena: products carry names like Restful Sleep, Undeniable Beauty and Goodbye Stress in colorful, fun packaging.

But there’s also something intangible that’s guiding millennials’ purchasing decisions, and it’s the fact that they’re emotionally engaged with their health. In fact, 56 percent say they take pride in how their health is managed. This sense of pride can be easily sparked by plant-based or locally made foods, which inspire shoppers with stories about local growers and responsible farming. But can supplement marketers tap into and engage this emotion for their own brands?

Earning their trust

The baseline is earning back trust from millennials, as less than half of them currently trust the supplement industry. One way to build trust and also inspire pride is to tell a positive brand story, preferably one based on socially responsible, eco-friendly, or otherwise clean practices and products. This will not only demonstrate trust-building transparency, but also highlight the attributes that guide millennial food choices and make the case for why supplements are a natural fit.

There are many effective ways to communicate these stories—newsletters, on-pack messaging, advertising, etc.—but because millennials are a tech-oriented generation, with half using fitness trackers and apps to manage their health, supplement brands and retailers should meet them where they are. And that’s on social media, says Johnson. But not all social media is created equal: Ancient Nutrition uses Instagram to inspire and connect; Pinterest, on the other hand, is more effective for providing great educational resources like recipes.

“Brands need to communicate their values across all touch points for them to feel authentic and not gimmicky,” Johnson says. And these stories will resonate, she says, because, “with so much product out there, all consumers need a way to cut through the noise and create a framework for evaluating what they want to buy and consume.”

Natural Foods Merchandiser

The rise of convenience: Natural food stores meet customers’ changing needs


Think convenience retail, and images of a 7-Eleven-style corner store may come to mind.

But recently, consumer demand for convenience has been reshaping natural products sales and sales floor layouts across the country. No cigarettes, lottery tickets or Slurpees here. Instead, think kombucha slushies and $5 harvest bowls with barley, pumpkin, cranberries and chopped turkey.

From the smallest of beverage cases to sophisticated foodservice operations, convenience is not only bringing new customers into natural products stores—it’s also helping to drive sales in a significant way. The beauty of it? It’s not a one-size-fits-all proposition.

“There are two major ways you can define convenience in a grocery store: convenient products in the store and convenient ways to get products,” says Katie Paul, vice president of category management and growth solutions at KeHE. “There is grab’n’go, ready-to-eat and no or minimal prep time, along with rebranding, reformulating or rethinking packaging to make products more convenient for consumers. There are also convenient methods to get products, such as click-and-collect and home delivery.”

With both the number of shopping trips per person and the number of different retailers a household shops continuing to increase, what’s driving convenience? “We are in a culture of time starvation and time-starved eating,” Paul says.

With both parents working in close to half of all two-parent families, according to a 2015 Pew study, more than half of working parents say balancing work and family is a challenge. It’s not so surprising then that homemade meals—breakfast, dinner or lunch—either take a shortcut or get left off the to-do list altogether. Hence the explosion of grab’n’go everything: easy-to-heat, ready-to-eat oatmeal; just-add-water quinoa cups; quick-and-easy muffins. Even the explosion of simmer sauces offers convenience. Anything, Paul says, that makes the cooking experience easier fills the plate.      

“It’s almost like speed scratch cooking,” says Paul, noting that simmer sauces sell really well because consumers want the flavor profiles and convenience along with something they can accomplish. They also seek fresh and quality products. “Consumers are looking for less-processed food, which offers up a really good opportunity for brick-and-mortar retailers,” she adds. “I think consumers are becoming more willing to pay for convenience and quality. Younger consumers and millennials are getting married later in life, starting families later, making money now, so they are increasing their wallet and share of what they can put toward convenient and healthier options.”

Fresh in the form of foodservice has been a key way for brick-and-mortar retailers to counter growing online food sales. While online works well for nonperishables, it has yet to win over consumers on the fresh front. Online just can’t follow through when a consumer wants what she wants and needs to get dinner on the table now. While most stores have offered the roasted chicken, deli sandwich or pizza foodservice options for decades, foodservice now runs the gamut from on-the-run snacks to sit-down meals.

Dinner anyone?

At 4th Generation Organic Market and Café in South Florida, customers find a fresh juice bar, a coffee bar and grab’n’go cases in addition to hot breakfast, lunch and dinner and desserts—all organic. The majority of offerings are also vegan and gluten free; some are raw; and everything is made from scratch. Think veggie burgers, eggless egg salad, buffalo tempeh or raw enchiladas along with avocado and chia puddings. “We can cater to any diet,” says Richard Lewis, 4th Generation’s general manager.

Foodservice accounts for more than 50 percent of sales at the store. And while 4th Generation has always offered foodservice, Lewis says it has made a concerted effort to come up with new items and make it more exciting. “Looking at the Amazons of the world and in this environment, you have to build a niche, and foodservice is that niche we had to build that keeps us alive,” he says. “In traditional grocery, it is hard to be competitive. We have every competitive item, but no one does foodservice like us.”

In Durham, North Carolina, Leila Nesson Wolfrum, general manager at the Durham Co-op Market, has focused on convenience and built community around the store while also changing some of the rhetoric about natural food stores being expensive. “We try to be as affordable as we can as a natural foods store, but natural foods stores in general have a reputation of being high priced and exclusive,” she says. “We wanted to make sure we were welcoming to the whole community.”

To start, the co-op introduced $3 dinners on Thursday nights. The dinners offer a convenient night without cooking, although they aren’t necessarily so convenient to attend because they routinely draw 500 to 700 people each week. However, “We see a significant bump in sales Thursday nights in single beers, other beverages and ice cream bars, things people eating dinner also buy,” Nesson Wolfram says.

The dinners led to the $5 lunch special, which is more of a grab’n’go offering. “That is designed for ‘I only have half an hour and I need to zip out and get something,’” she explains. “We want it to be comparable to the time it takes to go for fast food, but an opportunity to grab a meal that is healthy and actually cooked as opposed to a foil-wrapped-burger experience.”

Because of the dinners and lunches, “We have had people on social media recommending the co-op as affordable, friendly and fun, words that are energetic,” Nesson Wolfrum says. Recognizing convenience as a growth area, the market has continued to look for ways to innovate in this area. For instance, it just rolled out a hot, take-home dinner. “We have always done chicken but just started doing stromboli, basically a rolled-up pizza,” she adds. “We do meat and vegan ones, family size for $8.99. Put it next to a salad, and you have dinner.”


Innovating for ease

Convenience translates across Durham Co-op Market. For example, the store noticed that many customers didn’t want to spend the time needed to order sliced turkey or ham and then wait and watch it get cut, so deli staff started to precut meats. “We sell four times as much by cutting ahead of time,” Nesson Wolfrum says. “We got a vacuum sealer, and it is clear the packets are fresh and hand-cut. But it means the staff doesn’t have to stop what they are doing and the customer can grab what they need and keep moving.”

As a result, sales of peripheral items like sliced cheese, prosciutto, salami and mixed deli packs are also up. “Prosciutto might be hard for people to order, but [putting it] in a deli pack on a tray with other items is a great way to introduce things customers might find intimidating,” she adds.

Cross-merchandising and offering extra bits of information can also enhance convenience. “People who are invested in coming to the grocery store and picking out their food want information to be as accessible as possible,” Nesson Wolfrum says. “We put up recipes or cooking tips and cross-merchandise: spice packets or mulling spices with apple cider, bananas hanging in the cereal aisle, shredded cheese next to tomatoes or whatever things people might want to buy at the same time.”


Convenience store shoppers want healthy

On the other side of the country in Oregon, convenience plays a critical role in Lisa Sedlar’s efforts to rethink typical natural products and convenience stores with the launch of Green Zebra Market, small-footprint stores aimed to serve communities where big stores don’t fit. Sedlar, who started her career at Whole Foods Market and then served as the CEO of New Seasons Market, opened her first Green Zebra Market in Portland in 2013. Now with three locations and a fourth set to open in mid-2019, she is setting her sights on launching seven to 10 new stores in Seattle, Washington, and Los Angeles, California.

With traditional grocery store food sales at a standstill, notching 1.1 percent growth in 2017 and losing sales to online and convenience stores, the C-store channel is one of the only channels that continues to grow in grocery food products.

“It has grown throughout the recession and beyond while big-format grocery continues to decrease in sales,” Sedlar says. “People are voting with their dollars.”

Green Zebra’s overall mission, she adds, is to redefine what it means to be a convenience store in America. “We don’t sell cigarettes and lottery tickets, and the majority of our sales don’t come from things that are unhealthy,” Sedlar says. “We are offering the opportunity for people to ‘healthy up’ their day. It’s the mashup of healthy and convenient. People don’t have time to spend an hour driving to the big grocery store. [To reach] us, it’s a 5-minute trip. Two of our four stores don’t have parking, so it’s about walking and biking to our store. We are an urban-density model.”

Green Zebra maintains a grocery component, yet approximately 25 percent of sales come from foodservice—the salad bar, freshly made sandwiches, soups and grab ’n’ go—which includes a lot of vegan food and plant-based proteins. A public microwave allows customers to heat up frozen items on the spot. With millennials fueling the demand for healthy, quick meals, Sedlar says customers have described Green Zebra stores like their own personal pantry. “They come in and buy two or three things, so they don’t have to stock up their pantry because they shop by meal,” she says. “At the end of the day, who wants to go home and cook a big meal? People are working out, going to school and don’t want to spend a lot of time cooking.”

While Sedlar’s model fits the trend of what is happening in natural products stores, she is also on trend with what is happening in convenience stores. The National Association of Convenience Stores reported increased growth in foodservice, desire for healthier and/or functional beverage options and demand for healthier snacking options in 2017. Healthier snack sales were driven by protein- and energy-rich items and, for the second year, reached the NACS top 10 in-store merchandise categories. This trend is associated with millennials moving toward snacking and away from traditional meals.

KeHE’s Paul agrees that snacking is on the rise and helping to drive convenience sales. Fifty-five percent of eating occasions are now considered snacks, she says, which creates retail opportunities, especially around the perimeter of the store, for impulsive points of interruption that are grab’n’go and snacking focused.

“These are often dried fruits and nuts, vegetables, chickpeas and lentils, and alternative snack formats,” Paul says. “Better-for-you snacks and alternative base snacks are making a difference in displays and points of interruption.”

Beverages, too, are driving incremental sales to the basket. “Consumers aren’t consuming as much sugar, so low-sugar or alternatively sweetened drinks are driving growth, such as functional beverages, cold-pressed juices and soups, ready-to-drink coffees and kombucha,” Paul says. “Some shelf-stable products are even making their way into the cooler or requesting to be there because they realize these purchases are impulsive and increase the basket size.”

In addition to the beverage cooler and coffee bar, Green Zebra sells kombucha on tap, as well as CBD soda and cold brew. On the beverage front, Sedlar says the healthier items become a point of discussion in store aisles. “Two of our stores are in business districts, and a lot of people come down from the office and get a sandwich or something from the salad bar and they’ll ask ‘What is this kombucha stuff?’” she says, adding that many times, these shoppers will try the kombucha.

“We are not trying to be the food police; we are just offering healthy choices,” Sedlar says. As for the Slurpee option? Frozen kombucha, of course.

Kroger rolls out blood testing devices to all pharmacies, clinics


The Kroger Co. plans to deploy point-of-care blood testing devices at all of its health care locations to help customers prevent heart disease.

Kroger Health, the supermarket giant’s health services arm, said late yesterday it will roll out handheld CardioChek Plus analyzers from PTS Diagnostics at its more than 2,100 pharmacies and clinics to perform blood checks that help identify people at risk of heart attack, stroke and diabetes. Plans call for deployment of the devices to be completed by next month.

CardioChek Plus tests lipid profile and glucose level with one fingerstick, eliminating the need for additional testing and enabling a more seamless experience for the patient. The system measures total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, triglycerides and glucose and provides real-time readings and ratios that are immediately documented by trained staff on-site. Using the same technology as clinical laboratories, results are provided in as soon as 90 seconds.

The device’s speed and portability—combined with the reach of Kroger—will boost the number of potential patients who can receive preventive health screenings and begin clinical protocols, according to Kroger Health, which has more than 22,000 health care associates across its pharmacies and clinics.

"With nearly one-third of Americans suffering from diabetes, prediabetes or high-cholesterol, the time for more innovative and turnkey solutions is now," Kroger Health President Colleen Lindholz said in a statement. "One of the best ways to combat these issues is to 'know your numbers.’ And that's why easy, economical and efficient testing methods are so important. When you know if you're at-risk, you can take the actions necessary—whether that is with your diet, exercise or medication—to begin living a healthier life.”

The CardioChek Plus rollout is aligned with Kroger's broader health and wellness initiatives, including its "Wellness Your Way" campaign, designed to provide personalized health care solutions to the more than 60 million Americans who visit Kroger Co. stores—including the Kroger, Ralph's, Fry's and Fred Meyer banners—each year. Kroger Health professionals provide services, treatment and coaching in areas ranging from nutrition counseling and weight loss programs to diabetes prevention and immunization services.

Kroger’s adoption of the CardioChek Plus system will help its customers address preventable disease through early identification, targeting disease progression, according to Robert Huffstodt, president and CEO of Indianapolis-based PTS Diagnostics.

"Our partnership with Kroger Health is an important step towards improving the overall state of population health," Huffstodt said. "Nearly 90 percent of Americans live within five miles of a Kroger Health pharmacy or clinic, and these individuals can now be quickly monitored for cardiometabolic conditions." 

Supermarket News logoThis article originally appeared on our sister website, Supermarket News.

Natural Foods Merchandiser

Secret Shopper: Are liquid vitamins more efficient than pills?

Getty Images medicine-drops-Getty-promo.jpg

NFM Secret Shopper: I’ve heard that liquid vitamins are more bioavailable than pills. Is this true, and should I be looking only for a liquid multi?

Store: Yes, that is true. Your body will absorb the vitamins and minerals faster because they are in liquid form. We don’t have any in stock right now, but you could try a whole-food multivitamin instead. They are also more bioavailable.    

NFM: Really? Why is that?

Store: Because they come from whole fruits and vegetables instead of being synthetic, so your body knows what to do with them.  

How did this retailer do?

Holly Lucille, N.D., R.D.N., owner of The Body Well in West Hollywood, CaliforniaOur expert educator: Holly Lucille, N.D., R.D.N., owner of The Body Well in West Hollywood, California

Bottom line, the retailer is wrong about liquid vitamins being more bioavailable than solid vitamins. They are not. Better bioavailability has been a good marketing pitch for liquid vitamins, but there is no research out there to substantiate it.

Honestly, the body reduces everything, except fiber, down to liquid before converting it to stool. So, if you ingest a properly disintegrating tablet or capsule, the vitamins will become suspended in liquid for absorption into the small intestines.

The only caveat is it is important to buy vitamins from companies that do disintegration and dissolution testing on every product. A quality manufacturer will do this, and retailers and consumers can always call companies directly to ask about these tests. 

The retailer’s second statement—that vitamins from whole foods are more bioavailable because the body “knows what to do with them”—is also incorrect.

Do you know how much crap Americans eat that are not whole foods and yet our bodies know exactly what to do with them? Our bodies have incredible digestive power to handle the many different things we consume. Whole-food vitamins are not necessarily any better than other types in terms of absorption.

[email protected]: Plant-based milk's 'unstoppable' rise | More states take on alt meat labeling


White gold: The unstoppable rise of alternative milks

Plant milk sales have grown by 30 percent in the last three years, a surge that largely stems from younger generations’ belief that cow’s milk is less healthy than plant milk alternatives. They’re right from a genetic point of view: most humans become lactose intolerant after being weaned from breastfeeding—being able to drink cow’s milk with no unpleasant digestive effect is the exception, not the rule. But that hasn’t stopped the dairy industry from becoming worth more than $400 billion and using its might to fight back through legislation. Read more at The Guardian …


Following Missouri’s lead, other states take on cell-cultured meat


A recently passed Missouri law prohibits makers of uncannily meat-like products, such as the Beyond Burger, from promoting them to consumers as “meat,” and more meat-heavy states appear to be following suit. One Democratic State Senator in Nebraska recently introduced a bill that would do much the same thing—in it, she defines meat as “any edible portion of any livestock or poultry carcass or part thereof.” This definition notably excludes insect-based, plant-based or cell-cultured “meat” products from using the term. Read more at New Food Economy 


Coca-Cola tried to influence CDC on research and policy, new report states

A new report showcases a series of attempts by Coca-Cola to “gain access to CDC staff members, build relationships and influence policy on nutrition and artificial sweeteners.” The CDC is not a regulatory agency, but it carries weight in public health and scientific communities on a global scale—which explains why Coca-Cola execs tried to go through the CDC to lobby the World Health Organization after it published a report encouraging taxing sugar-sweetened beverages and reinforcing limits on full-sugar soft drinks consumption. Read more at Politico …


This diet is better for the planet. But is it better for you, too?


Eating for climate health is not the same as eating for human health, notes this NPR article, but it appears the EAT-Lancet Commission’s report advising reduced meat consumption for the betterment of both is on the right track. One Harvard professor comments on the report that “it’s all about replacement”—yes, reducing meat, especially of the processed variety, is beneficial when replaced by healthful foods such as fruits, vegetables and legumes and not “a lot of white starch.” The report has also received negative feedback surrounding the “squishy” science it cites linking red meat to various diseases. Read more at NPR …


‘Wild-caught,’ ‘organic,’ ‘grass-fed’: What do all these animal welfare labels actually mean?

It’s easy for the cruelty-conscious consumer to become confused in the meat, dairy and egg aisles—oftentimes, there’s no indication as to which labels actually hold animal agriculture companies accountable to a certain standard and which are meaningless advertising fluff. This article from Vox serves as a comprehensive, up-to-date guide of the certifications and labels that consumers (and brands) should either trust or avoid. Read more at Vox