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Articles from 2021 In October


[email protected]: Do we need 15-minute grocery delivery? | Pandemic creates unequal food access across ethnicities

Getty Images grocery delivery

15-minute grocery delivery has arrived. Do we need it?

This breakdown of 15-minute grocery delivery services (which have exploded over the past year thanks to the pandemic) by Eater finds that most of their prices are comparable to shopping at a real-life grocery store—sometimes even less expensive—and that the 15-minute window is far more convenient than pre-booked delivery windows required by the likes of Instacart and Whole Foods. But how do they do it? These companies specialize in 2,000- to 3,000-item microfulfilment centers throughout cities as opposed to centralized warehouses; then, they employ workers to scour the shelves, pack the goods and deliver packages within a one- to two-mile radius. 

The pandemic disrupted Americans’ access to food. Not everybody suffered equally

Experts predicted early on that COVID-19 would drive many families into hunger as jobs were lost and supply chains were disrupted. What they largely failed to note is that people of color would be disproportionately affected in terms of food access, with fewer white households having fought food insecurity in 2020 than in 2019. The Counter writes that this can partially be attributed to Black households entering the pandemic with a lower median income and higher poverty rates than other groups. Importantly, if emergency protections supporting these families are allowed to expire at the end of the year, the crisis will worsen.

California finally sees rainfall, but will it help end the drought?

How much will California's recent, record-breaking rainfall actually impact its drought-stricken farmland? For starters, the rain effectively extinguished what remained of one active fire and raised water levels in the state's Oroville reservoir by 20 feet, per Modern Farmer. However, experts say the beneficial impact will be minimal, as wildfire season usually ends around October anyways, and that 200% of typical precipitation would be needed over the next three months in order to actively combat the drought terrorizing farmers across the state.

Is frozen food's hot streak starting to cool?

While the frozen food aisle showcased a 3% increase in dollar sales for the 52 weeks ending Oct. 17, drops in purchases of frozen produce and frozen beverages dragged the category down. Convenience-focused frozen meals posted a 4.5% increase in dollar sales to $23 billion; specifically, the frozen breakfast meal category is seeing growth: “While normally time is the big pressure point for the breakfast meal occasion, shoppers had a little more time to warm up some waffles, pancakes or breakfast sandwiches rather than hurrying out the door with a breakfast bar in hand,” said Anne-Marie Roerink, Principal at 210 Analytics LLC, said to The Food Institute.

Are 'net-zero' climate targets just hot air?

More than 130 countries and a bevy of private companies are pledging to reach net-zero emissions goals. But there are important differences in how countries and companies actually plan on limiting their contributions to climate change that are obscured by this nebulous term. In principle, the idea of net-zero offers countries and companies flexibility in meeting climate goals. But in practice, critics say that net-zero pledges delay meaningful reductions in greenhouse gases and provide cover to those unwilling to take immediate steps to limit emissions. Vox reports.

Independent grocery sales climbed 17% in 2020

Uncle Giuseppe's Marketplace Uncle Giuseppes produce display

High consumer demand triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic fueled a 17% average comparable sales gain among independent supermarket operators last year, the National Grocers Association (NGA) reported.

Adjusted for elevated levels of inflation, independent grocery industry comp sales still rose 13.5% for the 2020 fiscal year ended March 31, 2021, according to the 2021 Independent Grocers Financial Survey, a joint study released Wednesday by NGA and and financial consulting partner FMS Solutions. That easily surpassed the sector’s 2.5% comp sales growth in 2019.

Driving the upsurge were a boost in transaction size to an average of $31 and a “big upswing” in online orders, NGA said. Customer stockpiling at the onset of the coronavirus crisis set the tone of shoppers making fewer trips to stores but spending more per visit, with independents ringing up 13.3% higher sales in the first half of 2020 alone.

Robert Graybill-FMS Solutions.jpg"The combination of high sales and better margins resulted in record net profits before taxes." — Robert Graybill, FMS Solutions (Photo courtesy of FMS)

“All of grocery retail had record sales in 2020, but the pandemic brought consumers back to independent grocers in record numbers,” Robert Graybill, president and CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based FMS Solutions, said in a statement. “Whether one-store operators or small regional chains, independent grocers did what they do best during difficult times: take care of their communities.”

Center-store grocery, dairy, frozen and meat were the leading sales contributors by product category, the study said. Because of the escalated demand, inventory turns advanced to an average of 19.2 times per year, while shrinkage declined to 2.5% in 2020 from 2.9% in 2019.

The robust sales growth helped independents improve their margins across departments to 28.4% last year from 28% in 2019, with the largest gains seen in dry grocery; dairy; general merchandise and health and beauty aids; and beer, wine and liquor.

“The combination of high sales and better margins resulted in record net profits before taxes, at 5.02%, up from 1.05% in 2019,” Graybill explained. Net profit before taxes also was well over the 0.63% mark recorded in 2018.

Greg Ferrara-NGA-portrait.jpg"The independent community grocer has been instrumental in the food supply chain throughout the pandemic." — Greg Ferrara, National Grocers Association (Photo courtesy of NGA)

The top 25th percentile of independent grocers grew net profits before taxes by 9.8% last year, twice the industrywide average, and posted 1.6 percentage points higher total-store gross margin, according to the NGA/FMS report. Profit leaders exercised strong shrink control and labor, margin and expense management.

Although independent operators grappled with higher expenses brought on by the pandemic—including enhanced cleaning, safety gear for employees and customers, bonus and appreciation pay, overtime, and hiring and retention costs—sales gains accelerated faster, the research showed. That led to a drop in total expenses as a percentage of sales to 26.9% in 2020 from 28.8% in 2019.

“With continued elevated retail demand, the biggest competition now is not for the consumer dollar, but for independents’ greatest asset: people,” Graybill noted. 

Indeed, independent grocers cite hiring and employee retention as their chief marketplace concerns. Seventy-one percent of independents surveyed described hiring amid the pandemic as a challenge, and 64% said that situation negatively impacted retention. 

Sales growth driven by the pandemic, however, is being redirected into increased business investment, NGA/FMS found. In 2020, 62% of independent grocers increased capital expenditures, including for e-commerce and stores, with remodels and new openings reaching their highest levels in years, the study said. Independents also shored up their balance sheets by improving their debt-to-equity ratios and paying down long-term liabilities. 

“Alongside the important role in feeding America’s communities, the pandemic has illustrated the agility and resiliency of independent grocers,” NGA President and CEO Greg Ferrara commented. “As the supermarket industry continues to navigate these changes, independent grocers are in a unique position to find innovative and creative ways to better serve their customers. The independent community grocer has been instrumental in the food supply chain throughout the pandemic and has been reinvigorated within their communities even as restaurants moved towards the new normalcy.”

In mid-June, NGA released new research on the independent grocery industry’s overall economic impact, including its direct and indirect impact in dollars and employment. Sales by the independent sector rose almost 94% to $253.61 billion in 2020 from $131 billion in 2012, the year of NGA’s last economic impact study. As part of the economy, independent grocers accounted for 1.2% of the 2020 U.S. gross domestic product of $20.93 trillion, with a total output topping $255 billion. The sector encompasses 21,574 stores nationwide, NGA reported.

supermarket news logoThis piece originally appeared on Supermarket News, a New Hope Network sister website. Visit the site for more grocery trends and insights.

Award-winning, plastic-free packaging also cuts food waste

AFC Packaging Award-winning, plastic-free packaging also cuts food waste

AFC Packaging set out to create plastic-free, recyclable packaging for produce and other foods, but it turns out the company also found a way to reduce food waste.

NOW No Waste Technology, created by AFC Packaging in Illinois and its Italian sister company, Policarta, recently received the 2021 Innovation Award in Food Waste Prevention from the Sustainable Packaging Coalition.

Paul Smith, chief business integration officer, says the plastic-free packaging can be flow-wrapped, customized and printed on. Barrier coatings can control humidity and protect produce from sunlight. Yet, the paper packaging is fully recyclable, as certified by Italy's Sistema Aticelca and Western Michigan University.

Usually, food-safe paper packaging is coated with wax or plastic and that results in packaging that cannot be recycled.

"Once you adhere something to the paper, it will never, ever release from the paper. The paper and the other thing—that wax, that plastic—are bonded for life. So that product is not recyclable," Smith says.

But AFC's technology changes that.

"With NOW plastic-free, our packaging technology, we can prep that paper in such a way that you can put a coating on it and when it goes in the recycling stream, it will separate immediately," he says. "The paper will go right through the recycling stream and come out optically clear, without 'stickies,' without any components that aren't paper." The coating simply disintegrates, he adds.

"Stickies" is an industry term for adhesives from envelopes and stickers that can contaminate recycled paper. These impurities are measured in the final product coming out of the recycling stream.

While the cellulose window doesn’t dissolve in water, it comes out of the recycling stream and composts naturally.

Reducing food waste is a bonus

Because consumers are used to purchasing potatoes and carrots in plastic mesh or bags, they tend to believe that produce packaged in paper won't last as long, Smith says. The folks at AFC Packaging weren't sure if that was the case, so they commissioned a study from a third party, ASTRA Innovazione e Sviluppo in Italy.

Researchers there refrigerated at 42.8 degrees Fahrenheit 24 plastic packages of carrots with 24 paper packages of carrots and examined them six times over 15 days, noting packaging integrity, freshness, presence of mold or rot and other features. In a second study, similar groups of carrots were kept at room temperature (68 degrees F) and similar features were measured.

All the carrots were the same variety, from the same lot and the same batch, according to the study. (The study results, written in Italian, are available at showthecertificate.com. New Hope Network used the free version of www.DeepL.com/Translator to translate it to English.)  

After 14 days, all of the carrots from paper packaging were tasty, but only 35% of the carrots in plastic packages were, according to the study. "On the whole, the paper package is more appreciated with a score of good, while the plastic one is judged as fair," the researchers wrote.

The packing effects were more pronounced for the carrots kept at room temperature. On the ninth day of the study, the carrots in the paper packaging were dehydrated; 70% were moldy; and 20% of the roots were rotting. As bad as that sounds, 100% of the carrots in plastic packaging had mold and rotting roots.

On day 11 of the study, the carrots in plastic packaging were completely rotted and could no longer be studied, the researchers wrote.

In addition to produce, the NOW No Waste Technology packaging could be used with bakery items, dried pasta, flour and even charcoal—all products that often have plastic-coated packaging, Smith says. But it's not for every product. A food with lots of nuts or oils likely would not have the shelf life that consumers expect.

"We really evaluate every opportunity very carefully. There's some things we can look at like sports bars; the issue is that once you start having a certain amount of oils or things that produce oils—things like nuts—those things can go rancid relatively quickly," Smith says.

Packaging spotlight: 12 colorful rebrands that bring joy to holiday shopping

This year, bright colors with a retro touch are all the rage. It's no surprise given how shoppers are (still) looking to liven up their day-to-day lives with products that convey a sense of joy. 

Click through this gallery to see this kind of joyful rebrand in action, from tea-infused sparkling water to an innovative plant milk concentrate.

 

Monitor: Natural shoppers prioritize simple holiday experiences but COVID-19 still looms

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Natural Products Industry Health Monitor, Oct. 28, 2021
 
As the world emerges, haltingly from COVID-19, new challenges emerge. In this feature, New Hope Network provides an ongoing update on those challenges and the opportunities they hold. Look for the Industry Health Monitor every other Friday to learn the major news that is affecting the natural products market immediately and the less obvious insights that could dictate where the market may struggle or thrive in the months to come.

Early in the shock-therapy of COVID-19 lockdown, there was a collective question mark hovering over the nation that  pondered whether people would reevaluate priorities when so many of the distractions of materialism were stripped away. A simpler take on life would emerge, many hoped. 

New research from New Hope Network's NEXT Data and Insights team suggests some of those simpler life priorities have survived, at least for natural shoppers, while concerns about safety make it clear that consumers understand the COVID-19 crisis is not over. 

 

In the survey, consumers who self-identified as natural shoppers were asked to prioritize holiday activities and goals from least to most important. Combining responses in the top two priority buckets, more than half of respondents called spending time with friends and family most important. At the other end of the scale, only 8% said the same for “go all out.” 

In a similar vein, respondents put a high priority on “rest and relax.” 

It is important to remember that COVID-19 still looms as a factor in holiday planning, but what appears to be a polarization, even among natural shoppers, has emerged. The top two priority buckets for “to be safe from COVID-19” add up to 25% of respondents. However, the number of respondents in the bottom two buckets is not far behind at 21%. 

The good news for natural channel retailers is that people still plan to enjoy themselves. Respondents revealed no dramatic intention to simplify their holiday experience and the percentage of respondents suggesting they intend to spend as little as possible was remarkably low.  

A year after a holiday season that will stand out for many as the most subdued in history, one important finding for the natural products industry is that natural channel shoppers don’t appear to be viewing their festivities much differently than they did in 2020. Asked how likely they were to celebrate with large groups of friends or family, natural shoppers showed little change from last year. 

Conventional shoppers, however, appear much more likely to attend larger gatherings. 

 

The reasons behind this are unclear, but the finding suggests natural brands and retailers might best prepare for little change from last year. Interestingly, the share of shoppers in the survey who identify as “natural” has declined in the last year, though slightly.  

A similar story emerges when respondents were asked about their holiday travel plans. Natural shoppers’ appetite for travel has decreased, though slightly, while conventional channel shoppers intentions to channel remains more or less unchanged.  

 

None of the findings suggest profound pivots in marketing or product/services offerings are in order. What they do suggest is that brands and retailers can’t bank on a “new normal” appearing for the 2021 season. It could still turn out that introspection nurtured by months of lockdown will shift consumer values in important ways, but it does not appear that shift has happened just yet. 

Spending time with friends and family has always been a priority during the holidays, at least in surveys if not in hustle and bustle we see in the shopping districts, but whether COVID-19 will change how that priority manifests remains to be seen. 

Note: The referenced survey was fielded the week of Oct. 25, 2021 to 1,000 consumers directionally representative of the U.S. adult population and weighted for age, gender and region by New Hope Network NEXT Data and Insights team. 

8 must-know adaptogens and their properties

Getty Images adaptogens

A big clue to understanding adaptogens is in the name itself: Adaptogens help the body adapt to lifestyle conditions by restoring homeostasis or balance, whether that means combatting stress, boosting the immune system or supporting overall vitality. The difference between adaptogens and other beneficial herbs is that adaptogens work on several parts of the body at once to help create lasting, holistic health.

Below are just a few of the herbs that fall under the adaptogenic umbrella, what they do for the body and how to consume them.

Ashwagandha

According to the American Botanical Council, ashwagandha root soared 185.2% in sales in 2020, representing the largest growth spurt of any herbal supplement in the mainstream channel. Why? It’s an Ayurvedic all-star known to reduce stress by reducing serum cortisol levels in the body. And with lower stress comes a host of other benefits from better sleep to reduced inflammation, stronger immunity and a healthier sex life. Experts say 125 mg to 600 mg can do the trick for stress and sleep support.

Rhodiola

Rhodiola rosea is a traditional herb used for thousands of years in Siberia to make an energy enhancing tea. Today, it’s prized for its ability to increase mental performance and work output and decrease fatigue. Studies supporting a positive effect of R. rosea on physical performance reported doses of 200 mg perday and 680 mg per day, and those supporting a positive effect on mental fatigue reported doses between 100 and 576 mg per day.

Schisandra

With a rich history in Traditional Chinese Medicine for vitality, schisandra is in demand today for increasing energy, battling fatigue and promoting healthy sleep. Research shows that the ingredient’s antioxidant activity may promote a healthy nervous system and boost mental and physical functioning, including skeletal muscle strength. The typical dosage for schisandra extract is 100 mg twice daily.

Eleuthero

Eleutherococcus senticosus is a natural stress reliever and mood booster, prized in Northern Asia for strengthening the body’s life energy, or “qi” as it’s called in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Eleuthero seems to work in the hippocampus, where memory is located, and helps keep brain neurons healthy for increased alertness and better focus during stress.

Holy basil (tulsi)

Holy basil has been found to protect organs and tissues against physical stress and chemical stressors, such as those from pollutants and other environmental factors. Plus, it’s been shown to counter metabolic stress through the normalization of blood glucose, blood pressure and lipid levels as well as psychological stress through positive effects on memory and cognitive function and through its anxiolytic and antidepressant properties. Doses for standardized extracts range from 200 to 500 mg daily.

Maca

Maca, a Peruvian tuber, has been traditionally known for its sexual support and fertility benefits, and studies back its benefits for helping women battle antidepressant induced sexual dysfunction. As a food, maca is highly nutritious; dried maca contains about 59% carbohydrates and slightly more than 10% protein. Single-dose studies used extract quantities ranging from 1.5 grams per day to 3 grams per day.

Astragalus

Used for centuries in Traditional Chinese Medicine, astragalus is commonly promoted for upper respiratory health (think hay fever and asthma) as well as chronic fatigue. Topically, it’s also thought to be beneficial for wound healing. Doses up to 60 grams daily for up to 4 months have been used without reported adverse effects.

Ginseng

Ginseng is known for increasing resistance to environmental stress and improving overall wellbeing. Mostly, ginseng is touted for its benefits for physical stamina, concentration and immune system function. Most published research studies have used a standardized ginseng extract in a dosage of 200 mg per day.

[email protected]: Meatpacking plant infections higher than previously thought | Amazon earnings expected to suffer

Getty Images meatpacking plant worker

COVID-19 infections and deaths at meatpacking plants much higher than previously thought

What's clear in hindsight is that meatpacking plants were major COVID-19 hotspots; they spread the virus in rural and suburban communities far more than in similar towns that didn't have a plant of this nature. However, Modern Farmer points out, early data was full of contradictions and it wasn't clear just how many infections and deaths resulted from the poor health and safety policy enforcement conducted at many of these facilities. The latest and most accurate research pinpoints positive COVID-19 cases in U.S. meatpacking plants at 59,000—nearly three times higher than previous estimates! At least 269 deaths of plant workers can also be attributed to COVID-19.

Amazon earnings expected to suffer as growth slows, labor costs rise

Amazon is in the midst of some pretty gnarly supply chain and staffing challenges, which will likely continue to slow down sales growth and make it harder for the company to meet demand, per The Wall Street Journal. The company's Chief Financial Officer Brian Olsavsky said in a previous earnings call that forthcoming financial performances would run into tough comparisons following 2020’s pandemic-fueled success. To help attract and retain staff, Amazon raised wages, which now average just over $18 an hour, and has handed out bonuses of $3,000 in some cases. The online retailer also recently introduced a plan to pay for the tuition of its workers. 

Pthalates found in many fast foods

All the gloves, conveyor belts, packaging, wrapping and tubes that touch fast food products infuse them with a hefty dose of pthalates, reports Nourish. Pthalates easily migrate to food, and these plastic-softening chemicals can potentially lead to hormone disruption, infertility and even learning disabilities. This may be unsurprising to members of the natural products industry, but it's a concerning finding given how many U.S. consumers rely on fast food chains to feed themselves and their children. Organic and natural products also aren't immune to pthalate exposure, so brands would do well to reduce the amount of plastic in their packaging that contains these chemicals.

China hurries to burn more coal, putting climate goals at risk

China is desperate to meet its electricity needs, but the extra coal it plans to burn by itself would increase humanity’s output of planet-warming carbon dioxide by a full percentage point. Burning coal is already the world’s single biggest cause of human-driven climate change, writes The New York Times, and it's a huge contributor to China's toxic air pollution, which contributes to 1.6 million premature deaths each year. The country is expanding mines to produce 220 million metric tons a year of extra coal, a nearly 6% rise from last year; it already digs up and burns more coal than the rest of the world combined.

These charts show how California's top crops are changing

Surprisingly, widespread drought conditions in California haven't prompted farmers to choose crops that require less water to thrive. Instead, they're growing crops with better payoffs to mitigate scarce resources. Data shows a growing amount of farmers in the region are planting fewer acres of field crops, such as rice, wheat and cotton, and more tree nuts, such as almonds, pistachios and walnuts, because of the higher revenue per acre. The San Francisco Chronicle interviewed growers who have a bleak long-term outlook on their land because of the unpredictability of climate change-related water availability and drought conditions.

Fresh Thyme Market to open new concept store in St. Louis

Fresh Thyme Market Fresh thyme market new exterior rendering

Fresh Thyme Market, a full-service specialty retailer with 70 stores in 10 states throughout the Midwest, will open a new concept store with a focus on the community and local products on Nov. 10 at the historic City Foundry in St. Louis. The 27,000-square-foot Fresh Thyme Market at City Foundry STL will feature a vast assortment of fresh, local, natural and organic food, as well as national brand products at affordable prices.

"We're thrilled to finally announce when we'll be opening our doors and welcoming the St. Louis community to our beautiful new flagship store," said store director Jane Wilcox. "Our team provides shoppers with an unparalleled grocery experience from the moment they walk in all the way through checkout. We're excited to make a positive impact in the community and look forward to showing shoppers what the Fresh Thyme Market at City Foundry STL store is all about."

The historic City Foundry of St. Louis was built with the intention to serve the community by providing local residents with accessible and affordable resources. Aligning seamlessly with Fresh Thyme's mission to support their local communities, Fresh Thyme Market at City Foundry STL is committed to offering more than 1,000 local artisan items, including Bridge Bread, Prioritized Pastries, Field to Fire, Patty's Cheesecake and Demiblue Natural Nails.

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Fresh Thyme Market at City Foundry STL has partnered with local artist Grace McCammond to paint a mural of fresh colorful produce on the outside of the building, as shown in this rendering.

Fresh Thyme Market at City Foundry STL has partnered with local artist Grace McCammond to paint a mural of fresh colorful produce on the outside of the building, as shown in this rendering.

The retailer said that through easy-to-navigate shelves and reliably sourced products, Fresh Thyme Market at City Foundry STL strives to present a more thoughtful approach for all St. Louis shoppers to live healthier lives. The new flagship store has partnered with local artist Grace McCammond to paint a mural of fresh colorful produce on the outside of the building facing Forest Park. In addition, Fresh Thyme Market at City Foundry STL features a full-service café, offering breakfast, lunch and coffee concoctions; products from local, Black women-owned businesses; and a self-checkout model, allowing customers the ease of shopping at their own speed.

To further support and engage within the community, Fresh Thyme Market at City Foundry STL is partnering with the St. Louis Food Bank School Market Program. This partnership provides access and choice of real food to students and families to live better and healthier lives. This commitment within the community positively impacts over 1,000 families to further deepen the store's roots in the community they serve.

Fresh Thyme Market at City Foundry's commitment to local also includes its team. Wilcox, who is a St. Louis native, is hiring more than 70 full- and part-time employees to help operate the store, which will be open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

Downers Grove, Illinois-based Fresh Thyme Market announced in July that it was partnering with  RangeMe, an online product discovery and sourcing platform for retailers and suppliers, on its local sourcing initiative. With RangeMe, Fresh Thyme Market has access to more than 200,000 consumer packaged goods suppliers and can use RangeMe to streamline its search to find brands that fit the criteria for this initiative. Fresh Thyme Market can filter for products and suppliers that are local to the region and invites all manufacturers to submit their products for consideration through RangeMe.

supermarket news logoThis piece originally appeared on Supermarket News, a New Hope Network sister website. Visit the site for more grocery trends and insights.