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Articles from 2016 In November

Natural Foods Merchandiser

Cooperative economy fosters growth for The Wedge

Josh Resnik The Wedge natural food store

Wedge Community Co-op, affectionately dubbed “the Wedge,” has been a Minneapolis staple for more than four decades. Started in an apartment basement by a group of health- and sustainability-minded neighbors, it has flourished into a thriving store, distribution company and catering service, still invested in supporting local food and the local economy.

Josh Resnik, a longtime Wedge shopper, came on board as CEO a few years back. Merging his business acumen, passion for local and vision for the future with the committed Wedge team has yielded many exciting new opportunities for the co-op. NFM caught up with him to see what’s popping.

What got you interested in food?
Josh Resnik: I grew up in Connecticut, about an hour from New York City, and was always around food. We were the type of family who’d be eating one meal but talking about the next. We’d often drive into the city to check out these tiny Ukrainian or Ethiopian places, so I’ve always had a passion for exploring new tastes. Even when I moved to Northfield, Minnesota, for college, we’d drive up to Minneapolis to try new restaurants. Then after graduating from business school, I came back to work for General Mills.

Wow, so you first worked in mass food?
JR: There was this big dichotomy between my professional and personal life. At work I’d be figuring out the next microwavable dessert for Betty Crocker or the next yogurt in a tube. But I shopped at farmers markets and the Wedge, supported local restaurants and got involved in Midtown Global Market and other nonprofits. I remember walking through the farmers market and thinking how much I loved building connections with farmers—it was kind of like my church. I realized I’d love to meld my professional background with my passions, so that started my path. I ran a small company that sold grassfed bison meat for a few years, and then the Wedge opportunity came about in late 2012.

What were your main initiatives as CEO?
JR: I felt like we needed to expand, so we crafted a three-part plan. First we built an offsite commissary kitchen on Nicollet Avenue. Our store was so cramped and we wanted more space to serve prepared foods because that’s where the market is going. Now with the offsite space, we’re ready to serve more than one store. We also have a catering business that grew 72 percent last year. That location now also has a mini-market, café and community space. In total, it’s 15,000 square feet with 4,000 square feet of retail.

What’s phase two?
JR: Now we’re in the midst of remodeling the Lyndale store—the first remodel since 1997. One component is updating freezers, HVAC and the roof—unsexy upgrades that needed to get done so we can run more efficiently. The other piece is reconfiguring the store to relieve congestion and make it flow better. Everyone talks about creating more perimeter space because that’s where you can really differentiate yourself. That was a conundrum for us, so we moved the registers to the center and put seating at the very front so people looking in from the street can see the action. We’re also adding amenities that have become basics in grocery retail, such as a full-service cheese area, our own sliced deli meats, a hot bar and a salad bar.

And phase three?
JR: Phase three has changed course. We set out to open a second complete store. We are vertically integrated with food production and warehousing, so we recognized there would be definite efficiencies of having more retail outlets. Plus, people are shopping closer to home these days, so we want to be in more neighborhoods than one. But now, instead of a new store, we’re exploring consolidation with Eastside Food Co-Op and Linden Hills Co-Op. Minneapolis is a unique market because there are so many independent co-ops, all sharing similar values and working toward the same ends. We’re in discussions now, and our members will have to pass it by a two-thirds majority.

Given Minnesota’s short growing season, is it tough to find local products outside of summer?
JR: Three or four months is the heart of local, but we have some local storage crops through the end of year. However, along with having close relationship with farms here, we promote the idea of buying "like local" year-round. Through our distribution arm, Co-Op Partners Warehouse, we support small organic farmers in other regions rather than buying from big industrial players. So when customers want broccoli or strawberries out of season, they’re getting them from small organic farmers in growing regions. We have amazing buying through CPW, and as a smaller retailer and warehouse, we can be more nimble than a big natural chain.

Does CPW just service the Wedge?
JR: It’s owned by Wedge, but it’s a separate business unit that sells to 450 outlets in the upper Midwest. Twenty-three of our 25 biggest customers are other co-ops, but we also sell to restaurants focused on natural foods. That has been the fastest growing part of our business. It allows us to aggregate everything and bring it to partners on one truck, which takes trucks off the road and lets our 116 farmers focus on farming instead of deliveries. We never actually own the food—we get a small fee, but it’s a direct transaction between retailers and our local farms.

A go-to retail expert reveals trends influencing natural

Errol Schweizer knows retail. As a strategic advisor and consultant for the natural products marketplace, he is a go-to when it comes to questions of trends, legislation and the right course to take. Here, he divulges recent trends he’s noticing and new labeling laws that could influence the approach of new brands.  

[email protected]: Second-largest chicken producer acquires organic, antibiotic-free line | Price isn't the only barrier to healthier food


Pilgrim's Pride to acquire organic chicken line in $350 million deal

The world's second-biggest chicken producer will boost its organic and antibiotic-free offerings through the acquisition of GNP Company and its Just Bare brand, which places a code on each package that consumers can use to trace the chicken to where it was raised. Read more at Reuters...


Is nutritious food really pricier, and, if so, is that really the problem?

Yes, it is—the cost per calorie of vegetables and fruits is more than grains, sugar and vegetable oil. But healthy staples like eggs, brown rice, black beans and peanut butter all cost less than 10 cents per 100 calories. Thus, the root of the problem with America's unhealthy diets isn't just affordability—it's access, time and education. Read more at The Washington Post...


Clif Bar’s former CEO opens up about the emotional toll of entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurs are increasingly discussing their depression and other emotional afflictions. Yet, in her new book, Sheryl O’Loughlin, cofounder of Plum Organics, former chief executive of Clif Bar and current CEO of Rebbl, says that this dark side needs to be addressed even more openly. Read more in Fortune...


2016 Food Safety Survey Report

New data from FDA, USDA and FSIS reveals high consumer awareness of foodborne pathogens Salmonella and E. coli, and most respondents are more worried about getting food poisoning from meat than vegetables. Read more at FDA...


More data against fresh, raw sprouts

According to FDA’s Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation Network, from 1996 to August 2016, there were 48 outbreaks of illness were associated with fresh sprouts, the researchers found. Alfalfa sprouts most often caused outbreaks. Read more at Food Safety News…

Which omega-3 source is best?

If you were on a desert island and could take one supplement, what would it be? We asked Doug Lynch, CEO of MarketWell Nutrition and a rep for a number of different omega-3 sources over the years, what he'd take.

Be HIP—a health-inspired person

Coming soon to a flat-screen TV near you, it’s For The HIP. Doc Rob gets real with New Hope Network’s Todd Runestad.

The rising demands of producing safe food products

Natalie Ohanessian new hope

In an age that’s reached an all-time high of product innovation, on a parallel path, federal regulations for product food safety have equally reached their highest level of rigor. A sustainable and effective food safety strategy is sometimes referred to as cultivating a positive and empowering food safety culture within an organization. This food culture is one that is implemented from the top down and is proactive rather than reactive. A comprehensive food safety plan requires real-time input from all key players within the business for ongoing effectiveness.

The most modern set of regulations that have launched nationally are part of the Food Safety Modernization Act, set forth by the Food & Drug Administration. FSMA was signed by President Obama in 2011 and poses new requirements for food manufacturers across the nation. According to FDA, it "aims to ensure the U.S. food supply is safe by shifting the focus from responding to contamination to preventing it." As food industry folks, it is important for us to stay abreast with these evolving federal regulations.

Below are several tips for keeping your food business up-to-date and educated with these rising demands for manufacturing safe products. Adherence is mandated by various deadlines, depending on the size of your organization.

Stay up to date. Since the food industry is a constantly evolving field, it is critical for food business to stay up-to-date on these regulatory standards. Especially if your role is within quality assurance, you are the group of individuals who most commonly lead your team in the enforcement of this federal legislation. To keep updated with all FDA updates, subscribe to updates on its website here. Additionally, subscribing to organizations focused around food safety like Food Safety News can help in making sure you stay updated with current events in the industry.

Know your training options. Certification bodies, which help support enforcing the Global Food Safety Initiative schemes, provide a various range of trainings for food manufacturers. A handful of certification bodies have expanded their training offerings to include FSMA updates. These certification bodies are a great resource for trainings. SCS Global, SAI Global as well as Eurofins Scientific, to name a few, are providing several workshops to support the education and implementation of FSMA.

Have a plan. To have a successful transition into these new standards, it will most certainly take an entire team! That team may include key players within your organization such as upper management, QA, sanitation, operations, maintenance, supply chain and many more. Set S-M-A-R-T goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. Get buy-in from your team and remember to split up the work within the organization. Hold weekly meetings to cover updates, modifications and any findings that may affect other departments, and remember to keep it positive and smile along the way!

Catch Natalie Ohanessian at Natural Products Expo West
What: An Introduction to Modern Food Safety & Quality Management Techniques
When: Wednesday, March 8, 2017


Webrooming vs. showrooming: Ecommerce shopping styles and trends broken down [infographic]

Thinkstock etailer shop online

Today’s customer shops with the web at hand, whether at home or in your store aisles. She may be “webrooming”—researching and shopping online before heading to a brick-and-mortar store to purchase. Or he could be “showrooming”—using your aisles to touch, test and compare before buying on the web.

Koeppel Direct, a direct response advertising agency, breaks down the two styles and how customers use ecommerce today in the infographic below.

Interestingly, the company reports that shoppers—even those digital native millennials—prefer webrooming. They want to buy in-store. Baby boomers prefer webrooming (30 percent) to showrooming (18 percent). Millennials also choose webrooming (46 percent) to showrooming (32 percent). Gen Z is another story.

Stores and brands that use advertising campaigns to actively connect with consumers and entice them to buy in-store can attract these shoppers, Koeppel Direct suggests, particularly with in-store-only discounts, online price matching and special in-store events.

[email protected]: Soda taxes spread | Monsanto-Bayer merger could ease | Cadbury move not Fairtrade

soda taxes

As soda taxes gain wider acceptance, your bottle may be next

This month, voters in San Francisco, Oakland and Albany, Calif., as well as Boulder, Colo., stunned the industry by approving ballot measures in favor of soda taxes. Cook County, Ill., followed a few days later, bringing a soft-drink tax to Chicago and surrounding areas. They are joining Berkeley, Calif., which passed a tax two years ago, and Philadelphia, which passed one in June, bringing to seven the number of American communities with soda taxes.

With that public momentum, a soda tax may be coming to a city near you. Read more at the New York Times ...


Cadbury accused of fudge as it pulls out of Fairtrade

When Cadbury’s announced seven years ago that its leading brand, Dairy Milk, would be made from Fairtrade cocoa it was hailed as a milestone and a return to the ideals of its Quaker founders.

But now the company is facing criticism after pulling out of Fairtrade chocolate in favour of its own “sustainability programme”. Read more at the Telegraph ...


Food and ag science will shape our future

What if I told you a scientist had recently discovered a way to remove up to 98% of the allergens in peanuts without affecting the flavor, thereby diminishing a severe health threat to some 2.8 million Americans who suffer from peanut allergies?

Or that a small family business is working on a project that could quench the thirst of billions of people around the world with technology that’s capable of taking water from any source and making it safe to drink?

If that sounds a little like science fiction to you, you wouldn’t be alone. But both examples exist today as part of the hundreds of scientific breakthroughs made by USDA and USDA-supported scientists since the start of the Obama Administration. Tom Vilsack breaks it down on Medium ...


Trump’s attorney general could smooth way for Monsanto-Bayer merger, says report

Jeff Sessions, a Republican Alabama senator and Trump's nominee for attorney general, could boost the odds of a Monsanto-Bayer merger earning congressional approval, according to Investopedia. Read more at Modern Farmer ...


Who invented agriculture first? It sure wasn't humans

You may think of ants as picnic pilferers. After all, who hasn't had to ward off ants stealing crumbs from picnic tables or hoarding tiny pieces of food from kitchens? But a new study shows that they're in fact hard working farmers. Or at least one species of ants is. It lives in Fiji and has been farming plants for some 3 million years. Read more at NPR ...

More hope for probiotics vs. autism

Could probiotics work against the symptoms of autism? Recent rodent research yielded intriguing results that suggest the cause of the condition may lie in our gut.

Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine discovered that when mice are missing one specific species of bacteria in their gut, they exhibit anti-social behaviors similar to autism. When the scientists added the bacteria back to the mice’s systems, they were able to reverse some of the behaviors, according to a release about the research from Cell, where the results have been published.

"Other research groups are trying to use drugs or electrical brain stimulation as a way to reverse some of the behavioral symptoms associated with neurodevelopmental disorders—but here we have, perhaps, a new approach," senior author Mauro Costa-Mattioli, a neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine, said in the release. "Whether it would be effective in humans, we don't know yet, but it is an extremely exciting way of affecting the brain from the gut."

The researchers believe that their work, which uses a human bacteria species to promote oxytocin levels and improve social behavioral deficits in mice, could be explored as a probiotic intervention for the treatment of neurodevelopmental disorders in humans. Check out a video explaining the study (including cartoons of hoops-playing, high-fiving mice) and how the bacteria affected rodent behavior.

"This is where the science is unexpectedly leading us," said Costa-Mattioli. "We could potentially see this type of approach developing quite quickly not only for the treatment of ASD (autism spectrum disorders) but also for other neurodevelopmental disorders; anyway, this is my gut feeling." A growing body of research connects the gut microbiome and brain disorders. Last year, a Finnish study was the first to show that probiotic supplementation early in life may help reduce the risk of brain disorders, like ADHD and ASD, in children.

How 4 Campbell's employees launched a mission-based food company

Soulfull Project Campbell's

While much of Big Food’s growth and innovation is coming through the acquisition of smaller, mission-based brands, this new company and its parent company have a different story to tell.

It starts with four colleagues who were working on innovation initiatives at Campbell Soup Company. In their work, they saw firsthand how low-income families were struggling to put food on the table—and how the food those families could afford was making them sick. So they vowed to do something about it.

Megan Shea, Chip Heim, Maria Gamble and Lisa Schipsi quietly assembled and created The Soulfull Project—now its own public benefit corporation funded by Campbell’s—based on a buy-one-give-one model that empowers shoppers to do good in their communities. Consumers buy their non-GMO hot cereal cups, and the company donates a serving of hot cereal to a local food bank.

Cofounder and head of business and operations Megan Shea shared The Soulfull Project's mission with us.

Can you share how you all came up with the idea for the Soulfull Project?

Megan Shea: The project came out of personal experiences that we had, individually and together, meeting low-income families struggling to put food on the table, and then the food they were able to afford was making them sick, and they knew it. They watch Dr. Oz and knew about ingredients like kale and quinoa and chia and all of these aspirational ingredients that just felt very out of reach for them. So we made a personal promise to ourselves that we were going to do something more to help them—more than just send them extra food and extra money.

So the mission came before the product?

MS: The mission completely came first. We knew we wanted something that had the giving model and that could help people in our own community and other communities as we expanded. It was about putting a mission and purpose behind your purchases—the belief that you can buy something that you feel really good about for yourself and know that it lives on and helps someone else through a buy-one-give-one business model. What we’re giving [to the food banks] is the same quality food, and that was really important to us because we really wanted to make sure that the people who were struggling were getting really nutrient-dense ingredients.

Why hot cereal? And what kind of nutritional attributes did you focus on when developing the product?

MS: Breakfast is really a pain point for so many people, regardless of how much money or time you have. It informs someone’s whole day—if they make a bad choice at breakfast, a lot of times by 8 a.m. they think the whole day is shot.

We specifically picked these hot cereals because we knew it was a great way to bring whole grains, really nutrient-dense ingredients in, and do it in a clean way. We focused on making sure that it was accessible to all of us. We wanted to use ingredients and flavors that felt very familiar—brown sugar pecan, blueberry almond—and include ingredients that most of us struggle to fit into our lifestyles, like chia, flax and quinoa.

When we developed the product that we actually give, we did that hand-in-hand with our food bank partners. We took the cup SKUs that we had to the food banks, and they told us that for their beneficiaries, they wanted an unflavored and unsweetened version. So we developed the four grains, family size and, hearty grains and seeds varieties with the food banks, making sure that there’s no sugar added, because it’s really important when you think about the prevalence of diabetes with people who are using food banks. We also made sure it could be customized to their liking.

I know you’re in Wegmans now—with this local-focused mission, is there ability (or desire) to scale?

MS: We built it from day one to be scalable. We wanted to start really small to make sure we could deliver on the promises we were making. We picked our giving partners first: the Food Bank of South Jersey, Community Food Bank of New Jersey and Philabundance, and then we picked stores with Wegmans to surround those giving partners. Right now we’re just in 14 stores that line up with regions that our giving partners are in.

We are looking at scaling with Wegmans over the next few months and years, because hunger and food insecurity is unfortunately affecting every community within the U.S.

What is Campbell's role here?

MS: We’re a wholly owned subsidiary. We were working for Campbell’s as a team and as friends, and when we came up with the idea, we worked on it on the side. We took it to the food banks before we even took it to the leadership at Campbell’s. Once we had a product and a business plan, we took it to the leadership team, and they agreed to fund it. We left our roles and are now operating a public benefit company funded by Campbell Soup Company.

I want to talk a little about the public benefit corporation aspect of your business. Why did you go that route?

MS: We chose the public benefit corporation as a constant reminder of our mission. We didn’t want our mission to be diluted as we grew, so by going with public benefit corporation, our mission is part of our corporate charter. Our mission and our business don’t exist without each other. We use it as a promise and a daily reminder to ourselves that we have to make decisions looking at both.

How do you convey your mission to consumers?

MS: We set really small goals for ourselves initially—for instance, we had hoped to have maybe 500 to 1,000 people on Facebook by the end of our first three months, but we’re actually approaching 19,000. As part of living into our mission, we launched the Soulfull 100, which was 100 volunteer events performed by the team in 100 days with our three giving partners. If you can imagine, trying to start a company and volunteer every day, it was pretty overwhelming, but we did it. We were posting about each event, and what it did was allow us to bring our mission front and center. So by going out and volunteering with our giving partners, showing and highlighting the people that make take time to volunteer every day, we saw that the response from consumers all around the country has been overwhelming, because people want to get involved more. There’s this amazing hunger to learn more about organizations and how people are helping others in their communities.