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Articles from 2017 In December

[email protected]: Supply chains adapt to new consumer demands | Revolution Foods transforms school lunch

ThinkStock entrepreneurship lessons from farmers

Changing consumers ignite food revolution

Minnesota is home to some of the biggest names in agriculture and food—General Mills, Cargill and Hormel. And the shift in consumer attitude toward healthier, less processed products is transforming the agriculture and economy of the state. Big food companies that put packaged products on shelves are re-engineering their complex supply chains. General Mills, for example, committed nearly $3 million over the next few years to devote to soil health initiatives. These kinds of changes put the farmers who supply companies with ingredients under pressure to use more soil-friendly, sustainable farming practice and raise their animal welfare standards—an expensive risk that not all of them are willing to take. Read more at Star Tribune…


Oakland company wants to spark school food revolution

“We decided to totally rethink how school food works by bringing chefs into the equation and by having chefs designing the food that kids eat every day instead of being the necessary evil of whatever is the cheapest thing you can put on the lunch line,” says Revolution Foods co-founder Kirsten Tobey. Working with about 2,000 schools across the country, Revolution Foods’ chefs develop specialized menus for each school based on the age of the children, location and the food traditions within each region, with three to five items on the menu per day, depending on the season. Read more at East Bay Times…


Retail forecast: What will grocery shopping look like in 2018?

More meal kits and same-day delivery services, wider availability of mobile payment at checkout and more restaurants within grocery stores are what’s John Karolefski expects to see in the new year. Read more at USA Today…


KY stores see increase in CBD oil purchases since ban in IN

Late last month, Indiana’s attorney general said CBD was not a legal ingredient. As some stores in the Hoosier state clear their shelves, some customers are making their way across the state line to buy it in Kentucky. Read more at 14News…


Jared Polis asks FDA to lift public-health warning on kratom

In a letter signed by 17 fellow lawmakers, Rep. Jared Polis asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to lift its warning on the supplement, which is used to treat pain, anxiety and depression, and to help people get off of opioids. Read more at Westword… 

Mina brings Moroccan cuisine to the U.S. masses

mina harissa sauce

The appetite of U.S. consumers in recent years for both convenience and new, bold, and ethnic flavors has created opportunities for new brands to fulfill those demands. One of them, Mina, has found success bringing classic Moroccan recipes to American grocery stores.

We spoke with co-founder Fouad Kallamni about the brand’s progression from an unknown startup making a product unknown to most American families, to a brand bringing Moroccan foods to households around the country.

How did Mina come to be? Give us the basic background story.

Fouad Kallamni: Mina, my mother, was born and raised in Casablanca. She learned a lot of traditional Moroccan recipes, and she won a scholarship to cook in Paris for a year when she was a teenager. She understood that cooking is more than just Moroccan cuisine. When she came to the U.S., she started a catering business. Her clients were high-end, wealthy individuals, from Jackie Kennedy Onassis to the Koch brothers. She was a private chef throughout the 1970s, '80s and '90s, but her real dream was to introduce Moroccan cuisine to the American market, to the masses.

I have a background in marketing and branding. My mother had all of the best Moroccan recipes. We decided to launch our brand with harissa. Americans love sauces and condiments, and harissa is to Morocco what ketchup is to America or Sriracha to southeast Asia or salsa to Mexico.

How do you decide which products to launch, and which recipes or flavor profiles will have broad appeal among American consumers?

FK: We said that if we launched with everything at once, it would confuse the consumer. So we took a step back and said, what kind of product makes sense for the market?

We did a lot of demos, went to a lot of trade shows. Once we built awareness, we followed with a mild and green harissa. Typically in Morocco, green harissa isn’t that popular, but Americans love variety.

Then we launched our shakshuka sauce. Th idea was to introduce products that we knew would work and consumers could learn and adapt into their everyday cooking. Shakshuka is a popular dish in North Africa made with tomatoes, roasted red peppers, roasted green peppers, onion, garlic and a lot of herbs and spices. Just picture a highly seasoned simmering tomato sauce, and usually you crack an egg over it, but it’s such a versatile product. We’re marketing it not only as shakshuka sauce, but we’re also marketing it as an everything sauce. So if you don’t want to eat it with poached eggs, it’s great on pasta, it’s great as a crostini topper, the possibilities are endless.

Then we launched the tagine cooking sauces. A tagine is a clay pot with conical lid and the name of the Moroccan dish. There’s 100 different recipes for tagine, but there are three classic tagines: chicken, fish, and one for lamb and beef. We launched those, and they’re all vegan. We tell people these are simmering sauces for these classic proteins, but you can replace with any meat or tofu or vegetable of your choice.

When did you decide to expand your product line beyond the original harissa, and how do you determine when to introduce the next product?

FK: In the beginning, it was just, which product from our potential lineup did we think would be most approachable for the consumer? The Indian sauces that are all over the market now were just starting. We weren’t ready to start educating consumers on the tagine. Now, the Mina brand has built enough recognition, we have the distribution, and people are starting to know what Moroccan foods are—we’re a strong enough company that we feel we can educate the consumer now.

We’re based in New York and we targeted all the specialty stores first. Once we were there and getting reorders and getting new customers, that was when we decided it’s time for more.

Do you have any advice to share with other young brands introducing new cuisines to the U.S. market?

FK: The product has to be amazing, it has to be authentic, and it has to be as user-friendly as possible. It has to make sense for the consumer. For example, our shakshuka, consumers can use it in so many ways and can adapt it to their needs. Great packaging and passion are also key.

Are the recipes truly authentic, or have you had to adapt them for the American consumer?

FK: Very authentic. We don’t go into production unless it passes my mother’s test. If it doesn’t taste the way she makes it at home, we don't produce it.

Do you know how people are using Mina’s products, when they’re not following traditional Moroccan recipes?

FK: With the harissa, people are making harissa mayo, using them as finishing sauces, as a hot sauce, in dressings, in cooking sauces. The tagine sauce is more specific (it should only be used as a cooking sauce or marinad), but with the shakshuka and the harissa, the ideas are endless. Everyday, I’m surprised of the uses I hear about.

What products does Mina have in store next?

FK: Next year, we’ll be launching a line of organic Moroccan teas. Morocco’s famous for its mint tea—made with a kind of mint called Nana. It’s indigenous to Morocco and it’s very fragrant—it’s like spearmint times 10. So we’re launching an authentic Moroccan mint herbal tea, an organic mint green tea, and lemon verbena herbal tea, all grown in Morocco. We’re also introducing an organic loose-leaf tea in a tin.

We’re also launching a line of artisanal hand-rolled Moroccan couscous. Morocco’s the mother land of couscous. We’ll have a golden couscous, which is the classic couscous that everyone knows, a whole wheat couscous, and a pearl couscous. Those will be out in the spring or middle of 2018. The teas will be out in the first quarter of the year. Later in 2018, we’ll also introduce culinary argan oil, preserved lemons and olives.

The whole idea behind Mina is making Moroccan food easy and user-friendly. They’re also clean, made with no preservatives and all natural ingredients.

We didn’t want to confuse the consumer with so many Moroccan foods when they were just learning. So we’re taking our time, but slowly but surely, we’ll have a full range.

Tea seems like a fairly saturated category. Does that concern you? Why introduce a new tea?

FK: There are so many teas; it’s one of the largest sets. But they’re all doing the same things. Our specialty is Moroccan teas and only Moroccan teas. We’re carving out a niche, and focusing on what we know and do best.

[email protected]: Consumers open to buying upcycled food products | Retail predictions for 2018

Will people eat relish made from ‘waste’ ingredients? Drexel study finds they may even prefer it

A group of researchers at Drexel University set out to find out if there’s consumer appetite for products made from ingredients that would have otherwise been wasted. Through a series of tests, they found that study participants viewed upcycled products as more helpful to the environment than conventional foods. They also found that the term “upcycled” resonated with participants more than other terms like “reclaimed” or “rescued.” Read more at Drexel NOW…


Top shopping trends of 2018: Retail experts share what to watch for next year

A retail renaissance is on the horizon, according to Forbes retail contributors, who predict that big opportunities for retailers in the new year include taking small steps to implement new technologies and working with new operating models. Read more at Forbes…


Story-based retail and the evolving role of merchandiser

A store isn’t just where people buy things—today it’s a place where people seek a shopping experience that delights them. In the new experiential-focused retail model, stores must put customers (rather than products) at the center of everything. The merchandiser’s role has been disrupted—she must now select new merchandise for the store and figure out how to tell its story and present it in a way that engages customers’ imagination. “Now with analytics and enabling technology, you discover the store located two miles south of the other one has a very different customer,” says Shelley Kohan, retail fellow at RetailNext. “This particular product I’m considering will work will in one, but not the other. Now we can make pinpoint decisions about what will sell and where.” Read more at Forbes…


Is watermelon juice poised to be the next coconut water?

Frey Farms debuts its high-end watermelon juice product, Tsamma, three years ago, right around the time of peak coconut water. The company uses U.S.-grown watermelon to make the juice, which contains concentrated levels of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Read more at Food Business News…


Governor not sweet on push to study statewide soda tax

Santa Fe voters rejected a tax on sugary drinks earlier this year, but at least one local legislator isn’t resting yet. Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, a Democrat from Albuquerque, has called on the Legislative Finance Committee to study the potential revenue and public health benefits, as well as the potential negative impacts, of a soda tax. Read more at Santa Fe New Mexican… 

A year in review: The top food, supplements and natural products stories of 2017

Gettyimages/Thinkstock 2017 year in review natural products

As we reviewed the most-read articles on in 2017, these events, products and themes came to the surface as crucial markers in what turned out to be an important year for the natural products industry.

Getty Images

Amazon buys Whole Foods Market

What does it mean when the biggest name online buys the biggest name in the natural channel? "It's a landmark moment in the evolution of how society will eventually access their food," said Mike Lee, founder and CEO at Studio Industries. Here's more on the deal and its impacts:

CBD is booming, but regulatory questions remain

In the first regulatory action regarding CBD of the Trump era, the Food and Drug Administration in November hit four CBD companies with warning letters for making illegal drug claims that their supplements are effective against cancer. In its warning letters, the agency wrote that it considers CBD products to not be allowed on the market. Then, later that month, Indiana's state attorney general issued an opinion declaring that CBD is not a legal ingredient and could be seized by state authorities at any time. Here's more on the rise—and the challenges—of CBD:


Plant-based everything

The plant revolution is in full swing as consumer awareness of environmental, sustainability and health issues related to the production of meat grows. Tech-focused meat alternative companies such as Impossible Foods and Memphis Meats raised millions from investors. Tyson even invested in Beyond Meat. And more consumers continued to experiment with plant-based proteins, driving sales to record numbers. Here's more on the plant-based food market:


Earning millennial trust

This generation of digitally connected and curious young adults has been credited with driving demand for sustainable, transparent products mainstream. Fittingly, they're also spearheading many of the companies that are leading the way. Here's more on the power and the preferences of millennials:


'Big' progress for natural and organic

Big Food companies continue to eat up smaller, more health-focused brands as they lose market share and try to respond to health-seeking consumers by modernizing and broadening their portfolios. Meanwhile, the smaller acquired companies try to assuage consumer concerns about whether they can maintain their integrity and authenticity with assurances that they'll remain independently operated. Here's more on the M&A landscape:


Retail resets itself

Smaller store formats. New foodservice-focused ventures. Delivery options. A focus on technology in the aisles. Conventional retail's encroachment into natural products, and e-commerce's slow capture of more food and supplement sales, is inspiring new business models for retailers.

For more on these and other cultural and macro forces that are steering the natural products industry, check out the NEXT Forecast, updated for 2018 with a new section on ingredient trends and new market manifestations. Learn more here.

[email protected]: Keto diet on the rise, dietitians say | Netflix digs into 'Rotten' food industry

ketogenic trend

Fermented foods will be No. 1 ‘superfood’ in 2018: dietitians

The ketogenic diet is on its way to surpassing the paleo diet in popularity—at least according to a poll of more than 2,000 dietitians across the country. But they think clean eating and plant-based diets will remain most popular in 2018. In terms of superfoods, they predict consumers will continue to seek out fermented foods, avocado, seeds, nuts, green tea and ancient grains. Read more at Supermarket News…


Watch the dramatic trailer for Netflix’s new food documentary series ‘Rotten’

“The food industry is under full scale assault,” declares the opening line of the trailer for the new, six-part documentary series by Zero Point Zero, the production company that partnered with Anthony Bourdain on the recent documentary, “Wasted! The Story of Food Waste.” The series will investigate various angles of corruption in the food industry, from inequality in the mass-market poultry industry to honey fraud. Read more at Eater…


Carlsbad adopts organic pesticide policy

Roundup will no longer be the preferred method of getting rid of weeds and bugs on city property and schools in Carlsbad. Earlier this month, the city council unanimously agreed to update its policy to stress the use of organic pesticides first, despite the fact that such a move could cost the city an additional $1 million a year. Read more at San Diego Union Tribune…


Tesco promises to end edible food waste by March 2018

The UK supermarket chain says it will stop wasting produce within the next few months by marking down surplus items with “reduced to clear” stickers and donating unsold items to local charities using an app called FoodCloud. Read more at Independent…


As diet-related illnesses surge, a new kind of pharmacy dispenses fruit and vegetables

So-called food pharmacies bring together the resources of food pantries and farmers markets with the nutrition knowledge of clinical nutritionists to help people with diet-related diseases address their problems through food rather than pills. The food pharmacy movement started in 2001 with the opening of Boston Medical Canter’s “preventative food pantry,” which now gives its 7,000 monthly visitors access to produce grown on the hospital’s rooftop garden. Read more at Mother Jones…

In Session

The mechanics of successful brand-influencer partnerships

Thinkstock Instagram pancake photo

"The reason influencer marketing is so powerful is the authenticity underneath it. People get excited because they trust you and agree with what you represent. If you deviate from that, your message is no longer going to resonate with the audience."
—Katlin Smith of Simple Mills

Part 1: The birth of influencers 


  • Each member of the panel discusses why influencers are elemental for her.
  • It is important to find influencers who have the audience or content that you want to share. 


Part 2: How to initiate and manage the brand/influencer relationship


  • Initiate relationships by connecting with influencers and forming partnerships.
  • The panelists discuss their experiences with agencies.
  • There is value in forming a long-term influencer relationship.


Part 3: The non-sexy parts


  • Contracts, content calendars, scheduling and payment are important organizational elements a brand-influencer relationship. 
  • Outline the official pieces of a relationship for a smooth process. 


Part 4: Recipe for successful relationships


  • Share an understanding of brand guidelines and the mission of brand messaging with influencers. 
  • Trust and spontaneity must be valued for a successful collaboration. 
  • Both sides of the relationship must be willing to adapt to a changing market.


This session—Sharing Your Purpose: Extraordinary Partnerships for a Healthier World—was recorded at Natural Products Expo East 2017. 

5 supplements for inflammation, the root of all chronic disease

Inflammation is the root of all evil, physiologically speaking. While the superstar botanical curcumin is widely and effectively used, it’s not the only natural compound that can support a healthy inflammation response. Here’s a handful of recent arrivals to the market that can help customers with their issues around inflammation.

In Session

Stand out by standing up: The role of mission in business

Thinkstock tea leaves

"As a Gen Xer who was raised very anti-establishment, with punk rock and skateboarding, for me, being mission-driven was the only way I could justify being part of capitalism. I can create positive change through market demand and market influence by doing the right thing. That's the part that makes people really passionate about it."
—Jeremiah McElwee of Thrive Market

Part 1: What it means to be a mission-driven business 

  • Design a new value trade around fair trade business principles. 
  • Live a healthier life through healthier food systems and have a positive impact on communities. 
  • Work to enable sustainable development through a market-based approach.


Part 2: The business case and how to tell the story

  • There is a strong case to be made for investing back into supply chain and back into sourcing communities. 
  • Social media allows the world to see how businesses affects community—both positively and negatively. 
  • How do companies message their fair trade mission to consumers and stakeholders? 


Part 3: Which tools help focus or discover a company's mission? 

  • Make sure the mission is strategic to the purpose of the business itself.
  • Empowerment comes from the ground up.
  • There is concern about getting top heavy with the mission.


Part 4: Retroactively creating mission for an existing brand 

  • Company mission vs. corporate social responsibility.  
  • What's the real goal and what's possible? 
  • Thought leadership around mapping out the problem and finding the solution. 

Part 5: The takeaway message

  • Find the authentic component and the path forward. 
  • The importance of having a great product.
  • Use your resources.

Part 6: Q&A 

  • Why isn't there more focus on domestic fair trade? 
  • What's the story behind Thrive Market? 
  • How do you identify the truly mission-driven company from a CSR-driven company? How to help consumers see the difference?

This session—Standing Out by Standing Up—The Role of Mission in Business—was recorded at Natural Products Expo East 2017. 

[email protected]: The troubling timeline of a food safety recall | Why Amazon isn't guaranteed to rule online grocery

As the first change in foodsafety laws since the 1930s FSMA gave the FDA the authority to recall unsafe products It quickly knocked performanceenhancing ingredient DMAA off store shelves It also shifted the requirement that facilities register with the agency from oneanddone to a requalification once every two years Theres also a foreign supplier verification program where the importer has to verify that the person is in compliance with product and process verification The higher costs assoc

Inspector general report: FDA food recalls dangerously slow, procedures deeply flawed

It has taken up to 10 months to get unsafe food products off store shelves, according to a report from the Department of Health and Human Services’ inspector general office. The inspector general reviewed 30 recalls that occurred between 2012 and 2015 and found that it took the FDA an average of 57 days to initiate a recall. The report suggested improvements in the agency’s process for monitoring recalls, as well as its electronic tracking system. In June 2016, the inspector general issued an “early alert” on the FDA’s recall activities. But Commissioner Scott Gottlieb says things have improved since then—the agency created a team to speed up recall processes, and FDA will soon provide its own guidance on what else can be done. Read more at USA Today… 


Americans love spices. So why don’t we grow more of them?

The United States leads the world in consumption and import of spices, and per capita consumption has more than tripled over the last 50 years. There’s been an uptick in cumin, paprika and turmeric imports in recent years as Americans gain appreciations for global foods and flavors. So why are we sourcing them from across the world, instead of growing them domestically? While many spices grow best in tropical areas, the reason overall is not because we can’t—at least according to one spice aficionado—but because big agriculture is more focused on commodity crops like corn and soybeans. As a start, a group of researchers in Vermont is trying to develop ways for farmers to grow saffron, a high-value crop that’s harvested in the fall. Read more at NPR…


Amazon isn’t a lock to dominate grocery

While Amazon has captured an overwhelming majority of grocery sales made online, the realm remains largely uncharted with plenty of room for competitors to grow, too. Food and drug remain largely brick-and-mortar retail categories. While online grocery sales rose this year, so did the number of shoppers who said they preferred to pick up groceries ordered online at stores, which suggests that physical retailers also have untapped opportunity to grow online services. And, in a recent RBC Capital Markets survey, nearly 80 percent of shoppers said Amazon’s Whole Foods acquisition wouldn’t make them more likely to buy groceries online. Amazon has a big job ahead of it in luring customers to purchase grocery stores online—and to do so specifically through its services. Read more at Bloomberg…


How to water a food desert

Evidence is mounting that there isn’t necessarily a clear link between the availability of healthy food and how healthy communities are. Rather, it seems that income is more closely tied to nutrition, according to a new paper from economists at Stanford, the University of Chicago and New York University. The addition of new supermarkets to neighborhoods does not materially increase healthy eating, they say. "For a policymaker who wants to help low-income families to eat more healthfully, the analyses in this paper suggest that improving health education–if possible through effective interventions–might be more effective than efforts to improve local supply,” they write. Read more at U.S. News and World Report…


One man’s stand against junk food as diabetes climbs across India

The people of India are more likely than other population to develop diabetes as they gain weight. And as diets heavy in carbohydrates and fat spread to different areas of the country, experts predict that the number of Indians with diabetes will soar to 123 million by the year 2040. Rahul Verma, a former corporate marketing executive whose son struggles with digestive problems, filed a public interest lawsuit to ban the sale of junk food and soft drinks in and around schools in India in 2010. That led to court-ordered regulations of junk food that have been met with fierce opposition from the food industry. This year, the government took a significant step in partially implementing a sugar tax. But the regulations to ban sales in and near schools haven’t led to much else—at least yet. Read more at The New York Times…

How one brand made its mission the centerpiece of its packaging

MM Local rebrands as Farmhand Organics

Eight years after debuting MM Local, Jim Mills, CEO and co-founder, realized his company’s branding wasn’t doing his products justice.

The Colorado-based company works directly with 15 organic family farms across the U.S. to source fruits and vegetables for its probiotic line of jarred sauerkrauts and kimchis, small-batch pickled vegetables, and apple and pear sauces.

As it gears up to grow its retail presence and its roster of farmers, the company recently debuted a new look and a new name, Farmhand Organics, which Mills says better reflect its mission and ethos. The probiotic line is the first to bear the new branding, and the rest of the products will transition in January.

Here, Mills walked us through the rebranding process and how Farmhand Organics tells its brand story.

How did you know it was time to rebrand?

Jim Mills: It started as really a feeling or intuition that I had that we might not have our brand and our messaging quite right. That started about 18 months ago. And so what started as an intuition led to us doing some consumer research. It turned out people really didn’t understand who we were, nor could they actually pronounce our brand name—is it mmm local and we forgot an M? Or is it M and M? At the same time, we found out how much our customers valued a lot of the things that we were doing in terms of rolling up our sleeves and working directly with family farms to make the highest quality products that are certified organic, and that we offer 100 percent traceability and connection to the farms growing their food.

We learned a lot from that and said, we’re doing a lot of things well as a brand, but it just became clear to me that we really—not only for our company but for our farm partners and retailers—should have a brand that more directly communicates what we do.

Once you had that intuition, what were the next steps to starting to rebrand?

JM: We did some internal brainstorming, and worked with an independent art director and just looked at a bunch of names. At the end of the day, we decided that Farmhand is a name that really says what we do—rolling up our sleeves next to our farm partners to preserve the highest-quality products. When you’re in the retail industry and you’re on the shelf, there’s lots of different options, and a lot of time you really only have 1 or 2 seconds to communicate who you are and how you’re different.

What elements of the packaging did you change, and why?

JM: Emphasizing the clear labels is a really important part of our brand, so that people can see the food. We updated our farm traceability sticker on the top of the jar, so it now has the actual signature of the farm with the backdrop photo of that farm itself. And then we also wanted to make sure that we were emphasizing that the products are organic and naturally probiotic, for our probiotic line.

Then there were a couple other design cues. The line design on the label was inspired by crop rows, and our Farmhand logo still carries the original fork and pitchfork from our original MM Local logo, so that’s part of the heritage of the company that we wanted to carry forward and speaks to us being one of the pioneering farm-to-fork brands in the industry.

How did you go about communicating this change to your customers and consumers?

JM: We worked closely with several of our retail partners throughout the process and bounced some initial concepts off of a few of them. In terms of the consumer communication, we sent out a newsletter to our email list and promoted that we changed our name on social media. I think what’s been helpful for us is that the products aren’t changing, the UPCs aren’t changing, and it’s the same recipes and the same farms.

How do you evaluate the success, or failure, of the rebrand?

JM: At the end of the day, it’s based on sales. How well are we communicating our brand, and are we selling more jars in stores, and are we able to, in turn, buy more produce from our farmers? Initial results have been very positive—we are already seeing a 20 percent year-over-year increase in velocity with stores carrying the new branding.