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Natural Foods Merchandiser

By the numbers: Food waste as an industry issue [infographic]

food waste in the U.S. stats

More than one-third of consumers interpret the date labels printed on packaged products as an indicator of safety, according to proprietary New Hope Network research designed to understand how food labels impact food waste and food access. When manufacturers and retailers were asked how they think about expiration dates, a similar percentage reported misunderstanding.

As part of the food industry, we must take responsibility and understand the implications of using such labels. How can we reduce wasteful actions that create waste?

One option is to donate food that is nearing or past the date on the package. The retailers and manufacturers surveyed report that 60 percent of their past-date food is not donated for human consumption, and two-thirds of retailers indicated that legal liability concerns prevent them from donating. Education about the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, passed in the 1990s to protect good-faith donors against liability, is a must.

Survey respondents almost unanimously agreed that standardized labeling would help, too. Luckily, this work is already under way. GMA and FMI are working to lobby their memberships to adopt one quality (“best if used by”) and one safety (“use by”) label.

More of this research was shared at Esca Bona 2017 in October. You can watch the replay of that session here.

Staff favorites: Products we loved in 2017

It’s an honor and a privilege to cover the natural products industry as writers and editors—to meet the people devoting their lives to making safer, healthier, better products, and to watch that change happen.

It’s no doubt an added perk that hundreds of products come across the desks of New Hope Network editors each year to test and review. Here, in no special order, are ones that excited us most.

[email protected]: Inside the quest for meatless meat | How one entrepreneur funded her socially conscious food startup

How to raise capital when your company does well by doing good

Lisa Curtis, the founder of Kuli Kuli, is an example of the many ways a socially conscious entrepreneur can go about raising funds for a new venture. She got her moringa company off the ground with help from friends and family and a rewards-based crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. “The success of the campaign was the encouragement I needed to quit my day job and work on Kuli Kuli full time,” she said. Later, she took on an interest-free loan through Kiva, raised money on the equity crowdfunding platform Agfunder and won grants. Then, three years into the company’s existence, it raised a $4.25 million Series A. Read more at Forbes…


Silicon Valley and the search for meatless meat

It was a big year for the plant-based movement, including for the companies working to make meat substitutes. Memphis Meats, which is trying to make meat in a lab using cellular agriculture, without needing to raise and slaughter livestock, closed a $17 million funding round from big-name tech investors. Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, which has raised $275 million, are trying to bring to market plant-based meat substitutes that look and taste like the real thing. Despite the promise of what they’re trying to achieve, there’s a big hurdle in changing consumer ideas about what “meat” means. Then there’s the cost issue—Memphis Meats created a cultured meatball last year that cost $2,400 per pound to make. Here, Fortune takes an in-depth look at the development of these products. Read more at Fortune…


Whole Foods is overtaking Amazon’s brands with $10 million in online sales in just 4 months

After four months, Amazon has sold $10 million worth of Whole Foods’ 365 Everyday Value brand, making it Amazon’s No. 2-selling private-label brand, according to e-commerce analytics company One Click Retail. Read more at Business Insider…


How large food retailers can help solve the food waste crisis

Because of their link to both suppliers and consumers, large retailers are uniquely poised to make a dent in the amount of food waste produced in the U.S. Harvard researchers propose a four-pronged strategy to address waste that involves upgrading inventory systems, partnering with farms, re-evaluating traditional store practices and teaming up with consumers. Read more at Harvard Business Review…


U.S. pear growers see opportunity in organic and smaller pouches

The pear crop in the Pacific Northwest was down this year, but organic volume was up. “We’re hitting a time where retailers can really put in place strong programs to develop their organic pear business,” says Steve Lutz of CMI. Read more at Fresh Plaza…

The alpha of omegas: 5 top-shelf fish oil supplements

Remember the days of the ol’ 18:12 fish oil? The 180 mg EPA and 120 mg DHA matched the ratio and levels that naturally occur in fish. But as researchers dig into the specific health benefits of EPA and DHA, they’re finding interesting health benefits from concentrated levels, differentiated ratios and bioavailability-boosting ancillary ingredients. Here’s five to stock to set your set apart.

How to grow plant-based product sales

How to successfully market plant-based products to consumers

 “What we found to be most effective is not necessarily positioning our products as vegan or this or that, but looking at it more in terms of celebrating plant-based ingredients and positioning it in a way that's a little bit more inclusive. That really gets people excited and wanting to engage more with the brand. Owning the plant queendom and how we can all together join in this botanical revolution for good.”

—Rachel Hauser, REBBL

Part 1: Understanding the relationship between consumers and plant-based products


  • How has consumer purchasing of plant-based products changed?
  • Which topics most resonate with audiences pertaining to plant-based diets? 
  • What one retailer sees in her store.


Part 2: Marketing tactics


  • How do you deploy limited resources to effectively acquire new consumers?
  • In the store: educated customer service, demos and connecting shelf to table.
  • Engaging the audience: How do you drive awareness outside of demos?  


Part 3: Audience engagement


  • The importance of educating employees and how to do it.
  • See some examples of admirable brands successful at marketing their missions.


Part 4: Marketing trends and obstacles


  • How are plant-based trends started?
  • Is there a network that matches brands to influencers?
  • What obstacles prevent consumers from adopting new plant-based lifestyles and how do you tackle that?
  • Where do you start with marketing a new product?


Part 5: Trade marketing and Q&A


  • How do brands market to retailers and distributors?
  • How do you stand out above your competitors?
  • Beeswax alternatives and why aren't bee products vegan?
  • What is the most desirable demographic in the plant-based world?

This session—Promoting your Plants: How to Successfully Market Plant-based Products to Consumers—was recorded at Natural Products Expo East 2017.

Fresh Thyme to slow expansion in 2018

Fresh Thyme Fresh Thyme Farmers Market in Mount Prospect Ill

Fresh Thyme Farmers Market, which had been on an expansion tear since its founding in 2012, plans to open 10 new stores in 2018, down from the 20 new stores the fresh-focused chain opened in 2017, according to local reports.

The new stores in 2018 will include at least two locations in Pennsylvania—one in the Pittsburgh suburb of Bridgeville and another in Pleasant Hill, about 90 miles west of Philadelphia, according to the chain’s website. The stores would mark Fresh Thyme’s first outlets in that state, where Sprouts Farmers Market is also expanding.

Pennsylvania will be the 11th state of operation for Fresh Thyme and will mark its easternmost outposts. Most of its stores are located in the Midwest.

In addition to the two Pennsylvania stores, Fresh Thyme also has locations planned for Evansville, Ind. (opening Jan. 18); Ames, Iowa (opening Jan. 31); Grand Island, Neb. (opening Feb. 21); Muncie, Ind.; St Peters, Mo.; and Prospect Park, Minn.

The 10 new stores reportedly planned for 2018 represent a slight slowdown for Fresh Thyme, which has grown to 66 locations since it was founded five years ago. The company previously said it had planned to open 100 stores by about 2020.

Jay Jacobowitz, founder and president of Retail Insights, Brattleboro, Vt., said he was not surprised that Fresh Thyme might be slowing its pace of expansion.

“Like virtually every other grocery retailer, management is slowing expansion down; from the specialist to mass-market and pretty much everything in between,” he said. “It's a combination of fear of excess space, aggravated by the growing online phenomenon, plus the need to update older business models.”

Jacobowitz noted that Fresh Thyme had been expanding rapidly in its first five years of operation.

“Maintaining consistent training and customer service is probably not achievable at that pace,” he said.

A spokesperson for Fresh Thyme, which is based in Downers Grove, Ill., and is backed by an investment from supercenter operator Meijer, could not be reached for comment.

Earlier this year, Chris Sherrell, CEO of Fresh Thyme, told SN that the company had grown faster than expected, in part because of available real estate opportunities and a green light from its investors.

“Real estate can be very opportunistic, and when the right sites were available you’ve got to take advantage or run the risk of it not being there down the road,” he said.

At that time, Sherrell was forecasting 20 new store openings in 2018.

Some observers have speculated that Fresh Thyme could be a potential merger partner for Sprouts. Sherrell is the former CEO of Sunflower Farmers Markets, which previously merged with Phoenix-based Sprouts. Both Sprouts and Fresh Thyme operate similar formats, with a focus on value pricing, particularly in produce, along with bulk foods and natural and organic items.

Fresh Thyme bolstered its executive team in 2017 with several new hires, including naming Roundy’s veteran Carol Okamoto as chief financial officer in March and tapping Mark Doiron as chief merchandising officer in June. Doiron had a long career with Hannaford Bros. and Delhaize before joining Schnuck Markets and then Fresh Thyme.

Last month, Fresh Thyme named Dean Little chief operations officer, according to a report in the Chicago Daily Herald. Little most recently had been senior VP of operations at Price Chopper Supermarkets, and before that spent 36 years at Vons and Safeway.

In addition, Fresh Thyme named Amy Parker VP of marketing and tapped Art Scott as senior director of marketing, and also added two in-house dietitians, Kerry Clifford and Meghan Sedivy, the Daily Herald reported.

Fresh Thyme also has expanded its private label to about 1,000 SKUs, up from 400 in 2016, the newspaper said. New items planned for the line include Greek yogurt, kombucha, soups, mashed cauliflower and a line of natural cleaners.

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

[email protected]: 2018 could bring even bigger deals for CPG | Aunt Fannie's gears up for expansion

Thinkstock businessmen shaking hands

Big Food’s deal frenzy is just getting started

As large food companies continue to struggle with their core offerings, their M&A activity next year could make this year’s $42 billion in deals look like a drop in the bucket, analysts say. Kraft-Heinz is expected to do something big, after being rebuffed Unilever earlier this year. Nestle, which is facing activist pressure and has recently acquired supplement maker Atrium Innovations, coffee company Chameleon Cold-Brew and plant-based food maker Sweet Earth, is reportedly also looking to divest its U.S. candy business. Hain Celestial is a potential acquisition target. Read more at Bloomberg…


Portland’s Aunt Fannie’s raises another $2.375 million

The founder of Mrs. Meyer’s was one of the returning investors for Aunt Fannie’s latest round, which comes just three months after its $2.5 million seed round. Aunt Fannie’s launched five years ago with a nontoxic fruit fly trap called FlyPunch! and moved its operations from South Carolina to Portland last year. Its product line now includes a variety of household products made from non-disruptive and food-based ingredients. With the funding, the company hopes to expand its pest control line, continue to build its management team and increase its distribution. Read more at Portland Business Journal…


Packaged salad, berries top Nielsen organic categories list

The less-than-2 percent sales growth achieved by organic packaged salads this year may seem small, but it represents about $16 million worth of product, according to Nielsen’s annual list of top-selling fresh organic categories. It was the best-selling fresh organic category by a landslide, following by organic berries, which saw sales grow 23 percent this year, and apples. Read more at The Packer…


How the food industry uses cavitation, the ocean’s most powerful punch

Cavitation occurs when the pressure in a liquid drops suddenly, leaving behind a bubble of gas that heats up and quickly collapses. Certain types of shrimp produce cavitation bubbles with their claws to stun their prey. Now the food and beverage industry is using it for egg pasteurization, dairy processing and beer brewing. Read more at NPR…


Food data company lands $21 million in funding

At the crossroads of big data and big food lies Label Insight, a Chicago company with a database of more than 400,000 food products and their ingredients. The company sells that data to large retailers, CPGs and market research firms. CEO Paul Schaut says sales have been accelerated by the Amazon- Whole Foods deal and more than doubled this year. Read more at Crain’s Chicago Business…

In Session

6 steps to a shareable business story

Thinnkstock business storytelling

“For me, when it comes to growth, there is one piece that is truly profound, and that is understanding what stories are and how they work in order to deliver your most critical and essential messages to the audiences that you really want to connect with.”

—Jay Golden

Part 1: The power of a good story 


  • A story turns a profound challenge into an opportunity.
  • Deeply conveyed stories will be remembered. 



Part 2: Why would we tell stories when we are all crunched for time?


  • Stories build culture and inform organizations. 
  • Tell the right story at the right time. 
  • Deliver your story in a memorable way.  


Part 3: Know your audience (and their hormones)


  • Everyone has different styles, tempos and informational needs.
  • Suspense releases dopamine. Take your audience on a journey.
  • Cortisol, a stress hormone, makes the audience focus more. 
  • Oxytocin is released when readers or listeners get the answer. 


Part 4: What is a story?


  • Details anchor the memory.
  • Stories unlock purpose.
  • Three kinds of stories: origin stories, impact stories and vision stories.


Part 5: How do stories work?


  • A story is a journey with a definable change. 
  • The "Journey Curve" includes three pivotal parts to a story.



Part 6: What is your story?


  • Three ways to organize your stories.
  • Use the "Journey Curve" to improve your stories.
  • Six steps to creating effective, retellable stories. 


 This session—Six Steps to an Effective, Retellable Story—was recorded at Natural Products Expo East 2017. Click "download" to access the presentation slides.

Wellnext becomes Nutranext

wellnext rebrands as nutranext

Wellnext, a vertically integrated developer, manufacturer and marketer of dietary supplements, announced it has changed its corporate name to Nutranext.
The new name establishes a more cohesive identity for the company that reflects its growing lineup of consumer brands addressing a multitude of nutritional needs. The company's recent acquisition of leading collagen supplement brand, Neocell, further diversified its brand portfolio, which also includes Rainbow Light, Natural Vitality, Champion Performance, Stop Aging Now, True Health and Blessed Herbs.

"The move to rebrand to Nutranext is part of a larger initiative—integrating systems across the entire Nutranext portfolio—to better serve customers and compete in the marketplace," Jose Minski, CEO of Nutranext, explains. "While our new identity ushers in a new, exciting chapter for the company, we remain steadfast to our corporate values of quality, integrity, humility, engagement and innovation as we continue to grow our brands and market share."

Since its inception over 30 years ago, Nutranext has built a legacy as one of the most trusted brands leading the dietary supplement space. Looking ahead, Nutranext plans to build upon its legacy through continuing to be a dominant force in the industry while preparing for future acquisitions to further diversify its portfolio.

Natural Foods Merchandiser

Paul Hoffman: A keen eye for operations

Paul Hoffman Healthy Living Market & Cafe

Healthy Living Market & Café has been a community staple in South Burlington, Vermont, since 1986. Back then, founder Katy Lesser had no business experience—she just wanted to provide clean, healthy foods for families like hers within a warm, joyous environment. Today, she co-owns Healthy Living with her son, Eli, and daughter, Nina, and the business is thriving.

Lesser also has a dynamo in Paul Hoffman, the company’s director of sales and purchasing. He came on board five years ago as Healthy Living was opening a second location, in Saratoga Springs, New York. Hoffman travels back and forth between stores regularly and has his hand in multiple areas of operations. “My main focus is margin and sales, so I deal with everything that relates to that—which is a good chunk of any business!” he says. “No two days are the same, which I love.”

Hoffman took time out of his busy workday to discuss running a successful independent in today’s hypercompetitive landscape.

How did you get started in natural products retail?

Paul Hoffman: I spent the first 14 years of my career on the foodservice side, working as a chef in private clubs and restaurants. Then when I was in between jobs once, I started working for a cooperative retailer just as they were launching foodservice. HMR [home meal replacement] was the big buzzword at the time and really taking off. Well, what I thought was going to be temporary turned into a 15-year career there. I worked as foodservice director, then went on to become merchandising director before starting with Healthy Living.

What does your role as director of sales and purchasing entail?

PH: I oversee a team that includes our category managers, our merchandising staff, our demo staff and a creative merchandiser—that’s enough right now! More specifically, I do a lot of vendor relations, category management, pricing reviews, margin reviews and promotional planning. A big part of my focus these past two years has been building processes and procedures for effective use of time and resources. We are building this foundation in anticipation of growth, too. We’ve been doing a lot of work recently on establishing our private label, the HL Essentials line. We are working with co-packers, mainly locally and regionally, as we build that label.

Is this Healthy Living’s first foray into private label?

PH: We’ve done some private label for a number of years, mainly vitamins and supplements. Our brand is well established and trusted, so we basically rebranded that label in anticipation of broadening the selection and going into staple items. Since our brand is associated with high quality, it’s only natural for us to take this next step. We’ve rolled out a few products already. Being in Vermont, maple syrup was one of the first. We are in the process of launching CBD oils and expanding into some refrigerated and prepared products.

You mentioned future growth—anything specific in the works?

PH: Presently, we are in the planning stages of renovating the Burlington store and also looking at a couple of expansion opportunities. And we are further developing our online presence. We have online ordering, but we are about to relaunch it in a new-and-improved format. We’ll have a much friendlier user interface and better back-end synchronicity with our POS and inventory system. We’ve spent the last 18 months or so doing everything from scrubbing data to getting our inventory system and auto-ordering up to very high-level functionality. We are about to launch delivery as well. Nowadays delivery is a necessity because people just assume they can order online. And they should be able to order online—why not?

What are your “big things”—visions, mantras, strategies—that you bring into your job?

PH: I’m a data geek. Data doesn’t tell you everything, but it tells you a significant part of the story. We are a family-owned business, so the owners, the VP of finance, the New York store general manager and I are considered directors of the company. We all focus on the future of the business, staying relevant and competitive, and identifying trends and needs for expansion and improvement. A big part of my role is translating those factors into operations, especially on the functional side—everything related to vendors, sourcing, pricing, promotions, spacing and so on.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

PH: I’d have to say it’s seeing a project come to fruition at the guest level, such as with our HL Essentials line. I love taking an idea, finding the proper source that offers the quality we need, seeing it through design and packaging, getting it on the shelf and seeing the excitement on guests’ faces when they find a new product and recognize that it’s ours.

How does Healthy Living stand out from the competition?

PH: We try to keep it new, fresh and exciting and always strive to be on or ahead of trends. We are nimble because we are smaller, so we are constantly sourcing not just from the typical shows but also the smaller venues, as well as locally, in order to get exciting new products in front of our guests constantly. Also, we have reputation for hospitality, and we really focus on giving our stores a community feel. We try to bring education and entertainment into the shopping experience, something you can’t get in chain stores or online. This is largely carried out by our staff. We have a fantastic crew of people who really enjoy what they do and love helping guests. “Getting to yes” is a big thing with us. It’s all about doing everything in our power to meet guests’ needs, something that is becoming very rare, so our guests are always surprised by it. This is a big piece of our loyalty.

As far as product selection goes, any specific areas you’re especially known for?

PH: The big niche for us is vegan, vegetarian and gluten free. While we have a meat and seafood department and all the things that a traditional store has, we have a very extensive selection of vegan, vegetarian and gluten free throughout all categories. Both stores have a scratch-bake shop that is well-known for its extensive selection of vegan, vegetarian and gluten free. Even in our cafés and prepared foods we have offerings for these diets.

What are the biggest challenges you face as an independent in 2018?

PH: All independents face the same challenge in that the percentage of fixed cost is a lot higher when you’re running just a couple of stores. The challenge is always, how do we keep costs in line and deliver exceptional service, attract and retain the best staff and have enough left over to react to changing consumer needs? It is critical to have excellent trade-partner relationships. The supply side is critical for being able to get not just good pricing but good service. A lot of times, especially as chain stores, buying clubs and online retailers drudge pricing down, it is crucial to find the next best thing and be flexible with your pricing structure.

How can independents stay strong amidst ever-increasing competition?

PH: Well, I think there is obviously a lot of fear and trepidation with things going on right now, from the Amazon–Whole Foods merger to general brick-and-mortar [sales struggles] to discount stores to foreign competition. But I’m really bullish and positive on independents. I think all of these things will eventually be beneficial for us long-term, as long as we stay true to our vision and mission while also putting a lot of thought into how we can differentiate. It’s about not being afraid to take chances and try new things. But at the end of the day, there is always going to be a fair percentage of consumers who want that tactile brick-and-mortar experience—going in, handling products and interacting with other human beings.

When you’re not working, where could we find you?

PH: I am a big fan of making music and seeing other people make music. A good night off of work for me is pulling out a couple of guitars and strumming. I am not currently playing at venues, but one of my daughters is a musician and sometimes I sit in. I also love to eat. There are lots of great restaurants opening in Burlington and Saratoga. Between our stores and the local restaurant scenes, there is no shortage of good eats.