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NPA admits Mylan, company named in EpiPen price gouging controversy

Though certain to be met with puzzled looks in some corners of the natural products community, the Natural Products Association’s decision to admit controversial pharmaceutical giant Mylan as a member is being defended by the association’s president and chairman of the board as the addition of a high-powered company that could further industry goals.

Mylan was the subject of widespread criticism in 2016 for raising the price of the EpiPen, a measured dose epinephrine shot for allergic reactions, by as much as 400 percent. Before Mylan acquired the the EpiPen in 2007, it reportedly cost $55 per pen, but last year the price for a two–pack went as high as $699. The company settled a related lawsuit with the Justice Department for $465 million for over-pricing the pen and is the subject of both a class-action suit and a suit by a rival company with an EpiPen alternative.

Asked about admitting Mylan as a member, NPA President and CEO Dan Fabricant said the EpiPen controversy was separate from the company’s consumer healthcare operations. Mylan owns dietary supplement brands that include Geritol and Cold-Eeze, Fabricant pointed out, saying that Mylan “put a real stake down in consumer healthcare.”

NPA board of directors Chairman Mark LeDoux of Natural Alternatives International said Mylan’s activity in the nutrition space made the company an easy candidate for membership. “I don’t think there was much consternation,” LeDoux said. “We don’t really have much sway over what they are doing in their drug products, but when it comes to nutrition, we have a lot to say,” LeDoux said, explaining that having Mylan “at the table” could benefit the industry.

Fabricant claimed that other trade associations were seeking to bring on Mylan, and that pharma company members in associations like the Council for Responsible Nutrition have also been charged with questionable practices. Bayer Healthcare is a CRN member, and Bayer is attempting to buy Monsanto, a company widely unpopular in the natural products industry. CRN declined to comment for this story.

A United Natural Products Alliance spokesman said that Mylan had not applied for membership. American Herbal Products Association President Michael McGuffin wrote in email that, “We don’t have any contacts with this company, and they are not currently in our prospects list.” Karen Howard, executive director of the Organic & Natural Health Association, said Mylan would not meet ONHA membership criteria.

Howard called herself "incredulous" that NPA would consider Mylan as a member. Large companies may have multiple divisions, but Mylan’s reputation doesn’t help natural products, Howard said. “I don’t know how that supports our industry efforts at building consumer trust,” she said, predicting that people in the natural products world would be “flabbergasted” by the inclusion of Mylan in a natural products trade association.

Robyn O’Brien is one of them. The activist founder of the Allergy Kids Foundation described Mylan as a “call to action for price gouging” and charged that without major changes, the company has no place in an association promoting natural products. By O’Brien’s estimate, NPA’s decision is a sign that the old trade association “catch-all” model is outdated in an age of transparency. Consumers now call for greater purity in the this-is-acceptable-behavior message that a trade association’s membership implies. “These 20th century trade associations don’t work in the 21st century,” O’Brien said, explaining that, "it speaks to the need for new associations."

American Botanical Council founder Mark Blumenthal said Mylan has not approached ABC, but he can see how the company might qualify for inclusion based on its supplement portfolio.

The Mylan situation represents a growing challenge for the supplements industry and natural products in general. In an age of consolidation, corporate conduct litmus tests will become harder to administer as larger companies with products or practices that could be seen as running counter to natural health mission enter the space. “This is becoming an increasingly difficult issue,” Blumenthal said.

Unilever to buy deodorant brand Schmidt's Naturals

Schmidt's Schmidt's Naturals acquired by Unilever

Unilever today announced an agreement to acquire Schmidt’s Naturals, a personal care company based in Portland, Oregon.

Founded in 2010 by Jaime Schmidt, Schmidt’s Naturals started as a deodorant brand and has extended its offering to bar soap and toothpaste. Schmidt’s natural deodorants include award-winning formulas derived from plants and minerals. Its most popular variants include Charcoal + Magnesium, Rose + Vanilla, Lavender + Sage, as well as fragrance-free offerings.

“Schmidt’s Naturals is a strong, innovative brand in the fast-growing natural category, and nicely complements our existing portfolio of US deodorants which includes leading brands Degree, Axe and Dove,” said Kees Kruythoff, president, Unilever North America. “The brand’s focus on transparency and mission to make natural products accessible to everyone aligns closely with Unilever values and represents an exciting category expansion for our family of brands.”

Alan Jope, president, Unilever Personal Care, added: “Schmidt’s Naturals is a great strategic fit for our Personal Care business, allowing us to reach new consumers who prefer natural options. We look forward to utilizing our Personal Care leadership to extend Schmidt’s Naturals into new sales channels and geographies.”

Co-founders Jaime Schmidt and Michael Cammarata will continue to be involved with the brand.

“Today is a momentous day in the history of Schmidt's Naturals as we announce our joining of the Unilever family of brands,” said Jaime Schmidt, founder, Schmidt’s Naturals. “Thanks to our community, what started humbly in my kitchen and local farmers markets has grown into homes worldwide. I am proud to say that as a result of our partnership with Unilever, we are better positioned than ever in our mission to make natural products accessible to all. Moreover, Unilever’s substantive actions towards creating a more sustainable and equitable future for diverse peoples across the planet further fuels the enthusiasm behind our alliance.”

Michael Cammarata, co-founder and CEO, Schmidt’s Naturals: “As long as I can remember, I’ve had one dream—to build and be part of a meaningful company that would help change the world and empower people everywhere to live their best lives. Today, Schmidt’s Naturals and Unilever are coming together to bring natural products to the world in new and innovative ways. Through our partnership, we look forward to Unilever taking Schmidt’s Naturals to new heights and cementing the brand’s mission.”

Terms of the transaction were not disclosed. Subject to any applicable governmental authorizations, the transaction is expected to close no later than the first quarter 2018.

Source: Unilever

Natural Foods Merchandiser

Retailer roundtable: What action this year made the most difference to your bottom line?

Thinkstock retailers bottom line

“We started to focus our efforts on companies with strictly enforced minimum advertised price (MAP) policies in order to stay competitive with Amazon. Along with the popularity of our store brand, this strategy has already given us much better customer retention. Instead of going online to rebuy products, customers continue to come back for our superior customer service and prices that are equivalent to what they could get online.”

-Ramona Billingslea, marketing and education manager, Betsy's Health Food stores based in Houston, Texas

“We did four things. 1) We negotiated better supply agreements and payment terms with distributors. 2) We focused on our category management by limiting the amount of items we put on promotion and giving our buyers gross profit parameter. 3) We established new target profit margins and focused on buying high-velocity items more strategically. 4) We tightened up labor by holding our store team leaders to very specific labor goals. We are able to now focus on sales growth for 2018 knowing that our bottom line will be strong.”

-Dean Nelson, CEO, Dean's Natural Food Market stores in New Jersey

“We improved product selection and continued to market in clever ways, but the best thing we did was get the staff excited about their positions, working for us and being part of a growing operation. We put a lot of effort into it and will continue to do so. This included offering a living wage and advocating for an increased minimum wage locally and nationally. But we also help them see that they aren’t just selling products but are a part of something bigger.”

-Michael Kanter, owner, Cambridge Naturals in Cambridge, Massachusetts

"A strategy we took on this past year and will continue is fine-tuning each category to offer a variety of choices without offering too many choices. Too many versions of the same product is confusing to the customer and labor intensive for the sales personnel. This revision also reduces the problem of out-of-dates and reduces time spent on placing orders. We have always taken pride in our varied inventory but have come to realize that our customers rely on our expertise and high standards in brands. They  trust what we have on the shelf is likely the best they will find."

-Angie O’Pry Blades, owner, Fiesta Nutrition Center, Monroe, Louisiana

[email protected]: Grocery delivery companies are having a moment | Strong demand for organic in France

Shipt Coronavirus fears are sparking increased use of grocery delivery services

The Amazon-Whole Foods deal is turning out to be good for delivery startups

Target’s announcement today that it will pay $550 million for delivery platform Shipt is another sign that grocery delivery startups, which many assumed would take a blow from the Whole Foods-Amazon deal, may actually be benefiting from it. Shipt says it’s seen a 60 percent boost in orders since June, and Instacart has deepened its relationship with Albertsons, Costco and Kroger. Read more at Bloomberg…


Thriving French organic food market needs domestic supply boost-study

Organic food sales in France have grown 14 percent this years and are expected to continue growing 10 to 15 percent each year for the foreseeable future, according to estimates by credit insurer Coface. Domestic production, however, isn’t growing as fast, which led to a rise in organic food imports last year. France is the third-largest market for organic food, behind the U.S. and Germany. Read more at Reuters…


Campbell’s finalizes $700M deal for Pacific Foods

In September, Campbell said that a lawsuit brought against Pacific by a former shareholder stood in the way of the $700 deal, but now the soup maker has confirmed the closing of the deal. Campbell says it expects Pacific Foods, maker of broths and beverages, to contribute about $100 million in sales next year. Read more at ROI…


Unilever is launching a new ‘natural’ line of shampoo and soaps to attract millennials

In an increasingly segmented marketplace, the CPG company leverages big data to guide its new product development. The company’s latest personal care brand launched in the U.S. this week with the name Love Beauty and Planet. The line of shampoos, conditioners and body washes target natural-oriented millennials looking for products from brands with purpose. The products are made with oils and extracts and are free from parabens. They’re packaged in recycled, recyclable plastic. Read more at Fortune…


FDA drops committee on food safety, nutrition

The FDA’s has disbanded its Food Advisory Committee, which advises the agency on issues of food safety, nutrition and other issues, after the committee has been inactive for nearly two years, the agency said in a press release. Instead it will turn to the FDA Science Board and other agency groups for advice. Read more at The Packer…

Alter Eco acquired by private equity firm NextWorld Evergreen

Alter Eco Nextworld Promo

Alter Eco, maker of sustainably sourced quinoa, chocolate and rice, today announced the company's acquisition by NextWorld Evergreen, a private equity firm based in San Francisco focused on growing consumer products.

Alter Eco is known in the natural industry as a bastion for responsible sourcing, prioritizing USDA Organic, Fair Trade USA and Carbon Neutral Product certifications. To date, the company has paid 24,338 farmers a living wage for their crops, and has given $1.5 million in farm financing to protect farmers from unforeseeable losses.

NextWorld Evergreen is committed to continuing Alter Eco’s regenerative practices. “We are excited to partner with the outstanding management team at Alter Eco, which has built a remarkable company based on a set of values and amazing-tasting products, while succeeding in being good stewards of the world we live in,” said David Fife, NextWorld Evergreen partner, in a statement. “We see tremendous opportunity to accelerate the company’s growth while taking very seriously our stewardship of the Alter Eco brand.”

NextWorld Evergreen has a unique investment model in which there is no exit strategy on the horizon. The fund is designed to grow stable, proven businesses while encouraging passionate founders and employees to continue their work.

While Alter Eco had several offers for acquisition over the years from large consumer packaged goods corporations, co-founders and co-CEOs Edouard Rollet and Mathieu Senard, and president Kate Tierney, were adamant that keeping their existing employees was paramount to the future success of Alter Eco. “There’s not really a large company at this time that would be ready to integrate Alter Eco and preserve our mission," Senard said. "Most of our team would have gone away, and our team is the culture and spirit of our brand."

While the financial details of the acquisition were not publicly released, Senard stressed that when choosing an investor, it’s vital to put shared values above money. “If it’s only motivated by financial decisions, people will make the wrong decision," he said. "Of course, the financial aspect is important, but maximization doesn’t go hand in hand with protecting the mission in the long term.”

In addition to upholding Alter Eco’s mission to source regenerative cocoa, quinoa, rice and coconut, the company is dedicated to continuing its initiative to innovate with compostable packaging. While Alter Eco has launched compostable packaging for its chocolate truffle wrappers and quinoa, the brand will continue to work toward more affordable packaging options to benefit the entire natural foods industry.

“This change of ownership, from impact funds to an evergreen fund, is an excellent and logical evolution for Alter Eco, a leading fair trade pioneer, and top-ranked B Corporation,” Rollet said. “Thanks to NextWorld Evergreen’s long-term vision and philanthropic affiliations, we’ll be able to continue to grow our impact and preserve our mission while benefiting from NextWorld Evergreen’s experience in consumer goods to accelerate Alter Eco’s growth in the indulgent, clean, healthy and ethical food space.”

5 powders to supercharge your greens category

The greens category rings the bells on non-pill formats, and with little to no non-nutritive fillers. Pure nutrition. Here are five new entrants to the category.

Kind embraces authentic kindness with new video

‘Tis the season for sweet treats, heartfelt toasts, gifting that perfect find to your loved ones and practicing radical kindness. Kind Snacks recently embraced the holiday mentality with this beautiful, inspiring video shot by legendary filmmaker Emmanuel Lubezki (who happened to film both Birdman and The Revenant, too).

Titled “More Than Nice,” the video is a central part of Kind’s new campaign, designed to distinguish between being nice and being kind. “We’ve all been overwhelmed by the historic rifts tearing our country apart. The empathy and respect that are part of America’s DNA and part of what make our country so exceptional cannot be taken for granted,” said Kind founder and CEO Daniel Lubetzky of the new campaign. “For years, Kind has explored how difficult it is to step out of one’s comfort zone and practice kindness—especially toward someone with whom you disagree. Now, more than ever, that extra effort is required to rediscover our shared humanity and tackle challenges related to misunderstanding and intolerance.”

As an example, “More Than Nice” chronicles an outstanding organization based in southern Arizona called No More Deaths, whose mission is to provide lifesaving supplies such as water, food, blankets and socks to immigrants traveling into the United States via the Mexico-U.S. borderlands. While No More Deaths operates in a politically charged space, the reality is that people place themselves at risk of dehydration and hypothermia while walking 30 to 80 miles through the desert. In the film, volunteers express how placing jugs of water in the desert—which they often emblazon with loving messages—transcends politics and speaks instead to true human connection. The message: Be brave, be kind!


[email protected]: Heavenly Organics puts mission first | Study: Even label-readers eat too much sodium

Heavenly Organics honey

Heavenly Organics is bringing jobs to conflict zones (and producing glyphosate-free honey in the process)

How to ensure that honey doesn’t contain traces of glyphosate? Source it from a remote Indian jungle where the herbicide can’t get to it. Founder Amit Hooda and his agronomist father developed a sustainable way to harvest honey, so that the hive can regenerate, and local families purify the honey at their homes. “The whole reason for creating the company was in order to produce a stable economic opportunity for folks where there wasn’t one,” says Jason Jones, president of Heavenly Organics. “Those people are often forgotten, and they need help. The fact is, there are a lot of wonderful agricultural products that we can tap into in places like this and genuinely make the world better in doing it.” Read more at Organic Authority…


Researchers say nutritional labeling for sodium doesn’t work

Although a majority of American consumers today say they look at nutrition labels on products when shopping, the sodium line, apparently, isn’t making much of an impact. Researchers at the University of Georgia’s College of Public Health explored the relationship between how often people read nutrition labels and how much sodium they consume. Turns out, although the people who read nutrition labels consumed 92 milligrams less sodium per day than those who didn’t, even label-readers consumed well over the FDA’s recommended 2,300 mg limit for daily consumption. “Without health promotion, without any other additional education intervention, nutrition labeling has little impact on sodium consumption,” lead author Donglan “Stacy” Zhang said. The researchers used two behavior datasets from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, and their study was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Read more at University of Georgia…


Utz agrees to pay $1.25M in dispute over ‘all natural’ labeling

The payout is in regards to a class-action lawsuit filed nearly three years ago, in which consumers argued that the company’s chips, pretzels and other snacks weren’t “all natural” as the packaging stated, because they were made with genetically modified ingredients. Utz has agreed to stop using the terms “natural” and “all natural” on certain snacks but did not admit any wrongdoing. Read more at Central Penn Business Journal…


Women in business Q&A: Dr. Jasmin Hume, director of food chemistry, Hampton Creek

Hume’s job is to discover and characterize new plant proteins that the company could use in its products. “There’s a desire for more natural food, but making natural foods and using science and technology to make food are not mutually exclusive, and people don’t understand that,” she says. “We can’t be scared to say things like that and dig into why it’s true.” Read more at Huffington Post…


An exclusive look inside Kellogg’s permanent cereal restaurant

Looking to bring some excitement back to the waning cereal category, Kellogg’s Instagram-friendly NYC Café is set to open in Manhattan on Dec. 14, featuring a menu of cereals, drinks and cereal-inspired recipes. Read more at Foodbeast… 

How to tell investors what they want to hear

Katlin Smith, founder and CEO of Simple Mills, tells us what lessons she's learned about successfully pitching to investors. Smith secured $3 million from private investors in 2016 for her line of baking mixes and snacks.