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[email protected]: CDC finds cause of vaping deaths | EPA facing lawsuits | Amazon at a tipping point

Getty Images CDC finds a link between vaping THC products and fatal lung disease

CDC: Vitamin E acetate the cause of most of vaping deaths

Doctors at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have determined that vitamin E acetate found in cannabis-containing vapes caused most of this year's 54 vaping-related deaths. It's not yet clear why the substance damages the lungs, however. The widespread problem first appeared, it seemed, in Wisconsin in June but researchers found that emergency room visits among those who vaped or used e-cigarettes began increasing in January 2017. Read more at NPR


States sue Trump for ending EPA protection of smaller waterways

The Environmental Protection Agency ignored current science when it rolled back an Obama-era rule to protect smaller waterways from pollution. The lawsuit, filed Friday in federal court, claims that the agency applied an "outdated 30-year-old definition" in deciding which waterways it should cover. Read more at Bloomberg


Top scientists warn of an Amazon ‘tipping point'

Two experts on the Amazon are warning that deforestation in the rainforest, as well as other rapid changes there, could devastate the area sooner than expected. If parts of the rainforest become savanna, billions of tons of carbon will be released—creating a tipping point for climate change, they said. Read more at The Washington Post


Lawsuit: EPA hasn't updated water-pollution limits for slaughterhouses in 15 years

A coalition of environmental and legal organizations has filed a lawsuit asking for the federal court to review the EPA's lack of action regarding wastewater pollution limits for slaughterhouses. It's been 15 years since the Environmental Protection Agency has revised those guidelines, and some rules could be 45 years out of date, according to the lawsuit. Read more at The New Food Economy


5 agtech trends to watch in 2020

New technology will help farmers next year and beyond as they try to maintain healthy soils and strong crop yields. With autonomous tractors, crop-spraying drones, online tools to measure soil health and apps to make leasing farmland easier, technology will help landowners and farmers increase their transparency and build their credibility with their communities and their customers. Read more at


The Analyst’s Take: The top 5 NBJ data headlines from 2019

Claire Morton

Dietary supplement sales growth rebounds to 6% in 2018

U.S. supplement sales appear to be on a steady growth track, with continued strong growth in herbs & botanicals, and even a boost in growth of multivitamins, the largest category in the industry. Read the full take here.


Gummy supplement sales double from 2014 to 2018

Consumer interest in alternative delivery formats has been on the rise for a while, with the strongest continued growth coming from gummy supplements, which surpassed $5.5 billion in sales in 2018. Read the full take here.

Trending conditions in the $46B supplement industry

While the combined category of sports, energy and weight loss captures the largest market share in the condition-specific market, the strongest growth in 2018 and 2019 came from cold, flu and immunity, as well as categories driven by Hemp CBD. Read the full take here.

Just 32% of CBD-familiar consumers have purchased products

While consumer familiarity with CBD has significantly increased from 2018, the percentage of consumers who have actually purchased CBD products has only increased from 30% to 32%, signaling strong purchase barriers. Read the full take here.

Global supplement sales expected to grow 5.6% in 2019

Supplement sales across the world are projected to reach $135.5 billion this year, and Asia’s collective market share is quickly catching up to the U.S. Read the full take here.

Learn more about NBJ's full suite of data and products here.

Staff favorites: Products and trends we loved in 2019

From Natural Products Expo West to Expo East, the NEXTY Awards, Pitch Slam and everything in between, we at New Hope Network are fortunate to get plenty of opportunities to check out the new innovations, products and ideas that make the natural products industry such a worthwhile, dynamic and important sector to be a part of.

And while we as writers and editors try to look beyond trends to identify the cultural and macro forces that are shaping the present and future of this industry, as individuals and consumers ourselves, we can’t help but get excited by many of the trends that we see unfolding over the course of the year and, in particular, the products that exemplify them.

Here are some of our staff favorites from 2019.

Good Food Insights

Good food brand leaders explain why Chicago is their kind of town

Bob Benenson/FamilyFarmed FamilyFarmed Financing & Innovation Conference
Jim Kirk, Publisher and Executive Editor, Crain's Chicago Business; Kurt Seidensticker, CEO, Vital Proteins; Katlin Smith, CEO, Simple Mills

When the Naturally Network evolved last year out of the thriving Naturally Boulder program, it should have been no surprise that Naturally Chicago became one of its first regional affiliates. As the program’s website says, “Production of food and other consumer products has been in Chicago’s DNA since its earliest days.”

It continues, “In the 19th and 20th century, the city played a major role in the industrialization of U.S. food and consumer products. In our current era, Chicago has become a magnet for people pushing for a more decentralized system, based on food and other natural products produced as locally as possible, using regenerative, humane and fair practices that are better for people, better for the environment and better for animals.”

FamilyFarmed, a nonprofit that has long advocated for a better-for-people, better-for-the-planet food system, runs Naturally Chicago as a program, with three pioneering companies in the sector—KeHE Distributors, Presence Marketing, and SPINS—as co-founders. And a panel on today’s Good Food and Natural Products landscape in Chicago kicked off FamilyFarmed’s recent 11th annual Good Food Financing & Innovation Conference in its hometown.

FamilyFarmed CEO Jim Slama provided the broad view of the elements that make Chicago an epicenter for the industry’s growth: a history of success highlighted by lucrative successful exits by founders of companies such as Enjoy Life Foods, RXBAR, Skinny Pop, Tera’s Whey, Protein Bar, and Frontera Foods; talent; emerging brands; a robust community of investors focused on the natural sector; service providers; and distributors such as KeHE (which is headquartered in the Chicago suburb of Naperville).

The question of “Why Chicago?” was raised by panel moderator Jim Kirk, publisher and executive editor of Crain’s Chicago Business, and answered by leaders of three companies that have gone from zero to major market presence in just five years:

● Kurt Seidensticker, CEO of Vital Proteins, a collagen products manufacturer.

● Katlin Smith, founder and CEO of Simple Mills, a leading producer of grain-free, all-natural-ingredient baking mixes, crackers, cookies and snack bars.

● Mike Brennan, president of Farmer’s Fridge (standing in for founder/CEO Luke Saunders, who was traveling), whose growing network of vending machines serving fresh salads, sandwiches, bowls and other items is supported by an innovative technology platform.

Seidensticker elaborated on Chicago’s development into a magnet for millennial talent that prefers the stimulation of an urban lifestyle. He noted that this phenomenon has also prompted Big Food companies, such as McDonald's and Mondelez, to relocate to the former meatpacking and produce wholesaling district in Chicago’s West Loop from suburban campuses. 

Seidensticker said, “The millennial is very food-conscious. They're thinking about their health and wellness … And so we talk about natural products and education, they're very enthusiastic about that industry. They're passionate, and it makes recruiting and hiring and building an amazing team a lot easier.”

Smith noted that Chicago is a more affordable place to live than many other major cities, which helps attract the pool of talent from which Simple Mills recruits. Handling all of its recruiting internally, the company also seeks employees who are committed to building a better food system.

“We hire people who are passionate about changing the way they are eating and are passionate about our mission,” Smith said. “So in a lot of ways we are actually hiring our consumer.”

For Farmer’s Fridge, the biggest advantage of a Chicago base is the city’s deeply rooted history as a centrally located logistics hub for the food industry. This helps the company meet its commitment to keep its hundreds of fridges—now in several major Midwestern cities as well as New York and Philadelphia—stocked with fresh, peak-tasting food.

“It's made fresh daily, and it's growing,” Brennan said. Drawing chuckles from the audience when he said, “Made Fresh Weekly is not a good value proposition,” Brennan concluded, “So we really need to have this moving quickly.”

To keep the line moving as consumer demand for its products expands, Farmer’s Fridge recently relocated its production kitchens from its original tiny location in the West Loop to a 50,000-square-foot facility on the city’s southwest side, and Brennan said that city officials have been supportive of the company throughout its rapid rise.

Seidensticker noted that Vital Proteins’ innovation and stratospheric growth has created its own set of distribution issues. The company’s collagen powders have a long shelf life and are relatively light to ship, so production initially was centralized in Chicago. But the introduction of collagen-infused beverages—“You are shipping water, right?”—prompted Vital Proteins to create regional manufacturing and distribution centers in metro areas such as New York and Los Angeles.

To wrap up, Kirk asked each panelist where they expect their company to be in two to three years.

Seidensticker sees Vital Proteins moving beyond collagen and establishing itself as a broad-based wellness company (a concept that will be on display Jan. 30, 2020,when the company hosts a Naturally Chicago Winter Wellness event).

Smith sees Simple Mills expanding its efforts to promote better-for-the-planet practices, bringing sustainability to the category and reducing carbon in the atmosphere.

Brennan said Farmer’s Fridge is initiating research to explore how eating the nutritious food dispensed by its high-tech vending machines can improve health outcomes.

The Good Food and Natural Products industry is poised for major growth in the new decade that begins on Jan. 1, and Chicago is poised to continue its role as a leader in this movement.

Good Food Insights is an editorial partnership of New Hope Network’s Esca Bona thought-leadership platform; FamilyFarmed’s Naturally Chicago and Good Food Accelerator programs; and SPINS, the leading wellness-focused data technology company for the natural, organic and specialty products industry. Good Food Insights articles provide timely analysis of major trends and innovation in the national good food landscape.

Teamsters, UNFI talks resume; members return to work

Teamsters oppose UNFI's proposed executive compensation package

United Natural Foods Inc. and the Teamsters are returning to the bargaining table, bringing an end to picketing at three Midwestern distribution centers, UNFI reported Wednesday.  

A total of 158 drivers, warehouse and maintenance workers who belong to Teamsters Local 414 went on strike Dec. 12 at UNFI’s distribution center in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

The local’s contract expired on Sept. 14, and the union alleged that the wholesaler engaged in unfair labor practices, including a failure to bargain. On Tuesday, Teamsters 414 extended pickets to UNFI DCs in Hopkins, Minnesota, and Green Bay, Wisconsin, whose 850 combined Teamsters members honored the picket lines.

"After they agreed to meet, I pulled down the picket lines," said George Gerdes, principal officer of Local 414, told the StarTribune of Minneapolis, Minnesota. "Our goal was to get them back to the table in good-faith bargaining."

“UNFI is anticipating the end of labor disruptions [Wednesday] and the resumption of normal business activity at distribution centers in Fort Wayne, Green Bay and Hopkins. We hope to have our associates return to work in the very near-term. We’re also committed to return to the bargaining table in Fort Wayne and work in good faith with Teamsters Local 414 to reach a new labor agreement,” UNFI said in a statement late Wednesday.

“We’re happy that our valued associates at all three facilities will be able to return to work and no longer experience the unnecessary instability they’ve experienced during the early holiday season,” UNFI said in the statement. “We appreciate our customers' patience during this and also thank our facility managers, supervisors and colleagues from around the country who came together to help ensure our customers continued to receive their shipments from us during this disruption.”

Less than a month ago, Teamsters at the Green Bay DC approved a contract after rejecting in August an offer that would have reduced their health-care benefits, according to the Green Bay Press Gazette.

UNFI spokesman Mike Wilken told the Press Gazette on Tuesday, "It's reckless for Teamsters leadership to expose UNFI’s valued associates to unnecessary uncertainty and instability around the holidays because of its misguided efforts to support an illegal strike in Fort Wayne and further timed to coincide with our annual shareholders meeting tomorrow."

During that shareholders' meeting, CEO Steve Spinner said, "UNFI remains pro-labor and pro-associate. For UNFI to thrive and meet the needs of its various stakeholders—including maintaining strong wages and benefits for associates across the country—we must have labor agreements that allow us to be flexible and nimble in a rapidly changing environment."

He did not discuss the company's conflicts with the Teamsters at the distribution centers in the Midwest or in the Pacific Northwest. There, the building of a new distribution center and the closing of former Supervalu DCs, which operated with union contracts, led to arbitration and could land in court.

UNFI’s Fort Wayne DC supplies food and other products to grocery stores in Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, West Virginia and Kentucky. The Hopkins facility, with more than 700 Teamsters Local 120 members, serves the Cub Foods supermarket chain, and the Green Bay DC, with 150 Teamsters Local 662 members, supplies Festival Foods stores.


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

[email protected]: Half of US adults on track to be severely obese by 2030 | Grocery delivery aids food deserts


By 2030, nearly half of all US adults will be obese, experts predict

New research indicates that severe obesity will become as common in 2030 as regular obesity was for U.S. adults in the 1990s, meaning nearly half of all U.S. adults will fit into this category. The condition is affected by both race and income, with around a third of non-Latino Black Amercians and 31.7% of adults living below the poverty line expected to struggle with severe obesity over the next decade. Read more at The Los Angeles Times... 

How online grocery delivery could help alleviate food deserts

A pilot program that allows SNAP recipients to use their benefits to pay for online groceries is making it easier for residents of food deserts to access fresh, healthy fare. But a new analysis from Yale University has also found that while the program could be an effective mechanism for those in urban food deserts, rural areas are still tough to accomodate. Read more at NPR...

FDA approves fish oil-derived drug for use preventing heart attacks, strokes

A fish oil-derived drug has been approved by the FDA for medical use to "reduce the likelihood of heart attacks and strokes in high-risk patients." A large late-stage study revealed that the drug, called Vascepa, reduced the risk of heart attack by 25% compared with a placebo. Read more at The Wall Street Journal...

In the future, office design plans will prioritize employee wellness

Workplace wellness is the next big thing in the battle against employee burnout, and forward-thinking employers would do well to take notes from companies like Facebook and Google. Office layouts and amenities are, according to one expert, "integral to hiring and retention." Open offices, more plants, decompression spaces and social zones are four areas to start. Read more at Well and Good...

Burger King is giving delayed travelers free Impossible Whoppers

Burger King is making efforts this holiday season to boost sales of its already incredibly popular Impossible Whopper by giving out free plant-based patties to anyone within a U.S. airport whose flight was delayed. The alternative burger has been driving an unprecedented amount of growth at the chain, according to CEO José Cil.  Read more at CNN...

11 sustainability trends driving innovation in personal care


The European edition of the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit was hosted in Paris last month, bringing together over 180 senior executives from across the beauty industry to discuss pressing sustainability issues. Below are 12 key takeaways from the event.
1. The prioritization of sustainability is paramount

A major challenge for operators in the personal care and cosmetics industry is to decide which health, ecological and/or social issues to focus on. Susan Curtis from Neal’s Yard Remedies urged fellow personal care companies to make decisions based on where they could have the biggest impact; Neal's Yard Remedies, for example, focuses on using organic and safe ingredients, climate action, non-animal testing methods and sustainable packaging.  
2. Consumers are conscious of biodiversity

Consumer awareness of biodiversity is rising fastest in Asia, with consumers in China and Vietnam encompassing over 90% of biodiversity awareness. Now, companies are expected to source natural ingredients in a manner that protects both biodiversity and the workers harvesting the ingredients.  
3. There are now more sustainable sourcing methods than ever

Originating from natural (agriculture-based and wildharvested) ingredients, a diverse range of materials can now be sustainably sourced in the personal care industry. Shea nuts, food crops, seaweed, biopolymer feedstock and packaging waste are examples of recent additions to the sustainable sourcing category. Developments in this area have led to a new generation of sustainability schemes and standards. 
4. ...and a widening range of green materials

The variety of green raw materials continues to expand as cosmetic and ingredient firms invest in new feedstock, processes and novel ingredients. Some recent green alternatives include glycols, synthetic preservatives, silicones, petrolatums, lanolin and film formers. 
5. Food waste is now an ingredient source

A number of cosmetic companies have begun using food byproducts as a raw material source. For example, Richard Blackburn of Dr. Craft showed how the company has created a novel range of natural hair dyes using blackcurrant skins leftover from production of the beverage Ribena. BASF also revealed how how the waste from rambutan fruit can be used to make COSMOS-approved skin care and hair care ingredients.  
6. Ingredient traceability is on the rise

The growing use of natural and organic ingredients in cosmetic products, while a positive thing in most respects, brings with it fraud risks. Blockchain technology can provide traceability within ingredient supply chains. Initially adopted by the food industry, blockchain technology is expected to be increasingly adopted by members of the cosmetics industry. 
7. Product impacts are being closely examined

L’Oreal demonstrated how it uses a lifecycle analysis to measure the environmental impacts of its products. According to Laurent Gilbert, most of the environmental impact lies during the consumer use and end-of-life stages. The cosmetics multinational uses the Sustainable Product Optimization Tool (SPOT), which enables it to improve the environmental and social impact of its products. 
8. Retailers can have an enormous impact

Retailers can play an important role in pushing the green agenda. Yoni van Houten of the Dutch retail chain Albert Heijn detailed its sustainability initiatives, which encompass how it sources its ingredients, paper and packaging. The retailer has committed to sustainable palm oil, responsible mica and shea butter; it also plans to reduce the weight of its packaging by 25%, and aims to have 100% recyclable packaging by 2025. 
9. The packaging problem is more complex than getting rid of plastic

According to Jocelyne Ehret from The Right Packaging, we should not "demonize" plastic packaging in the face of consumer awareness regarding plastic pollution. She pointed out that plastic packaging plays a helpful role in protecting, transporting and storing cosmetic products. In light of this, Ehret advocated for better end-of-life options for existing packaging materials and changes in consumer behavior rather than simply moving away from existing packaging formats.  
10. But sustainable packaging materials are becoming more prevalent

A number of packaging alternatives to plastics were presented throughout the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit. Glass packaging is regaining popularity because it is recyclable and thus has less of a negative impact on ecosystems, but bio-based materials are also increasingly being used fpr product packaging. For example, Arkema is deriving polyamide from castor oil, whilst NatureWorks is manufacturing polylactic acid from corn sugars. Another highlight: The Body Shop is working with waste pickers in India to collect ‘fairly traded’ plastic to use in its shampoo and conditioner bottles.  
11. Expect to see more brands going completely packaging free

Nick Gumery from Lush urged brands to go naked—i.e., packaging free. About half the products of the ethical cosmetics firm are now sold without packaging. Lush is also working with local farmers in Portugal to produce cork to use for product pots. This biodegradable material is carbon positive as it sequestrates carbon dioxide.

Source: Ecovia Intelligence

UNFI's CEO defends compensation, Supervalu acquisition

United Natural Foods Inc.

UNFI CEO Steve Spinner defended the company's executive compensation packages and its acquisition of rival distributor Supervalu during Wednesday's annual shareholder meeting.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters recently criticized both moves in letters to UNFI stockholders. The union encouraged shareholders to vote against the compensation package, although the board of directors would not be bound by the election results.

The Teamsters argued that the executives should not be receiving bonuses when the company's cap market value and stock price have rapidly declined during the past 16 months. UNFI announced in July 2018 that it would purchase Supervalu; the deal closed just three months later.

Despite the Teamsters' appeal, shareholders elected the slate of nominated directors and approved the executive compensation plan, as well as two other questions.

After voting closed, Spinner and director James Heffernan addressed those issues.

Heffernan, who chairs UNFI's Compensation Committee, explained the board decided to award Spinner a 43% target bonus,.

The 43%—which is equal to 65% of his $1.75 million salary or $759,556—is in line with the other executives' target goals, but their bonuses are tied to different percentages of their salaries.

"Given the extensive heavy work done in 2019, the committee also determined that to adjust the payout to zero was excessively punitive," Heffernan said.

Spinner also discussed UNFI's equity plan, which gives certain executives stock options. The compensation plan supports the company's business plan, which requires attracting, retaining and motivating leaders of exceptional talent, he said.

"Our ability to compete effectively in the marketplace depends on the knowledge, credibility and integrity of our leaders," Spinner said. The program, which is balance for short-term and long-term growth, holds the company's leadership accountable for their decisions, he added.

UNFI's future depended on expansion

Market conditions required UNFI to acquire a national distributor, Spinner told shareholders. The distributor's business of selling natural products and services to retailers had matured, he said.

"Better for you products had become mainstream; our customer base needed diversification; and ultimately, we knew that scaled services and a wider variety of products would continue to differentiate UNFI as the supplier of choice," Spinner said.

He acknowledged, though, that the integration has been difficult. "2019 was a humbling year," Spinner said.

UNFI, Teamsters square off as Supervalu contracts end

UNFI Supervalu Workers Unite Teamsters Local 414 drivers, warehouse and maintenance workers, totaling 158 members, went on strike Dec. 12 at UNFI’s DC in Fort Wayne, Ind., alleging that the wholesaler engaged in unfair labor practices.

A Teamsters strike at a United Natural Foods Inc. distribution center in Indiana has brought work stoppages to facilities in two other states amid ongoing labor issues from UNFI’s integration of Supervalu.

Teamsters Local 414 drivers, warehouse and maintenance workers, totaling 158 members, went on strike Dec. 12 at UNFI’s DC in Fort Wayne, alleging that the wholesaler engaged in unfair labor practices. The local’s contract expired on Sept. 14. Then yesterday, Teamsters 414 extended pickets to UNFI DCs in Hopkins, Minnesota, and Green Bay, Wisconsin, whose 850 combined Teamsters members honored the picket line.

“Many of our members have decades of experience at this facility, and we've never seen the company act with such disrespect,” George Gerdes, Teamsters 414 secretary-treasurer, said in a statement. "We will not stand idly by while UNFI flagrantly disregards workers' rights and federal labor law. We're ready to do what it takes to protect our rights in Fort Wayne and the rights of UNFI workers across the country."

UNFI’s Fort Wayne DC supplies food and other products to grocery stores in Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, West Virginia and Kentucky. The Hopkins facility, with more than 700 Teamsters Local 120 members, serves the Cub Foods supermarket chain, and the Green Bay DC, with 150 Teamsters Local 662 members, supplies Festival Foods stores.

Teamsters Local 414 drivers, warehouse and maintenance workers, totaling 158 members, went on strike Dec. 12 at UNFI’s DC in Fort Wayne, Ind., alleging that the wholesaler engaged in unfair labor practices.

UNFI calls strike 'unnecessarily reckless'

“It is regrettable that Teamsters Local 414 decided to initiate an illegal strike after refusing for months to sit down with us and despite our efforts to bargain in good faith to reach a new contract agreement in Fort Wayne,” UNFI Chief Legal Officer Jill Sutton said Dec. 12 in a statement. “Local 414 took this action before UNFI was even able to deliver a proposed wages and benefits package. While this decision is unnecessarily reckless, UNFI is implementing robust contingency plans to maintain business continuity and support our customers and local communities. Meeting customer needs is our top priority, and UNFI is dedicated to taking necessary actions toward this end despite this unlawful union activity.”

In a statement late Tuesday, UNFI called the Teamsters’ extended support of the Fort Wayne strike “misguided” and said it was “reckless for Teamsters leadership to expose UNFI’s valued associates to unnecessary uncertainty and instability around the holidays.” The Providence, Rhode Island-based company also claimed the union timed its actions to coincide with Wednesday's annual shareholders meeting.

“UNFI remains well-positioned to continue meeting our customer needs across the Twin Cities and throughout the Midwest. We’re very disappointed that Teamsters Local 120, which is working under a four-year contract that includes strong wages and benefits, decided to initiate an illegal labor disruption at our Hopkins distribution center in support of the illegal strike in Fort Wayne,” UNFI stated Tuesday. “Despite this action, we’re confident in our contingency plans and are implementing those plans to ensure continued service to our customers. Similar well-formed contingency plans have been implemented in Fort Wayne, where we are fully operational, and contingency planning in Green Bay is active and under way.”

UNFI announced in early June that it and Supervalu had begun operating as one company and were continuing integration efforts. The $2.9 billion acquisition of Supervalu, announced in July 2018 and finalized that October, made UNFI the nation’s largest public grocery wholesaler and second-largest grocery distributor overall.

In acquiring Supervalu, UNFI brought thousands of Teamsters members at distribution centers nationwide under a single company. According to the Teamsters, Supervalu was a “decades-long, Teamster-represented company” whereas UNFI “has had a troubled labor history and has often been hostile towards workers' rights, including their freedom of association.” Currently at UNFI, Teamsters represents 4,000 members at 31 facilities under 51 collective bargaining agreements.

Teamsters Local 414 drivers, warehouse and maintenance workers, totaling 158 members, went on strike Dec. 12 at UNFI’s DC in Fort Wayne, Ind., alleging that the wholesaler engaged in unfair labor practices.

Teamsters, UNFI face more negotiations in 2020

Steve Vairma, vice president and warehouse division director for Teamsters International, said the Fort Wayne strike against UNFI stems from charges of federal labor law violations, including failure to bargain with the union and unilateral changes in operations. More charges are under review, he added.

“The open contract for our UNFI Fort Wayne facility members is far from the only UNFI Teamsters contract now at the negotiating table. We currently have three open contracts with the company and eight other contracts that will expire in 2020,” Vairma said in a conference call Wednesday. “I can tell you from my negotiations and discussions with management today that the company continues to insist on unacceptable demands, including the ability to subcontract the work currently performed by our members, as well as the blanket elimination of picket-line language allowing our members to honor lawful strikes extending to UNFI locations. These proposals cannot and will not resolve the company's failure to manage and grow its operations.”

UNFI, meanwhile, has a pending challenge of an Oct. 8 arbritrator’s decision that allowed 300 Teamsters Local 117 members at the wholesaler’s Tacoma, Washington, warehouse to transfer to its non-union Centralia, Washington, distribution center under their existing contract terms and conditions. On Oct. 28, UNFI said issued an appeal of the arbitrator’s ruling in federal district court in Washington and filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

“We believe that the arbitrator’s recent decision is unlawful and flawed because we cannot extend union contract terms — in blatant violation of federal requirements — at our non-union Centralia distribution center,” Sutton said in a statement at the time. “It completely contradicts regulatory and labor law principles to force UNFI to create a wage and benefit structure that would apply to one set of employees and not others with the same positions and responsibilities in Centralia. This is why today we have proceeded with filings in federal court and with the NLRB.”

In February, UNFI unveiled plans to optimize its distribution center network in the Pacific Northwest, including the consolidation of five DCs into the new 1.2 million-square-foot facility in Centralia and an expanded 800,000-square-foot facility in Ridgefield, Washington. The move, part of the integration of Supervalu, resulted in the closure of the Tacoma and Auburn, Washington, warehouses and another facility in Portland, Oregon.

When announcing its challenge of the arbitrator’s ruling, UNFI noted that since closing the Supervalu acquisition in October 2018, it had reached 14 consensual agreements with unions across six states. “For UNFI to thrive and meet the needs of its various stakeholders, including maintaining strong wages and benefits for associates across the country, we must have labor agreements that allow us to be flexible and nimble in a rapidly changing food distribution environment,” UNFI Chief Supply Chain Officer Paul Green commented at the time.

Besides providing economies of scale, UNFI has said the addition of Supervalu diversifies its revenue stream with the latter’s independent wholesale grocery business. However,  UNFI’s share price has plunged 80% since the Supervalu deal was announced, and the Teamsters say the company’s business remains too dependent on its largest customer: Whole Foods Market/Amazon, which accounted for 21% of UNFI's fiscal 2019 net sales. UNFI’s contract with Whole Foods, for which it has been the primary distributor for 20 years, is slated to expire in September 2025. The Fresh Market, Cub Foods and Festival Foods are key UNFI regional customers in the Midwest.

“Based on what we've witnessed in the Pacific Northwest and now in Fort Wayne, we believe management is attempting to undermine every single Teamster contract with the company,” Vairma said. “We will not surrender core union rights and principles protecting our members’ wages, benefits, work roles and the right to organize because UNFI management finds them inconvenient or less than ideal for its restructuring plan. Our members will not stand for it, as the picket lines in Fort Wayne, Green Bay and Hopkins clearly show.”


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

4 Facebook-identified trends shaping the global natural products industry


Delve into The 2020 Topics and Trends Report From Facebook IQ and you'll quickly notice that natural is on the up-and-up. With consumers everywhere increasingly seeking out transparent, eco-conscious and clean brands in everything from food to skin care, it's clear that professionals in the natural products industry already have a leg up on the competition. 

Below are four of the report's most pertinent trends to natural businesses across the globe.

1. Gut health takes center stage (Australia)

Research on the gut-brain connection continues to flourish, and this has led to an upsurge in consumption of both fermented and high-fiber foods—particularly in the wellness mecca that is Australia. Health-minded Australian citizens are reportedly "viewing the gut as a gateway to overall health," and products such as kefir, kimchi and chickpea and lentil-based pasta are flying off shelves.

2. Apps that screen ingredients get more thorough (France)

Apps that easily identify certain problematic ingredients in products are becoming more prevalent as shoppers worry about unwittingly ingesting harmful chemicals. The most popular French app of this nature reports that its users are scanning over 2 million items per day for nutrient, antioxidant and pollutant contents. Such tools will continue getting more advanced, meaning the days of consumers basing their purchases on branding alone are about to be over for good.

3. Meat alternatives and flexitarian lifestyles are thriving (Germany and the U.S., respectively)

Germany's meat-centric cuisine is being swiftly replaced by vegetarian and vegan meat alternatives because of the country's extraordinarily high number of vegetarian residents. According to a recent survey, 20% of Germans under the age of 24 reported that they had purchased meat alternatives within the past few months. Stateside, Facebook saw a similar trend, noting an increase in vegetable-centric diets that don't necessarily cut out meat altogether. Occasional indulgence in high-quality animal products appears to be the new norm for many health-conscious Americans.

4. There's a harsher spotlight on waste in the fashion industry (Sweden and the U.K.)

Thrift shopping and exchanging clothing via one's smartphone is the next big thing for younger shoppers in the U.K. Convenience is key here, because while normal thrift shopping can often be a hit-or-miss experience, finding desirable, used items in the right size is simple using these apps' pre-existing filters. Over in Sweden, shoppers are supporting up-and-coming brands that tout their sustainable sourcing practices. "Slow fashion" garments made from high-quality materials made to last are being bought in place of fast-fashion articles of clothing that contribute "astronomical" levels of carbon, water and plastic waste each year.