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[email protected]: Wild vegetables face extinction | PETA buys stock in Starbucks


Wild relatives of popular vegetables are in trouble

A new paper reveals that 16 wild relatives of the gourd family are "inadequately protected and generally lack representation in gene banks." This, in turn, puts widely cultivated crops at risk because they need the genetic diversity of their wild relatives to adapt to sudden changes in climate–an increasingly common occurence. Read more at Modern Farmer... 

PETA bought stock in Starbucks to help vegans save 80 cents on nondairy milk

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has become a shareholder of Starbucks Corporation with plans to protest the company's upcharge of 80 cents for its nondairy milk options. PETA cites lactose intolerance and cruelty to dairy cows as two reasons why consumers would choose to forgo regular milk, and the group's executive vice president noted in a press release that "a single cow emits more [methane-gas emissions] than a car does." Read more at Fast Company...

Rainwater in parts of US contains high levels of PFAs chemical, says study

Rainwater in some areas of the U.S. contain enough polyfluoralkyl substances to the point where it could affect human health; in one sample from Massachusetts, the total concentration of PFAS chemicals was nearly 5.5 nanograms per liter of rainwater (some states have put a limit of 2 nanograms per liter on levels of these chemicals in drinking water). Experts suggest that PFAS chemicals are entering rainwater through both industrial emissions and evaporation from PFAS-containing fire-fighting foams. Read more at The Guardian...

Plant-based chicken that actually pulls and tastes like chicken is here

The taste and texture of chicken has long eluded plant-based meat-makers–but no longer. Daring Foods appears to have hit the mark in terms of "a chicken alternative that mimics chicken in texture and taste." It's made of only five ingredients and the creators are, like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, planning on marketing it toward consumers with flexitarian lifestyles. Read more at Thrillist...

Food tech took two steps forward, two steps back in the 2010s

Here is a roundup of the past decade's biggest hits and misses in terms of U.S. food tech innovations. Yes, plant-based meat and dairy took massive strides toward widespread consumer acceptance–but remember when Soylent tried to replace food and caused a wave of illnesses? It's all here in a convenient news roundup.  Read more at Eater...

Alaffia CEO: Retailers' responsibility goes beyond product


These days it’s in vogue for food and body care companies to have a social mission. When Olowo-n’djo Tchala founded Alaffia 16 years ago, however, that was not necessarily the case. But the Togo native knew his community had skin-nourishing ingredients, and efficacious traditional recipes that used them, to share with the world.

Through Alaffia, Tchala created a business that exports those resources in exchange for a steady income and the ability to give back to the community in ways that go beyond fair trade. We talked with Tchala about Alaffia’s mission and found out just how far the business has come since 2003.

Do you see Alaffia as a changemaking brand and, if so, what is the change you’re trying to make?  

Alaffia_Founder.jpgOlowo-n'djo Tchala: There is no doubt in my mind. For me, it comes to understanding that within West Africa, and specifically Togo where I’m from, what we need most is to get out of poverty and what we need most is for the world to respect the resources that African people have. How we make that change is to look at what Alaffia has done for the last 16 years. We’re using our traditional ways of life, not compromising on them, and using our natural resources to uplift ourselves. What that does is build dignity.

How do you build a product for export that respects local people and resources and doesn’t create the risk of exploitation?

OT: At the end of the day, Americans are using a body wash. We ask, how do we turn that body wash into positively impacting a community all the way in West Africa. How Alaffia does that is to work first in organizing the women, primarily, who collect the shea nut in the wild into small cooperatives, or you could call them unions. There are 60 of these groups, totaling 8,000 members.

Each of those groups will negotiate a fair price with Alaffia. Once the nuts are purchased, they come to the Alaffia center. There’s a group of women that will transform the nut into a butter, and that gets transformed into a soap. And we look at the investment we put back into the community to balance it out. You have economic activity, and have to do a social investment.

I don’t think it’s enough to have fair trade. If after a trade, that project isn’t [meeting a community’s needs], I think the organization should do more to put back into the community.

What’s an example of this investment in the community?

OT: To have an impact in my view, you need to touch all drivers of a society. Health, education and environment. One thing Alaffia does is [the Maternal Care Project]. One in 16 women have a chance of dying in West Africa giving birth. If we keep losing our mothers that way, then the children left behind—they drop out, and the cycle of poverty cannot be broken. At Alaffia, we believe we can break the cycle of poverty by keeping mothers alive and giving children a better chance. We do this in the poorest regions of Togo; women [get care from a] clinic, Alaffia pays the bill, and has paid for [the delivery of] 7,000 babies so far.

Are traditional recipes or ingredient uses incorporated into your product formulations?

OT: That’s the key. When I say we’re uplifting ourselves, that’s how do we do that—offering to the world something we can exchange for income as a way to support ourselves. That’s the key backbone of our business, and it involves ancient recipes. Take, for example, black soap. That’s made the ancient way, the shea butter is made the ancient way. Alaffia products are what the women at the cooperative brought to share with the world.

Do you think the mission is enough to draw a first-time consumer in, or is your message to that audience more about the product itself?

OT: The product needs to be about, first and foremost, what are the person’s needs. But that’s the first thing, and then the next thing—maybe the person comes back or tells their friend what [the soap] is contributing to communities around the world.

What are your biggest sellers, and are they the same as your fastest-growing products?

OT: Our biggest category is bath. Within body wash, the Authentic African Black Soap line is a big segment for us and also growing the fastest.

What was your first retail account?

OT: It was a co-op in Olympia, Washington. At that point, we didn’t have a UPC. Essentially, we were going and filling jars with shea butter. Then we started growing—eventually got into PCC, then Whole Foods Market regional, and then we went national. Now we have 8,000 stores that we service.

Was it an easy sell?

OT: No. We had to explain who we are, what we were trying to do. We couldn’t even afford to print a brochure, it had to come from what I was saying to the buyer. Everything was built one step as we go.

When you’re talking to buyers, how much do you talk about your mission, as opposed to your product?

OT: Being in front of buyers and telling them what you’re trying to do is important. I believe that buyers across America do care. Buying can have an impact, and if you’re truly honest and you can continue to be honest, they will participate. [As long as you’re also] offering what they need to achieve their goals, including to make money, as well.

How much retailer education do you do?

OT: For me, it’s a continuous exchange of information and education of the retailer. I write letters to retailers about what we do and I update them quarterly. And we participate in large conferences.

I [would also like to] encourage and suggest that retailers don’t lose sight of supporting up-and-coming organizations. I feel that to be able to start an organization these days, you have to be well capitalized, and to me lots of people who want to do good in the world are not capitalized. And the space for them to have a chance is becoming less and less. If we don’t give them opportunity, I don’t think we’re going to reduce suffering in the world. I think small guys should have a chance.

And there’s one more thing—the retailer is the gatekeeper to the consumer. It’s a small power, but their responsibility should continue beyond the product they’re buying. They should look at supply chains, that’s where the abuses are happening. I challenge retailers across the nation to ask more manufacturers about their supply chains, and about practices in the supply chain. I don’t think any retailers do it automatically.

Do you mean similar to what Whole Foods has done in creating ingredient standards for its health and beauty products?

OT: I think Whole Foods does a good job at standards for health. But I think more needs to be done on how are people are treated, how people around the world are cared for.

And how do you approach consumer education—do you rely on your retailer efforts to reach consumers?

OT: Communicating through retailers, that’s one channel for us; they have their own customer base and that’s important. We also do private communications. And some of our products are consumed more in some parts of America, we’ll do more social or demos in those areas.

We have electronic email that we send out to our customer base, and we’re working to develop ambassadors for Alaffia.

You have a strong national presence. Do you still find it important to be in independent retailers?

OT: I think it’s now, more than ever, important to work with independents. I like that despite the ecommerce boom, independents are holding strong. We need them to be that first gate for people to enter [into the marketplace]. We need a core of people who are the army for pushing the mission of [caring about people and communities]. They need to hold strong and we need to support them.

From a manufacturing standpoint, we need to allow them to be competitive. We need to be consciously making sure they’re getting the discount level so they can compete. We try to not have preferential discounts. We try to balance it out, so we’re not giving all our discounts in one place and not the other place.

Ashwagandha, mushrooms, turmeric and other adaptogens heat up beverage menu sales

SunLife was an early adopter of the adaptogen movement, a term that describes a category of functional ingredients designed to boost the immune system and help the body fight off the effects of stress.

In 2003, Khalil Rafati was 33-years old and a heroin addict, living on the streets of Los Angeles’ Skid Row. He weighed 109 pounds and “looked like a walking corpse,” he said.

Now Rafati, 16-years sober and a 154-pound athlete, is the picture of health. He is also founder and owner of the 14-unit SunLife Organics, based in Malibu, California, a juice and superfoods bar where the beverages include many of the adaptogenic herbs and ingredients that he feels helped fuel his return to health.

SunLife was an early adopter of the adaptogen movement, a term that describes a category of functional ingredients designed to boost the immune system and help the body fight off the effects of stress. When the concept launched in 2011 offering smoothies with things like raw cacao beans, matcha and goji berries, Rafati’s mostly foreign suppliers scoffed at the notion that Americans would pay to put such ingredients in their drinks.

“Now you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a matcha shop,” said Rafati. And SunLife is drawing professional athletes, super models and rock stars who are increasingly embracing functional ingredients to help fix what ails them.

“Everybody killed themselves to make a bunch of money and then they woke up one day and found they have a body,” he said. “I see people fueling themselves on coffee and fear for decades and they build these empires. But all the collagen is gone from their skin and they’re devoid of energy.”

Since opening day, SunLife has offered smoothies, juices and coffees using adaptogens that are now increasingly popular, including ashwagandha, pine pollen, nettles, maca and various mushrooms, including reishi, chaga and cordyceps.

Most smoothies run between $16 to $18, but one—the Billion Dollar Meal—has a long list of ingredients that includes colostrum, chlorophyll, aloe vera, collagen, silica, whey protein, various vitamin supplements and a mushroom blend (reishi, chaga, shiitake, maitake, lion’s mane and more), all blended in hemp milk with coconut meat.

Most adaptogens are supplements, for which the Food and Drug Administration prohibits making health claims. Some are rooted in Ayurvedic and Chinese traditional medicine practices that date back thousands of years.

Rafati is happy to share his own experiences, but he warns guests who are pregnant or nursing to talk with their doctor, and it makes him nervous when he sees 30-pound toddlers chugging functional beverages designed for adults. “Kids go nuts for them,” he said.

In Portland, the CBD brand Ablis is also tapping into the functional beverage trend with a new concept that opened in the Pine Street Marketplace in December. Ablis Experience CBD Lounge is designed to showcase the company’s CBD-spiked bottled beverages, but with cocktails and mocktails—dubbed func-tails —that include things like turmeric, ashwagandha, gingko biloba and various mushrooms.

ablis-experience-photo-grand-opening.jpgThe Heart Beet, for example, includes beet powder, hawthorne berry and L-Arginine, the latter an amino acid touted by some for erectile function.

Guests at Ablis Experience have various options for building their func-tails as a hot, steamed drink with various CBD-spiked milks or espresso, or cold and shaken over ice.

Jim Bendis, founder and CEO of Ablis, said, “The FDA doesn’t let us talk about the benefits of CBD, so we have a whole host of natural ingredients that would be considered adaptogens or have more functional purposes, like brain health, heart health or boosting immunity.”

Bendis said Oregon health officials have allowed the use of CBD products in the bar setting. “We do offer beer and cocktails as well, because, after all, this is Oregon,” he said.

In New York, the Honeybrains concept opened its second unit in October with a menu dedicated to brain health, using recipes developed in consultation with neurologist Dr. Alon Seifan. The focus is on five brain-boosting food groups (vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains and foods high in Omega 3s), along with healthful herbs, spices, fermented foods and sweeteners like honey.

On the beverage menu are juices and shots made in house, including  the calming Lemonbalm Calm (gala apples, pineapple, kale, lemon, green apple, ginger, fiber gum, celery, parsley and lemonbalm); and Super Charge (blueberry, oat milk, date paste, vanilla extract, pomegranate extract, tart cherry juice and rhodiola rosea), which is touted to help with endurance.


Divya Alter, chef and co-owner of Divya’s Kitchen in New York, is a believer in Ayurvedic practices and that food can directly impact health. But she cautions that consumers should not assume that these ingredients will offer the same benefits to everyone universally.

Ayurvedic teachings take a more personalized approach, she said. Ashwagandha, for example, can have a heating effect, so she wouldn’t recommend it for stress if a person tends to run hot.

“My teachers always caution against using very powerful herbs in food like that,” she said. “When you take something from a tradition, use it according to the tradition. When you use it blindly or improperly then you have negative effects and the modern medicine community says, ‘See, we told you not to take those herbs.’”

Alter, who is planning to open a fast-casual version of Divya’s Kitchen in New York this spring, recommends that restaurant and bar operators consult an expert before they start adding adaptogens to beverages.

“Don’t just put it on the menu to make money,” she said.

Restaurant Hospitality offers resources for independent restaurant operators.This piece originally appeared on Restaurant Hospitality, a New Hope Network sister website. Visit the site for resources for independent restaurant operators.

Naturally occurring vitamin B12 discovered in a plant-based protein

Duckweed Floating on Water

Lentein, derived from the duckweed plant, was already an impressive nutrient-dense plant-based protein source rich in amino acids and omega-3s. However, the fact that duckweed has naturally occurring vitamin B12 in bioactive forms makes the plant “a game-changer,” says Geoff Palmer, founder of Clean Machine, a sports nutrition company that uses lentein in its protein powder.

A vegan bodybuilder and advocate for the plant-based athlete lifestyle, Palmer says the discovery of a plant-based B12 source will allow him to stop doing “the same thing that almost all vegans were doing, which is taking a synthetic vitamin B12.” The discovery completes the nutrition profile for an ingredient that was already a nutrient powerhouse.

“It covers every single one of the bases,” Palmer says.

Cecelia Wittbjer, vice president of marketing the manufacturers of the “water lentil” ingredient, Parabel, says the company was so busy promoting and understanding the protein and other components that it wasn’t even aware that B12 was in the mix until a larger company considering the ingredient for its products discovered it.

“Everybody thought that vitamin B12 did not exist in plants, so we didn’t even bother looking for it,” Wittbjer says.

Vitamin B12 is not technically produced by plants, but is instead created by microbes that live on and in the roots of plants. Duckweed, a flowering plant grown in water, is harvested and processed as a whole plant. Wittbjer says Parabel is studying how bioavailable the B12 forms are but has no plans to increase the concentration or to isolate the B12. But, she said, "we are engaged with a large company that is doing their own capsules and such."

For Palmer, B12 is a big advantage to add to a list of features he uses to market his Clean Machine powder. Duckweed already has the impressive protein and nutrient mix, but it is also fast-growing, doubling in biomass every 24 to 36 hours, and can be harvested and processed with little loss of water. He describes duckweed as a long-overlooked "superhero of the plant kingdom."

"When we put the bullet points in our marketing, the most common response is, 'That can’t be true and if it is true, how come nobody has heard of it till now?'" Palmer says. The reason is pretty simple. "Nobody's been looking at it. It’s a weed. We’ve been trying to kill the thing off for the last 50 years."

Blue Bottle Coffee vows to go zero waste by end of 2020


California-based Blue Bottle Coffee vowed that all of its cafes will become zero waste by the end of 2020. According to a blog by Blue Bottle CEO Bryan Meehan, that means making sure 90% of the company’s waste is diverted from landfill.

In addition, Blue Bottle will begin testing its zero single-use cup program in the San Francisco Bay area. The company will allow customers to bring their own cups or use one of theirs. Blue Bottle also plans to sell its whole-bean coffees in bulk instead of single-use bags and its grab-and-go items in reusable containers.

San Francisco Chronicle reports that “climate change prompted Meehan’s quest to eliminate single-use cups and other disposable packaging from Blue Bottle.” The article also points out that Blue Bottle goes through an estimated 12 million disposable cups every year in the U.S.

San Francisco Chronicle has more:

Blue Bottle Coffee helped make single-pour cups of coffee a trademark of cafes across the country. But Monday, the Oakland company announced plans to do away with single-use cups at two Bay Area cafes as it prepares to go zero waste at its nearly 70 U.S. locations by the end of next year.

Instead, customers will either need to bring their own mug, order drinks for-here or put down a deposit for a reusable cup they can exchange for a clean one on their next visit or return for their deposit. That’ll start early next year at a new unnamed San Francisco location and an existing cafe in the East Bay, though Blue Bottle declined to announce the specific locations. If these pilots are successful, Blue Bottle plans to spread the single-use cup ban to other cafes.

This piece originally appeared on Waste360, a New Hope Network sister website. Visit the site for more waste and recycling news.


Women face discrimination in natural products industry

3 men looking at 1 woman

This is the second installment of a 3-part Nutrition Business Journal series. Read part 1 here.

It’s not as if Suzanne Shelton hadn’t seen it before—attractive young women wearing next to nothing, hawking sports nutrition products at a trade show booth. Yet, on this particular day, she says the bikini-clad women ignited “a flash of rage.”

She shot over to the booth to confront the (fully clothed) men there. “I said, ‘I find this really insulting—can’t you sell your products without objectifying half the population?’”

That was about 15 years ago. Since then, the natural products industry, like others, has made strides in hiring and promoting women. While so-called “booth babes” aren’t as ubiquitous, Shelton and other long-time leaders say the industry still has work to do to create a fair and inclusive environment for women.

“I have dealt with a lot of misogyny,” says Shelton, who, as Managing Partner of The Shelton Group, has provided public relations and marketing services for industry clients since 1990. I think it’s the underlying cause of many of the biggest problems facing our society, along with racism.” 

Although the recent #MeToo movement initially focused on sexual harassment and assault in the entertainment industry, it quickly grew to encompass other forms of gender-based discrimination across all sectors. Unfortunately, the natural products industry isn’t immune to such inequities—though many argue that with its mission-driven focus, it should be working harder to eliminate the problems.

Gender pay gap

Women earning less than men for the same work is a global problem in the natural products industry, says Amina Faham, Ph.D., global associate director for Pharma Application Development & Innovation at Dupont Nutrition and Health. “This is not ‘us vs. them,’” says Faham, who gave a presentation on tackling the gender pay gap at Healthy Ingredients Europe (HiE) in Frankfurt last November. “It’s an old and illegal issue.”

When wage discrimination is corrected, and women earn an equal amount, the benefits extend far beyond themselves and their families, Faham says. With women making 93% of food purchases, for example, “we can impact any social economy,” she says. “It has a huge impact on the growth of GDP in any country.”

Currently, however, U.S. women in manufacturing, which includes the food and beverage industry, earn 20% less on average than male colleagues performing the same work, Faham says. (This is similar to pay discrepancies across other U.S. industries, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.) Women in manufacturing experience a 22% pay gap globally, Faham says, and a 16% gap in the European Union.

“We don’t talk about it. It’s like a taboo,” says Faham, who’s based in Switzerland. “If we don’t talk about it, there’s very little chance anything will change.”

Heather Granato, Informa vice president of content, hopes to survey industry stakeholders this year about pay, among other issues. Because so many natural products companies are privately held, she says, “it’s tough to find those statistics.”

Pay transparency is one of four strategies Faham recommends to help companies close the gender pay gap. Others include encouraging women mentorship, passing wage equality legislation and building diversity into processes, company culture and core values.

The biggest potential

Make no mistake, creating a workplace where all employees—including women, racial minorities and other marginalized people—feel valued isn’t a call for tokenism or “political correctness.” It’s about organizations drawing from the widest talent pool, helping employees reach their potential and reaping the many, research-proven benefits of workplace diversity, says Lara Dickinson, co-founder and executive director of OSC2, a group of CEOs working to rectify the industry’s and planet’s toughest sustainability problems.

“The biggest potential for our industry is to bring in more diversity,” Dickinson says. “Monoculture does not produce good results long-term—in land or a culture of people.”

Along with regenerative agriculture, OSC2 promotes regenerative leadership, “which means bringing consciousness into your leadership,” Dickinson says. “Being responsible and listening and creating a very inclusive and welcoming workplace is the greatest way to change.”

The more included employees feel, the more innovative they are on the job, and the more willing they are to go “above and beyond” to help team members and achieve company goals, according to Catalyst, a 57-year-old global nonprofit helping businesses work for women.

To do that, organizations must look not only at objective criteria, such as wage discrimination, but also at fuzzier, harder-to-pin-down aspects of workplace culture. In other words, the vibe of the place. For example, are women heard and taken seriously at meetings? (Are they at those meetings?) “There just seems to be this automatic trust in men, and women have to earn it somehow,” says one woman, a natural products industry leader. “It’s true across industries.”

“A woman in produce?”

While many women in the natural products industry say they feel supported at work, not all are so lucky. One agreed to talk about her experiences of working at a large, natural and organic market if her name wasn’t used. In NBJ’s recent Dark Issue IV, “Sue Smith” described sexual harassment she experienced on the job—but that’s not the only discrimination she’s faced. When Smith started at the market, part of a multi-state chain, she was the only woman in the produce department.

“I kept getting the question, ‘A woman in produce?’ and I was a supervisor,” she says. “Instead of calling me by my name, people were calling me ‘Ma’am.’” It stopped only after she insisted that her employees use her name. “It was a very weird, obviously male-dominated environment.”

In every interaction she’s had with her regional manager, “he has called out my gender,” Smith says. “I wanted to leave a while ago because of the sexism in this environment.”

Another industry professional shared her experiences on the condition that her real name not be used. “Jill Jones,” an industry veteran, was five months pregnant in the mid-1990s when she ran into a colleague at an industry event and mentioned her interest in a job that had recently opened at the company where he was a top executive. She was “extremely qualified,” she says, because she’d previously held the job at a sister company.

“He just looked at me—I think he was a father at the time—and he said, ‘Why don’t you have your baby and see how you feel then?’” Jones says. “I didn’t even get to take it to another level of conversation. I knew that was just wrong, but I didn’t know what to do. I was just so angry, I felt like punching him in the nose.”

Since 1978, the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act forbids discrimination based on pregnancy or childbirth, including hiring, firing, promotions and job assignments. But within a year Jones faced a second, similar situation.

“It affected my life.”

She interviewed for a position she’d held before, with a man with whom she’d co-founded a business. “He knew my capabilities and my capacities,” Jones says. “At the end of my interview (he) said to me, ‘There’s a frequent amount of travel in the job. I know you just had a baby, how is that going to feel for you, all the travel?’ I said, ‘Well, that would be challenging, but I’ll manage.’”

Jones, who has made many hiring decisions, says the question was inappropriate. “Would you ask a man that?” she says. “He had a baby and a wife staying at home. I really felt like I was being discriminated against because of the phase of life I was in. I felt like it was wrong but I didn’t feel I had a recourse.”

She considered filing a discrimination claim. “I didn’t feel emboldened to do it. These were people I liked and respected,” she says. “I don’t like to play the victim, but it affected my life.”

Jones says she still thinks about talking to the men about it. “They are good people. I want to give them some grace because I realize, intellectually, they’re a product of our culture and the times,” she says. “At the same time, they probably don’t remember it. I don’t think they realize their own behavior.”

Many men in the industry aren’t aware of the ubiquitous sexism women encounter—or that they may be part of the problem, says Shelton, the PR exec. “Because men don’t experience what women do, they don’t even realize it’s a thing,” she says. “Part of it is education, and part of it is realizing that you don’t know what you don’t know.”

Shelton recalls one group that used to meet at trade shows to hash out industry problems. “It was always these old, affluent white guys. They would never, ever include women,” she says. “We would laugh at them.”

Bro territory and ‘sex-po’s

Cronyism at industry events has left some women feeling alienated and excluded. An after-hours gathering can veer into “bro-culture” territory, with heavy drinking and unabashed sexist attitudes on display. Natural Products Expo West gets referred to as “Sex-Po.” More than one woman admits to playing down her looks and carefully selecting her wardrobe to avoid unwanted attention.

“I’ve heard comments that would make ‘Mad Men’s’ Roger Sterling pale,” Karen Howard, CEO and Executive Director of the Organic and Natural Health Association, wrote in NBJ’s first Market Overview Issue three years ago. “No one believes words can hurt? They hurt the whole industry.”

But the climate may be shifting, Howard says. “I was just in Anaheim for Expo,” she says. “I didn’t hear one comment or joke that made me cringe.”

That doesn’t mean everyone is on the same page. One popular move for some men is passing off demeaning comments as jokes. Shelton, for example, says one industry leader glibly dismissed her whenever she disagreed with him. “He’d say, ‘You’re so cute. Why aren’t you married?’” she says. “It happened multiple times.”

Bethany Davis, Director of Advocacy and Government Relations at MegaFood, was preparing to debate the use of GMOs at a conference when her opponent—a man in his 60s, about twice her age—approached. “He said, ‘This is who’s debating me? What could you possibly know at your age? Don’t worry. I won’t call you an ignorant slut on stage,’” Davis says.

“No one said anything.”

She didn’t know he was referring to an old Saturday Night Live skit. “It was, literally, within 60 seconds of going up on stage. I was pretty shaken,” Davis says. “He didn’t pay attention to anything I said. He just stuck to his talking points.”

Before the debate, Davis says she’d been standing with other men—“high-integrity men.” Later, they told her they thought the other man’s comments were inappropriate, Davis says. “In the moment,” she says, “no one said anything.”

That’s part of what makes discussing these issues so tricky, women say. Good guys make mistakes. “It’s not about shaming or blaming,” says OSC2’s Dickinson. “We all have unconscious bias and a lot to learn to lead and work together better.”  

Dickinson and Sheryl O’Loughlin, CEO of REBBL herbal beverages, have launched the JEDI project, which stands for Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. It’s an internal OSC2 pilot program to increase all kinds of diversity in the workplace, along with ensuring an inclusive culture. They plan to eventually bring the program to the industry, Dickinson says. “White men have been very responsive to the JEDI idea,” Dickinson says. “They get the opportunity to recruit the best talent and to innovate.”

Men are becoming more aware of these issues, women say. Dupont’s Faham, who has spoken about the gender pay gap at other conferences, says she was pleased at HiE to see, for the first time, so many men in the room—making up about one-third to more than half of the audience at times. She also noted many young women.

pay by gender

Young workers will "change our culture”

Those young workers are critical to the industry’s future, especially in a competitive hiring environment, Howard says. Millennials, who now make up the largest segment of the labor force, favor mission-driven organizations that value employee differences—and they expect equal opportunities, studies show.

“They’re going to help change our culture,” Howard says. “They’re going to call people on the carpet about these things.”

While the natural products industry has long prided itself on innovation and trend-setting, organizations that ignore gender diversity may soon be seen as out-of-step and lagging behind. In 2017, more than 150 CEOs from some of the world’s top companies announced the formation of CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion, a massive effort to improve diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Now, nearly 600 CEOs and presidents, academic institutions and nonprofits have signed on.

The campaign holds that a company’s employees should reflect the increasingly diverse U.S. population—as well as its customers. With women comprising about half of the population and making the majority of food-shopping and health care decisions for their families, this is especially relevant for the natural products industry.

“They’re the ones buying our products,” Dickinson says. “They need to be at the table.”

Howard agrees. “Men should not be making all of these decisions for the female customers we rely on so much,” she says.

In her NBJ piece three years ago, Howard called for the industry to lead on gender equity. “If you aren’t embracing the talents of women into your workforce, you may not be reaching the health advocates you seek to serve,” she wrote. “I encourage urgency in your effort to do so.”


Does the natural products industry have a #MeToo problem?

Woman holding #MeToo sign

In February 2016—20 months before news of the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke—Karen Howard called on the natural products industry to step up as leaders for gender equity. Writing for Nutrition Business Journal in the first Dark Issue, Howard challenged natural products trade associations and companies to, among other things, establish zero tolerance for sexual harassment and hold violators accountable.

Three years later, she’s still waiting. 

“Whenever this comes up, it’s in very hushed tones and it’s never in public,” says Howard, CEO and executive director of the Organic & Natural Health Association. “We are not unscathed by this. That is absolutely the truth. I’ve witnessed some of this, but no one is discussing it. There have been no ramifications for the behavior. So why would people want to talk about it?”

Howard and others would say companies promising better-for-you products have an obligation to set a better example. Let others churn out widgets. The natural products industry has set itself apart with a higher-minded vision for its products and profits. From the farmers who shunned synthetic nitrogen fertilizers and pesticides in the 1920s to the hippies and “health food nuts” of the ’60s and ’70s, the industry is rooted in the loftiest goals—health, wellness and saving the earth.

“Healthy people, healthy planet, that’s what I tell people we do,” Howard says. “We’re a very special industry. If we walk our talk, that means we’re investing in people.”  

Bad operators

But while the industry has dodged the spotlight for sexual harassment and other discrimination so far, that doesn’t mean it’s free from such problems. Some industry leaders agreed to be interviewed for this story, but declined to be quoted—even if their names weren’t used—citing gag orders in discrimination lawsuit settlements and the fear of retribution, legal and otherwise.

“We talk about being so conscious and values driven, and that’s all true and valid, but that doesn’t mean individuals are exempt ... in their behavior to others,” says one industry veteran who faced workplace discrimination for being pregnant. She asked to remain anonymous in this article. “I think we need to be talking more openly about that. Is this industry just not wanting to acknowledge that there could be bad operators?”

Progressive and innovative, the natural products industry also promises opportunities for greater equality and fairness, she says. But that may also keep some from addressing it, because of worries it may tarnish the industry’s reputation. “I think we’re in a place now where we have a responsibility to elevate those values even more.”

To assume the industry’s high values shield it from such concerns is a mistake, many agree.

Sexual harassment is a symptom of larger problems, including disconnection from self, others and the earth, says Lara Dickinson, executive director and co-founder of OSC2, a group of natural products industry CEOs and leaders working to tackle some of the toughest sustainability problems facing the profession and the planet. “We’ve created a society where power is measured in only one way,” Dickinson says. And that one way, money, is often at odds with the metrics Dickinson values. “I do think it’s shifting, but it would be nice if it shifted faster.”

OSC2 emphasizes regenerative systems—in agriculture but also company leadership, she says. “What I have seen in this industry is that change and awareness starts at the top with the CEO modeling the right behavior,” says Dickinson, who’s worked in the industry since 1997. “To me, it all starts with bringing more consciousness to CEOs, inspiring people to see the opportunities of behaving in a more values-driven way.”

Although some leaders have hesitated to address sexual harassment and other #MeToo issues in the natural products industry, there may come a time when they don’t have a choice. Organizations that ignore abuse and shield offenders not only harm employees and diminish morale and productivity, they increasingly put their reputations, finances and futures at risk. 

Moreover, the issue isn’t going away. #MeToo has prompted state lawmakers to hold businesses more accountable for misconduct, including prohibiting mandatory arbitration and certain non-disclosure agreements and eliminating or extending the statute of limitations on sexual assaults. Vermont’s 2018 law, among the most comprehensive in fighting sexual harassment, allows on-site workplace reviews and inspections. New apps and websites also allow targets of harassment to report sexual misconduct—and connect with each other if they report the same perpetrator, according to a recent Wall Street Journal report.

Pervasive problems

Sexual harassment occurs across all industries, says Jocelyn Frye, an expert on women’s issues who served four years as deputy assistant to President Barack Obama and director of policy and special projects for First Lady Michelle Obama. By law, sexual harassment is a form of workplace discrimination.

“It’s a way to create an unequal situation for the person who’s targeted,” says Frye, now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, an independent, nonpartisan, progressive think tank in Washington, D.C. “I think people get caught up in the sex part and forget about the discrimination part. For companies, even if it hasn’t come up in their industry, it’s in everybody’s interest to be ahead of the curve.”

Thirty years ago, managers might have been able to plead ignorance about employees being victimized—but no longer, Frye says. “I would say to any company in 2019, you would be crazy not to deal with these issues,” she says. 

Asked if the natural products industry has a #MeToo problem, Frye put it plainly: “I think the real question is what is the scope of the problem? And are there unique [industry] issues where problems are more likely to arise?”

Trade shows, especially work events with heavy drinking or that require private-room meetings, would be an obvious area to investigate, Frye says. Informa, the company that publishes NBJ and stages trade shows that include Natural Products Expo and SupplySide, investigates all incidents formally reported by employees and attendees. Nine organizations representing the exhibitions and meetings industry last spring formed a coalition aimed at stopping sexual harassment at events, according to Trade Show News Network. One natural products industry executive agreed to speak anonymously about the sexual harassment she experienced at an elite industry conference three and a half years ago. 

“I was pretty much alone.”

At a break between activities, Jane Doe (not her real name) was perched on a bar stool at the end of a long, rectangular table. Others from her group had started leaving when a top industry executive approached. “He got me right at the right time, when I was pretty much alone,” she says.

The man stood so close, Doe had to uncross her legs—and then he edged even closer, pushing between her legs. He pressed his finger against her blouse in the space between her breasts, flicking it back and forth and uttering a crude euphemism.

“I kind of got up and was pushed back,” Doe says. “I was completely stunned, as you can imagine. I consider myself pretty strong—I work out four to five times a week—when that happened, I just froze. It was almost like an out-of-body experience.”

But that wasn’t all. “He told me no one takes me seriously, and I’ve been successful in this industry because of the way I look. He said I was a joke,” she says. “I have never, ever been spoken to like that in my life. Ever.”

After berating her, the man picked up Doe’s glass, chugged the rest of her champagne, slammed it down and left without a word. Doe knew who the man was but had never met him, and he hadn’t introduced himself.

She immediately fled to her room in a nearby hotel, skipping the event she’d planned to attend. “It took me away from my job for the rest of the trip,” she says. “I was scared to go to trade shows after that for fear I’d run into him.”

Doe, who felt physically threatened during the encounter, experienced nightmares and questioned how she presents herself. She’s always tried to appear plainer for work, she says, wearing her hair back in a ponytail and dressing conservatively—not even allowing herself peep-toe shoes. But after the incident, she says, “I wondered, ‘Is it because of the way I looked that this happened to me? Gosh, maybe I shouldn’t have worn eyeshadow.’ And that made me feel even worse.”

Pew ResearchSexual harrassment poll

Doe also briefly questioned her skills and abilities, but now suspects the man felt threatened. “I am great at what I do,” she says.

“No comment.”

After Doe reported what happened to one of her organization’s supervisors, the supervisor spoke to the one witness to the incident. The witness—a friend of the harasser—repeatedly responded with “no comment.” 

She considered taking formal action, but an attorney friend recommended against it, saying it would pit her word against his. A couple of her female friends in the industry seemed disappointed that she didn’t pursue the matter, Doe says. “At the end of the day, I have to think about my kids and paying my bills.”

Seventy percent of employees who experience sex-based harassment never formally report it, according to research cited in a comprehensive 2016 report from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) task force on sexual harassment in the workforce. Sexual harassment is “significantly underreported” for several reasons, Frye says. For starters, workers fear they’ll be blamed or disbelieved, she says, and that harassers won’t be held accountable.

Retaliation also is a major concern, Frye says, and for good reason. Of the 85,000 private-sector workers who filed sexual harassment claims with the EEOC between 2005 and 2015—nearly all of them women—three-fourths experienced retaliation, says Frye, who analyzed the unpublished data in 2017.

Sexual harassment affects women and men at every job level, Frye says, but women, especially those in low-earning service jobs, suffer the most. Stereotypes and significant power imbalances make it even more difficult for women of color, LGBTQ women, immigrants and non-English speakers, Frye says.

Customer complaints

In Frye’s analysis, the largest number of private-sector sexual harassment claims came from the accommodations and food service industries, followed by retail trade and manufacturing. Organizations should look for sexual harassment all along the supply chain—including people who clean the office at night, Frye says.

One woman, a supervisor in the produce department at a large natural and organic market, part of a multi-state chain, says she’s experienced sexual harassment from a co-worker and customers. “Sue Smith” asked that her real name not be used.

One common harassment tactic is “the reach-through,” Smith says, describing how a customer will reach under a worker’s arm for an item, touching her breasts in the process. Once she was standing on a stool at a 9-foot-wide apple display when a man reached around her, touching her breasts. “This man could have grabbed apples on 3 feet of either side of me,” she says. “I almost fell off the stool. That kind of thing happens pretty commonly, usually older men but I’ve had young men do it, too.”

Because these are customers, it’s difficult to know what to do, she says. “There are hundreds of people in the store. It’s like a hit and run,” she says. “It’s like they know they can get away with it.”

Customers aren’t the only problem. Smith says she’d been at her current job for only about six months when a co-worker touched her inappropriately. He’s an “older hippie” who’s been with the market since it was founded, she says. “There’s this whole group of men who were there at the beginning, and they have this protected status, like they can do almost anything,” she says.

She was out on the dock, bending over a box in a small space bordered by a pallet and a wall. The man came up behind her and did “the reach-around.” “His arms were literally at my breasts,” she says. “Literally, his [groin] was in my [rear].”

When she shared what had happened with some women coworkers, they were unfazed. “They were like, ‘Oh yeah, he does stuff like that all the time,’” she says. “He’s had customers complain about him touching them.” When Smith learned no one had confronted the man about his behavior, she did. “He said, ‘You should have said something in the moment because I don’t remember.’ I said, ‘All I’m interested in is that what you did does not happen again.’ He responded, ‘Well, I’ll steer clear of you.’”

Field work

Along with workers in retail and manufacturing, farmworkers also are particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment. When women in the entertainment industry created Time’s Up in the fall of 2017, an open letter of support from approximately 700,000 Latina farmworkers offered inspiration and a push to think beyond Hollywood, according to the group’s website.

In its letter, Alianza Nacional de Campesinas wrote that countless farmworker women across the country suffer in silence from widespread sexual harassment at work. Despite their vastly different work environments, farmworkers and movie stars share the experience of “being preyed upon by individuals who have the power to hire, fire, blacklist and otherwise threaten our economic, physical and emotional security,” yet reporting the crimes doesn’t seem like an option, the letter said. 

The letter could have special resonance for an industry that champions clean-origin food. 

While responsible manufacturers emphasize transparency and traceability, the concepts should extend beyond ingredients and raw materials to how employees at all levels are treated, says Bethany Davis, director of advocacy and government relations at MegaFood. 

“We think a lot of that work starts at home,” Davis says, noting the company’s 9-point manifesto, which includes “a living wage is the only wage” and “empowerment to the people.” “We’re always looking back to that document for how we’re going to behave, essentially.”

MegaFood, which buys more than 500,000 pounds of fresh produce a year directly from its farm partners, requires suppliers to follow a Code of Ethics emphasizing fair and equitable employment conditions, Davis says. Last March the company also became a Certified B Corp, meeting rigorous standards for social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency. 

Although she hasn’t experienced sexual harassment in the natural products industry, Davis says she’s heard disturbing accounts of “dark pockets” in the industry. She declined to elaborate, saying these aren’t her personal stories to share, but adds, “I absolutely believe these women. I think that’s the key, to believe women and to respect women.”

Leading by example

Stopping and preventing sexual harassment at any organization starts at the top, the EEOC task force report says, adding, “The importance of leadership cannot be overstated.” The top leaders create the workplace culture, which has the greatest effect on whether sexual harassment thrives or is shut down. 

“It starts at the top and goes throughout,” Frye says. “Part of what’s needed is an effort to change the culture of the workplace and create an environment that’s more inclusive to women. Research says if there’s one effort that works to eliminate harassment, it’s to have more women in leadership.”

Organizations also must create systems to hold all harassers accountable “in a meaningful, appropriate and proportional manner,” the report says. That includes rewarding middle managers and first-line supervisors for stopping harassment and setting consequences for those who don’t, the report says.

Superstar harassers

When the employee who’s behaving badly is a top performer, some managers are tempted to look the other way. But those “superstar harassers” cause high employee turnover that costs companies more than two times the amount their increased productivity generates, creating a net profit loss, according to a 2015 Harvard Business School study. This doesn’t include additional costs of potential litigation, decreased employee morale and customer reaction to the news that a company gave a serial harasser a free pass. The study of more than 58,000 hourly employees at 11 global companies found that an employee performing in the top 1% saved their company $5,303 through increased output. But that doesn’t begin to cover the costs if that star employee was “toxic.” Companies saved $12,489 by simply avoiding a toxic worker, researchers found. 

Frye knows of a large accounting firm that ignored a key leader’s notorious sexual harassment for years. In 2017, he was fired. “It sent a signal across the company that nobody is above the rules. Leaders need to be willing to say they believe in the rules,” she says, “or it’s just lip service.”

Leaders also should devote the necessary time and resources to comprehensive anti-harassment efforts, the EEOC report says, but notes that traditional training has proven ineffective. “People often treat it as, ‘let me tell you what the law requires,’ and that’s the end of the story,” Frye says. Even worse, this kind of training seems to backfire with men who score high on a psychological scale for likelihood to harass women, according to findings published in 2017 in Harvard Business Review. In other words, for these men, sexual harassment awareness training exacerbates the problem. New approaches include customized programs and a focus on bystander training and workplace civility.

To truly combat sexual harassment and other discrimination, Frye encourages organizations “to dig deeper” into what drives bias and to explore attitudes about gender and gender roles. “At the end of the day, that is really what fuels the attitudes that can lead to harassment,” she says. “These issues cut across a lot of spheres and a lot of folks have work to do. Our attitudes around harassment and assault and gender roles are ingrained in our culture. That means that all of us have a responsibility to engage.”

The goal for every company, she says, should be “to create a workplace culture where people feel they can be as productive as possible, and if there’s a problem, their employer and coworkers have their backs.”

How ReGrained turns beer waste into a nutrient powerhouse


Now that consumers are waking up to the issue of food waste, ReGrained seems like an obvious business idea—but until Dan Kurzrock and Jordan Schwartz started asking breweries for their spent grains, most of it was going either to waste or, often, to animal feed.

Kurzrock and Schwartz knew that these grains retain most of their nutrients throughout the brewing process—they just shed most of their sugar—and so the two friends started making granola bars with them. Now they’re set to expand their own product line under the brand ReGrained while simultaneously focusing on growth through a branded ingredient that is also made from beer’s leftovers, and which large packaged food companies can use in their own products.

Below is an edited version of our conversation with CEO Dan Kurzrock about the future of this changemaking brand.

Dan Kurzrock Headshot.jpgWhere did the idea for ReGrained come from?

Dan Kurzrock: The brewing process de-sugars the grain—but it leaves all the dietary fiber, the plant protein, prebiotics, great flavor, the functional benefit. But for a number of reasons, it’s not used; predominantly, it goes to lower uses. And it’s a pound of grains produced with every six-pack; that adds up to 20 billion pounds in the U.S. alone.

I started microbrewing when I was 19. I was personally generating coolers full of this grain and tossing it. I felt horrible, felt like I was wasting food, and I didn’t understand why the brewery books didn’t tell you what to do with it.

I started making loaves of bread, selling those to friends and using the proceeds to buy more ingredients to make beer. I didn’t have a grand plan there, I wasn’t thinking about a business opportunity—I thought the industry had been optimized. The more I looked into it, I realized there was a massive opportunity to connect the dots in a way no one had before.

The analog I use is in cheesemaking, and whey used to be a waste product cheesemakers had to figure out what to do with. Now, cheese is a byproduct of whey production, because the value is realized. So the question is, how do we develop a market to build the value of this resource?

What does ReGrained have at retail currently, and where are you headed?

DK: There are kind of a few layers to ReGrained. One layer is the consumer brand. We create recipes made with upcycled grain—that’s the SuperGrain+ bar, and we have a salty snack coming out in January. That will be a puffed snack.

We also work with other brands and food companies, chefs, to sell the ingredient to them. We have a patent on our process, and our model is to be a branded ingredient. We’re working with these companies on developing ReGrained lines. Crackers and chips, cookies, doughs—those will be first on the CPG side. But we’re discovering new applications all the time.

Any clues as to which CPG companies?

DK: Most of the big [companies] are not ready to be named yet, but we’re already working with [global pasta maker] Barilla. And we’re doing regional plays too, like with fresh pasta maker in California.

Once you launch the branded ingredient, how much of your business and growth do you think it will drive?

DK: The lion’s share is bars, right now. But one of the reasons we created the CPG brand is we can get to market fast. We’ll be ramping up ingredient sales in 2020. I’d expect that by 2021, most of our revenue is ingredient sales.

How did you connect with the CPGs that you’re talking with on the branded-ingredient side?

DK: A lot of them found us. The people in sustainability departments can be a great way in, and that happened at least twice for us, where we connected directly with the sustainability person. It’s great that there are sustainability people at these large companies, even if nothing’s happening fast enough.

How do you create uniformity in your product, when you’re sourcing grains from different breweries and every brewery makes different kinds of beer?

DK: It doesn’t vary as much as you might think. We’re working with breweries making packaged beer. And there’s some proprietary stuff. We’ve developed a very consistent output.

It can get more complicated, and we have ideas for dealing with that problem when the time comes, but right now it’s about creating that base blend.

What’s your distribution like?

DK: We’re in 1500 stores—some regions of Whole Foods, World Market nationally, independents and some alternative channels like Imperfect Foods.

What was your first retail account?

DK: Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco. We were still making and packing bars in a commercial kitchen. Rainbow Grocery is a totally amazing coop. One of their missions is to support local and emerging brands. It’s our longest standing retail account.

What’s the value of being in independent stores?

DK: It’s where a lot of the early adopters shop. People that shop with their values, are looking to shop local, shop small. They’re knowingly shopping somewhere that’s more expensive instead of going to a mass grocery store. So for introducing new ideas, it’s a good audience.

Have you had to struggle for shelf space?

DK: Definitely—especially in the bar category. When we started selling wholesale and getting into grocery stores, we were astonished to see what we call the great wall of bars. We have a differentiated product, but it’s still part of a very saturated category. The salty snack is going to be awesome. It’s still going to be competitive to get shelf space. I have no illusions.

As more consumers are looking for and brands are making more ethical products, do you see that as an issue of saturation in itself?

DK: I think it could mean the baseline has been elevated for what normal should be. On the other side, there’s the question of—are we getting greenwashing. I think people are getting some of both right now.

What I’m excited by is this next wave of going from things being less bad to actually being good. Look at the example of organic agriculture, and regenerative as the next step. What will be interesting is how that translates to the customer. I think the new baseline will be everything will be less bad. Large CPGs are creating upcycled products with us. Those products are more marketable for these reasons today. I think that’s a good thing, even if the end goal is to make more money—if it’s done in the right way.

How do you communicate ReGrain’s mission to consumers on your packaging and on the shelf?

DK: The central marketing challenge in upcycling is—how do we get them to feel the impact from their purchase but also not yucking their yum by talking about waste on the package?

We developed a logo for upcycling, which other brands are going to be using too. It’s on the front of the package, but it’s at the bottom. It conveys recycling, but we don’t say it outright. People feel good when they buy something they know is sustainable, but it’s not necessarily the driver for that first purchase for trial. We want to create products that taste great, and are a good addition for their active lifestyle, and oh by the way it’s also great for the earth.

What’s your plan for growth and increasing brand awareness? Will you focus more of your energy on CPG than direct consumers and ready-to-eat?

DK: We’re going to continue to expand our own direct sales. Our retail is direct education—we’re teaching people what ReGrained is, so that when it shows up on other people’s packaging, it means something.

We have a few cobranded opportunities that should launch [next year]. We also have some innovative mixes in the pipeline—more on that soon.

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