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[email protected]: New FDA commissioner | Report predicts 2020 coffee shortage

5@5: New FDA commissioner | Report predicts 2020 coffee shortage

Senate confirms Dr. Stephen Hahn as FDA commissioner

Dr. Stephen Hahn is officially the next commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration following a 72 to 18 Senate vote. Hahn is most well-known for his research in radiation oncology and is immediately facing pressure from senators to finalize a policy that would ban sales of flavored vaping products. Read more at CNN... 

There could be a coffee shortage. Will your brew break the bank?

Coffee is popular pretty much everywhere, but it can only be grown in select regions across the globe. And in the wake of climate change's increasingly negative effects, a "substantial [decline] in exports from some of the most important coffee-producing nations" is imminent. This has led to much speculation over how much the price of coffee will increase within the next year, especially for consumers in Europe and North America. Read more at Modern Farmer...

Poor diet linked to age-related macular degeneration

A diet high in red and processed meat, fried foods, refined grains and high-fat dairy may be responsible for late-stage declining vision quality. The condition, called late-stage age-related macular degeneration, is untreatable and can take away one's ability to drive and see objects at a distance. Read more at Science Daily...

Immigrants lift up a food system in need of reform

Supporting America's immigrant population can help address the most dire problems within our food system. They lend stability to rural communities, pay into state, federal and excise taxes and are slowing population decline nationwide. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which is being considered by the House of Representatives, seeks to grant more farmworkers legal status and allow them to reside in the U.S. permanently. Read more at Civil Eats...

How to reduce food waste

Solving the food waste crisis means individuals must take action to reduce the amount of edible food they send to landfills. Discarded food emits methane, which is far worse for the environment than carbon dioxide. A UN panel on climate change estimates that food-related greenhouse gas makes up 10% of the total amount of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions. Read more at NPR...

David Bronner on the importance of Regenerative Organic Certification

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In anticipation of the 2020 National Co+op Grocers Climate Collaborative Awards, we're talking with the leaders of our 2019 award-winning companies to learn a little bit more about what drives their climate leadership.

Our third interview is with David Bronner, Cosmic Engagement Officer at Dr. Bronner's, winner of the 2019 Outstanding Company Award.

david_bronner.jpgCongratulations on winning a 2019 National Co+op Grocers Climate Collaborative award! What are you most proud of when it comes to your company’s climate work? 

David Bronner: We are looking at every aspect of our soapmaking: ingredients and supply chain; the manufacturing process; efficiency at our facility; packaging and the end cycle of the product. We’re asking ourselves how we’re impacting the climate at every stage of soapmaking, both in terms of sequestering carbon and reducing emissions. We’re proud to be a leader in regenerative organic agriculture and fair trade supply chains.

What were the key factors to success in getting you where you are today on climate? 

DB: Environmental stewardship has always been a company value from the beginning. Especially over the last two decades, we’ve invested more and more resources into making our products more environmentally and socially responsible. We reformulated to become organic and are now pushing forward with regenerative agriculture certification. We’ve made big improvements to our manufacturing facility, including the installation of solar panel carports and rainwater-catch landscaping.

The key to our success is that we committed to the climate and Spaceship Earth as a moral obligation, and let that commitment grow and increase over time, even when that meant big changes or required financial investment. We also make sure we’re communicating our climate-conscious business decisions with consumers, which builds support and helps educate the public about the urgency of climate change, and what businesses should be doing to take a stand on the issue.

What are the challenges? Do you see a way for companies to work together on overcoming some of them across the industry?

DB: A significant challenge to bringing about meaningful, empirically effective change globally—to avoid a climate apocalypse—is maintaining the status quo of “sustainability.” Sustainability implies we can keep doing what we’re doing at a constant rate; that current practices can continue so long as they don’t increase. We need to instead be talking about regenerative systems—whether in agriculture, energy, construction, wild ecosystems, packaging and distribution—systems that disrupt the status quo and implement strategies that reverse carbon emissions and pollution.

Companies in the natural products industry are starting to catch on to why the regenerative model is important to take care of the Earth and all its inhabitants for the long term. Regenerative Organic Certification is a tool that companies can use to hold themselves to a robust criteria within their supply chain, to ensure their products are helping to mitigate, not catalyze, climate change.  

How do you keep climate action as a company priority, and keep your goals ambitious? What does that look like internally?

DB: One of our Cosmic Principles, the foundation on which Dr. Bronner’s makes business decisions, is “Treat the Earth Like Home.” Hence, climate action is at the core of how we assert that principle, alongside promoting plant-based lifestyles, engaging in animal advocacy support and making organic biodegradable products.

We’re active on the issue and stay connected with the climate change community and zeitgeist of activism. For example, we encouraged employees to participate in recent climate strikes and protests; we have pledged to uphold the Paris Climate Change Agreement even after the U.S. rescinded its commitment; and we started an internal audit of our waste and landfill impact per daily operations at our headquarters. What keeps us ambitious is the imperative to “Treat the Earth Like Home” and acknowledge that there is always room for improvement to be better environmental stewards.

Looking forward with your own climate work—and the opportunity for industry action on climate—what are you most excited about?

DB: Dr. Bronner’s is excited to see more and more companies in the natural products industry commit to Regenerative Organic Certification.

What’s your advice for others in the industry looking to tackle climate change in their operations?

DB: Regenerative Organic Certification gives companies a holistic and robust set of criteria against which they should model their agriculture supply chains for ingredients. And B Corp criteria sets strong standards internally for how a company should audit their environmental impact. And then additionally, ask your teams and different departments what ideas they have for reducing the environmental consequences of their operations. Work to build a culture of responsibility and stewardship among your employees and colleagues, so that from the inside-out your company is actively engaged in every possible way toward reducing your climate impact.

Hoplark HopTea: Breakout RTD brand talks 'home-brewed' success story

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There’s a moment before the first sip of Hoplark HopTea that you can’t help but do a double take. For craft beer lovers, it’s the undeniable aroma of hops. Wait, is this beer? For non-beer drinkers, it might be that the botanical notes of the hops—layered over a base of their favorite tea—are so totally unfamiliar. But as HopTea has handily proven by its wildly successful year of growth and accolades, consumers are digging the surprise.

A new category is born

The result of eighteen months of experimentation in a Chicago garage, HopLark HopTea is the brainchild of two homebrewers and college buddies who wanted to recreate the aromas and flavors of the craft beer experience in a zero calorie, sparkling beverage. In fact, according to co-founders Dean Eberhardt and Andrew Markley, it was this zero-calorie, no sugar conviction  that made the process so complicated given that the only two ingredients, tea and hops, both lend themselves to bitterness.

Dave at HopTeaEventually, they figured it out (no little thanks to Markley’s PhD in biochemistry) and what started off as a 12-gallon tank in a Chicago garage soon became 8, 1,000-gallon tanks in a former ice cream factory in Boulder, Colorado. These in turn will be swapped for the same number of 4,000-gallon tanks in 2020. This will allow the company to increase current output from 35,000 units to 150,000 units per week by this summer.  

The use of these typical brewery tanks is deceptive as the tea is not fermented—the carbonation comes from added CO2. Organic whole-leaf tea is brewed hot, and then transferred to the tanks where it is dry hopped cold. The vast majority of the hops are sourced from the Yakima Valley in Washington—which holds patents to several of the specialty strains—and each can of tea lists both the types of hops used, along with the variety of tea. “We are currently working to transition to 100% organic hops,” says Eberhardt, “and about a third of our hop purchase next year will be organic and our long-term goal is to seek USDA Organic certification.”

The added carbonation not only contributes to the sort of craft beer experience, but also amplifies the aromas of the hops, adding to the complexity of the tea. Carbonation also matches the expectations of twenty-something consumers who are increasingly seeking low- to no-sugar, bubbly beverages. And while the intention has never been to chase a trend, the fact that HopTea has emerged in the midst of a booming sober curious movement makes Eberhardt and Markley “feel like the luckiest people in the world.”

Whole Foods and beyond

HopTea launched at the Denver Farmers Market in May of 2018. Since then, Eberhardt alone estimates to having sampled some 15,000 people, including an enthusiastic crowd at the Great American Beer Festival in October 2019, where, as sponsors, the team handed out 4,000 cans of product. Curiously, he estimates that nearly all of those cans went to people who also drink alcohol, demonstrating that the product’s appeal reaches beyond the sober movement. Indeed, HopTea is finding success aHopTea 6 Can Full Line Upmong the growing group of consumers seeking healthier options, without wholly sacrificing the experiences they love. As Eberhardt puts it, “The existence of HopTea means that people can drink less without actually being told to drink less.”

HopTea is currently nationwide in Whole Foods Market, where it has exclusivity until Jan. 1, 2020. The four core SKUs are positioned in the tea aisle: The White Tea One, The Really Hoppy One (made with black tea), The Green Tea One and The Calm One (made with chamomile and the only non-caffeinated option), which Eberhardt says helps differentiate their products given that, “there is only casual innovation going on in the tea set.” The goal to continue expanding in the natural channel is clear. The company’s other short-term goal is to “become a real company,” something that is easy to imagine given the current pace of growth. From just four team members last year—Brewery Manager Shannon Wright uprooted to Colorado from Chicago along with the founders—HopTea now has 12 direct employees and plans to add several more in the coming months.

Adding to its four, zero-calorie SKUs, the company has recently branched out with a couple of low-calorie options. A delicious grapefruit-infused white tea known as The Hoplemousse One will officially launch into distribution Jan. 1, and The Lemony One, inspired by German radlers, is already available. Both are crafted using organic juice and a touch of cane sugar, and have just 30 calories. There’s also plenty of experimentation going on at the company’s installations in Boulder, where fans of the brand can hit the newly unveiled tap room to try up to 10 or so different HopTeas on tap at any given time, including a few beguiling options made with fresh hops sourced from local Colorado farmers.

Also available right now is a limited edition SKU called The Veterans Green Tea, which was hopped on Veteran’s Day using Yakima Chief Hops Veteran’s Blend—created by the co-op’s military Veteran employees—as part of the Reveille Project, which seeks to help veteran’s restore their lives post-active duty. HopTea is donating $12 from every twelve-pack sold to this worthy cause.

Eye-catching environmentalism

HopTea HopplemouseHopTea’s striking design was the work of Boulder agency Moxie Sozo. Chief creative officer Derek Springston points out that one of the biggest factors the agency took into account when creating the design was the fact that HopTea was creating a new category. Not only did the brand’s self-explanatory name need to be extremely legible from a distance, but the design should also suggest a craft beer-type experience as well as encourage consumers to discover the product within. And while the colorful and stunning look of the Hoplark cans is definitely a favorite with consumers and retailers alike, Eberhardt stresses that the company aims to be more than just a pretty face. In fact, prior to homebrewing his way into a new career, Eberhardt spent 12 years working for his family’s recycling company. “We care a lot about [our] environmental impact.” Therefore, one of HopTea’s more immediate goals is to swap its labels for a direct print can, something that the company needs to sell 155,000 cans per SKU to do. “We’re almost there. It will certainly happen next year.”

In addition to booming sales, recent achievements have included winning the 2019 Naturally Boulder Pitch Slam Competition, a recent Best New Product Award from BevNET, a Spring 2019 NEXTY Award for Best New Ready to Drink Beverage, and the Winter 2018 BevNET New Beverage Showdown. But ask Eberhardt and Markley what they’re really proud of and they’ll tell you that it’s been trying to carve out a whole new category and, “the true simplicity of the product.”

Natural retailer New Seasons Market sold to Good Food Holdings

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New Seasons Market LLC currently operates 21 New Seasons stores and five New Leaf Community Markets, mainly in the Portland and San Francisco Bay markets, respectively.

Neighborhood grocer New Seasons Market LLC has agreed to be acquired by Good Food Holdings.

Financial terms of the transaction weren’t disclosed. New Seasons Market said Tuesday that the agreement has been approved by its board of directors and is expected to be finalized in January.

New Seasons Market LLC currently operates 21 New Seasons stores and five New Leaf Community Markets, mainly in the Portland and San Francisco Bay markets, respectively.

After the transaction closes, plans call for New Seasons and New Leaf to continue to operate independently as certified B Corporations. Forrest Hoffmaster, CEO of New Seasons Markets LLC, and the local leadership teams for the New Seasons and New Leaf stores will continue to manage the organization. 

“We are proud to join Good Food Holdings with a shared commitment to building community through good food,” Hoffmaster said in a statement. “This partnership with Good Food Holdings ensures our longevity as a community cornerstone, one that continues to nourish our neighbors and staff, inspire environmental stewardship and champion the local food economy, as we have done since 2000.”

Forrest_Hoffmaster-New_Seasons_Market.pngHoffmaster (left), who was promoted to CEO in late January, also will serve on the Good Food Holdings board. Portland-based private equity firm Endeavour Capital is currently New Seasons Market LLC’s principal owner, with New Seasons’ and New Leaf’s founders as co-owners.

“We’re proud to have been a part of growing New Seasons Market and New Leaf Community Market into one of the nation’s most respected retailers,” commented Stephen Babson, managing director of Endeavour Capital. “It was important to us that a new partner in the business understand the company’s ongoing commitment to its mission, values and broad engagement with employees, customers, vendors and communities. Good Food Holdings is the right partner to support and continue this legacy.”

Good Food is the holding company for three food retail chains: Bristol Farms (12 stores) and Lazy Acres Natural Market (five stores) in Southern California and Metropolitan Market (seven stores) in Seattle. Hypermarket retailer Emart, which operates about 200 stores in South Korea, acquired Good Food Holdings last year for $275 million. Emart is part of Seoul-based global retailer The Shinsegae Group.

“We are thrilled to welcome New Seasons Market and New Leaf Community Markets to our family of brands,” stated Matt Turnbull, managing director of Good Food Holdings. “We’ve long admired New Seasons and New Leaf as industry innovators and look forward to partnering with their local leadership teams to deliver the best experience for customers, staff and the community.”

Once the acquisition closes, Good Food plans to bolster New Seasons’ and New Leaf’s brand presence in and around their home markets. The company said that by mid-2020, Metropolitan Market will become the exclusive Good Food brand serving the Seattle region. New Seasons Market will continue serving the broader Portland and southwestern Washington area in Oregon, while New Leaf will serve California’s Central Coast. Good Food’s Bristol Farms also serves Southern California, and Lazy Acres Natural Market operates along the Southern California coast.

With the market coverage defined under the Good Food Holdings umbrella, plans call for Metropolitan Market to acquire New Seasons’ Mercer Island, Washington, store and convert it to its banner by mid-2020. In addition, New Seasons is slated to close its store in Ballard, Washington, by the end of 2019, and the chain has canceled plans to open a store in Seattle’s Central District of Seattle. 

“For nearly five decades, Metropolitan Market has proudly served as Seattle’s premier grocer and we look forward to partnering with the Mercer Island team and community to continue our food-forward approach,” according to Ron Megahan, CEO of Metropolitan Market.

New Seasons Market said it will work with Seattle store staff to help them find jobs at the chain in the greater Portland metropolitan area, as well as with Metropolitan Market in Seattle. “We are extremely proud of our Ballard staff for their excellent service and unwavering support of the community and are thankful to the community partners that have been working with us in the Central District,” added Hoffmaster.

New Seasons Market noted that both the New Seasons and New Leaf chains remain committed to B Corp. standards and will continue to support the regional food economy to help solve social and economic problems, including giving 10% of after-tax profits to the local community. The company said a new mission advisory council, chartered with ensuring continuity of the retailers’ social and community benefit, will provide guidance to the Good Food board and company leadership.

New Seasons describes itself as “the world’s first B Corp grocery store,” certified as meeting certain standards for social sustainability, environmental performance, accountability and transparency.

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

[email protected]: Food waste startups gain major investor attention | 'Forever chemicals' in our milk supply?

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Startups seeking to solve the big food waste problem in the US are getting more investor attention than ever

40% of food supply in the U.S. ends up in landfills, but growth in funding for local innovative food waste startups could drastically change that figure. While some of these organizations focus on selling "ugly" excess produce inventory that would otherwise be thrown out by farmers, meat processors and food distributors, others are turning the food waste into useful items such as fertilizers and jet fuels. Read more at Forbes... 

Are 'forever chemicals' in our milk supply? Nobody has really been checking

Because milk is 90% water, the "forever chemicals" that have been found  in some groundwater sources on farms can easily be transferred from the cow to the human that drinks its milk. And authorities are only just beginning to test for these chemicals, frightening some farmers into purchasing prohibitively expensive filtration systems–but even these cannot guarantee adequate purity levels. Read more at The Huffington Post...

Eggless egg-maker buys first plant in bid to crack costs

San Francisco-based startup Just Inc. recently acquired its first manufacturing facility in Appleton, Minnesota. CEO Josh Tetrick stated that the facility will be used to transform Just's eggless egg's mung bean ingredient into protein on a larger scale, which will subsequently lower the cost of the product and help the brand broaden its reach. Read more at Bloomberg...

Perfect Day closes $140M Series C to expand animal-free dairy production

Perfect Day today announced it has closed a $140 million Series C funding round. The company uses genetically engineered microbes to build flora-based molecules that are structurally identical to real milk. It will use the new funds to up production capacity and devlop new products. Read more at The Spoon...

Federal judge halts Arkansas law on plant-based food labeling

On Wednesday a federal judge banned a "truth labeling law" that sought to prevent plant-based and cell-based meat producers from using meatlike terminology on packaging. This Arkansas law mimics laws passed in states including Mississippi, Louisiana, South Dakota that are now under similar legal attacks. Read more at Arkansas Democrat Gazette...

KeHE launches new supplier program, DIVERSEtrade

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Natural, organic and specialty distributor KeHE has long been known for its steadfast efforts to do the right thing. It helps that this B-Corporation is employee owned, with more than 5,000 employees weighing in on what it means to use business as a force for good. To encourage and support others to follow suit, the distributor launched its CAREtrade program in 2017, which identifies and promotes brands that advance a higher purpose and align with KeHE’s mission to use business as a force for good not just commercial success. With CAREtrade suppliers having experienced 11% total U.S. growth together, it’s no surprise the company is at it again with the recent launch of DIVERSEtrade, which celebrates the diversity of the people behind the products the distributor carries.

Designed to help identify and support diversity within the food marketplace the purpose of the new program is to source woman, minority-owned, LGBT certified and veteran-owned suppliers. The program aims to help these suppliers navigate the marketplace by removing barriers and increasing opportunities for their success.

"The industry looks to KeHE as a leader in both product trends and how to use business as a force for good," says Laura McCord, Executive Director of Sustainability & Corporate Responsibility, KeHE. "Our B Corp certification furthers that responsibility and we are measured on it every three years via a recertification process. In addition to highlighting our CAREtrade partners who use their business to make a difference, our DIVERSEtrade suppliers shine a new light on the beauty of the unique perspectives shaping the food community.” 

To participate in the program, a company must have a current Women’s Business Enterprise Natural Council (WBENC), National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC), National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NLCC), or U.S. Veteran Owned Business documentation on file with KeHE. More than 130 suppliers were accepted into the inaugural 2019 class.

To dig a little deeper into the program Natural Foods Merchandiser (NFM) caught up with Katie Paul, Vice President of Category Management & Growth Solutions at KeHE to learn more about the program.

NFM: How big is this program as a percentage of the overall number of companies KeHE works with?

Katie Paul: DIVERSEtrade’s inaugural class includes 133 KeHE suppliers that are women, minority, veteran or LGBT-owned businesses—as far as percentage, it’s not high in comparison to our entire supplier portfolio. However, this small, targeted group of suppliers allows retailers to easily navigate these new partners and quickly make an impact in their stores.

Are these new or existing companies that are taking part in the program?

KP: Companies involved in the program are both, new and existing suppliers. Thirty-three suppliers within the program are receiving financial assistance because they meet certain qualifications, such as working with KeHE less than two years. All other brands will receive education, mentoring and support and exposure from KeHE throughout the year to share the company’s story and drive growth. In addition to that, we are constantly looking for new suppliers to be part of the program and encouraging our existing suppliers to remain certified.

What does a brand need to do to engage or be accepted into this program? Is being a member of the organizations you listed the key criteria or is there a baseline prerequisite?

KP: To participate in the program, a company must have a current Women’s Business Enterprise Natural Council, National Minority Supplier Development Council, LGBT, or Veteran Owned certification on file with KeHE. The third-party verification, much like Non-GMO or Fair Trade, level sets all suppliers.

Do the organizations you listed require membership and fees? Will that limit growth of this program?

KP: Although the certifying organizations require a small fee, KeHE provides both financial and industry support to empower the company to excel within the marketplace. We believe that highlighting the impact certifications like this can have on a company will encourage more suppliers to pursue certification that have been thinking about it.

How will KeHE promote this with retailers?

KP: KeHE has created tools to make these brands easier to identify within our assortment. For some time now, retailers have been asking about the stories behind the products we carry, so this initiative helps us share that information with them in an easy-to-navigate listing. We’ve also created point of sale material and promotional programs to make it easy for retail partners to support the DIVERSEtrade brands in store. Similar to CAREtrade, we’ll feature these brands on our Summer & Holiday Show floors in communications to share their story with our sales force and customers. We also specifically encourage our sales team to learn about the suppliers involved in the program, through webinar trainings and newsletters.

What is the ultimate goal in growing this program? 

KP: The goal is to help suppliers successfully navigate distribution by removing barriers and increasing opportunities for success. Annually, KeHE will induct new suppliers that meet the program’s criteria, which will lead to growth.

Supermarkets, Whole Foods drive Q1 sales growth at UNFI

United Natural Foods Inc.

Sales at United Natural Foods Inc. continued to grow during the first quarter of 2020, the company announced during Wednesday morning's earnings call.

Net sales totaled $6 billion for the quarter that ended Nov. 2, a 9.9% increase from the first quarter of 2019, UNFI reported.

steven-spinner-unfi-240x300.jpgSales from former Supervalu customers accounted for $3.1 billion of the $3.1 billion net sales increase, Chairman and CEO Steve Spinner said.

UNFI closed on its purchase of competing distributor Supervalu just four days before the first quarter of 2019, which skews the sales and loss comparisons.

The net loss—including $25 million less income from discontinued operations—reached $383.9 million compared with Q1 2019's loss of $19.3 million.

The distributor also released information about losses, margin and expenses:

  • Operating loss was $444 million, including goodwill and asset impairment charges of $425.4 million. The operating loss in Q1 2019 was $18.8 million, including $69.8 million related to the Supervalu acquisition.
  • Adjusted operating income was $13.6 million or 0.23% of net sales. In Q1 2019, adjust operating income was $51 million—1.78% of net sales.
  • Gross margin was 12.8% of net sales, down from 14.4% of net sales in Q1 2019. Last year's margin included a 0.06% inventory adjustment because of the Supervalu purchase.
  • Operating expenses of $775.4 million; adjusted operating expenses were $757.5 million or 12.6% of net sales. In Q1 2019, adjusted operating expenses were $363.2 million or 12.7% of net sales.

Spinner sounded positive and enthusiastic during the earnings call. On one day in the week prior to Thanksgiving, UNFI delivered 5 million cases of product valued at $100 million, he said.

The company has reorganized its sales team so that all customers can order all items, Spinner said. " Our new sales structure enables cross-selling by creating a singular organization responsible for the entire portfolio. The cross-sell wins to-date represent a meaningful portion of total revenue growth, and I am really pleased with the progress we're making," he said.

"We are now operating as one: UNFI. That's how we think about our business. That's how we discuss our plans and strategies. And that's how we present ourselves to our customers, suppliers and other key constituents," Spinner said.

"We remain confident that UNFI is well-positioned today and for the future to deliver an industry-leading and sustainable supply chain platform for all customer channels," he said in a press release that accompanied the earnings report.

UNFI net sales totaled $6 billion for the quarter that ended Nov. 2, 2019

Breaking down the business

Although the company has said since June that it is operating as one company instead of as UNFI and Supervalu, "legacy UNFI" sales were included in the company's report on sales by channel:

  • Supermarkets saw growth of 305.3%, with legacy UNFI growth of 3.6%. Total supermarket sales for Q1 2020 were $3.77 billion. (Some stores were reclassified into this channel, which increased the previously reported Q1 2019 sales by $223 million.)
  • Supernatural sales—a category that exclusively includes Whole Foods Market—grew 8.2% to $1.1 billion.
  • Sales to independent retailers grew 13.6%; among legacy UNFI customers, sales dropped 2.3%. For the quarter, independent sales totaled $758 million.
  • Other growth, which includes food service and e-commerce, grew 56.1% to $381 million. That channel of sales dropped 9% among legacy UNFI customers.

UNFI's largest customers are driving the company's growth. According to Spinner, wholesale sales to UNFI's top 25 customers increased 5.4%; excluding sales to Whole Foods, the other top 24 customers spent 4.1% more than they did a year ago.

In addition, he said, seven of the company's eight biggest customers use UNFI for both primary natural and conventional purchases.

In addition to the sales news, Spinner highlighted progress the company has made consolidating warehouses and improving operations and service metrics. He noted that warehouse productivity, on-time delivery rates and inventory turnover have all improved in the past year.

"UNFI is known in the natural space as being an innovative pioneer. And we're focused on maintaining that identity while looking to further expand our broader customer base. There is clearly a lot happening at UNFI," Spinner said.

John Howard, interim chief financial officer, said the company is standing by its previous outlook for 2020. Net sales are expected to between $23.5 billion and $24.3 billion. Cost synergies are expected to increase and operating expenses should improve, he said.

[email protected]: Largest US dairy co-op raises antitrust concerns | Record-breaking floods force farmers to relocate

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America's dairy farmers are hurting. A giant merger could make things worse

Dairy Farmers of America may soon acquire Dean Foods, a milk processing company that sought bankruptcy protection last month. This is problematic for America's dairy farmers because milk processors generally aim to keep the price of milk low, while farmers earn the most when the price of milk is high. Thus, the investment would mark a significant conflict of interest for the co-op, and the situation has prompted many dairy farmers to call out DFA for its prior anticompetitive behavior. Read more at The New York Times... 

After a year of record-breaking floods, America's farmers face an impossible decision: stay or move?

2019 was the wettest year in the history of the U.S., forcing some Midwest farmers to have to decide between prohibitively expensive insurance premiums or leaving their land altogether. Insurers, farmers and the government are all weighing in on which regions are at the highest risk as even greater climate change-driven disasters loom on the horizon. Read more at New Food Economy...

America will import more sugar this year than it has in four decades

The domestic demand for sugar coupled with a poor beet sugar growing season in the U.S. has led to a need for roughly 3.86 million tons of imported sugar, the highest amount since 1981. Most of the imported sugar will be of Mexican origin and will be derived from sugar cane, which will likely push U.S. sugar refineries to their limits in the coming year. Read more at NPR...

Walgreens and Kroger get closer in group purchasing deal

The partnership between Kroger and Walgreens has expanded to include a new group purchasing organization, which the retailers have stated will deliver "purchasing efficiencies, lower costs combined resources to help drive further innovation." Experts suspect that Walgreens may go private via leveraged buyout in the near future. Read more at Forbes...

Why shares of UNFI are dropping today

UNFI shares fell over 20% this morning after its quarterly earnings fell short of investors' expectations. The likely cause? SUPERVALU's less profitable inventory, the acquistion of which UNFI is still struggling to integrate. Read more at The Motley Fool...

New American Nutrition Association intends to make nutrition central to healthcare

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Michael Stroka thinks the mission of the American Nutrition Association might be too big for one organization. That’s why the newly formed ANA is actually a “family” of five organizations.

The new Association was announced in late November with a mission of “moving nutrition to the core of healthcare” and the “family” Stroka consists of the American College of Nutrition, the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists, the Accreditation Council for Nutrition Professional Education, the Center for Nutrition Advocacy and the American Nutrition Association Foundation.

New Hope Network spoke with American Nurition Association’s CEO about the mission and why that family can succeed where so many companies and organizations have made little progress.

What is the urgency behind forming the ANA?

Michael Stroka: There is an absolute crisis of chronic disease and obesity in our country and nutrition is the number one factor driving that crisis. The science shows us that by its very nature, nutrition is also the strongest lever that can reverse the crisis. And yet, if you look around at our health care system and our healthcare culture, nutrition is still very much on the periphery. So, how do you square that circle? How do you close that nutrition gap? We dug into that question and that’s how we came up with this organization.

Why bring together this mix of organizations?

MS: Up till this point, there is no catalyst to be able to truly move, nutrition, into the core of healthcare and healthcare culture where it belongs. One of the biggest drivers of change is the health care professionals themselves and there was no unified profession for personalized nutrition. We have the five organizations that were each doing pieces of that work, but doing them separately: a professional society, a certifying body and accrediting body, an advocacy arm, a foundation and a public outreach organization. It's really just bringing together all of those.

Why do you think personalized nutrition is going to make a difference when there is already so much information about nutrition that’s being ignored?

MS: The information that is out there is typically population-based. It can directionally give clues to how humans function, but it is far from optimal. You really need to be address individuals, ultimately, all the way down to the N of 1 level to really get to the true power of nutrition to transform their health. Up to this point, nutrition has largely remained in that big domain of wellness and prevention. People can be a little bit healthier if they do some of these population-based things like eating more vegetables. With the science that's coming on line, the tools that are coming online, we're able to now start to really get detailed and that means we can turn nutrition into actual healthcare interventions for individuals. As that sea change makes its way through the healthcare system, into the healthcare culture and into the popular culture itself, that's where we will start to really see this ship turning around and nutrition won’t be something outside of the healthcare system.

What are you doing that the other nutrition organizations are not doing?

MS: We’re not a trade association, we're a professional association. Trade associations typically represent commercial interests. We are a nonprofit dedicated to the science and practice of personalized nutrition, which means our customers are healthcare practitioners, scientists, and the public. For allopathic medicine, you've got the American Medical Association. Now for nutrition for personalized nutrition, you've got the American Nutrition Association. We do more because we also directly work with the public. One analogy is the American Heart Association. The American Heart Association does a lot with regards to science and training and education like we do and advocacy of course. They also do a lot of educating of the public directly, and that's a key aspect of what we do.

Have the nutrition industry natural products industry and supplements done a good job of moving in nutrition into healthcare?

MS: I think it is very it's very challenging for any one company, but also any group of companies, to spearhead the work of moving the discipline of nutrition into the healthcare system. Health care professions have a better chance to do that, not commercial entities. The industry has done tremendous work around laying the groundwork in terms of the scientific basis, in terms of extremely high-quality products, nutrient-dense foods, supplements, medical food, functional foods. There are amazing labs and diagnostics technologies, platforms, and so many amazing products and services from this innovative industry. But the companies themselves are simply not in a position to do it. And that's exactly where the American Nutrition Association comes in.

4 top trends driving fresh food sales

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For the past two years, sales growth in fresh has lagged behind that of the center store, making it clear that the methods of old are no longer enough to succeed. But a new report from Daymon called “What’s Next in Fresh” outlines not only the key trends driving sales in fresh, but also the actions retailers must take to innovate and lead the way in 2020 and beyond. Here, Daymon’s director of category solutions Andrew Moberly outlines the top four trends and weighs in on how natural food retailers can capitalize on them.

Private label fresh food sales are up

According to the report, leading retailers generate 43% of their overall sales from perishable foods, as opposed to the industry average of 32%. What these leaders have in common, Daymon found, was that they use their private brands to make waves in the fresh aisles. “Natural independents need to play to their strengths and core customers which means focusing on the areas that have made them famous so far—and that includes their fresh programs,” Moberly says. “The great news for independents is that most unlabeled fresh items are inherently considered private brand, so they are likely getting substantial credit already.” This can include immediate consumption items, such as juices and smoothies, or general foodservice.

More plant-based options (and education) will keep flexitarian shoppers happy

The report found that more than 50% of meat eaters purchase plant-based proteins, as large manufacturers acquire plant-based startups and foodservice goes all in on plant-based. Tapping into this trend will put retailers in a good position to increase sales of their fresh food items. Stores winning in this area will focus on the supply side (whether that’s through larger or start-up brands) and position plant-based as a mission statement of the store. “Consumers are learning that just because a product is plant-based, that does not necessarily mean it is healthier or better for the environment,” Moberly says. “Setting up a standard of how, why and what plant-based means will go much further than the current haphazard approaches.”

The great news for independent natural retailers, he adds, is that they have been involved in this space for decades and already have credibility here. “However, now that mainstream retail is jumping in, independent natural retailers need to continue to highlight their points of differentiation,” he says, “whether it be connection to the local community, highlighting a long-standing commitment to organic or healthy, or education on plant-based eating.”

'Craft'-quality fresh foods are where small independents shine

Most retailers are lagging in “craft” quality and need to quickly adapt to the changing landscape by applying it to all areas of the fresh department. This is an area where even smaller independents are poised to succeed, says Moberly. “Creating in-store destinations and signature craft experiences is far easier to execute on a smaller scale and is much more believable,” he says, adding that authenticity is key when promoting craft experiences and products like juice bars or in-store-made pasta. “Independents can thrive in this environment with passionate employee engagements and demonstrating the distinctiveness of what they offer. Natural independents should not be intimidated by larger chains—instead they should be evaluating (from a food and culture standpoint) what is important to their local community, what are they experts at doing, and how can they leverage both to create a craft solution.”

Foodservice has entered the digital age—and you should, too

Today’s shoppers are treating their grocery stores' prepared foods and foodservice departments as extensions of meal planning, the report found. The good news for independent natural retailers, said Moberly, is that this is an area they’ve dominated for some time. Those looking to get in the game or up their offerings should consider the three steps to success identified in the report. Firstly, stores need to establish the basics and be good at them before jumping into elaborate cuisines (and for those that already have the basics in place, they might consider leveraging craft and foodservice in a bigger way by creating a private brand solution). Secondly, “be easy to shop,” Moberly says. In other words, make the prices very easy to figure out and make the food easy to customize. Thirdly, “don’t be afraid of partnerships,” he explains. “Even the most developed retailer should still consider partnering with third parties to be successful in foodservice, and they will still get credit for authenticity.”