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Natural Products Expo

Winning advice from last year’s Natural Products Expo West Pitch Slam champions

Hannah Hong Mollie Cha Hakuna Brands

Best friends Mollie Hong and Hannah Cha came out on top at the Natural Products Expo West 2019 Pitch Slam with their plant-based ice cream brand, Hakuna Brands. But it wasn’t just delicious ice cream that won over the hearts of Pitch Slam judges, the Pitch Slam Selection Committee and New Hope Network. Hakuna Brands (then Hakuna Banana) is an innovative brand with integrity at its core, and its founders let their authentic personalities shine bright on stage—a winning combo.

Think you have what it takes to share your brand story on the big stage in Anaheim? You have until January 17, 2020 to submit your application! But first, check out what Hakuna Brands' Pitch Slam experience was like, and take Hong and Cha’s advice for first-timers to heart; it’s something Pitch Slam judges seek out in grand prize winners.

New Hope Network: When you pitched at Expo West 2019, you were focused on banana-based ice cream. Now, you’re expanding into oat milk ice cream. Tell us more!

Hannah Hong Mollie Cha Pitch SlamHannah Hong: We launched Totes Oats this year and it lives in the same universe as our first baby, Hakuna Banana. It's 100% plant-based and sweetened with dates, not refined sugars. We also highlight oats as our hero ingredient; our oat milk is the first ingredient in every recipe. In fact, our flavor Plain Jane tastes like if your favorite vanilla oatmeal became ice cream.

What was it like pitching in Anaheim?

HH: Honestly we blacked out! Five minutes is so quick, and we had so much to cover. We did end up memorizing our pitch to make sure we covered everything we wanted to. Once we were on stage, we started going and then kind of woke up again during Q&A. Thank goodness the auditorium is kind of dark. We didn't realize how many people were watching until way after!

What was your favorite part about the Pitch Slam experience?

HH: The Q and A! That's when you get a lot of valuable feedback and you understand if everything you said made sense or where your gaps are. Also, it gives us an opportunity to show our personalities and demonstrate how we're experts in our category!

How has winning the Pitch Slam impacted your business?

HH: Winning Pitch Slam definitely increased our confidence in our pitch and our business. This was our very first time getting on a stage and talking about our business. Crafting our 5-minute pitch for Pitch Slam helped us really get our elevator pitch down and helped us in future pitch contests this year (Women Founders Network, Stacy's Rise Project).

It also greatly increased the visibility and profile of our company at Expo West 2019 and beyond. We showed in 2018 as well, and we could feel a definite difference in 2019 at our booth after the win. We ran out of sampling spoons and had to go buy more in the middle of the show! It brought not only more consumers to our booth but also decision makers at retailers.

What’s one piece of advice you have for first-time Pitch Slam applicants?

HH: We think what set us apart is our authenticity with our brand and ourselves. We encourage you to really stay true to who you are during your pitch and let what makes you YOU shine! It sounds corny, but no one else can by you.

Think you’re ready to pitch for your shot at over $40,000 worth of New Hope Network services, including a FREE booth at Expo West 2021? Apply to Natural Products Expo West Pitch Slam!

Natural Products Expo West 2017 logoWhat: Natural Products Expo West Pitch Slam Semifinals
When: 5-6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Mar. 3, 2020
Where: Marriott, Grand F-K

[email protected]: Milk co-ops to pay $220M in price-fixing lawsuit | Food delivery companies reduce packaging waste

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Milk co-ops slaughtered 500,000 cows via a 'retirement' program. Now they'll pay $220M in a price-fixing lawsuit

America's largest dairy cooperatives have chosen to settle a yearslong, class-action price-fixing lawsuit for $220 million. These co-ops allegedly raised prices by paying farmers to slaughter 500,000 cows prematurely as part of a "herd retirement program that encouraged producers to shift their cows from dairy to beef production" in order to restrict supply. Read more at New Food Economy... 

Food delivery and takeout are on the rise. So are the mountains of trash they create

Food-delivery services such as DoorDash and Uber Eats are contributing more and more to the over 80.1 million tons of municipal waste generated in the U.S. alone–and recycling programs stateside aren't the silver bullet consumers often believe they are. In light of these facts, several innovative companies have sprung up to take the hassle out of incorporating reusable cups, silverware and plates into time-strapped consumers' lives. Read more at Vox...

Beyond Burgers are coming to Costco

Select Costco locations will soon begin stocking Beyond Meat's popular plant-based meat alternatives. The move marks another retail giant's efforts to get in on the projected $140 billion in sales that the alternative meat sector is expected to reach over the next decade. Read more at CNN...

UNFI makes deals for 13 Shoppers stores; 4 more to close

United Natural Foods Inc. is selling more of the Shoppers locations it gained after acquiring Supervalu to three different buyers. Following the sales, members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400 criticized UNFI for making the deal without seeking their input. Read more at Winsight Grocery Business...

Nestlé cannot claim bottled water is 'essential public service,' court rules

Osceola township in Michigan is celebrating after a recent court ruling thwarted another of Nestlé's attempts to privatize sovereign public water. This could, in turn, impact a state permit that lets the company increase its extraction amount to 400 gallons per minute–faster than the aquifer can replenish, according to some activists. Read more at The Guardian...

Kroger divests Lucky's Market, expands better-for-you private label line

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Despite continued comparable-store sales momentum, The Kroger Co. posted virtually flat overall sales in the fiscal 2019 third quarter and fell short of Wall Street’s earnings projection.

Kroger also said Thursday that, after a portfolio review, it has decided to divest its stake in specialty grocer Lucky’s Market. In April 2016, Kroger announced a strategic partnership with the Colorado-based natural and organic supermarket chain that included an undisclosed equity interest.

“The amount of investment that it would take for Lucky's to be a meaningful contributor to Kroger overall and the efforts that it would take, we just didn't think it created a good return for the investments that were needed to be made relative to that,” Kroger Chairman and CEO Rodney McMullen said Thursday in a conference call with analysts. “So it was really driven by narrowing our focus and the additional requirements to make it something that would be meaningful to Kroger.”

The decision on Lucky’s Market came amid Kroger’s Investor Day event in November, Kroger Chief Financial Officer Gary Millerchip said during the call.

“During our investor conference last month, we committed to continue to be disciplined in prioritizing capital allocation to improve return on invested capital and create sustainable shareholder return,” he said. “As part of a portfolio review, we made the decision to evaluate strategic alternatives in relation to our investment in Lucky's Market. As a result of this review, the company has decided to divest its interest in Lucky's Market.”

For the quarter ended Nov. 9, Kroger totaled sales of $27.97 billion, up 0.5% from $27.83 billion a year earlier. Excluding the impact of fuel and dispositions, sales increased 2.7%, the Cincinnati-based retailer noted.

Identical-store sales excluding fuel rose 2.5% year over year, more than double the gain in the 2018 quarter.

Gross margin came in at 22.1% of sales for the quarter. Kroger said the FIFO gross margin rate excluding fuel declined 24 basis points, mainly from industrywide lower gross margin rates in pharmacy and continued growth in the specialty pharmacy business. Excluding fuel and pharmacy, the gross margin rate improved slightly, the company added. The LIFO charge for the quarter was $23 million, compared to $12 million for the same period last year, driven by higher inflation in dry grocery, pharmacy and dairy.

“We are growing our supermarket business by focusing on three levers to drive identical sales: fresh, power brands, and data and personalization. And we continue to build a seamless ecosystem that is available, relevant and accessible for our customers. All of this combined to generate positive results in the third quarter,” McMullen told analysts in the call.

“We continued to grow identical sales, reduce costs and deliver strong free cash flow. We had a broad-based identical-sales improvement. Fifteen of our divisions had increasing supermarket identical sales without fuel compared to the second quarter,” he said. “We delivered a slightly improved FIFO gross margin, excluding fuel and pharmacy. Headwinds in pharmacy were offset by strong fuel performance during the quarter. We are on track to deliver $100 million in incremental operating profit through alternative profit stream growth.”

Among results in grocery, produce “led the way” during the quarter, according to McMullen. “In addition, we launched our ‘Fresh for Everyone’ brand transformation campaign, and the initial feedback from both our customers and our associates is very positive,” he said.

Kroger reported a 3.4% year-over-year sales increase for private label, which the company calls Our Brands. During the quarter, the retailer launched 231 new Our Brands items, including a plant-based meat and food line under its Simple Truth brand.

“While many grocers offer private-label products, Our Brands is a real differentiator for Kroger because our customers tell us through blind taste tests that Our Brands' quality is better than not only the competitors' private-label products but also many leading national brands as well,” said McMullen.

E-commerce also was a highlight in the third quarter, as digital sales climbed 21% year over year.

Kroger continues to invest in digital as we build a seamless ecosystem for our customers. We know our customers value the greater convenience this provides, and our data shows it's an essential component of growing overall loyalty. Digitally engaged customers not only drive growth through our digital modalities, they also help drive brick-and-mortar sales growth as well and share of wallet. So seamless is a ‘both,’ not an ‘either/or,’” McMullen explained. “Our data clearly shows that over time and after initial investments, the profitability of a digital customer is the same as an in-store customer. We continue to see an improving operating profit trend in digital.”

During the quarter, Kroger expanded to 1,915 online grocery pickup and 2,326 delivery locations—covering more than 96% of households in its market areas and launched its seamless Ship delivery program. The company also unveiled a free pickup promotion in most divisions that runs through Jan. 1.

Digital platforms are “where customers are increasingly going to meet many of their needs,” McMullen noted in the call. “Providing our customers with the ability to have anything, anytime, anywhere from Kroger sets us apart from a large segment of our competitors and will drive loyalty as well as our long-term growth and margin expansion.”

Kroger made its investment in Lucky's Market in announcing at strategic partnership with the natural and organic grocer in April 2016.

At the bottom line, Kroger posted third-quarter net income of $263 million, or 32 cents per diluted share, compared with $317 million, or 39 cents per diluted share, a year ago. Various items impacted the earnings result, including a $29 million out-of-period charge from a pharmacy contract adjustment and a $238 million noncash impairment charge ($131 million attributable to Kroger) from the divestiture of the Lucky’s investment.

Adjusted earnings for the quarter were $381 million, or 47 cents per diluted share, versus $394 million, or 48 cents per diluted share, in the prior-year period. Per-share adjustments (diluted) included 12 cents from the Lucky’s charge and 3 cents from the pharmacy contract modification.

Analysts, on average, had projected adjusted earnings per share of 47 cents, with estimates ranging from 47 cents to 51 cents, according to Refinitiv/Thomson Reuters.

Various adjustment items, including the Lucky’s impairment charge, also impacted operating profit for the third quarter, which dropped to $254 million from $647 million a year earlier, according to Kroger. The company said adjusted FIFO operating profit was $653 million, down from $664 million in last year’s quarter.

Looking ahead, Kroger affirmed its fiscal 2019 EPS forecast and issued guidance for fiscal 2020. Reported EPS for 2019 is pegged at $2.17 to $2.27 per share, while adjusted EPS is expected to be between $2.15 and $2.25, the company said. Identical-store sales growth is projected at 2% to 2.25%. Analysts’ consensus forecast is for adjusted EPS of $2.20, with estimates running from $2.10 to $2.25.

For 2020, Kroger projects adjusted EPS of $2.30 to $2.40, with identical-sales growth topping 2.25%. On average, analysts expect adjusted EPS of $2.33, with a range of $2.21 to $2.45, according to Refinitiv/Thomson Reuters.

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

Packaging spotlight: 16 brands sporting creative new looks in 2019

It can be both jarring and gratifying to search for a favorite item on a supermarket shelf and then realize that it has a whole new look. Love them or hate them, brand redesigns are now par for the course as companies try to shore up customer support and attract new followers by making eye-catching visual statements on crowded retail shelves.

In the natural products industry in particular, the purpose of a rebranding inevitably goes beyond a product's exterior design. More and more brands, for example, are conducting life cycle analyses of their packaging, which often results in their using lighter-weight materials to reduce the environmental impact of transportation or switching to recycled, recyclable, compostable or biodegradable materials.

Also, at a time when an increasing number of natural products brands have a mission to share—be it a large-scale social or environmental project, or a commitment to using only clean, organic ingredients—a product's packaging becomes a company’s calling card, and the best–and often only–place where it can communicate directly with consumers.

Blue Evolution, for example, uses its latest design to draw shoppers' attention to the nutritional benefits of its seaweed-based pasta and its dedication to regenerative sea farming techniques. This company, which continues to use recycled materials and vegetable-based inks on its boxes, also announced it would be switching to 100% biodegradable labels and 100% compostable kraft bags this past September.

Take a look at this and 15 other recent rebrands in the gallery above.

Certified B Corp Seven Sundays sets an example for small brands

Seven Sundays team

In the 12 years since B Lab certified its first B Corporation, some 3,000 companies across 150 industries in 64 nations have earned this prestigious distinction. Through a rigorous evaluation process, each Certified B Corporation has proven that it exemplifies social and environmental stewardship and public transparency and balances profit with purpose. Patagonia, Burton, New Belgium Brewing and Danone North America are among the well-known brands bearing the simple black-and-white seal.

With more and more companies applying for B Corp status, awareness of this certification has grown significantly—especially within the natural products industry, which has long championed sustainability, transparency and mission-driven business. Given the synergies with B Lab’s ethos, it may come as a surprise that of the thousands of U.S.-based B Corps, only about 90 are food companies. This certainly surprised Hannah Barnstable, co-founder of sustainably sourced muesli brand Seven Sundays, which in November became the first food company in Minnesota to earn B Corp designation. 

“I think we just assume there are more food companies with B Corp certification because we are in this industry, so it feels like it’s more common,” she says. “As the seal grows in awareness, and especially as more new food companies form, I’m sure there will be more Certified B Corps before long.”

For Barnstable, who started the Minneapolis-based brand with husband Brady in 2011, pursuing B Corp certification was a no-brainer. “Before I learned much about it, I thought, I don’t know … Is this just another way for a third party to make money?” she says. “But once I really looked into it, I realized, oh no, this is a good one, detailed in all the right ways. It covers all aspects of our business—how we run our company, make decisions, implement changes and listen to consumers.”

917A0F7A-B0BD-4E90-9691-AE7BFE99D661.JPGLike many companies that apply for the seal, Seven Sundays was already engaging in several of the practices outlined by B Lab. Barnstable viewed certification as a great way to formalize those aspects of its business. “We were already treating employees like family, buying a lot of local ingredients and focusing on sustainability,” she says. “We’ve grown a lot over the years, and now being B Corp certified locks in our mission. We had to pay a lawyer and go through the process, but now that it’s locked in, no matter how the company expands or who makes decisions down the road, the mission won’t change.”

Barnstable also appreciates that B Lab requires companies to have infrastructure in place to ensure that all of these practices actually work. “Also, tracking from year to year, B Corp requires you to show improvement,” she says. “It’s not like you get the certification and you are done.”

Another factor driving the Barnstables to seek certification was Seven Sundays’ expanding distribution. After beginning as a Twin Cities–centric brand and then broadening throughout the Midwest, its Non-GMO Project Verified, Certified Gluten-Free muesli is now sold at roughly 4,500 stores across the country, including natural independents, Sprouts, Safeway, Costco and Kroger.

“It was easy to tell our story in the Midwest where we had a good reputation, but now that we are expanding sales geographically, we can’t really rely on our founders’ story—it is less in our control,” Barnstable says. “So I liked the idea of having something on our package that tells people what we stand for. I’m not sure what consumer awareness of B Corp is like, so we include a statement about what the seal means: ‘Recognized as highest standard of corporate and social responsibility.’”

While consumer awareness of B Corps may still be rather low, plenty of retailers know exactly what the certification means. “They seem to understand that it’s a very rigorous process and not just a marketing thing where we paid a fee for this seal,” Barnstable says. “They know it’s an accomplishment to pass the assessment, as most companies that apply do not pass.”

A small handful of natural products retailers even have B Corp certification themselves, including Cambridge Naturals in Cambridge, Massachusetts; New Seasons Market in Portland, Oregon; Cornucopia Natural Foods in Sayville, New York; and Bi-Rite Market in San Francisco.

By joining the small contingent of food companies nationwide—and the first in her home state—to hold B Corp status, Barnstable hopes Seven Sundays will inspire other brands, both in Minnesota and beyond, to pursue certification. This is part of why the company issued a press release about the achievement and posts about it frequently on social media, inviting consumers, retailers and fellow food brands to hit them with any questions about it.

“We have lots of friends in this space, so hopefully we can help others through the certification process,” Barnstable says. “It’s always been our culture to not be too cutthroat, so we would love for other brands to reach out to us. It’s always easier when you have help from someone who has gone through something before.”

Barnstable especially encourages small and start-up brands to apply for B Corp certification, noting that it’s typically easier for them to achieve than it is for larger and well-established companies. That’s because small businesses tend to be leaner and nimbler, and new companies can build their mission and practices to align with B Lab’s requirements. The big guys, on the other hand, often must amend longstanding procedures, which can prove challenging, costly and time consuming.

“If we had 100 employees, it probably would have been more difficult for us,” says Barnstable, noting that Seven Sundays has just seven employees, including her and Brady. “Luckily, we’d been doing most of these things already, so it was just a matter of standardizing them into procedures.”

Since most natural products brands believe strongly in using business as a force for good, having the opportunity to cement that mission—and have a trusted third party verify it—makes Certified B Corporation status well worth exploring.

How CHOMPS is making new consumers crave jerky

Chomps beef sticks

Step aside, Slim Jim. There’s a new beef stick gunning for dominance. Offering a better-for-you, better-for-the-planet alternative to those highly processed, preservative-packed sticks sold at gas stations across America, CHOMPS is a rising star in the meat snacks scene.

Launched as a direct-to-consumer e-commerce brand in 2012, CHOMPS is now notching impressive sales velocity at major retailers nationwide, including Trader Joe’s, Harris Teeter, Meijer and Safeway. What’s more, Inc. recently ranked the Chicago-based brand No. 62 on its annual list of the nation’s 500 fastest-growing companies. Among the food companies on that roster, CHOMPS ranked No. 3. 

So how the heck has a beef stick brand managed such meteoric growth? We are talking about processed red meat, after all, at a time when more Americans than ever are embracing plant-centric diets and becoming mindful of the eco-impact of beef production. CHOMPS’s recipe for success, it seems, lies in its nutritious premium ingredients, its Whole30 Approved and other third-party seals and, perhaps most notably, its ability to attract entirely new consumer segments to the meat snacks category.

Here’s the beef

CHOMPS beef sticks differ from standard meat snacks in myriad ways. First and foremost, the brand uses only grass-fed beef from Tasmania, which is “the perfect environment for raising grass-fed cattle,” says Peter Maldonado, co-founder and CEO of CHOMPS. “The nutrition that comes from these cattle, which graze on fresh, green grass year-round instead of less-nutritious dead hay for part of the year, is superior.”

Peter MaldonadoAlong with nutrition, the other two pillars of CHOMPS’s sourcing practices are environmental stewardship and ethical treatment of animals; all of its products are Certified Humane. “We visit producers over there, checking out the various farms, looking at the grasses and soil and making sure the farmers are doing carbon sequestering and [employing other practices] that have a positive impact on the environment,” Maldonado says. “You can see the difference in beef from a happy, healthy grass-fed animal that lived as nature intended compared to beef from an animal that was stuck in a feedlot and stressed out all its life.”

Beyond the beef, CHOMPS sticks have zero added sugar, unlike competitors’ products. “This is actually one of the biggest drivers of our business,” Maldonado says. “Sugar acts as a binder for water. It helps control water activity, which makes shelf stability go longer. We invested heavily in quality control to make sure our water activity was perfect so our products won’t spoil.” Even without added sugar—or artificial preservatives or fillers—CHOMPS sticks have a 13-month shelf life.

Sealing the deal

Further differentiating CHOMPS from the competition is its slate of third-party seals. Along with carrying the Certified Humane label, the brand’s beef sticks, as well as its grass-fed venison and organic, free-range turkey sticks, are Non-GMO Project Verified. They are also allergen-free and Certified Gluten-Free.

But according to Maldonado, CHOMPS’s Whole30 Approved, Certified Paleo and Keto Friendly designations have especially driven sales. “The absence of sugar from our recipes and labels is what opened us up to Whole30 Approved and Keto Certified and allowed us to build up our presence within those diet tribes,” he says. “When you add all these little niche communities together, you’ve got a massive community to work with. And now these diet tribes have grown significantly and gone mainstream—everyone is trying keto, young and old, and Whole30 has taken on a life of its own.” CrossFit is still going strong too, and its devotees have long championed paleo eating.

“The tribes are huge for us because they are doing the hard part of educating the consumer,” Maldonado says. “New people to these diets know exactly what to look for: CHOMPS.”

Growing the category

While CHOMPS certainly steals sales from other jerky brands, more significantly, the company is attracting flocks of new customers to the meat snacks category. As evermore consumers give paleo, keto or Whole30 a whirl, more and more people are seeking out beef sticks who did not previously.

“One retailer just informed us that 53% of customers who bought CHOMPS in the last three months had never bought a single meat snack from that store before,” Maldonado says. “This proves that we are bringing new customers to the category, which is a category manager’s dream. It doesn’t help them if we’re just cannibalizing sales off another brand. They want to add incremental revenue and grow the whole category.”

One of the strongest shopper groups CHOMPS has attracted is women. “The meat snacks category is very heavily male dominated, and the other companies are all hitting younger males,” Maldonado says. “However, our customer base is about 75% to 80% female—and a bit older. Our strongest demographic is women age 25 to 35, though it goes up to age 45. They really respond to our low sugar content and our certifications.”

And in capturing more women, who predominantly make purchasing decisions for their households, CHOMPS is reaching entire families—a demographic that Moldonado and co-founder and Chief Operating Officer Rashid Ali weren’t necessarily thinking of when they started the business as two single guys.

“When Rashid and I launched CHOMPS, the mission was just to create a convenient, healthy, great-tasting protein snack,” Maldonado says. “Since then, we’ve each gotten married and had two little children. Now that we’re providing for families, we realize how hard it is to find truly healthy products with no hidden nasty ingredients. So our reason for being has shifted dramatically, as we’re now trying to have a meaningful impact on other families by offering products and a brand they can trust wholeheartedly.”

As CHOMPS has demonstrated over the past few years, if you build a better beef stick, the customers will come.

IdeaXchange

How to increase your reviews on Amazon

Rating on a laptop

Amazon has officially surpassed Walmart as the largest retailer on the planet. Now, more than ever, brands are looking for ways to strengthen their presence on Amazon and grow sales fast. 

But before you invest a chunk of your budget into Amazon, you want to ensure you products are “retail-ready.” Retail readiness entails a whole host of guidelines and markers, from your product features, images, bullet points and warehouse availability, to the topic of this article: customer reviews and star ratings. 

Amazon retail readiness—reviews and ratings

While it should come as no surprise that products with more positive reviews sell better than products without, Amazon does specify the threshold of reviews and average star ratings that brands need to officially become “retail ready.” Amazon recommends that your products have at least 15 ratings or reviews with an average of 3.5 stars or higher to be considered “retail ready.” 

Amazon’s recommendation is a great starting point for brands that are releasing new products regularly and/or are launching for the first time on Amazon. Keep in mind that if your competition in the first Search Engine Results Page (SERP) has several hundred reviews or even several thousand reviews, you’ll need to aim much higher than the Amazon recommended 15 ratings to compete and win.

Why Amazon reviews and ratings matter so much

Amazon reviews in and of themselves are not drivers of high rankings through Amazon search. However, they do fuel conversion (which in turn boosts search ranking). For potential customers, the feedback from those who have already purchased your product is extremely valuable. It puts the content of your product page into context in a way that either confirms or defies the shopper’s expectations.

Best practices for getting more Amazon reviews

Since Amazon reviews are so important for conversions, and ultimately create a higher search ranking on Amazon, obtaining them should be a high priority for your brand. There are a number of tactics for obtaining reviews that are ethical and within Amazon standards. We call these “white hat tactics” and “gray hat tactics”—as opposed to “black hat tactics” like offering free products in exchange for a review or paying shoppers to share positive Amazon reviews. While some companies do engage in black hat tactics, we strongly discourage it. Amazon is savvy to this behavior and has created algorithms to catch it quickly. The punishment can be detrimental to your Amazon business. Instead, consider the following white hat tactics:

1. Send an email post-purchase (Seller Central Only)

One of the simplest ways to encourage reviews for your products on Amazon is to ask. By sending customized, automated emails to your customers post-purchase, you can nurture the relationship and reinforce your brand promise to build affinity over time. Using these emails solely to solicit reviews may not work well for you audience. Instead, create a nurture email and ask for feedback as a secondary call-to-action.

2. Engage with your network and followers

As a brand, you likely manage other channels outside of Amazon, like email lists or social networks. Don’t be afraid to ask your followers to leave reviews of their product purchases on Amazon. Best practice is to ask your network to buy the product at full price on Amazon and leave an honest review. Remember that incentivizing to leave a review violates Amazon’s Terms of Service.

3. Include inserts in product packaging

Another way to increase reviews is to create an insert or sticker inside (or on) your product packaging. As “unboxing” has become an art of sorts, many consumers assume that the opening of the product will prove to be as much of a brand experience as the product itself. You can use the insert to expand on your brand message, welcome your new customer, loop in asks to follow on social media and request Amazon reviews. Amazon recently updated its Terms of Service on product inserts and affirmed that brands can include product inserts but need to meet specific guidelines regarding reviews. 

4. Respond and dispute negative reviews

While negative reviews can be frustrating, there is a lot to be gleaned from them. In fact, negative reviews can be seen as an opportunity more than anything else. Negative feedback can result from any number of factors (like customer experience, size, expectations, etc.), not always just the product itself. 

All negative reviews should be addressed publicly on the review itself by using the comment feature next to each product review. Comments allow brands to include customer service phone number, email and website information directly to the customers. Acknowledgement of the consumer review is a must, as it shows other shoppers that you take the opinions and experiences of your consumers seriously and that the brand will take care of them if there are issues. In fact, for customers that are in the beginning stages of their product search, seeing both positive and negative reviews with commentary from the seller further solidifies trust.

5. Invest in Amazon Vine (Vendor Central and Launchpad Only)

Amazon Vine is an invite-only program created to provide customers with unbiased feedback from some of Amazon’s most trusted reviewers. Vine members are selected based on a number of criteria, but customers that regularly post helpful reviews and develop a reputation in a specific product category are more likely to be chosen as “Vine Voices.”

As a Vendor Central brand, if you want to participate in Amazon Vine, you pay a fee to Amazon and provide them with free product. Amazon will then use their network of reviewers to try your product and review it with commentary. Often, this investment can help you get the initial reviews you need to create an Amazon retail-ready product. Also, brands can typically receive free Vine credits from a Vendor Manager or a VSP Client Manager.

More Amazon reviews with new rating system

In September 2019, Amazon expanded product reviews by enabling consumers to leave a star review on an Amazon product without any commentary or written review. Previously, title and written review were mandatory fields, but now, shoppers can provide just a star rating with one click. 

Over time, this new rating system is expected to result in more rated products and an increase in the average star rating. The thinking is that consumers who have a negative experience will still write a full review, but consumers who have a positive experience will be more likely to contribute with a quick star rating. 

Final thoughts

Amazon has always placed a high emphasis on the customer experience, and have built this into their core values. Many customers view reviews as mandatory before they are willing to purchase on Amazon—especially products that come at a higher cost. As a seller, it’s crucial to invest time and effort in collecting reviews and not assume that they will come in naturally and at the speed you need. Be proactive about collecting and responding to reviews to ensure your products are Amazon retail ready and ranking well in search.

Kevin Weiss is the vice president of growth and strategy at Amplio Digital, an award-winning Amazon marketing agency based out of Boulder, Colorado, that is committed to helping good companies grow to improve our communities.

[email protected]: Kroger divests Lucky's Market | Global greenhouse gas emissions to hit record high

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Kroger calls it quits on Lucky's

After just two years Kroger is divesting natural foods chain Lucky's Market following a portfolio review. The retailer grew from 17 to 39 locations after Kroger's investment, many of them in Florida. But a crowded market consisting of competitors like The Fresh Market, Earth Fare and Sprouts Farmers Market hampered sales in recent years. Read more at Winsight Grocery Business... 

Global greenhouse gas emissions will hit yet another record high this year, experts project

Global greenhouse gas emissions are, unfortunately, projected to grow to reach another record high before the end of 2019. As a professor of Earth science at Stanford puts it, "We're blowing through our carbon budget the way an addict blows through cash." All the more reason to double up on your climate action efforts! Read more at The Washington Post...

Banking agencies give hemp the OK

This week several government organizations released a long-overdue three-page statement "clarifying that financial institutions should not report their farmer customers for growing hemp." Some big banks, however, are still refusing to back hemp farmers until 2020. Read more at New Food Economy...

Nearly 700,000 will lose food stamps with USDA work requirement change

The Trump Administration has formalized work requirements for participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that will cut off roughly 688,000 people from obtaining food stamps. The move will save the government $5.5 billion over the next five years, but hunger advocates are criticizing the move for its callousness toward America's impoverished, rural citizens. Read more at NBC News...

General Mills joins the plant-based frenzy with a new dairy-free yogurt

General Mills has launched its first-ever nondairy yogurt under the Oui by Yoplait brand. The company's U.S. yogurt sales have been declining over the past decade, pushing it to invest in trends consumers are enthusiastic about in the category such as plant-based options and added probiotics. Read more at Star Tribune...

Environmental Working Group: Cosmetics and personal care products exist in a 'regulatory black hole'

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The stark lack of regulatory practices keeping U.S.-manufactured and imported cosmetics and personal care products safe to use would horrify many consumers. After all, these are the products they come into direct contact with daily—and repeated exposure to even the smallest amounts of toxic chemicals and contaminants can lead to serious health problems such as cancer in the long run. 

With this in mind, the Environmental Working Group's Senior Vice President for Government Affairs Scott Faber faced the Subcommittee on Health on the morning of Dec. 4 to argue that the Federal Drug Administration needs to be empowered to crack down on the wild, wild West that is the U.S. personal care products industry. Summarized below are his main arguments.

FDA's financial resources and authority to regulate personal care products are greatly limited

Case in point: A mere two pages out of the 829-page Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act touch on personal care. While food additives, color additives, sunscreens and pesticides are thoroughly examined by the organization for negative effects, FDA relies largely on "self-regulation" when it comes to cosmetics manufacturers. This, of course, is problematic because many in-house ingredient reviewers hide any data regarding toxic chemical use that would harm sales and neglect to look out for long-term ramifications.

40 other nations have banned 1,400 harmful ingredients–the U.S. regulates 9

Yep, you read that right. The Fair Packaging and Lablleing Act allows U.S.-based personal care companies to hide thousands of hazardous ingredients like formaldehyde and perfluorooctanoic acid behind vague words such as "fragrance." The Environmental Working Group has also identified many products contaminated with heavy metals within its database. Facial powders containing talc-derived asbestos are, under the current relaxed regulation methods, a common occurence. 

Imported cosmetics have become a huge problem

The amount of cosmetic lines shipped into the U.S. has doubled over the last 10 years, making cosmetics one of FDA's larger categories of imports. But testing these cosmetic lines for safety is clearly not a priority within the agency given that just $5.3 million was spent in FY 2018 on reviewing them. An enormous volume of Chinese imports in particular have been found to contain illegal ingredients and microbial contamination, and the percentage of problematic cosmetic imports overall is increasing year over year. 

Bipartisan reforms are needed

Cosmetics law has not kept up with the over $62 billion personal care industry, in part because cosmetics companies have made it a priority to defeat any attempt to modernize it. But as consumer concern regarding ingredient safety continues to grow, these same brands and manufacturers are warming up to the idea of giving FDA the power and resources to "review and regulate chemicals and contaminants of concern." Such a reform would also allow the agency to issue recalls or suspend a company's registration if it does not take action.

Read the full testimony here.

Publix opens another GreenWise Market in South Carolina

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Advancing its small-format store concept, Publix Super Markets today opened its fourth GreenWise Market, in Lexington, South Carolina.

Publix said Wednesday that the 21,400-square-foot store, at 5336 Sunset Blvd. in the Lexington Marketplace shopping center, marks its second GreenWise location in South Carolina. So far, the Florida-based supermarket chain has announced 12 GreenWise stores, which focus on specialty, natural and organic foods as well as local offerings.

Four of the dozen locations are outside Florida. Publix opened a 21,500-square-foot GreenWise in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, on May 23 and a 28,000-square-foot GreenWise on June 27 in Mountain Brook, Alabama. Also slated to open this year is a GreenWise store in Marietta, Georgia, though the company hasn’t given a timetable.

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Most recently, Publix announced plans to open a GreenWise Market in St. Augustine, the concept’s eighth Florida location, in 2021. Publix opened the first GreenWise store, a 29,000-square-foot outlet, in Tallahassee in October 2018.

Due to open next week, on Dec. 12, are GreenWise Markets in Lakeland (25,483 square feet, in the Lakeside Centre shopping center) and Boca Raton (27,750 square feet, in The Shoppes at Lake Miriam Crossing), Florida. The company also plans GreenWise locations for Fort Lauderdale, Odessa, Ponte Vedra Beach and Tampa, Florida. The Ponte Vedra Beach store is expected to open in 2020 and the Tampa store in 2021. Opening time frames haven’t been announced for the other stores.

“Our GreenWise Market team is very excited to bring this new shopping experience to Lexington and the greater Columbia community,” Publix President Kevin Murphy said in a statement. “Our customers can expect to find unique and local products, as well as a gathering place for small meetings.”

Like other GreenWise locations, the Lexington store is organized into “experience zones” labeled as “Eats,” “Finds,” “Care” and “Pours.” At the beverage bar, for example, customers can enjoy wine, local craft beer, kombucha, locally roasted coffee, tea, and smoothies. The new store also features a multi-panel, community-themed mural by local artist and architect Wayne Rogers.

Targeted at foodies and consumers following healthy lifestyles, GreenWise Markets offer house-made products like smoked meats and sausages, store-prepared meals and grab-and-go food (made with antibiotic-free meats and organic cheeses and including vegan options); gourmet treats; organic produce; body care products; natural vitamins and supplements; and bulk items. Customers can eat or drink in the store’s seating area or do so as they shop.

Shoppers, too, can sign up for GreenWise Market Rewards, a loyalty program that provides personalized offers and digital coupons. The rewards can be redeemed only at GreenWise stores.

Publix said it will continue to seek sites for more GreenWise stores across its Southeastern market area. Overall, the grocery retailer operates 1,239 stores in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia.

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