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Articles from 2017 In February

Natural products people news: New VPs at Hip Chick Farms, SmashMallow and more

Frozen food brand Hip Chick Farms announced a new hire hailing from Annie’s, The Hain Celestial Group and Jamba Juice. To help manage and accelerate growth, the company has hired Randy S. Bulow as its new VP of sales and marketing. Bulow not only has a strong customer-centered background that includes leading sales and trade marketing teams but also brings a unique blend of entrepreneurial experience, having successfully launched and sold his own natural foods brand as well.

Ardent Mills, a flour-milling and ingredient company, announced that John Barton has been appointed chief financial officer and will serve as a member of the senior leadership team. He has served as vice president with the finance team since May 2014. Prior to joining Ardent Mills, John was assistant vice president and controller for Horizon Milling, a joint venture of Cargill Incorporated and CHS. He joined Cargill in 1988 and has held a variety of positions in accounting and finance in the steel, oilseed and soy protein businesses of Cargill, and served as assistant director in the corporate audit department.

Snackable marshmallow brand SmashMallow made its first brand-specific hire with Stephanie McGregor, the new vice president of marketing. McGregor joins SmashMallow with vast experience in the startup space, most recently as the director of marketing at barkTHINS snacking chocolate, which was acquired by the Hershey Company in April 2016.

Cincinnati-based Q Laboratories Inc. has named Jeff Rowe president and CEO. Company owner David Goins, who had served as president/CEO since 2000, will transition to chief operations officer, overseeing the daily operations of the corporations’ laboratory divisions. Rowe previously served as president and CEO of Hydro Systems Co., a subsidiary of Fortune 500 Dover Corporation.

Branding Iron Holdings has appointed Karen Twillmann as director of marketing and Jeff Sullivan as southeastern retail business manager. Twillmann comes to Branding Iron most recently from DuPont Nutrition & Health, where she led NAFTA global accounts teams to double-digit growth in 2015, and was responsible for growing a $50 million line of their specialty proteins business while she served as the senior global product line manager. Sullivan most recently served at Carolina Pride Foods as the director/VP of processed meat sales and marketing. Other employers over his 30 years in the industry include Smithfield Foods, Advance Brands and Bryan Foods (a division of Sara Lee).

Firmenich announced the appointment of Armand de Villoutreys as president of perfumery and ingredients, effective July 1. To accelerate operational excellence and deliver best-in-class customer service, Firmenich has also appointed Boet Brinkgreve to the newly created role of chief supply chain officer.

Andrea Dimond has been promoted to vice president of sales at Ready Pac Foods. Dimond joined Ready Pac Foods in April 2016 with more than 25 years of sales and distribution experience within several brands under Nestlé and Bimbo Bakeries.


Natural Products Expo

Pitch Perfect: How to create a killer pitch [infographic]

Series Series: 3 of 3: Pitch Perfect

Figuring out how to finance your endeavor is intimidating. Our infographic series, “Series Series,” focuses on the ins and outs of financing your venture as an emerging entrepreneur. We demystified funding terminology and determined when to utilize different methods of fundraising. In this final installation, Dr. Andi O’Conor of SpeakCoach outlines how to secure funding by building an amazing pitch.

Learn from others' great pitches at Natural Products Business School on Sept. 13, at Natural Products Expo East 2017. This year, Natural Products Business School will tackle the intricacies of raising capital while maintaining a strong mission with an impressive lineup of industry leaders.

Natural Products Expo

35 new products to look for at Natural Products Expo West 2017

In the following slides, get a preview of new products in eight exciting categories: baked goods, bars, frozen, probiotics, digestive health, sports nutrition, nutritional powders and essential oils.

Natural Products Expo

The State of the Industry 2017: How We Will Fuel Growth & Change the World

state of the natural products marketplace

Catch the State of the Industry Livestream recording! 

Friday, March 10, from 1 p.m.-2:30 p.m. PDT.

The U.S. natural and organic food industry is growing nearly five times faster than the overall food industry, and a plethora of consumer-driven macro forces are fueling this growth—and contributing to a much more complex and dynamic marketplace for manufacturers, brands, retailers, suppliers and investors alike. In this data-rich session, researchers from New Hope Network and Natural Marketing Institute (NMI) will track the macro forces and product trends—and underlying consumer attitudes, beliefs and behaviors—that are providing for healthy sales growth while creating solutions to some of the biggest challenges facing humans and the planet. 

You’ll walk away understanding:

  • Where the natural and organic products market is experiencing the greatest growth, and also the biggest challenges, and why;
  • How changing consumer attitudes and behaviors are driving new requirements and new opportunities for brands, retailers, ingredient suppliers and others;
  • The product trends that are emerging and gaining strength as a result of these changing consumer drivers and which of these trends show the greatest potential for creating positive, long-term change in the world; and
  • Which new products launching at Expo West 2017 you should be paying the most attention to and why.

If you’re looking for a unique, data-backed view into the natural and organic products market, this session is for you.

Join the conversation with #ExpoWestTrends

What: Twitter Party live from Natural Products Expo West! Log on for the FREE livestream of the State of the Natural Products Industry presentation and use #ExpoWestTrends to join the conversation and win some of the show's hottest new products!

Who: @Mamavation @Bookieboo & @NatProdExpo will answers questions and pick a winner every 10 minutes for a prize pack of some of the hottest Nexty Award and Best of West Award winning products!

When: Friday, March 10 from 1-2:30PM Pacific/4PM-5:30PM Eastern 

Hashtag: #ExpoWestTrends

Do I need to RSVP? Nope! Just login and join the conversation

How do I win? We'll be choosing winners randomly so use #ExpoWestTrends to be entered to win. Prizes will be announced after the show ends.

For a full list of panelists visit:

Click 'download' below to access the presentation.


Natural Products Expo

Livestream: Natural Products Business School at Expo West 2017

Join the conversation using #BizSchoolDropIn - Twitter chat host Venus Ramos, MD be giving away 5 prize packs of REBBL products and REBBL CEO Sheryl’s new book "Killing It: An Entrepreneur's Guide to Keeping Your Head Without Losing Your Heart”.

This event has already occurred. Below are the time markers for each presentation in the above archive of the livestream. Scroll down and click download to access the presentation slides. 

12:00 Keynote Kickoff: A Conversation with Sheryl O'Loughlin, CEO of REBBL 

  • Sheryl O'Loughlin, REBBL
  • Jane Miller, JaneKnows

51:15 Passion and Purpose as Accelerators

  • Sue Heilbronner, MergeLane

1:29:55 On a Mission: Creating a Brand Story that Resonates 

  • Emma Andrews & Lynsey Walker, Pineapple Collective

1:58:07 Entrepreneur Q&A: Mission Possible 

  • Pat Crowley, Chapul

3:21:37 Friend, Not Foe: Getting Cozy with Financials   

  • Kirsten Anderberg, Fantasy Cookie Co.
  • Chris Fenster, Propeller Industries
  • Wayne Wu, VMG Partners
  • Bob Burke, Natural Products Consulting
  • Bentley Hall, Good Eggs

4:20:11 Cash is King 

  • Mike Burgmaier, Whipstitch Capital 

4:49:15 Raising Angel Capital: Lessons from the Street

  • Justin Perkins, Olomomo Nut Company

5:05:34 Demystifying the F Word: Navigating the Funding Roadmap, 

  • Moderator: Bill Shen, Encore Consumer Capital
  • Arno Hesse, Slow Money Institute
  • Shari Wynne Ressler, SKU
  • Jordan Gaspar, Accel Foods
  • Keeley Tilotson, Wild Friends Foods

6:07:46 Finding the Right Financial Partnership for your Mission-Driven Business

  • Moderator: Nancy Rosenzweig, Big Path Capital
  • Blair Kellison, Traditional Medicinals
  • Jeff Russell, Teton Waters Ranch
  • Caroline MacGill, Armonia

6:45:10 Closing Keynote: Walk Before You Run

  • Benjamin Stern, Nohbo

7:00:07 The Secrets of Perfect Pitch: Tips from a Master Pitch Coach

  • Andi O'Conor, SpeakCoach

Livestream sponsored by:


Click 'download' below to access the presentation slides. 


Coding kale

Bowery Farm Lettuce

Forward-thinking artists have conceptualized the idea of vertical farming for decades. In art books and theoretical architecture websites alike, renderings of futuristic societies integrate efficient farming into office and residential buildings. You’ve likely seen such interpretations—soaring glass glowing green with acres of verdant crops. They’re architectural wonders that optimize the space above the building’s footprint, making them especially suited for urban environments where arable land is limited.

Vertical farms of this capacity seem like the stuff of science fiction—and in many ways the self-sustaining glass megaliths are, as the The New York Times once put it, "more theoretical than practical so far." But a rising number of startups are launching vertical farms that grow crops in stacks to save space and energy, and to provide a truly local food option for people living in cities, regardless of the season. We’re not talking local as in 100 miles away—we’re talking the next borough or block over.

The New York City-based indoor farm Bowery, which grows a variety of lettuces, herbs and microgreens, hopes to better serve restaurants and retailers local, healthy produce that is reliably available the entire year. If you want fresh lettuce during a New York winter, chances are that it is harvested in Southern California or Mexico and shipped across the country, harboring a high carbon load due to transportation.

Bowery is different. "We grow in a completely controlled indoor environment and we used LED lights that mimic the spectrum of the sun. We are able to grow 365 days of the year independent of seasonality," says co-founder and CEO Irving Fain. The vertical farming operation also uses 95 percent less water than traditional farming and no pesticides. 

Bowery is first and foremost a food producer—celebrity chef Tom Colicchio is an investor and has featured the company’s unique crops like ultra-spicy mustard greens and wasabi arugula in his New York-based restaurants, Craft and Fowler & Wells. 

But Bowery is, in many ways, a tech startup. The company’s small staff includes agricultural scientists and engineers dedicated to data-driven farming to optimize yield, plant quality and taste. Proprietary software, called FarmOS, employs machine learning to calibrate the farm. Machine learning, for those who aren’t software engineers, is a way of programming a computer that provides the framework for making its own decisions. For example, Bowery’s software can learn what specific alchemy of nutrients, water and light can make plants either sweet or bitter, mild or spicy—a boon for professional chefs and home cooks alike—and understand these measurements for future harvests. You've likely experienced machine learning in your daily life without even knowing it, as the technique is often employed in digital ads that cater to your preferences or image recognition used on Facebook. 

"We’re a vertically integrated organization," says Fain. "We control the process from seed to store. We build the farms. We build the technology. We want to ensure that we grow the highest quality product possible." Bowery is funded like a startup, too: Fain and his team have raised $7.5 million in a seed round lead by First Round Capital.

It’s clear that Bowery’s farming model has potential to help alleviate food supply pressure. Global population is rising, and the world’s arable land may not be able to sustain the projected 9.7 billion people living by 2050.

Fain is quick to clarify that one solitary operation is not sufficient to move the dial on improving global food access and supply. While Bowery is currently focused on widening the farm’s reach in New York City and the tri-state area, engineers made their model scalable in order to eventually expand into other cities—a great benefit to Northern areas where growing crops year-round is impossible.

To be clear, Bowery is not the first vertical farming operation out there. Jackson, Wyoming, an isolated ski resort with an extremely narrow growing season, recently saw the construction of Vertical Harvest, a massive (and multi-million dollar) indoor farm housed in a former parking garage. Likewise, Kimball Musk, founder of the Boulder-based restaurant group, The Kitchen, spearheaded a Brooklyn-based urban farming accelerator called Square Roots designed to teach emerging farmers how to grow two acres worth of produce inside a shipping container.

Forward-thinking groups across the country like Bowery are embodying the value of alternative growing systems for a sustainable future.

Talking with Fain, and fresh off of reading The Martian (Crown, 2011), a novel (and also a movie) about an astronaut botanist stranded on Mars, I mentioned that Bowery’s operation could one day be employed in space travel.

"Actually," he said, "we have a couple of people on our team that have worked on NASA-funded projects."

Sophisticated indoor farming, it seems, is science fiction no more.

Vitamin vending machines are a thing

Thinkstock Vending machine closeup

At least one vitamin shop owner believes vitamin vending machines are the wave of the future. Hari Shotham, managing director of Vitamin Warehouse in Melbourne, Australia, has installed 13 machines, reports the Australian Journal of Pharmacy.

The vending machines have built-in computer screens that allow "the purchase of over 1,000 products of Swisse, Blackmores, Nature’s Own, Healthy Care, Centrum, Herron, Cenovis and every other brand not previously possible in any current pharmacy health food store or supermarket retail outlet," Shotham told AJP. The refrigerated machines also sell soda and perfume.

The screens on the machines also let shoppers chat with over 4,000 Australian naturopaths while they consider their vitamin purchases. Based on a poll, most AJP readers (37 percent) thought vitamin vending machines that give the public unlimited and unsupervised access to vitamins are "a bad idea for public health."

"Vending machines selling vitamins really goes beyond the pale, it’s a step too far," Ken Harvey, MD, adjunct associate professor at Monash University and spokesperson for Friends of Science in Medicine, told the journal.

With his fleet of machines, Shotham remains a fan. He doesn’t need to staff them and is able to monitor them through his smart phone. Theft is not a worry, like it might be in regular retail, because of the machine’s built-in security.

"Surprisingly, the numbers are amazing," Shotham told The Age. "We haven’t even got a proper sign out." The retailer said he was inspired by the potential of vending machines when he was working in Hong Kong. He installed his machines in December.

A few years ago, Canteen, the largest vending machine company in the U.S., debuted a machine that sold only gluten-free, vegan, organic, allergen-free, kosher and locally-sourced products. But wait, there’s more! The machine, called 2bu, is Energy Star-rated and has motion sensor dimmers to conserve energy when shoppers aren’t browsing. Customers would also use an LCD screen to check out nutritional info about each product.

Shark Tank advice: It’s not about the money

shark tank logo

Innovative, millennial, next-gen supplement company Ora Organic went on the ABC TV show Shark Tank last Friday night, turned down the offer from a shark and left with no investment dollars but happily concluded that they were the big winners.

That’s because, even though Shark Tank is all about about the money, it's not all about the money. 

Numbers: A shark offered Ora $375,000 for a 17 percent ownership in the company. That percentage was too high for the Ora team, which liked the dollars but not how much of the company they'd have to give away (their initial offer was for 5 percent). But this number was a good one: 5,810,000. That's the number of people who tuned in to the broadcast. Among them were investors who were not TV personalities and who could more closely approximate Ora's investment desires. 

"We have some fabulous investor partners already," said Shannon Holley, director of business development at Ora. "And more came since Shark Tank aired. Even though we couldn't settle on an offer from the sharks, we loved having the time in front of millions of Shark Tank viewers."

Ora Organic first exhibited at Natural Products Expo at Expo East last fall, where they won a coveted NEXTY award, befitting a company that is shifting the supplements paradigm by bringing the clean food movement to supplements. The company features mostly non-pill formats in either powders or sprays, with all-natural, organic when possible, non-GMO ingredients. The powders are all naturally flavored with sumptuous taste profiles, thanks to the vision and expertise of cofounder Ron Chang, a chef.

The company also has a distinctive brand identity, replete with compostable packaging that contains wildflower seeds, so you can throw the whole box in your garden and grow flowers.

Ora cofounders Wil Smelko and Chang played the 11-minute Shark Tank segment from a clear position of strength.They started with Chang conducting a flashy demonstration showing how many vitamins are actually synthetic, and how theirs are not. The demo closely mirrored the snarky brand video the company produced, which is up to 17,000 views on YouTube.

Then the negotiating got down to business. Ora was looking for a $375,000 investment for a 5 percent stake in the company. The sharks were impressed that the company had racked up $415,000 in sales over the first 10 months of its life. Yet one by one the sharks balked, except for Kevin Leary, who dug in.

“I like the fact you have sales,” O’Leary said. “I admire what you’re doing and I like your product.”

He countered with $375,000 for a 20 percent stake in the company.

After negotiating over the value of the company—Smelko dialed it back from $7.5 million to a $5 million company—O’Leary said he’d give the $375,000 for a 17 percent ownership stake in the company.

That was a bridge too far for the company, whose sales are now up to close to $750,000 (the show was filmed back in September).

“We think we have far too good of a product and have come too far in such a fast amount of time and the upside is huge,” said Smelko, “so we politely and respectfully decline your offer.”

Afterward, back stage, Smelko asserted that O’Leary “is absolutely going to regret this decision and the offers that he made. He’s really not going to sleep well at night after he sees that we’re going to continue to make the progress that we have.”

Ora’s decision was also informed by what more than one advisor had told them before they went on the show, which was filmed in September. “Shark money is the most expensive money you will ever get,” said Holley.

Holley said the company realized that what they were really looking for is investors who are more than just people with money. They’re looking for partners who can help the company in its mission. The company has since gotten into a number of independent natural stores, as well as on iHerb, and will be having conversations with Sprouts and Whole Foods Market.

“We want someone who understands supplements and sustainable farming and organics and healthy food and nutrition," said Holley. "We want a mentor who can help us get where we want to go.”

The show was also good for the constructive criticism from another shark, Lori Greiner, who said the packaging of the brand was not bold enough to attract customers in the stores.

“I’m your customer. I’m into health, natural, organic, I’m so up on all these things,” said Greiner. “But this bottle, if I were to walk down the store aisle in Whole Foods, I feel like this is not going to work for you, because when you have a multivitamin, it’s so tiny where it says “Men’s plant-based multivitamin.” I have to be drawn to this bottle to pay attention to it, so I’m concerned about your marketing. Sorry, I’m out.”

Holley said the Ora team took that criticism to heart and tweaked the labeling. “What she said stuck with me. So we addressed it,” said Holley. “We made changes so it’s not so minimalist. It’s still neat and clean, not too much text there. The new labels give bulleted selling points for someone pulling it off the shelf.”

Ora Organic is also a finalist for the 2017 Expo West Nexty award competition under the Best Supplement Delivery Format category. 

You can see the company at Natural Products Expo West in the Marriott Hotel in the Hot Products Pavilion, booth number M618.

[email protected]: Hard times for Big Food | A unified voice for organic farmers

Unpacking Big Food's big dilemma

Many of Big Food's efforts to update their portfolios for consumers seeking fresher, better-for-you foods have yet to bear fruit. And as many companies face sales losses, they're trying to trim expenses and outline new priorities for growth. Some are also pursuing mergers. Here's a look at what one snack food CEO calls "one of the most volatile and uncertain [environments] that I've seen in my 35 years in the industry." Read more at Fortune...


New national group to provide organic farmers' voice unveiled at MOSES

The Organic Farmers Association is a new organization formed to serve as a "clear, unified voice" for organic farmers in Washington. It was launched in September in partnership with the Rodale Institute's Organic Farmers Association, and although organizations and supporters can join, only farmers will be able to vote on policies and other issues. Read more at La Crosse Tribune...


Idaho sugar industry plans a response to GMO critics

As some food manufacturers continue to phase out GMOs, sugar beet farmers, who have depended on genetically modified seeds, are left asking whether it's worth growing sugar beets at all. With the hope of countering some of the negative feelings around GMO products, Amalgamated Sugar is planning a $30 million-a-year media campaign about the science behind GMOs. Read more at Idaho Business Review...


Thistle launches meal kits to make nutritious baby food at home

The food delivery startup launched a new product—meal kits for parents who want to make their own baby food. The vacuum-sealed bags contain organic ingredients that parents open up, steam and puree, then add spices to their kids' liking. Read more at Tech Crunch...


5 things to know about Gwyneth Paltrow's new restaurant, 3 Green Hearts

The pop-up-turned-cafe opened in Manhattan, and another is on the way—meal delivery and selfie room and all. Read more at Eater New York...

Gluten-free, but full of arsenic?

Arsenic in rice

The gluten won’t get you—but the toxic metals might. People who eat a gluten-free diet might be more likely to be exposed to toxic metals like arsenic and mercury due to the high amount of rice in their diet, according to new research published in the journal Epidemiology.

The number of people who are avoiding gluten even without a celiac disease diagnosis tripled between 2009 and 2014, according to a recent study led by researchers at Mayo Clinic. In 2015, one-quarter of Americans reported eating gluten-free, a 67 percent increase from 2013, according to a University of Illinois release about the new research.

Gluten-free products often use rice flour to substitute for wheat. Rice bioaccumulates toxic metals from fertilizers, soil and water. Looking for a link between gluten-free diets and biomarkers of toxic metals, Maria Argos, assistant professor of epidemiology in the UIC School of Public Health, and her colleagues looked at data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. They focused on 73 participants who ate a gluten-free diet, ranging in age from six to 80.

People who ate gluten-free had higher concentrations of arsenic in their urine, and mercury in their blood, than those who ate gluten—lots higher. The arsenic levels were almost twice as high for gluten-free people. Mercury levels were 70 percent higher.

Don’t go diving into a bag of pretzels (yet). More science is needed to explore the link. "These results indicate that there could be unintended consequences of eating a gluten-free diet," Argos said in the release. "But until we perform the studies to determine if there are corresponding health consequences that could be related to higher levels of exposure to arsenic and mercury by eating gluten-free, more research is needed before we can determine whether this diet poses a significant health risk." She said that regulations for food-based arsenic exposure, like those in Europe, might be something to consider.