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[email protected]: Will Biden administration deliver on racial justice, nationwide minimum wage promises?

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Will Biden's food and agriculture appointees live up to his promises on racial justice?

Federal agencies that have a huge impact on U.S. food and agriculture policies will be governed by more women and people of color than the Trump administration. Here, Civil Eats delves into the diverse backgrounds of Biden's picks to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Labor, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and more. Tackling racial disparaties within the food system, reducing food insecurity and regulating pollutants and pesticides have emerged as top areas of concern across the board.

A $15 federal minimum wage would reshape the lives of working people. Can Biden deliver?

A clear way to support the nation's essential workers—who are pretty much risking their lives to keep the food system running at this point—would be to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 (it is currently $7.25 an hour). Biden pledged his support for this while campaigning, and his $1.9 trillion pandemic relief proposal would fulfill that promise. While some small business owners have said the move will result in layoffs, a minimum wage increase would disproportionately affect women, Black and Latinx workers. And the majority of experts believe that raising the federal minimum wage will have far-reaching benefits on the U.S. economy as a whole, even through a conservative lens. Get the data at Fast Company.

Kroger offers $100 to workers who get vaccinated

Kroger hopes to sway reluctant employees who haven't yet received the COVID-19 vaccination by giving them $100 for proof of inoculation. The company will also spend $50 million to give a $100 store credit and 1,000 fuel points to its hourly frontline grocery, supply chain, manufacturing, pharmacy and call-center workers. Last week the retailer was criticized for shutting down two California locations after a local ordinance that requires temporary hazard pay for grocery store employees went into effect. CBS News reports. 

Is it morally sound to eat lab-grown meat from exotic animals?

As cell-cultured meat products make the leap from science fiction to store shelves, Slate debates the ethics of eating more exotic lab-grown meat sourced from the cells of chimpanzees, tigers, bald eagles and even humans. When the animal suffering is taken out of the equation, many ethical vegans, for instance, would be comfortable consuming such products. But another argument finds that extracting cells from an animal for the purpose of producing lab-grown meat is inherently disrespectful because it still subverts the animal to human ends. However, these philosophical points of view don't take into account environmental, economic and cultural factors that will play a huge role in how lab-grown meat is received by the public.

Suppliers field growing demand for seeds from pandemic gardeners

Certain produce varieties have become nearly impossible for consumers to get their hands on as pandemic gardeners stock up on seeds. Seed suppliers say that there is no risk of a widespread seed shortage as of right now, but they are seeing five to six times more sales than prior busy seasons. This has prompted some gardeners to experiment with lesser-known varieties of popular fruits and vegetables. We'll chalk it up as a win for biodiversity! Learn more at NPR.

UFCW calls for expedited vaccine access, hazard pay for frontline food workers

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The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), which represents 1.3 million frontline essential workers, called on leading grocery retailers and local and federal government to expedite vaccine access for frontline food workers, while applauding the new wave of local hazard pay measures in at least 15 cities in the United States.

“COVID-19 is still a national emergency, and the threat of this pandemic for essential workers is worse now than ever before,” said Marc Perrone, UFCW International president. “Companies like Kroger, Walmart and others still refuse to publicly disclose the full impact of COVID-19, including how many frontline workers have been infected and died, even as the speed of virus infections has increased in the last two months.”

Perrone pointed to UFCW data that reported there have now been among the union’s members across the country, nearly 400 frontline worker deaths and 77,600 frontline workers infected or exposed, including 137 grocery worker deaths and over 30,100 grocery workers infected or exposed and 132 meatpacking worker deaths and 21,900 meatpacking workers infected or exposed.

“Essential workers in grocery stores and meatpacking plants are not being prioritized for vaccine access in many states and continue to face delays that further endanger their health,” Perrone said. “Simply put, the failures in early vaccine distribution under the past administration have left millions of Americans and essential workers defenseless. Governors must immediately work with CEOs in these industries to ensure the vaccine is free for all essential workers and that workers have paid time off to receive each dose.”

According to UFCW, only 13 states currently provide vaccine access for grocery workers as a high-priority group: Alabama, Arizona (varies by county), California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Nebraska, New York, Virginia and Wyoming.

Perrone continued his call for companies to reinstate or expand hazard pay, which many retailers discontinued last year after the spring and summer “peak” of the pandemic. That peak was eventually eclipsed by larger numbers of infections and deaths from COVID-19 this past fall and current winter.

“As the danger from COVID continues, grocery workers are among the most at risk to daily exposure to the virus, yet most companies refuse to reinstate hazard pay,” said Perrone. “Thanks to UFCW grocery workers speaking out, a growing list of cities like Los Angeles and Seattle are stepping up to mandate grocery hazard pay. But some companies not only refuse to provide the hazard pay, they have retaliated with store closures and job cuts to threaten local mayors who have recently advanced grocery hazard pay measures.”

He added, “As America’s largest food and retail union, UFCW will do everything it can to ensure that food workers—both union and nonunion—receive the hazard pay they’ve earned and the vaccine access they urgently need as they continue to report to work each day during this deadly pandemic.”

UFCW has led the push to restore grocery hazard pay for essential workers. Last week, UFCW local unions helped secure new grocery hazard pay mandates in Seattle, Los Angeles, Long Beach and many other cities on the West Coast. This has prompted action from national grocery chains.  In recent months, UFCW’s national hazard pay campaign has helped secure additional hazard pay deals for 120,000 grocery workers in California, New York and across New England.

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

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7 natural products our healthy lifestyle influencers are sampling now

Influencers in the natural space know what makes a product worthy for themselves and their families.

We enlisted members of our New Hope Network Influencer Co-op to sample these seven products—and to fill us in on which were their favorites.

[email protected]: Rodale, Cargill launch US Organic Grain initiative | OSHA, USDA waited months to tackle COVID-19 meatpacking plant outbreaks

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Rodale enlists Cargill in unlikely alliance to increase organic farmland

Demand for organic food, already a $50 billion industry, continues to grow—but just 1% of total U.S. acreage is certified organic. To incentivize more farmers to transition to organic growing methods, Rodale Institute is teaming up with Cargill (the largest privately owned agribusiness in the U.S.) as well as chicken producer Bell and Evans to launch the U.S. Organic Grain Initiative. This project will actively recruit conventional corn and soy farmers and give them a two- to five-year contract guaranteeing a buyer for their organic grain. The goal? To transition 50,000 acres of farmland to organic production. Civil Eats has the details.

OSHA and USDA waited months to tackle COVID-19 outbreaks in meatpacking plants, emails reveal

Emails obtained by Public Citizen reveal that the U.S. Department of Agriculture and OSHA waited over three months into the pandemic, after hundreds of meatpacking plant workers had already fallen ill, to formally respond to the situation. OSHA consistently deferred to USDA in the documents, even though former secretary of agriculture Sonny Perdue had publicly stated the agency was not responsible for worker safety, and then issued a handful of small fines at just a few meatpacking plants after nearly 200 workers had already died. The emails also display the meatpacking industry's heavy-handed influence on USDA with the aim of avoiding further supply chain disruptions at the expense of employees' lives. Learn more at The Counter.

Israeli farm cultivates lab-grown ribeye steak using 3D printing

Israeli startup Aleph Farms announced it produced the "world's first slaughter-free ribeye steak" this week, which has encouraged the company to look toward other cuts of meat. This successful synergy of muscle and fat is one that has eluded cell-cultured meat companies since their inception, but the world-changing potential of this technology is worth the pursuit. Bloomberg reports. 

How California crops fought off a pest without using pesticide

A recently discovered hyperparasitic fungi may be key to phasing out potentially dangerous pesticides in conventional agriculture. Scientists discovered it while investigating why a drop in pesticide use targeted at a particular pest (a parasitic nematode) coincided with yield increases and a drop in terms of the density of the pest. Read the rest at Modern Farmer.

Imperfect Foods increases series D round to $110M

Imperfect Foods has increased its series D round from $95 million to $110 million. The company said in a statement for The Spoon that the add-on investments will help it become "the most sustainable online grocery service." In a world where saving money and the Earth has become paramount for many consumers, Imperfect Foods is certainly one online retailer that's sure to reap success over the next few years.

Shipt and GNC announce same-day delivery partnership

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GNC today announced a new partnership that will for the first time bring same-day delivery of GNC health and wellness products to consumers across the country. The announcement comes at the perfect time: Every year the most common New Year’s resolution has to do with living a healthier lifestyle–whether eating more healthy foods, getting in shape, or better sleeping habits–but studies indicate that around 80% of resolutions will be abandoned in February. 

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is difficult in the best of times, and it’s become that much harder in the wake of the pandemic. Now more than ever people are seeking easy solutions to stay on track. As a go-to health and wellness authority, GNC offers the product solutions and expertise to encourage healthy habits, while Shipt provides convenience by delivering those essentials in as soon as one hour. 

“Our vision at Shipt is to continuously identify new, innovative ways to simplify lives and give customers valuable time back to focus on what matters most,” said Rina Hurst, chief business officer at Shipt. “The partnership with GNC allows us to serve more people in more ways–we’re able to deliver on a need when many are struggling on how to deal with stress, weight management, sleepless nights and more. We’re in the midst of an exciting evolution to a multi-vertical, multi-retailer delivery service and are thrilled to have GNC as part of the Shipt family.” 

Shipt customers can select GNC in the user-friendly app and on to add any products to their order–including vitamins and supplements, protein bars, beauty and skincare products and fitness equipment. 

“The pandemic has really done a number on our bodies–both physically and mentally,” said Josh Burris, president of GNC Holdings, LLC. “This year in particular many are finding it difficult to stick to their resolutions. By tapping into the infrastructure Shipt has in place, we can help people re-set their goals and offer our customers same-day delivery as they continue on their wellness journey.” 

Quarantine transformed delivery services from luxury to convenience to a must-have, evidenced by the incredible growth in demand for the service. Over the last year, it became even more clear how important same-day delivery offerings are to the health of everyday families, seniors and people who are immunocompromised. The launch with GNC is the latest demonstration of Shipt’s commitment to wellness, following the expansion of a partnership with WellCare to provide grocery delivery to Medicare Advantage members and local partnerships providing free Shipt memberships to seniors. 

Source: GNC

Unboxed: 8 natural products that are going with the grain

It hasn’t been easy being gluten for the last decade: bearing the brunt of many dieters’ distrust, serving as the scapegoat for everything from inflammation to skin problems and, ultimately, facing elimination from many people’s diets. Celiac disease, which affects around 1% of the population according to the Celiac Disease Foundation, is of course no joke, nor are the symptoms experienced by the additional 6% of Americans that claim to be gluten sensitive.  

Further damage to gluten’s good name has come from the popularity of carbohydrate-banishing modern dietary tribes that have led to claims of “grain-free” joining the “gluten-free” chorus in the natural products industry over the past several years.

As with all trends, however, grain and gluten abstinence have gotten some pushback, particularly as long-venerated dietary lifestyles like the Mediterranean Diet—which highlights the importance of consuming whole grains for a well-balanced, healthy diet—continue to gain traction among Americans.

And though whole grain wheat might be back on some people’s menus, today’s natural product brands are also relying on the ancient wisdom of other traditional grains, ancient varietals and even some once forgotten crops to fuel innovative new products. With names such as sorghum, millet, fonio and einka, these grains and others offer advantages that might include unbeatable nutrient profiles, inspirational sustainability stories and extreme versatility.

From flour and baking mixes to breakfast cereal and snacks, here are a few of the grain-ful (though not necessarily gluten-ful) natural products that are embracing a return to the wisdom of ancient grains.

Food and Beverage InsiderThis piece originally appeared on Food and Beverage Insider, a New Hope Network sister website. To read more expert analysis about this topic, check out the “Grains redefined: Formulating for healthy products” digital magazine. 

Hain Celestial reports net sales growth, gross margin increase in Q2

Hain Celestial Group Inc.

Hain Celestial reported on Tuesday its fourth consecutive quarter of net sales growth, a 4% increase from one year ago.

And CEO Mark Schiller believes the growth will continue, based on continuous share growth, increasing household penetration and repeat buying rates; and retailers' upcoming resets of their shelf space.

"In fact 11 of our 13 biggest brands in the U.S. gained distribution last quarter, demonstrating the breadth of strength across our portfolio," Schiller said during Tuesday's earnings call. "Shelf space gains are largely being driven by our innovation, which has delivered strong velocities and high incrementality to our categories."

Those Get Bigger brands account for about two-third of Hain's net sales in North America, and their sales grew about 11% from the second quarter of Fiscal 2020, Idrovo said. The Get Better brands showed a profit margin of just above 12%, which is the high end of Hain's long-term target for that set.

During a virtual investors conference in January, Schiller explained how his three-year strategic plan, implemented in 2018, has led to a smaller, more profitable company. He also touted the company's innovation with new products such as Screamin' Hot Veggie Straws in the snacks category and new lines of tea such as energy and wellness versions.

Hain Celestial just released Sensible Portions Veggie Puffs, which is turning as quickly as the veggie straws—and bring new customers to the brand, Schiller said. The company will launch new teas, yogurt and personal care products in the fourth quarter, he added.

Although the company has spent much of the last two years closing or selling off unprofitable brands—17 so far, which had $900 million in sales but less than $15 million in EBITDA, Schiller said—Hain still could sell some of its top 13 products "for the right deal."

At the same time, company officials are looking for brands that would fit well under the Hain umbrella.

"We're now pivoting toward conversations around acquisitions," he added.

"We've built an accountable, productivity culture. We have the right team and tools. And importantly, we have a robust pipeline of projects to drive further improvements over the next several years."

Second-quarter results led to strong balance sheet

"The momentum illustrated in the prior three quarters has continued into fiscal Q2," Chief Financial Officer Javier Idrovo said during the conference call. "We exceeded expectations both on the top and bottom-line and we continue to believe that we are well-positioned to deliver continued strong earnings growth and margin expansion for the balance of the fiscal year."

The company's second quarter, which ended Dec. 31, featured higher net sales, gross margin expansion, and increases in net income and adjusted EBITDA:  

  • Net sales increased 4% to $528.4 million, or 2% on a constant currency basis, compared to the prior year period.
  • When adjusted to exclude the effects of foreign exchange, divestitures and discontinued brands, net sales increased 6% compared to the prior year period.
  • Gross margin of 24.6%, a 376 basis point increase from the prior year period.
  • Adjusted gross margin of 25.3%, a 331 basis point increase from the prior year period.
  • Net income of $2.2 million compared to $1.9 million in the prior year period.
  • Adjusted net income of $34.7 million compared to $17.6 million in the prior year period.
  • Adjusted EBITDA of $62.2 million compared to $45.0 million in the prior year period.
  • Adjusted EBITDA margin of 11.8%, a 288 basis point increase compared to the prior year period.
  • Earnings per diluted share ("EPS") of $0.02, flat compared to the prior year period.
  • Adjusted EPS of $0.34 compared to $0.17 in the prior year period.

"Gross margin improved roughly 330 basis points, driven by a reduction in low trade ROI trade investments, our significant supply chain productivity initiatives, improved product mix from our SKU rationalization efforts and better overhead absorption in our plants," Idrovo said.

At the end of the quarter, Hain Celestial had $61 million cash in hand, including the proceeds of the European fruit business it old in mid-January.

"Our balance sheet is the strongest it has been in years," Idrovo said.

For the first half of fiscal 2021, Hain reported a net sales increase of 3.9%, with a gross profit increase of 22.5%.


Don't just use stats—build a story around them

Elliot Begoun

Thirty-eight percent of Americans consider themselves flexitarian. Thirty-six percent of Americans are clinically obese. Ninety-three percent of people believe breakfast is essential, but 66% of them skip it. Let’s face it, we all love stats. They adorn our pitch decks and retailer presentations. We cite them when we want to appear smarter and more knowledgeable. We use them as part of our go-to-market narrative. What if we’ve been using statistics in the wrong way? Could we leverage them so that they deepen our understanding and increase their narrative impact?

Yes, because behind every statistic is a person. By relegating that person to a data point or a number on a pitch deck, we miss the power of their story. We aggregate individuals into statistics and, in the process, anonymize and dehumanize them. That doesn’t make our story more compelling or help us to better understand our consumers. Maybe we should try a different approach.

Kate looks up from her phone in quiet reflection. She just finished reading another article about the climate crisis. She stares down at the burger she is eating for lunch and thinks, “I can do better than this.” At that moment, she commits to eating a healthier diet for her and for the planet joining the other 38% of Americans who also consider themselves flexitarian. This will change the way she eats, shops, and the brands she buys. 

Two of John’s friends have had recent cardiac events. That’s what is going through his head as he steps on the scale. He is one of the 36.5% of Americans who are clinically obese, and he is scared. He wants to be here for his wife and kids. He wants to have a good quality of life. He knows things have to change. But where does he turn, how does he start? He feels lost, vulnerable, and afraid. What will he eat? Will he need to learn to cook? Where does he go for information, what products can he trust?

It is another crazy morning for Jill and Scott. They take turns squeezing in workouts while the other works to get the kids ready for their Zoom classes. They, like 93% of Americans, know breakfast is essential. So, they take what little time they have to make their kids some cereal. But by the time they finish feeding them and cleaning up the dishes, there is no time left for them to eat. Plus, they aren’t sure what they should eat or even if they should. They’ve been reading about intermittent fasting and questioning what’s the right way to start their day. Instead, they become part of the 66% of Americans who skip breakfast because they are time-starved and nutrient confused. 

Tell me, are the above three paragraphs more compelling than just the statistics themselves? Would they improve the way you tell your story to an investor or a retailer? More importantly, does it put a face and name to the problem you are trying to solve with your product? 

In my opinion, it is yes to all of the above. Building a story around the data, we take what has been anonymized and dehumanized and make it personal and real. We are less effective when we disconnect the people we serve from the problem we are solving. The who in every one of our statistics should be a big part of what we are doing and why we are doing it. 

A final note: Don’t throw shade on my stats. I didn’t do a lot of in-depth research, just a few Google searches. I needed some data points for illustrative effect. Thanks for reading. 

Elliot Begoun is a 30-year industry veteran, author and the founder of TIG, a practice focused on helping emerging natural product brands grow.

Have some big ideas or thoughts to share related to the natural products industry? We'd love to hear and publish your opinions in the IdeaXchange. Check out our submission guidelines.

[email protected]: Grocery workers in turmoil | Retailers set ambitious diversity goals

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Grocery workers hope for higher pay and vaccinations

It's a story that has been told over and over again this past year: Grocery store workers find themselves at high risk of contracting COVID-19, but the retail sales boom hasn't translated to additional financial compensation for workers—and morale is at an all-time low. A flurry of store closures to avoid local hazard pay ordinances last week further underscored the plight of these employees and greed on the part of big-box retailers. As of right now, only 13 states have made grocery store workers eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. The New York Times reports.

Walmart, Albertsons and Target set ambitious goals for diversity, equity and inclusion

Last year, Walmart’s CEO announced a five-year, $100 million commitment to establish a center focused on racial equity. But it's not the only company putting diversity and inclusion at the fore, Winsight Grocery Business finds. Target has established a Racial Equity Action and Change committee that, among other feats, launched an online shopping guide on the company's website to help consumers find and support Black-owned brands. A smaller chain, Seattle-based PCC Community Markets now mandates custom diversity, equity and inclusion training for management positions within its stores. And, finally, Albertsons announced an impressive $5 million donation to social justice organizations and those on the front line of the fight for equality last June ($1 million of which has already been donated).

The story behind Oatly's 2021 Super Bowl ad that went viral

If you watched the Super Bowl on Sunday, you may have been taken aback by Oatly's low-budget ad, which originally aired in Sweden in 2014. The ad was actually banned in Sweden for "[disparaging] cow's milk as unhealthy" following a lawsuit from the country's dairy lobby, and now it's instigating conversation among American consumers who were on the whole confused and delighted by the commercial. Oatly then debuted a t-shirt on its website that reads "I Totally Hated That Oatly Commercial." And, yes, it's currently sold out. Delish has the details. 

The case for plain vanilla gets its day in court

Is vanilla really vanilla sans vanilla beans? Over 100 proposed class-action cases have been filed over vanilla flavoring since 2019, with plaintiffs arguing that the natural vanilla flavors (often made using wood pulp or fermentation technology) in food products from soda to yogurt should not be marketed as vanilla beans. Interestingly, lawyers from McDonald's tried to shut down the case by telling the judge that vanilla is merely a flavor, just like Rocky Road or Tutti Frutti, and should be considered as such. Head to The Wall Street Journal for the scoop.

World is shifting to a more plant-based diet, says Unilever chief

Unilever hopes to have a nearly $1 billion plant-based food business in five to seven years. This is in part because Alan Jope, Unilever’s chief executive, views the switch to plant-based diets as an "inexorable" trend. Unilever has already invested in vegan alternatives of its existing brands, like launching a vegan Hellman's mayonnaise and plant-based Ben & Jerry's pints. Analysts at Barclays see the value of the global plant-based food and drink market skyrocketing by more than 1,000% by 2030. Learn more at The Guardian.

Publix opens new GreenWise Market in Fort Lauderdale

Publix Super Markets Publix GreenWise Market fort lauderdale

Publix Super Markets has opened its first new GreenWise Market since closing two locations last summer.

The 27,758-square-foot store at 255 SE 3rd Ave. in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, which opened to the public on Thursday, marks the sixth GreenWise location in Florida and the eighth overall for the small-format retail concept. It’s also the first GreenWise store situated in a mixed-use development: The Main Las Olas, a 1.4 million-square-foot project anchored by a 25-story office tower and including residential, retail, dining and other space.

“We took all of the things our customers love about GreenWise Market and put them in a centralized downtown location,” Publix President Kevin Murphy said in a statement. “We look forward to sharing our unique atmosphere and products with our customers who live and work in this busy urban neighborhood.”

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The GreenWise stores feature “experience zones” of product categories and services, with the 'FINDS' department offering a curated selection of wines, beer and imported cheese.

Targeted at foodies and consumers following healthy lifestyles, GreenWise Market offers a range of specialty, natural and organic food, grocery and wellness products.

As in the other GreenWise, the Fort Lauderdale store houses “experience zones” of product categories and services. The “CUTS” section offers meat raised with no antibiotics or added hormones, as well as sustainably sourced seafood. In the “EATS” area, customers will find made-to-order meals and grab-and-go foods such as handcrafted gourmet sandwiches and fresh-baked pizza. A curated selection of wines and imported cheeses anchors the “FINDS” department, while the “POURS” area offers locally roasted coffee, wine, beer on tap and other beverages that customers can drink in-store. The “CARES” health and wellness section carries vitamins, nutritional supplements, natural soaps and shampoos, and other health and personal care items.

Shoppers also can enroll in GreenWise Market Rewards, a loyalty program that provides personalized offers and digital coupons. The rewards can be redeemed only at GreenWise stores. The ground-floor Fort Lauderdale location, too, has a mural by artist Steven Teller that depicts colorful tropical plants common to South Florida.

The first GreenWise Market, a 29,000-square-foot store, opened in Tallahassee, Florida, in October 2018. Publix also currently operates GreenWise stores, between 20,000 and 30,000 square feet, in Lakeland, Boca Raton, Ponte Vedra and Odessa, Florida; Mountain Brook, Alabama; and Marietta, Georgia. The most recently opened locations—Marietta, Odessa and Ponte Vedra, all just over 25,000 square feet—went into operation last June.

Publix shut two GreenWise stores in Mount Pleasant and Lexington, South Carolina, in late August, citing “space constraints that will not fit our current vision for GreenWise Markets.” Both locations had been in operation since 2019, with the 21,500-square-foot Mount Pleasant store opening in May and the 21,400-square-foot Lexington store opening in December of that year.

Publix also has said it plans to open and more GreenWise stores, in Tampa and St. Augustine, Florida, in 2021 but hasn’t provided further details.

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