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Organic and Natural Health Association partners with Williams-Franklin Foundation for HBCU Health Scholarship Education Fund

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As part of a new partnership with the Williams-Franklin Foundation, Organic and Natural Health will help raise a minimum of $50,000 for the Foundation over the next five years to support education expenses for students attending historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU). The money that is raised will be held in a designated fund for the industry called “Organic and Natural Health Scholarship Fund.”

Organic and Natural Health, a leader in diversity and inclusion initiatives within the natural products industry, has also committed to support networking opportunities for HBCU students, graduates and natural health executives with the purpose of igniting internships and career opportunities, while helping to create a more diverse and inclusive industry.

“This is an Organic and Natural Health initiative, but it’s not ours to own,” said Karen Howard, executive director of Organic and Natural Health. “We want to make this an industry-wide initiative for diversity and inclusion, and we want it to be as big and as noteworthy as what Vitamin Angles has achieved for dietary supplement distribution to countries in need. Exposure to our industry is the biggest barrier to lack of diversification in our organizations. Together, as an industry, we can proactively work to change this dynamic.”

The Williams-Franklin Foundation is a 501(c)(3) incorporated nonprofit that provides academic scholarships, business/career networking, and mentoring opportunities to HBCU students with extreme financial need. It is led by husband and wife team Dwight and LaShelle (Williams) Franklin, both HBCU graduates who used their own seed money to launch the foundation in 2014. In a short time their organization has raised thousands of dollars that have impacted the lives of many HBCU students.

“Karen’s initiative and leadership with introducing Williams-Franklin Foundation is really valuable, because our ultimate goal is to help students graduate with minimum debt and maximum opportunities,” said Dwight Franklin. “We are looking forward to this partnership and providing our students opportunities to succeed within the natural products industry,” added LaShelle (Williams) Franklin.

Leaders and companies within the natural products industry who want to donate a tax-deductible gift directly to the Williams-Franklin Foundation’s Organic and Natural Health Scholarship Fund can select “Organic and Natural Health Fund” in the drop box when donating.

Source: Organic and Natural Health Association

Make that 2 apples a day keeps the doctor away

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We’re all familiar with the old adage, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” It’s right up there with Hippocrates’ “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” and “You are what you eat” in the annals of nutrition aphorisms.

Apples make a great presentation in the produce section of your store. A new study validated the saying.

Published in the February issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the new study ups the ante, finding that not one but two apples drive beneficial effects, at least on markers of cardiovascular disease.

In the study, 43 British adults ate two Renetta Canada apples a day. The two apples contained 8.5 grams of fiber a day. The study subjects at the outset had cholesterol levels ranging between 200-239 ng/dL—considered “borderline high” as the total cholesterol number everyone knows is to keep things below 200.

By the end of the eight-week study, the apple eaters experienced a modest 3.6% reduction in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol as well as a 10% cut in triglyceride levels. By comparison, statin drugs lower total cholesterol at least 20% and, depending on the dose, can double that amount—or more.

“The potential ability of apples to reduce serum total cholesterol has been attributed mainly to the fiber fraction, pectin in particular,” wrote the researchers. “However, polyphenols may also play an important role.”

Apples are excellent sources of fiber (about 2-3 grams per apple), which can improve bowel movements and so-called “transit time.” This apple fiber, or pectin, helps digestion because it helps turn water into a gel in the intestines, which slows down the digestive process. The pectin is largely found in the skin.

Apple skin also contains polyphenols (about 110 mg per apple). The polyphenols include the flavanols called proanthocyanidins (PACs) and catechins. Previous studies have found polyphenols can lower total cholesterol levels, raise HDL (“good”) cholesterol, inhibit LDL (“bad”) cholesterol oxidation, and block inflammatory responses in atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries—the leading cause of death worldwide.

The British researchers cited previous studies that showed pure apple polyphenols at daily doses between 600 and 1,500 mg also decreased total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. The amount of pectin might not be sufficient alone to lower total cholesterol, which gives credence to the idea that polyphenols also play a role.

A recent study, from 2020, also looked at eating apples vis a vis cardio conditions. It found an apple a day was associated with a reduced risk of death by cardiovascular disease, heart attacks and strokes. Like the new study here, this 2020 study found an apple a day reduced total and LDL cholesterol, as well as systolic blood pressure and C-reactive protein, a marker for inflammation.

Other benefits

While the decrease in cholesterol levels was just modest, plenty of other studies show apples have other positive health benefits.

Type 2 diabetes: A few years ago researchers conducted a meta-analysis concerning apple as well as pear consumption as it relates to type 2 diabetes occurrence. They identified five studies comprised of more than 228,000 participants. They showed that eating apples and pears was associated with an 18% reduction in the risk of diabetes. What’s more, every day per week people ate an apple was associated with an additional 3% risk reduction.

Cancer: A German cancer researcher concluded that an apple a day seemed to reduce the risk for lung and colon cancer. Food frequency questionnaires are not exactly precise because people cannot reliably remember every food item at every meal. Still, a 15-year study among women older than age 70 found those said they ate an apple a day had a lower risk of deaths by any cause and also specifically by cancer. 

Microbiome: Apple skins hold most of the nutritional value. The polyphenols therein are hardy enough to last all the way to the lower GI tract. There, studies show the apple components actually change the microbial composition and can otherwise positively interact with the gut microbiota. One study found the Renetta Canada apples improved microbiota composition. That’s because pectin in apples is a fiber, which is the food source of bacteria. One study, which also used two apples a day, found that after two weeks, the two apples a day increased the numbers of bifidobacterium and lactobacillus in stool samples of the people being studied.

Which apple varieties are best?

Think that if you’ve seen one apple you’ve seen ’em all? Of course you don’t think that–it’s why retailers put out a range of apple varieties.

Apples are delicious, except for the red delicious type, which no doubt got its name because it actually is not so exceptionally delicious. (Remember the Flavr Savr tomato, the first GMO tomato? It was created so it was firm and could be shipped around the country; flavor was the last thing the scientists had in mind.) And like so many things in the fruit and vegetable world, the health benefits come largely from the skin.

One study looked at a variety of apples—red delicious, granny smith, fuji, golden delicious and annurca. When looking two apples a day on at total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, annurca fared best, lowering levels by 8.3% and 14.5%, respectively, and an increase in HDL by 15.2%.

Another study looked at the antioxidant activity and anti-cancer activity of a range of apples. These included Rome beauty, idared, Cortland and golden delicious applies. The researchers noted that the peels contained the highest antioxidant activity, most of the phenolic compounds and were the part of the apple that most effectively inhibited the growth of human liver cancer cells.

The apple varieties with the highest total phenolic contents and flavonoids were the idared and Rome beauty. Idared apple peels had the most anthocyanins and greatest antioxidant activity. Rome beauty apple peels showed the most bioactivity.

And you know how it’s fashionable around camp to say that eating an apple is a decent replacement for brushing teeth? One recent study found that eating an apple is similar to tooth brushing in terms of reducing bacterial viability in the saliva. However, it does not remove dental plaque. In a pinch, an apple a day might just fill in the gap, but in the long term they will not keep the dentist away.

[email protected]: Toxic heavy metals found in baby food | Bayer reaches $2B deal over future Roundup cancer claims

Getty Images baby eating food in high chair

New government report finds 'toxic heavy metals' like arsenic and mercury in popular baby foods

A government report released Thursday morning finds that baby foods produced by large manufacturers have "significant levels" of substances including lead, cadmium, arsenic and mercury. Researchers say that the developing brains of babies are particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of long-term heavy metal exposure. Parents are being encouraged by experts to limit the amount of rice and sweet potato products they feed their children, as these tend to absorb more pollutants because of the way they are grown. CBS News has the fear-inducing details.

Bayer reaches $2B deal over future Roundup cancer claims

Bayer AG has made an attempt to resolve future legal claims that its weedkiller Roundup causes cancer in humans via a $2 billion deal. This compensation will span over a four-year period and will cover outreach and diagnostic assitance; claimants could receive up to $200,000. The glyphosate-based product will, however, remain on shelves. Reuters reports.

Amazon pocketed $62M in delivery drivers' tips, FTC alleges

Amazon will pay over $61.7 million to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that the company stole nearly one-third of its delivery drivers' tips to "pad its own bottom line." It lowered the hourly rate for Amazon Flex drivers between late 2016 and August 2019 and used tips to make up the difference, but took steps to "obscure" this activity to employees and the media. Under the terms of the new settlement Amazon must be fully transparent with regard to drivers' pay rates and tips, as well as obtain permission before making any changes to how tips are used as compensation. Get the lowdown at Eater

Gene banks are getting a long overdue update. They’re an important tool for crop diversity and the fight against climate change

The information in the U.S. National Plant Germplasm System ("a vast online database, a version of which first went into use in 1983, cataloging all the seeds and other germplasm collected and housed in USDA gene banks in the interest of bolstering our food and environmental security") is, according to scientists, insufficient, out-of-date and lacking in relevant data. But researchers at USDA and gene banks around the world are setting out to change this. Their ultimate aim is to help breeders narrow down which accessions—or versions of a given plant species—to order out of the vault and incorporate into their operations. Improved database information could also prove critical to preserving global food security in the coming decades. Head to The Counter for more.

Hormel in talks to buy Planters, continuing greater snack acquisition trend

Major CPG brands are increasingly buying smaller snack brands in an effort to diversify their portfolios; in particular, they're betting on the success of better-for-you snacks that allow consumers to nourish themselves without feeling deprived. Hormel is in talks to buy Planters from Kraft Heinz, which would cash in on both the salty snack trend and the popularity of peanuts in general throughout the pandemic. Read the rest at The Food Institute.

Jeff Bezos to step down as Amazon CEO following company's $100B Q4

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Amazon vaulted over the $100 billion mark in sales with 44% growth and nearly doubled Wall Street’s earnings-per-share forecast for its fiscal 2020 fourth quarter.

The strong fiscal year finish came as Amazon prepares for a changing of the guard. In its fourth-quarter conference call with analysts late Tuesday, the e-tail giant announced that founder Jeff Bezos is stepping down as CEO will transition to the role of executive chairman.

For the quarter ended Dec. 31, Amazon tallied net sales of $125.56 billion, compared with $87.44 billion a year earlier. Excluding the impact of changes in foreign exchange rates, sales climbed 42%. Online sales came in at $66.45 billion, up 46% (43% excluding foreign exchange) from $45.66 billion in the prior-year period.

Amazon’s physical store sales, which include Whole Foods Market, declined 8% (7% excluding foreign exchange) to $4.02 billion from $4.36 billion in the 2019 quarter. That followed a 10% year-over-year decline in the third quarter, though sequentially physical store sales rose 6.2% from the third to fourth quarters. During fiscal 2020, the company saw physical store sales decreases in three out of four quarters, with an 8% gain in the first quarter followed by a 13% drop in the second quarter.

For the full 2020 fiscal year, Seattle-based Amazon totaled net sales of $386.06 billion, up 38% from $280.52 billion in 2019. Excluding the effect of foreign exchange, net sales grew 37% year over year. Online sales surged 39.7% to $197.35 billion from $141.25 billion a year ago.

Fiscal 2020 physical store sales were $16.22 billion, down 5.6% from $17.19 billion in 2019.

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The cashierless Amazon Go Grocery format has two locations in Washington, in Seattle and Redmond.

Amazon’s physical-store sales come mainly from its Whole Foods Market unit and exclude online orders made via its brick-and-mortar brands, such as Prime Now delivery and pickup through Whole Foods stores.

Currently, Amazon’s U.S. physical stores include 502 Whole Foods Markets, eight Amazon Fresh grocery stores, two Amazon Go Grocery stores, 26 Amazon Go convenience stores, 24 Amazon Books stores, 29 Amazon 4-Star outlets and seven Presented by Amazon pop-up locations.

For the fourth quarter and full year, Amazon topped the high end of its own sales estimates as well as those of industry analysts. On average, analysts projected quarterly sales of $119.7 billion (in a range of $113.73 billion to $123.18 billion) and year-end sales of $379.97 billion (in a range of $371.65 billion to $383.69 billion), according to Refinitiv.

“Revenue for the quarter was $125.6 billion versus our guidance range of $112 billion to $121 billion,” Amazon Chief Financial Officer Brian Olsavsky said in the conference call yesterday. “We kicked off the holiday season early for customers with Prime Day in October versus its usual timing in Q3. We then saw strong seasonal holiday demand through Q4. Our Q4 results also largely reflect the continuation of demand trends we have seen since the early months of the pandemic, particularly as people are staying at home, including for household staples and other home products.”

Amazon’s Prime customer benefits program, now with an estimated 140 million-plus U.S. members, remained a big sales generator.

“We saw sales growth across our major product categories, led by strong Prime member engagement,” Olsavsky said. “Prime members continued to shop with greater frequency and across more categories than before the pandemic began.”

Grocery sales also were robust for Amazon in the quarter, according to Olsavsky.

“We’re reaching more customers with our grocery offerings. In Q4, we had another strong quarter that largely reflects the continuation of demand trends from Q3.”

David Fildes, director of investor relations at Amazon, outlined the company’s brick-and-mortar food and grocery retail strategy with its Amazon Go, Amazon Go Grocery and Amazon Fresh banners.

“On the grocery point, we’ve got a couple different formats. The Go Grocery has a couple of locations open and off to a good start. A lot of interest in those and the technology that those offer, as well as the Amazon Fresh locations. So we’re at about eight [Fresh] locations open and I think in the neighborhood of about a half-dozen locations are confirmed. So more to come on those,” he said.

“There are other kind of tangents and footprints on that. The Go stores, there are around 25 of those, and an important part of that is food. So you see us with online grocery and branching out from Whole Foods with some other physical locations and being able to offer that convenience,” Fildes explained. “But we also think we’re able to offer some innovative physical-store grocery offerings like Go and Fresh, which have some pretty cool self-checkout capabilities. The Just Walk Out technology qualities are really some interesting areas that are resonating with customers. I think they appreciate that, not just in times of not wanting to have physical contact with everyone in the store, but even beyond that, the general convenience of being able to move throughout the store and checkout more efficiently than you would in a traditional retail environment. So  [we’re] excited to do more on that front.”

At the bottom line, Amazon reported fourth-quarter net income of $7.22 billion, or $14.09 per diluted share, compared with $3.27 billion, or $6.47 per diluted share, a year ago.

Analysts, on average, had forecast adjusted earnings per share of $7.23, with estimates ranging from a low of $4.51 to a high of $11.16, according to Refinitiv.

Fiscal 2020 net earnings climbed to $21.33 billion, or $41.83 per diluted share, from $11.59 billion, or $23.01 per diluted share, in 2019. Analysts tracked by Refinitiv had forecast Amazon’s full-year adjusted EPS at $34.98, on average, with projections running from $32.20 to $38.89.

On the leadership front, plans call for current Amazon Web Services CEO Andrew Jassy to take the Amazon CEO reins from Jeff Bezos in the third quarter.

“Those of us who know Andy are excited to see him take on this greater responsibility. He is a visionary leader, a great operator, and he understands what makes Amazon such a special innovative company,” Olsavsky said in the call. “We’re also excited that Jeff will retain a very important role at the company that he founded and has guided for over 25 years. He has created a culture of invention and innovation that drives us every day, and we remain bound by our common focus: an obsession on the customer.”

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Olsavsky emphasized that Bezos (left) will remain a key presence as Amazon shapes its vision and strategy going forward.

“I will reiterate that Jeff is not leaving. He is getting a new job. He’s going to be executive chair of the board, a super-important role. The board is super-active and important in Amazon’s success story,” Olsavsky said.

“We’re very happy to see both Jeff and Andy get new perspectives, so Andy has a chance to put his imprint on Amazon,” he added. “He is certainly going to carry through the culture and the vision and the invention factory that Amazon is and will take that to the next level. Jeff will be involved in many large, ‘one-way-door issues,’ meaning the more important decisions, things like acquisitions, strategies and going into grocery, and other things. Jeff has always been involved with that, and that’s where we’ll keep his time focused—or he’ll keep his time focused on in his new role.”

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

5 things to know about Organic Garage

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Toronto-based natural retailer Organic Garage has filed to begin selling shares on the U.S. stock market through the OTC Markets Group.

The company, which operates four retail locations and a distribution center in Toronto, is currently publicly traded in Canada on the TSX Venture Exchange. In the U.S. it will be listed on the OTCQB, also known as The Venture Market, which is the middle tier of companies traded through OTC Markets Group. Companies that trade on the OTCQB must meet some minimal reporting requirements, although the requirements are not as restrictive as the companies listed at the highest tier, or the OTCQX.

Here are five ways Organic Garage stands out in the market:

1. It has a long history of innovation.

The retailer traces its roots back to 1931, when the great-grandfather of the current president and CEO, Matt Lurie, opened a one-stop grocery store in Toronto called Goodbaum’s Groceteria. The store was one of the first to use refrigeration and also was among the first to offer a one-stop shop combining produce, meat, dairy and dry goods in a single location, according to the company’s website. It’s motto was “We Sell for Less,” which has been modified by Lurie for today’s Organic Garage to “Healthier Food for Less!” Although the original store prospered and grew for many years, it had closed by the time Lurie re-invented the business as Organic Garage in 2005.

2. It has been growing rapidly the last few years.

Organic Garage began trading as a public company in 2016 with a centralized distribution center and two retail stores. It opened a 15,000-square-foot prototype store in Toronto’s Junction neighborhood in 2017, boasting bold graphics and decor and detailed, informational signage, along with whimsical signage such as “We Only Sell Good S#[email protected]%” The company followed with a store in the Liberty Village area of Toronto, in addition to the existing locations in Oakville and Vaughn, Ontario, for four current locations in total. A fifth is preparing to open in the Leaside area of the city. The company said in 2019 it was focused on opening one to two new stores per year.

3. Its online sales have increased significantly.

Organic Garage last year formed a partnership with ecommerce services provider Cornershop, just before the pandemic hit. In the recently ended fiscal third quarter, Organic Garage reported that its online sales were up 40% over prior-year levels, totaling 8.5% of total sales, according to a report by eresearch. Cornershop, an affiliate of Uber, offers delivery to locations within 10 kilometers of each of Organic Garage’s locations, with no price mark-ups on grocery items. Consumers pay a flat fee or can subscribe to a yearly membership for free delivery on orders over $40.

4. It has high natural and organic product standards.

Organic Garage is known for its 100% organic produce offering, which includes items from both local farmers and from farmers around the world. Meats are raised without hormones or antibiotics or organic, and wild selections such as bison, ostrich and elk are also offered. Deli sliced meats are also either organic or all natural/preservative free. Grocery items also include organic and natural selections, as well as items that meet specific dietary needs. Stores also include vitamins and supplements, but one thing customer won’t find are dietitians and nutritionist  Organic Garage urges customers to consult with certified professionals on their own about what products are right for them. The company also maintains a nine-page “Dump It” list of artificial ingredients that it prohibits in its products.

5. It has an in-house private label.

Organic Garage may be one of the smallest retailers in North America to have its own private label line, dubbed Kitchen Essentials. The label got a revamp in 2017 and has expanded to include a range of high-velocity, shelf-stable items, including rice cakes, olive oil and canned tomatoes, the company told New Hope Network in 2018. The line focuses on certified organic products, and is primarily positioned to be the lowest-cost option, without sacrificing quality. It is promoted with the tag line “Eat Like a Chef for Less!”

[email protected]: Hazard pay ordinances lead to grocery store shutdowns | Retailers grow wary of Instacart

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Hazard pay ordinances cause retailers to shut down, go nationwide with hazard pay

While some retailers like Kroger have decided to shut down locations to avoid local ordinances mandating hazard pay for frontline grocery store workers, others, Trader Joe's for instance, are going nationwide with hazard pay and embracing the new (and notably temporary) labor standards. Still others are petitioning against these ordinances in more traditional ways: Seattle-based PCC Community Markets is asking the Seattle City Council to reconsider the Hazard Pay for Grocery Store Workers Bill on the basis that its margins have thinned with all the additional costs of COVID-19 protection for employees and the business cannot afford to pay workers an extra $4 an hour. PCC is already facing backlash for this move, with many calling for more diversity within the company's board membership as a first step toward retribution.

Instacart survived COVID-19 chaos, but can it keep delivering after the pandemic?

Following the unprecedented rise in demand for grocery delivery last March, Instacart found itself smack in the middle of a grocery delivery war with giants like Amazon. While it has no physical assets of its own, Instacart's intellectual property and legion of gig workers service retailers nationwide. But what once were trustful relationships have given way to suspicion; retailers are wising up to the amount of proprietary Instacart data they are missing out on and many worry about maintaining shopper loyalty. Get Instacart's founder's side of the story at Forbes.

Vilsack's second term at USDA must reform agency and tackle climate change, food insecurity and racial injustice

Ricardo Salvador, a senior scientist and director of the Food and Environment Program at Union of Concerned Scientists, has issued a statement urging Biden's pick for secretary of agriculture Tom Vilsack to prioritize climate action, consolidation within the farm economy and food insecurity as he enters this important role. Secretary Vilsack has indicated he will commit to rebuilding USDA's research capacity and champion scientific integrity within the organization.  

Impossible Foods cuts faux meat prices by 20% at grocery stores

Impossible Foods is on the fast track to accomplishing a feat many plant-based meat makers continue to struggle with: attaining price parity with conventional meat. The company announced it would be cutting the price of its alternative meat patties at U.S. grocery stores after doing so twice in 2020; this time around the suggested retail prices for Impossible Burgers will drop to $5.49. Reuters reports.

SNAP shaming at the health food store needs to stop

Arguments over how Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participants should be permitted to use food stamps have waged for decades, with some arguing that so-called "luxury" items should be off limits and others responding that junk food like energy drinks are what needs to be banned. But this close monitoring of how SNAP recipients eat reinforces the idea that those who rely on food stamps are lazy and undeserving of the fresh, organic fare available to those in higher income brackets. It also fails to contend with the troubling fact that many food-insecure families live in food deserts, which already puts them at a disadvantage with regard to obtaining nutritious food. Head to Health for the full picture.

[email protected]: Amazon reaps record holiday sales | Meatpacking companies, OSHA face investigation over COVID-19 outbreaks

5@5: Amazon reaps record holiday sales | Meatpacking companies, OSHA face investigation over COVID-19 outbreaks

Amazon poised for record sales from pandemic-charged online holiday shopping

Amazon is expected to report around $119.7 billion in quarterly revenue and $3.7 billion in net income following pandemic-fueled online holiday shopping over the past few months. According to FactSet, Amazon sales for all of 2020 are projected to have risen about 35% year-over-year to around $380 billion. However, the company continues to face regulatory and labor battles. The Wall Street Journal reports. 

Meatpacking companies, OSHA face investigation over COVID-19 in plants

A House subcommittee has launched an investigation into the deaths of more than 250 meatpacking plant employees nationwide. The Trump administration is being accused of failing to "adequately carry out its responsibility for enforcing worker safety laws at meatpacking plants across the country, resulting in preventable infections and deaths." This is because, despite the many confirmed COVID-19 cases, OSHA only issued eight citations and under $80,000 in penalties for coronavirus-related health and safety violations. Head to NPR for next steps.

Once we have lab-grown meat, will we still need animal advocacy?

When it comes to convincing consumers to make the ethical choice, technological innovation trumps morality any day. This is why cell-cultured meat is set to rock the world: Once it's been established as a cheap, accessible and tasty option, shoppers are far more likely to make the leap and thus rid the world of factory farming's evils for good. But enormous roadblocks remain to commercializing cell-cultured meat, regulatory approval and scale being two of them. Fast Company has the story. 

Why some female food founders are turning to crowdfunding during COVID-19

After angel investments slowed down last spring, many female founders relied on online crowdfunding platforms like Republic and Kickstarter to fund growth, finance capital expenditures and support research and development. Notably, women-led crowdfunding ventures are more successful in reaching their fundraising goals than those led by men. Upcycled food company Renewal Mills and bone broth soup brand Nona Lim are two of several women-led natural brands that have found success by leaning on their passionate supporters. Read more at Forbes.

Tiny Bodega is making it easier to find POC-owned brands

Harlem resident Taylor Cook started online retailer Tiny Bodega to support POC-owned brands after the Black Lives Matter protests that rocked 2020. Communities of color represent a growing portion of buying power in the U.S., but POC brands are oftentimes siloed within "ethnic" or "multicultural" store aisles. Tiny Bodega highlights healthy alternatives to pantry goods that can be ordered in three discovery boxes (brunch, snack and dinner). Get the scoop at Thrillist.

New milk machine: AI formulations lead The Not Company

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Chilean food tech brand The Not Company (NotCo) made its U.S. debut in late 2020. Its plant-based milk alternative, NotMilk, contains no lactose, soy, gluten or genetically modified ingredients and is the first of several NotCo products to hit North American shelves. Unlike other milk alternatives made from nuts and legumes, NotMilk replicates the taste and texture of cow’s milk, so you can cook, bake and froth it just as you would its nonvegan counterpart. 

The secret of NotCo’s success lies with their proprietary artificial intelligence, named Giuseppe. During his studies at the University of California, Berkeley, founder Matías Muchnick learned how Biochemistry, AI and machine learning were disrupting the pharmaceutical industry—and theorized the same technology could be applied to the global food system. During post-grad studies at Harvard, Muchnick met Dr. Karim Pichara, a computer/data science and machine learning expert studying the composition of stars. They developed a business plan and enlisted plant genomics expert Dr. Pablo Zamora to complete their forward-thinking dream team. 

We caught up with Muchnick to learn more about Giuseppe and how the launch is going so far. 

Is this really the first food made by a computer? 

Matías Muchnick: Our products are made using a combination of artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms to identify and combine plant-based ingredients which replicate the animal-based product benchmarks at the molecular level. A team of chefs and food scientists test and provide feedback to Giuseppe (the AI) for continued improvement. Giuseppe produces hundreds, sometimes thousands of recipes every month and is constantly learning and improving. So far, we have not seen other companies tapping into this proprietary technology space. 

Is the innovation the AI or the product? 

MM: Both. Technology is an enabler to shift the world to a new and more positive space—it’s something we track constantly. It’s helping consumers connect, experiment with new things and make their everyday lives healthier and more enjoyable while powering different and more accurate solutions to deliver delicious plant-based foods. Our AI technology and all the possibilities it offers get us very excited with all we can do in this space. 

How does the company look at the current plant-based market and where it is headed?

MM: Health and nutrition trends are here to stay and are accelerating even more with people opting for more sustainable options to their diets. We are excited to see this trend develop further into indulgence and pleasure without compromises in health and delicious taste, which is common in the segments NotCo operates. In dairy, for example, we know that about a third of plant-based milk consumers in the U.S. switch back to dairy because of compromises in taste. We are here to change that. There are many options in the market, but they miss something—whether that be look, taste or texture. 

What is your innovation cycle like and how is it different from a typical food company's? 

MM: Our AI allows our innovation cycle to be very fast. We get products from idea to market in months, not years. It starts with Giuseppe and our machine learning teams prototyping and building options for any given animal-based product we choose as a benchmark. Once the prototypes are tested and optimized, we take them to consumers for initial evaluation, then scale up with our ingredient and production partners. The process for NotMilk in the U.S., for example, took about six months from prototype to market launch. 

How has the product been received so far? What's next for the company? 

MM: We have seen great consumer pull since we launched in more than 490 Whole Foods Market stores last November and are exploring new product launches including NotMayo, NotBurger and NotIceCream. That’s the beauty of combining science and technology to better understand the food we love to eat and remove animals from the equation. With Giuseppe, we are able to discover unique combinations of plants that replicate the taste, look and functionalities of animal products and deliver food products that are just as delicious but less impactful on the environment.

Healthy Living Market and Café debuts house-made HL Fresh line

Luke Awtry Photography healthy living market fresh salad

Healthy Living Market and Café has rolled out a new prepared-foods brand called HL Fresh, marking a sweeping revamp of the three-unit, Vermont-based natural retailer’s house-made offerings.

“It's really an all-encompassing new brand that we're launching with Healthy Living to help bring a whole new level of sophistication to our house-made food platform,” said Mathew Jennings, a veteran chef and restaurateur who took over Healthy Living’s prepared food offerings operations last year as VP of culinary.

The HL Fresh label will be prominent not only on the in-store café menus, but also on home meal replacement offerings, grab-and-go prepared foods, house-made snacks and more.

“It’s really the whole gamut,” said Jennings. “The new direction and the evolution of the cafés and our house-made food will all be underneath this HR Fresh umbrella.”

Reflecting both the retailer’s commitment to local, organic and natural foods and Jennings’ own culinary philosophy, the HL Fresh program will focus on foods that are highly seasonal, made from scratch and chef-driven, he said.

Luke Awtry PhotographyMatt Jennings healthy living market and cafe chef

Jennings (above), a former James Beard Award finalist and a contestant on the TV program Iron Chef Showdown, has operated multiple restaurants in his career, including the acclaimed Townsman in Boston, where he offered innovative takes on New England cuisine. He also published a cookbook in 2017, called "Homegrown: Cooking from My New England Roots."

In addition to his celebrity-chef status, Jennings is known for his commitment to living a healthy lifestyle. After doctors warned him about his health a few years ago—he weighed over 400 pounds, according to reports—he lost over 200 pounds and recommitted to exercise and eating a healthy diet.

Jennings recruited some of his former chef colleagues to join him in rolling out the HL Fresh program. He said the goal is for seasonality and local sourcing to be highlighted throughout the stores through interdepartment collaboration, with culinary tie-ins to seasonal produce offerings, for example, and chefs educating other store workers about how to talk to customers about using seasonal items in their cooking at home.

“We want to see basket lift, and I think the more educated we can help our consumers become, the better off we all are,” Jennings said.

“We all should be thinking cross-functionally about how seasonality affects our food and the ecosystem of what we put on the table at home,” he said. “My whole ethos has always been built around sourcing locally, sourcing responsibly and creating menus that are driven by seasons. I bring that same perspective and philosophy now to Healthy Living. The chefs that have worked under me for a number of years … are very familiar with that premise.”

Each of the chefs recruited by Jennings will “bring their own touch and flair” to the menus at the individual stores, he said, and their own experiences and areas of expertise will drive the menus at each location.

New house-made items

Among the new offerings is a line of grab-and-go sandwiches that feature local breads, produce and meats. For the winter season prepared offerings include signature dishes such as Jennings’ famous macaroni and cheese, a Thai green curry with pickled raisins and a vegetarian lasagna.

Luke Awtry Photographyhealthy living market fresh bowls

Future offerings are expected to include more items in the heat-and-serve meals category, the eventual return of the hot food bar and expanded value-added and partially prepared foods, such as pre-marinated meats and vegetables. Jennings also introduced a new house-roasted coffee program using an eco-conscious, low-impact electric roaster.

He said the HL Fresh brand will operate “almost like a business within a business.”

As the pandemic has forced consumers to rethink their shopping patterns—making fewer trips and seeking more meal solutions and healthy snacks—HL Fresh is providing a needed service, said Jennings.

“The opportunities are incredible to do great storytelling and marketing, create new lines of product and to really lift the whole place up in an whole new way,” he said.

Healthy Living Market and Café, founded in 1986 by Katy Lesser, operates stores in South Burlington and Williston, Vermont—the latter of which just opened last October—and one in Saratoga Springs, New York. The company is managed by Lesser and her two children, Eli and Nina.

“At Healthy Living, our mission is to be the place where people gather to shop, eat and work,” said co-owner Nina Lesser-Goldsmith, in a statement. “Our incredibly talented and experienced chef team created HL Fresh with this in mind and created restaurant-quality to-go meals using quality, whole ingredients. The quality and innovation in ready-to-eat offerings that we are putting forward with HL Fresh are not available in other U.S. grocery stores.”

Natural Foods Merchandiser

Shopping shifts: Stats that measure the moves

Getty Images Shopping shifts: Stats that measure the move

These pandemic times have shoppers changing seemingly every day. From rushing stores one day to avoiding them the next, 2020 pushed shoppers and the stores serving them in new directions and faster than ever before.

 Stats that measure the moves

For a printable copy of this infographic, click on "download," below.