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Articles from 2018 In March

[email protected]: Humane Society partners with Aramark on meatless menus | Why independent grocery may still thrive

cafeteria food

Innovative collaboration helps plant-based menus take root

The Human Society is collaborating with foodservice giant Aramark, which has contracts with large corporate cafeterias, universities and hospitals across the country, taking a creative approach to hopefully cutting down on the amount of meat people eat. Humane Society and Aramark chefs and supply chain experts work together to create and scale meatless menu options for the masses, like hearts of palm "crab-less" crab cakes and cauliflower buffalo bites. Read more at Forbes...


Why the number of independent bookstores increased during the 'retail apocalypse'

Will independent grocery follow in the footsteps of independent bookstores, which were at first hit hard by the proliferation of big-box booksellers and Amazon, but have since resurged? Two years after the debut of the Kindle in 2007, the number of independently owned bookstore took off, and it's grown nearly 40 percent since. Amazon crushed the corporate chains, making space for authentic, community-focused independents to re-emerge. Read more at NPR...


5 leading founders of natural skin-care brands told us what 'natural' means to them

Rather than "natural," these beauty A-listers prefer to use works like sustainable, simple, safe and transparent. Read more at Allure...


4 sustainable truths impacting food packaging today

Consumer trends are fueling packaging innovation in several ways. Their efforts to reduce the amount of food waste they generate, for example, is giving way to manufacturers developing packaging that extends the shelf life of products without impacting quality. Read more at Packaging Digest...


CBD is cannabis that won’t get you high. So why are so many people using it?

Once known as the hippie's disappointment, CBD is now working itself into everything from balms to water, and quickly becoming the new "it" drug for Generation Anxious. Read more at The Washington Post...


Cocokind extends its mission to empower women with a new grant program

Priscilla Tsai cocokind

As she tells it, Priscilla Tsai launched her company, Cocokind, by going door-to-door to local California retailers, trying to win shelf space for her organic superfood skin care products. And now, three years later—after finding quite a bit of shelf space in Whole Foods Market, Mollie Stone’s and dozens of other retailers—she’s launching a foundation to support like-minded, impassioned entrepreneurs with that same bootstrap mentality and a drive to change the world.

Since the beginning, Cocokind’s mission has been to create clean, conscious beauty products that empower women. Through the new Cocokind Impact Foundation, the company is using part of its profits to fund grants of $2,500 to $10,000 to female entrepreneurs in the health, wellness and sustainability industries who have not yet raised institutional capital. Grant recipients will also be matched up with an industry mentor.

The first round of applications for these biannual grants is open through April 30. Here, Tsai shares more about why the foundation is a reflection of her mission and what Cocokind is looking for in potential grantees.

This is such a powerful extension of your mission to empower women. Was this part of the plan all along?

Priscilla Tsai: Definitely something like this was part of the plan all along—we as a company are only three years old, so this wasn’t financially possible in the beginning. But we’ve donated to several different causes in the past, and while that was amazing and we really love those nonprofits, we wanted to do something that was a little closer to home.

We realized that so many of our followers on social media are involved in the wellness industry or interested in potentially starting something. I did an Instagram poll on my stories asking who was a founder or looking to start something in this space, and of the 6,000 people who responded, 69 percent of people answered yes. It was pretty overwhelming. So we knew that this would really resonate with our customers.

We realize that our customers are not just consumers of our skincare products—they’re also consumers of our values and business practices and of us as a business. So we knew launching something like this would resonate with our customers and give back to them while also contributing to the greater cause of more female founders.

As a small business, how have you been able to make this kind of giving to charitable/mission-focused projects part of your budget? 

PT: It's in the DNA of our company. I started this company so that we could have a greater impact and be mission-driven. Because of that, since the very beginning, we've built our operations around the value that we would be charitable. It's easier to do if it's the only way you've done things! We don't think of giving as an expense line, we think of it as a core part of our business. 

In the call for applications, you mention that applicants must have a goal to create greater social impact. What does social impact mean to you?

PT: For us it all becomes tied to this word empowerment—whether that’s communities, consumers or women, or whatever it is that’s strengthening a cause that they care about. In the applications we’ve already received, we’ve seen people who are doing body image communications, and that’s their area of impact. We have other people who are donating to specific causes—whether it’s education or other nonprofits.

Any advice for applicants?

PT: What we’re trying to find are people who have the ability to think really big but also really small. I started this business going door to door with retailers here, so we’re looking for people like that who are solving big problems by taking one small step at a time. We’re looking for people who just want to create change through business and set a higher standard for what consumers should expect from companies. So my advice would be to show us that authenticity and drive. 

To learn more about the program or to apply, click here.

In Session

Beyond organic: How brands can be active players in restoring soil health and climate change mitigation

How brands can be active players in restoring soil health and climate change mitigation

"Do you understand the barriers for the farmers and are you willing to help them?"

Erin Sojourner Agostinelli, Demeter

Part 1: Regenerative agriculture: an overview

Highlights from Erin Sojourner Agostinelli of Demeter:

  • Soil quality brings us the nutrition density we need in food.
  • Bringing regenerative agriculture into the industry involves finding resolution between two attitudes toward timing: You have to be patient and willing to deal with biological timing, but also satisfy the demands of the market, which may want products on shelves tomorrow.
  • Questions for brands to evaluate if you want to support regenerative agriculture: Do you know the farms where your ingredients come from; what are the steps you can take to help educate the farmer on the different certifications and tools available; do you understand the barriers facing the farmers and are you willing to help them? And if you can’t trace back where your materials come from or aren’t willing to influence or engage with the farmer, are you willing to go look for raw materials elsewhere and continually invest in your supply chain?



Part 2: Case study: Annie’s

Highlights from Dan Stangler of General Mills:

  • What you put on your dinner plate has a huge impact on the environment: Up to one-third of greenhouse emissions come from the food system, and most of that comes from the farm.
  • A shift in mindset has been underway at Annie’s: “If you enter a conversation with anybody from our team and you’ve got sourcing people in the room, you’ve got sustainability people in the room, you’ve got marketing people in the room and you’re confused about who is who, then we’re doing our job. Because those functions really need to blur the lines if we are going to make better food, change the food system and have the impact that we want to have.”
  • The work that starts with the farmers isn’t going to work without the consumers, so brands need to take this very complex work and find a way to connect it with people. The choices consumers make every single day really matter.
  • Annie's has created a regenerative agriculture scorecard:


Part 3: Changing grower-producer relationships

Highlights including insights from Nate Powell-Palm of Cold Springs Organics and Casey Bailey of Clearlake Organic Farm:

  • What's different about the Annie’s partnership is the company is not demanding a specific amount of a specific grain, but saying: What do you grow best? Or what does your farm need or would help your bottom line?
  • With a longer-term contract, the farmer can focus on stewarding the land, rather than on the need to generate a certain amount of revenue this year and again the next year. “For true regenerative organic agriculture, we really do need sustainability in those contracts.”

This session—Supporting Farmers: Activating Regenerative Agriculture Through Marketplace Support—was recorded at Natural Products Expo West 2018. Click "download"  below to get the presentation.

[email protected]: FDA continues work on redefining 'natural' and 'healthy' | Online retailers embrace private label

FDA to consider what ‘healthy’ means and other claims food companies can make

The FDA is working on revising definitions of natural and healthy and may come up with an icon or symbol for products that meet the new definition, Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said at the National Food Policy Conference this week. It’s also weighing what health claims manufacturers can make and how they list ingredients, and streamlining its process for reviewing qualified health claims. The Trump administration had stirred up some concern that it would roll back nutrition regulations when it postponed the deadline for manufacturers to update their nutrition labels in the fall, but Gottlieb implied that the administration will continue to explore ways to reduce rates of obesity and chronic disease through nutrition. Read more at CNBC…


The next Kirkland? Online retailers create their own brands

Costco has Kirkland, Kroger has Simple Truth, and now e-commerce outlets are developing private label brands of their own, hoping to find the same loyalty and higher margins that brick-and-mortar retailers have achieved. launched Uniquely J last year, has Prince & Spring, Amazon has several brands, including 365 Everyday Value, and Thrive Market has its own brand, too—and they are putting more pressure on national companies. Read more at U.S. News and World Report…


Food LogiQ raises $19.5 million to promote ‘traceability’ in the food industry

Tyson Ventures, Greenhouse Capital and other investors contributed to a fresh round of funding for Food LogiQ, which has a cloud-based SaaS program that verifies suppliers’ information, traces food on its journey throughout the supply chain and helps simplify food recalls. Read more at The Spoon…


Grocery wars turn small chains into battlefield casualties

Tops and the parent company of Winn-Dixie and Bi-Lo have both filed for bankruptcy in the last month, as the grocery wars wage on and big players like Walmart and Amazon put the squeeze on small and mid-sized grocers. Read more at The New York Times…


Gluten-free vegan bakery owner is finalist in Tory Burch Foundation Fellowship

Jeanette Harris is the owner of Gluten Free Goat Bakery & Café in Garfield, Pennsylvania, and a finalist in the Tory Burch Foundation Fellowship, a program that provides grants and mentoring to female entrepreneurs. If she is selected as one of the winners, she wants to create a teaching kitchen to help people with Celiac disease prepare meals, or install an herb garden and solar panels on the roof of her shop. Read more at Next Pittsburgh… 

In Session

Organic needs a large voice to influence the next Farm Bill

Organic needs a large voice to influence the next Farm Bill

“A lot of times, [members of Congress] say, ‘I didn’t hear from anyone about organic research, so I didn’t include it in my priorities.'”

—Megan DeBates, director of legislative affairs, Organic Trade Association 

Part 1: Farm Bill 101: How this legislation drives the country’s food supply

Highlights from Mark Lipson, Organic Farming Research Foundation: 

  • More than 79 percent of the Farm Bill’s allocation goes to the SNAP program, formerly known as food stamps.
  • Organic food programs receive about $1 billion of the more than $954 billion included in the Farm Bill.


Part 2: Organic advocates prioritize their Farm Bill wishes


  • Farm Bill priorities from the Plant Based Foods Association (Michele Simon), Organic Trade Association (Megan DeBates), Organic Farming Research Foundation (Mark Lipson) and Berkeley Food Institute (Nina Ichikawa).
  • The USDA needs more funding to protect organic farmers and consumers from fraud. 
  • Publicly funded organic food research drives innovations in the private sector, but more is needed.


Part 3: Everyone in natural foods must make their voices heard


  • Engage with your members of Congress and know their positions before the midterm elections.
  • The food industry is one of the biggest economic drivers in the country, affecting both rural and urban areas.


Part 4: The Farm Bill will fail without bipartisan support


  • Nutrition and agriculture come together, supporting low-income residents in rural and urban areas.
  • Republicans and Democrats will fight over the Farm Bill until the last minute.


Part 5: Audience members ask about Big Food, conservation research


  • Big Food companies are buying organic startups, so they care about research and assistance programs. 


This session—Farm Bill 2018: What You Need to Know—was recorded at Natural Products Expo West 2018. Click download to access the presentation slides.

Natural Foods Merchandiser

Sack showroomers by investing in customer service

Thinkstock/Koji_Ishii Showrooming at grocery store

Top-notch, personalized customer service is a hallmark of any successful retailer. As part of examining the reinvention of retail, I wanted to dive into the topic of very focused and very deliberate customer service.

I went straight to some natural channel retailers known for standout personalization efforts and service:

  • Wendy Meyerson, owner of Natur-Tyme in Syracuse, New York
  • Jay Chopra, chief operating officer of Hi-Health in Phoenix, Arizona
  • Dave Janowicz, vice president of merchandising and store operations of Pharmaca in Boulder, Colorado

The concern about how much information is too much information is rooted in the recent growth of online retailers like Amazon, increasingly a player in the natural and organic marketplace via its online offerings and its recent acquisition of Whole Foods. A few years back, stories were rife about consumers shopping in stores to learn about products from retail staff and then ordering those items online to take advantage of lower pricing. In the retail world, this practice is known as “showrooming,” a retail store becoming a showroom for competing e-tailers.

At first blush, in our industry, which is rooted so deeply in education, the notion of not fully and freely offering information seems foreign. But some reasons behind it emerge with just a little scrutiny. There is an obvious loss to a retailer if he/she invests in giving information to a consumer who acts on what is learned to make a purchase elsewhere. There is a deeper loss when the time and money invested to train the store staff to provide that information is taken into account. Is the trend in our industry, which has a long tradition of providing great customer service via knowledgeable store staff, regressing to offering “I think it’s on aisle 4”-style service to lower costs and compete in an increasing digital marketplace?

The answer from retailers who are succeeding in this challenging environment is not just “no”—it is “absolutely not.”

Even if you lose sales after providing shoppers with information—and these days you will lose some sales that way—the key is to see this offering of consumer education as your investment in your community and as a part of “paying dues” to be a part of the health and wellness providers in your marketplace. Eventually, other personal and family health issues will come up with the customers who used you to buy cheaper elsewhere. They will know that you are a source of vital, reliable information and they will be back.

Becoming or staying the community wellness resource

A few practical bits of advice:

Be prepared to invest time and resources. A lot of good content is available for free, but your investment in having your staff learn that material does have a price, both the hard cost of their wages and the more elusive, but no less real, opportunity cost of what they cannot do while in training and while having longer conversations with customers.

Also, while many of your staff will be glad to invest their personal time into what they are learning, be sure to allow them time at work (on the clock) for their continuing education. After all, their increased knowledge directly and positively affects your business.

Use good training material. Each retailer that I visited with spoke very highly of the material and educators made available by their key vendors. In this industry, we are blessed to have many great companies providing quality training material. Of course, you should be sure that the brands whose products you train on are those that fully support your store and your vision. Be sure that they protect their distribution and pricing online as much as possible. Use other industry resources, media companies like the New Hope Network, trade organizations, etc.

Teach sales techniques. In addition to training material focused on products and health, be sure to find sales training that fits with your store’s image in the marketplace. You are in business to sell product, but do high-pressure, arm-twisting methods represent who you are?

Know—don’t fear—DSHEA. Many stores stay away from sharing product and health information due to the risk of saying too much and getting outside the guidelines of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, the landmark federal legislation regulating what can be said about natural products. You and your staff need to be aware of DSHEA, and your staff needs to be regularly reminded of its guidelines. If you are not familiar with it, I recommend that you check out the Natural Product Association’s Retail Staff Education Toolkit. It is a free kit that has a handbook, brochures and more for your staff and your customers.

Support whole health. You are not the only health and wellness voice that your customers hear. Many of them are taking prescriptions and OTC products on the advice of medical professionals. Positioning your products as complementary and symbiotic is the way to go. Over time, they may choose to support their health in a completely natural way or they may incorporate natural products as a part of their overall wellness regime. Either way, you gain by becoming part of their wellness support community.

Get staff to stay. A very tangible benefit of this kind of consumer education focus is loyalty. You will find a growing group of shoppers loyal to your store—but also loyal and wanting to speak regularly with the staff member who helped them last time. Be sure to hire right and to take loving care of your staff after they are hired. As you invest in them and your shoppers build relationships with them, the longer that they are employed, the better.

Offer an online option. No matter how much you invest in the in-store experience, you will have shoppers that are pressed for time and want to buy online. You can offer that to them! Be sure that your site works well. It is connecting with your loyal customers. It also must have the same look and feel as your store. You are not creating a standalone site to compete with national sites, but a quality way to help connect with your current, physical shoppers via another channel. (Using a cookie-cutter website kit may not be what you need.)

Review the basics. They still count. Your store has to be a place where people want to return: it is clean, it is organized, it has a constant inflow of new, interesting items to try. You worked hard to earn their business; work just as hard to keep it.

In the modern retail marketplace, showrooming is real. It does not, however, mean the death of natural products retail as we know it. It certainly does not mean that retailers should hold back and give customers less information. It is a challenge that can be met head on and with customer-focused methods that can help stores thrive and grow.

Bill Crawford of Crawford.Solutions has been in the natural products industry for more than 25 years as a retailer, industry analyst, educator and consultant.

Natural Foods Merchandiser

Second generation: Taking over the store your parents built

Amy Deputy Photography & Co. second-generation-owners-promo.png

What is it like to be raised among bulk bins and milk crates as your pioneering parents build a health-food store from scratch? How does it feel to take over that business as an adult with the goal of keeping their legacy alive? From childhood “jobs” to junk-food rebellions to the self-inflicted pressures of not letting Mom and Dad down, these second-generation natural products store owners have experienced it all.

Marieke Cormier

Second-generation owner of Roots Natural Foods in Leominster, Massachusetts

What was your earliest exposure to the store?

MC: Before they started Roots in 2002, my parents opened one of the first natural food stores in our area in the late ’70s. I was practically raised in a backpack in that store.

Were you encouraged to go out and explore the world?

MC: Yes. I went to the University of Alaska and studied biology. I love to travel and definitely spent lots of time away before returning to my hometown 11 years ago. That was much needed to bring new life and energy to the store. Although I’d always planned on taking over the business, it happened earlier than expected because of my mother falling ill to cancer in 2011. I inherited 100 percent of the business after she passed in 2012.

What was it like when you realized this would be your career?

MC: I was excited. I love being my own boss and having the ability to offer the community a unique place to eat and shop. I love that owning a natural foods store has endless possibilities and never gets dull. And I love being the person who decides the next steps and creates our vision for the future. My staff calls me “the captain.” So yeah, it was a pretty natural path for me. It also lets me continue the legacy of what my mom created.

How have you put your stamp on the business?

MC: I’ve opened an organic juice bar and fast-casual restaurant in the store in the past three years. We’ve gone from nine to 26 employees. I also joined INFRA, which has tremendously changed the way we operate.

Is it difficult to separate work life from family life?

MC: When my mom was alive, they were very intertwined. Every day off was a work day just because we loved Roots so much and wanted to improve the way we did business. I try harder these days to make a separation, but it’s difficult.

Why is it important to keep Roots going?

MC: This business was gifted to me, and while I’ve put my stamp on it, I also feel like it keeps the spirit of my mother alive. Even though she is not with us, I always want to make her proud!

Abraham Nabors

Second-generation owner and director of education and standards at Mustard Seed & Café in Akron and Solon, Ohio

Did your parents put you to work as a kid?

AN: My dad would pay me a nickel to wash a small window, a dime for a bigger window and a quarter for a deli case. My first real job, at age 12, was catering for 12 hours at a huge rock-and-roll festival. One employee didn’t show, so my mom asked sheepishly if I’d wash dishes and bus tables.

I had a blast. The woman in charge asked my mom, “Can we keep him?” I was like, “Say yes! Say yes!”

Did you always intend to take over the business—or were you opposed to the idea?

AN: Honestly, it was a bit of both. Ever since I was about 5 years old, I knew I liked Mustard Seed and wanted to keep being a part of it. When your mom and dad are doing cool things, you’re their No. 1 fan. But my parents encouraged us to go to college and explore our own paths. I got a degree in environmental geography and plant biology, but it was pretty much only fracking companies that wanted to hire people with those degrees—that was obviously not what I wanted. So when school was almost over, I told my mom I was coming back. She started freaking out and crying. It was adorable.

When did you become an actual owner?

AN: I think I’ve always been an owner. We have private stock, and my parents are majority shareholders. I don’t even know to what degree my brother and I are shareholders. We’ll worry about those details later—we’re just trying to grow the business.

Are your parents still involved with Mustard Seed?

AN: Mom is fully retired. Dad is semi-retired. He does high-level business meetings, but he’s not involved with the day-to-day.

How did the transition occur?

AN: We hired a consultant to do a 360-degree analysis of our administration and management team. After looking at the professional assessment, we decided together what the best structure would be going forward to make sure there was an intentional way to go about succession planning. That’s partly why we hired Jon Fiume as our chief operating officer. My brother and I told my dad that we weren’t trying to run the company by ourselves right now, but we wanted a seat at the table. And we needed a mentor who wasn’t him or Mom. Jon has held that gap between the first and second generation being the top dog every day.

What changes have you implemented?

AN: My brother and I have put our stamp on Mustard Seed in many, many ways. If you don’t evolve rapidly to keep up with technology, you’ll be left in the dust. You have to double down on growth strategies and be nimble in the marketplace. We are using technology in how we buy, where it’s less pencil and paper and more spreadsheets. We are running the business with a strategic planning process so we have more global coordination around an agreed-upon strategy.

Is it difficult to separate work life from family life?

AN: They’ve always been blended. It was common for family dinners to turn into de facto board meetings lasting until 11 p.m. I’m very thankful our parents raised us in a very open and inclusive environment. But it’s not always about business. We also have a strong family relationship and are never really in conflict. My brother and I have been roommates for six years, so we live and work together and haven’t ripped each other’s hair out. I feel very fortunate because many people don’t even have the family part down, let alone being roommates, let alone business partners.

Of course you want Mustard Seed to succeed. But do you feel added pressure to not let your folks down?

AN: Absolutely. We know we have very big shoes to fill. No one ever wants to do a bad job or let their parents down, especially if you’re the next generation trying to keep something going. The research on the success of second-generation businesses isn’t very optimistic. But we hope we are standing on their shoulders and have a head start because of what we learned from them so young.

Do you ever consult with other second-generation owners?

AN: It’s really nice to know we have kindred spirits. We aren’t located near each other so we’re not direct competitors. We are absolutely rooting each other on because we have the same corporate big-money threats to worry about. It’s about family independents sticking together and fighting the big battles. Last year’s Expo East brought more of us together than I knew were out there. That was really cool.

Gabriel Nabors

Second-generation owner and director of category management and marketing at Mustard Seed & Café in Akron and Solon, Ohio

When did you start working at Mustard Seed?

GN: As an incentive to work weekends in eighth grade, Mom would take me to this little café. She started Mustard Seed because she believes in clean eating, yet once a week she’d say, “If you come to work with me, you can have a bagel full of preservatives.”

Did you plan on following in your parents’ and brother’s footsteps?

GN: Funny enough, I was a senior in college, a finance major, and my number-one criteria for any job was “not in Ohio.” I got a good offer from a bank in North Carolina, and Dad was kind of shocked I wanted to move. He said, “Whoa, you’re not going to work for us? Your brother is here.” I said, “I know. But it’s your business, not mine. And Dad, you never offered me a job.” He said, “Well, let’s figure it out; I want you to join the business.” That was eight years ago, and I haven’t gone anywhere.

What keeps you there?

GN: I really believe in what we do and the mission my parents set forth in 1981. I like to think we’ve only gotten better at fulfilling that mission, from upgrading our standards to forging local partnerships to mitigating our carbon footprint to being not just a grocery store. It’s really fun to touch different customers in different ways.

How have you made your mark on the business?

GN: We didn’t really have a marketing department, and as a finance major, I started asking why we were spending dollars certain ways. So I volunteered myself to explore new options. Before, when we had just two stores, we kind of let managers do their thing. But with three, we had to change how we looked at things like pricing decisions. We began using data for category management to have more solid structure and poise ourselves for growth. This was a big step, and I was a big part of creating that system.

Is it hard, even scary, to change up longtime business operations?

GN: Just because we’ve been doing this a long time doesn’t mean we’ve been doing it the right way. It’s OK to ask questions. I always say, fail fast, fail cheap. Test a new idea in one area instead of going big with every idea you think will work. But when we were making all those big changes, Mom would joke, “Now, don’t screw up my retirement.”

What does it take to make a second-generation business thrive?

GN: Second-generation businesses often fail because there is a lot of passion and power in starting a business from scratch, and it’s difficult to carry on that fire. So it primarily comes down to passion, but also people. Just because they are my parents, doesn’t mean I’m the same as them. I’m very different from them; I’m different from my brother. You have to look past an owner’s skills, talents and personality and focus on the future, asking where is the business going?

What will it take to keep Mustard Seed rocking in today’s rapidly changing retail landscape?

GN: We know a lot of business is going to the internet. So to deal with that, we want to double down on experience and fresh, showcase our relationships with farmers and do more tastings and classes. When you add all these elements together, it doesn’t matter what corporation comes in to compete—they can’t replicate that. People want community, which is why we’ll succeed. We might have to change some things and bring in revenue from different areas, but we will continue to adapt.

Rory Eames

President and second-generation owner of Organic Market, a three-store independent in Cape Cod, Massachusetts

What was your earliest exposure to the store?

RE: My mom and aunt founded Organic Market in 1978, before I was born, so I grew up coming to the store and hanging out with them. I’ve been a retail kid for as long as I can remember.

What did you make of all the healthy food back then?

RE: I was so mad! Why did I have to have chard and rice and beans in my lunch box? I’d say, “Can I trade you this lentil loaf for your Cheetos?” And the kids would be like, “Are you crazy?!” My stepdad used to sneak me to Wendy’s for fries and a Coke.

Did your mom put you to work as a kid?

RE: Oh, for sure. I knew how to ring a register by age 5. Then I’d work in the summers throughout high school.

When did you become an official owner?

RE: When I was 21. That’s when I came back to the business on a full-time, serious level. I went to college briefly and just took some time to figure out what I wanted to do. I decided I liked working for myself and with my family more than I liked working for someone else.

Did you assume roles bit by bit or dive in all at once?

RE: Just kind of piece by piece. I’m very fortunate that my mom really took my position in the company seriously from day one. I obviously had to prove myself, but since I grew up in the business and kind of knew how things worked, it was a nice partnership. We opened a third store in 2014—definitely a big undertaking. It was fun and challenging, a great experience to have with my mother. It was very special to be able to open a store together.

Is your mom still involved in the business today?

RE: Yes, she is very influential in the way we operate. She has a big part in any new initiatives. And with any major decisions, it’s a collective effort. She’s in Florida for the winter but will come back for a few meetings, and we’ll email her questions. I definitely scramble to put everything back together before she returns in spring.

It sounds like you two have a good working relationship. Any friction?

RE: I’m very close with my mom, even though we drive each other crazy sometimes. I’m more anxious by nature while she is calmer—which is good. I feel like because she’s been doing this for so long, she knows that if you work hard and do the right thing, all of the pieces will fall together. So we are definitely nice complements to each other. I’m an only child so it’s been she and I for many years. And now I have a 10-year-old daughter growing up in this business.

Why is it important to keep your family-owned independent thriving?

RE: We play an important role in the three communities we’re in. A big part of that is because my mom started this business so long ago and she has so much respect from the communities. She started our awesome culture, so I give her all the credit for taking a leap of faith in 1978. There is a big comfort level in our stores, whether you are ordering a nutritious lunch that you know will make you feel good or you need help picking out vitamin C because someone in your family is sick. We definitely create an experience, from our amazing staff to our unique product mix. Our pricing is good and our service is better than anywhere else. We have fun and the communities have fun.

Emily Kanter

Second-generation co-owner of Cambridge Naturals in Cambridge, Massachusetts

What is your earliest memory of your parents’ store?

EK: Being plopped into an old milk crate in the middle of the store as a baby and just watching the day go by. Then I’d come in after school every few days, and it was like my playground. I was close with the staff and they’d play games with me. Later on, I’d answer phones, ring at the registers and stock shelves.

Did you buy into your folks’ healthy living philosophies back then?

EK: I was the only kid in elementary school with sprouted bread and almond butter, so nobody wanted to trade with me—that was pretty rough! I loved the store and many of the products, but I didn’t show that off to my friends. In high school and college, I tried to be my own person. I ate junk food and went to CVS to buy Herbal Essences shampoos. Eventually, I started trying more natural products on my own, discovering for myself what was in them and really liking them.

When did your passion for this industry really develop?

EK: I became more passionate about the work we do after reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I started to connect the dots between what my parents had been doing for decades and what Michael Pollan wrote about the industrialized food system. And while living in South America and East Asia after college, I saw how Western globalization had affected the local diets. I became passionate about local food systems and worked in nonprofits supporting them, and then I went back to business school. Simultaneously, my parents started talking about transitioning out of the business after 40 years.

Were you eager to jump on board?

EK: My husband, Caleb, and I were living in Portland, Oregon, at the time and started discussing what it would look like if we took over the business. The more we talked, the more excited we got, so we decided to move back in 2014.

How did the staff respond to you coming back?

EK: For some, I think it was confusing. Some had known me for years and were either excited to see me back or wondering what it was going to mean. We tried to not give too much indication of where we were going because Caleb and I needed to settle in and figure out if we wanted to stick around and do this. So I came in trying to learn from scratch and acted like I hadn’t grown up in the business. Most of the staff embraced me, and now I think we have the best team we’ve ever had.

Are your parents still involved in the business?

EK: My mom is still heavily involved in financial aspects and HR. My father is chief visionary officer so he’s involved in big-picture discussions about the business. He also comes in every few days to take out the trash, front shelves and do customer service. They both mentor Caleb and me in our decision-making.

Do they have an exit strategy?

EK: Nothing formal at this point. Sometimes this is an area of contention, but more often than not, we’re all on the same page about where we’re going. They’ve started transitioning parts of their roles to us, and we’ve gone over what we envision the transition will look like.

Do you feel added pressure to not let your folks down?

EK: Oh my gosh, of course. This is a huge part of my parents’ legacy, and I want it to thrive for us and our team, obviously, but especially for my parents. They were way ahead of their time and are just now getting credit for what they worked so hard to create, so it is very important to me to keep their legacy alive. But I know they trust me and don’t want me to succumb to so much stress that I’m not loving what I do. I feel pressure, but not from them. It’s all coming from me.

What will make Cambridge Naturals succeed in today’s very different retail landscape?

EK: Shopping online is really fun, but I honestly think most people don’t get the same satisfaction as shopping in a wonderful brick-and-mortar. Not all brick-and-mortars are created equal—some can be really painful—but we try to create a truly wonderful shopping experience. We engage with customers and consider many of them friends. They can touch, taste and smell our products in real life, which they can’t do online. Also, community building is really hard to do online. Even though it’s popular wisdom that everyone wants everything delivered to their door and wants to avoid the hassles of stores, that’s not what our customers tell us. Some come in just to be in the store and around people who have the same philosophies as they do. We are all stuck in our devices, including me, but that’s just not as satisfying as having really wonderful face-to-face conversations. In order to thrive, brick-and-mortar can’t just be a transactional experience; it has to be a relationship experience.

Summer Auerbach

Second-generation owner of Rainbow Blossom Natural Food Markets & Wellness Center, a five-store independent in Louisville, Kentucky

What was your earliest exposure to the store?

SA: The store is older than I am, so I literally grew up in the business. It’s been one of those true constants in my life. We lived on a farm outside the city, so the stores were my afterschool day care. I spent afternoons bagging groceries, then eventually checking people out, then answering questions. By the time I went to college, I’d worked in every department.

Since you took over Rainbow Blossom when your dad got cancer, you were kind of on your own. Was this tough?

SA: Our situation is so unique. I’ve been asked to speak on succession planning and I’ve said that what we did is model of what not to do! So many interesting family dynamics can get in the way of these transitions, so I think I was lucky to be able to prove myself when no one was watching. It let me build up trust in my competency.

Was there any friction with staff when you took over?

SA: I’ve ended up letting people go who babysat me. These are difficult dynamics, but ultimately we were trying to change the culture and a person needed to get on board or be gone.

Even though your parents aren’t directly involved in the business, do you ask them for advice?

SA: I’m so glad I have my dad when I need a confidant who has a different perspective. I call him for business advice because he’s always so even-headed. I call my mom more for emotional support and personnel issues. The industry has changed so much, so sometimes I tease my dad. He’ll say, “We sell so much soymilk!” And I’ll say, “Do you even know what year it is?” His perception of what we have to offer is so stuck in the past.

Do you think independent natural products stores have a bright future?

SA: A new study found that even though the narrative is that retail is losing at a big rate in this Amazon age, independents are better positioned to survive. But that story isn’t always being told. We’ve found this to be true. Since Amazon announced the Whole Foods merger, we’ve seen a spike in sales. People still like walking into a store, touching things, making impulse buys and having that retail therapy experience. But when you look at Macy’s or JC Penny, they are so big and need a certain amount of overhead. I think the smaller independents that can scale down, change their offerings and don’t need a giant footprint will probably survive.


The Analyst’s Take: Vision supplements poised for growth

Claire Morton

Americans now spend over 11 hours a day with their eyes glued to a screen, according to Nielsen research. The effects of that blue light exposure on our eye health has been a recent subject of research across the supplements industry.

Due to this renewed focus, previously stagnant vision and eye health supplements are projected to spike in growth through 2019, reaching $554 million annually. Specific ingredients on the rise include lutein, lycopene, astaxanthin, zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin.

See what products are growing in 22 categories, with 109 charts that show sales and growth by condition in the 2017 NBJ Condition Specific Report.

Esca Bona Supplier Hero: M2 Ingredients

Thinkstock medicinal mushrooms

When you think mushrooms, you probably think of the fruiting body growing above ground. And you might think of their historic use as immune-modulating substances (when you’re not thinking portobello burgers).

But mushrooms are more than that. Most of the action may reside in the below-ground mycelium—a wispy root system that links all mushrooms together. In fact, a few years ago, biologists around the world got in a contest to decide which was the largest living organism on earth. First it was the whale. Then the sequoia tree. Then it was a Colorado aspen grove (aspens grow by roots throwing up shoots, which grow into other trees, so an entire grove is linked by one root system). The final winner, however, was an Oregon mushroom patch that was connected by mycelium, and all of them in a vast acreage were found to be genetically identical.

Mycelium is the dynamic and enduring vegetative stage of the mushroom life cycle that can form the above-ground sexual fruit body stage of the mushroom life cycle when it has accumulated sufficient energy and nutrition and when environmental conditions favor and trigger fruit body development. Most of the life cycle of a mushroom and most of the total biomass of a mushroom is as mycelium.

In addition, the powders produced from the biomass contain the extra-cellular enzymes and secondary metabolites that diffuse into the cultured substrate it is grown upon. The cultured, fermented remnants of the organic substrate—myceliated organic oats, in the case of the company M2—is not an inert filler material, but is a functional ingredient. It contains oat beta-glucans, silica and silicic acid that happen to be deficient in many people’s diets. Thus, mushroom mycelian biomass products contain the entire life cycle of the mushroom and are truly a “whole food.”

The mushroom moment is here

“We believe that the word about the amazing capabilities and properties of mushroom mycelium and mushroom mycelial biomass products is getting out,” said mycologist Steve Farrar, M2 Ingredients’ chief technical officer. “A wider audience now knows not only what the term ‘mycelium’ means, but they also have an understanding of the role mycelium plays in the health of ourselves when we consume mushroom mycelial products.”

M2 is unique in that it started as strictly an ingredient supplier, but wanted to elevate consumer awareness of mushrooms and drive its ingredient business, so Carter decided to roll out some finished products under the Om Organic Mushroom Nutrition brand.

“Just in 2015 we were about 80/20, mostly ingredient sales,” said Sandra Carter, Ph.D., the two companies’ CEO. “Right now, we’re 50/50. We went through a lot of expansion in 2015 and 2016, and 2018 will outdo 2017 considerably.”

Most commercial mushroom-growing operations grow their mushrooms indoors in controlled environments. The great advantage of growing mushrooms in controlled environments is that mushrooms are bio-accumulators, so those grown outdoors are liable to soak up heavy metals. M2’s mushrooms are grown in a pristine indoor environment in specially designed bags for the mycelium to engulf the organic oat substrate. The entire biomass becomes inseparable. It all gets dried and used.

“We grow ours indoors in a 15,000-square-foot clean room, and that’s a big differentiator,” Carter said. “What you grow mushrooms on is really important because it becomes part of the finished product. The substrate really matters. And growing indoors, we don’t have the issue of toxicity. In fact, the accumulate nutritional components from the organic oats, like B vitamins and beta-glucans.” 

Carter said Farrar led the work on evaluating different substrates. Rice, which is often used, both has GMO (genetically modified organism) issues and also can get sticky. “Mycelium have trouble running through that dense, sticky matter,” Carter said. “Oats give them that tough cellulose to digest. They digest the oat matter, and that gives them a great nutritional piece.”

Formulation considerations

Because mushroom mycelian biomass powders contain more of the milder tasting mycelian stage of the mushroom life cycle and lesser amounts of the stronger, sometimes bitter flavor of the fruit body, the flavor of mycelian biomass powders does not overpower the flavor of other ingredients. 

“In general, all of the species of medicinal mushroom mycelial biomass powder that we produce have an earthy, somewhat nutty flavor profile,” Carter said. “It does not overpower the flavor of other ingredients in a super food powder blend or when incorporated into food items such as energy bars.”

She said that species like reishi and turkey tail have a slightly bitter flavor, while others such as maitake have a sweet taste component. 

“There are different aspects of different species that improve cognitive health, immune function, or help with sports,” said Carter. “They are really transformational. You can create a really enormous amount of different products using different mushrooms.”

Lion’s mane, for example, is being used in cognitive products. Chaga is an antioxidant with a folklore-type following. Cordyceps are used for endurance. And reishi is for immunity.

Mushroom powders can be consumed without additional heat treatment straight out of the container in fruit juices, fruit smoothies, green mixes, protein shakes and other food items. They can also be steeped in hot water to make a tea with other flavorings, or mixed in coffee, or cooked in soups, stews, sauces, oatmeal and more.

These mushroom powders are soluble, making them good in beverage formats. Carter said they have the ability to tweak powders to improve solubility even more, things like changing particle size to make it bigger or denser so it dissolves. 

“Almond milk with mushrooms binds and makes a nice, silky taste and flavor,” she said. 

Brands getting on board

In the case of Suja Juice, the company turbocharged its line of kombucha drinks with different adaptogens such as M2’s reishi mushrooms, and it plans on expanding its mushroom-infused beverages in the next year. 

“It was a natural fit to incorporate reishi in our kombucha for bolstered functionality,” said Bryan Riblett, Suja’s vice president of commercialization and chief innovation officer. “We felt lucky and fortunate to source from a team producing superior quality, organic products. I think we are just beginning to tap into the possibilities of these amazing ingredients.”

M2 occasionally does concept testing work and works with brands to ensure they get the most appropriate mushroom for what the brand is marketing. They stay in touch with brands throughout the product development process.

“Often customers will send us a product so we can do benchtop work ourselves,” Carter said. “We might say that this species will be better depending on your product and what you’re looking to do.”

She said the next generation of mushroom finished product inclusion is foods.

“Brands are starting to approach us and are realizing that if they’re going to make a veggie burger, let’s put in reishi or lion’s mane,” Carter said. “For consumers, it’s let’s eat a veggie burger and have the benefit of supplements without eating a capsule.”

The Esca Bona Supplier Heroes is a reccurring feature on suppliers that fuel innovation in the good food supply chain. These features explore the brand story, innovation, supply chain investment, research and partnerships that these companies undertake to improve the food system and consumer health. Esca Bona is an event and brand spearheaded by New Hope Network that champions the good food movement by helping finished product brands improve their supply chain, support the people who create food, and best harness technology and innovation.

This piece originally appeared on Natural Products Insider, a New Hope Network sister website. Visit the site for more news and insight on supplements and regulatory issues.

Natural Products Expo

Healthy INSIDER Podcast: Expo West 2018 trends

In this episode of the Healthy INSIDER Podcast, Heather Granato, vice president of content, Informa Exhibitions; Judie Bizzozero, editor, Food Insider Journal; and Rachel Adams, INSIDER managing editor; discuss the top trends they discovered at Expo West 2018.

This piece originally appeared on Natural Products Insider, a New Hope Network sister website. Visit the site for more news and insight on supplements and regulatory issues.