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Articles from 2018 In June

[email protected]: How startups are preventing food waste | ADM buys U.K. probiotic powerhouse

In this session at Natural Products Expo West 2018, three industry insiders reveal the what, why and how of transparency, along with compelling consumer research and special issues to consider in the somewhat tricky world of supplements.

How these startups are waging a war on food waste

Many companies are taking different avenues to address the $218 billion food waste problem. Some are making smart packaging that uses sensors to detect or communicate when food is going bad. Others, like Apeel and BluWrap, work to extend the shelf life of food. Some, like Renewal Mill and ReGrained, take a reactive approach, finding new uses for food production byproducts. Yet others work to prevent waste in the first place, like Loliware, which is making seaweed-based, edible eating and drinking utensils. Read more at Boss Magazine…


ADM expands portfolio with $243 million acquisition of UK probiotics company

Food processing and ingredient company Archer Daniels Midland Co. will acquire U.K.-based probiotics maker Probiotics International Ltd., known under its umbrella brand Protexin. “We took a major step in this area last year with the addition of Biopolis, and then added to our capabilities with our personalized nutrition collaboration with Mayo Clinic, our joint development agreement with Vland Biotech, and our new enzyme lab in California," said ADM Health & Wellness President Vikram Luthar. The deal is expected to close in the third quarter. Read more at Herald & Review…


Don’t overlook private brand opportunities in natural frozen

Frozen food products with organic, free-from and functional claims grew 16.6 percent last year, versus 1.5 percent for the entire frozen category, according to SPINS. Top-performing categories include plant-based entrees, gluten-free pizza and crust, and products with added prebiotics. Read more at Store Brands…


Iowa college rivals unite to unleash eco-conscious energy bars at Ankeny Hy-Vee store

Unwrapp’d Energy Bar Dough is a two-year old, eco-friendly DIY nutrition bar company that makes refrigerated protein bar doughs in recyclable tubs, rather than individually wrapped in plastic or foil. "The technology for packaging nutrition bars with eco-friendly packaging does not exist,” says founder and CEO Tom Miner. Eventually, the founders hope to enable people to return the tubs to them to be refilled instead of recycled. Their doughs are made from dates, nuts, seeds and coconut flour, without added sugars or eggs. Read more at Des Moines Register…


Smucker partners with Columbus firm to identify innovative startups

The food company has tapped Rev1 Ventures, an accelerator and venture capital fund, to align more closely with companies that are transforming ingredient and process technology, snacking, commodity and supply chain. Read more at Crain’s Cleveland Business…

Natural Foods Merchandiser

Jason Bander: Standing out in the city

Jason Bander LifeThyme

When it comes to grabbing groceries or a quick bite, New Yorkers have more options than people pretty much anywhere.

So for an independent natural products store to stand out from the countless corner markets, natural food chains, quick-service restaurants and big-box stores, it must offer shoppers something pretty special. After 23 years of bustling business, it’s clear that LifeThyme All-Natural Market does just that.

When the store opened in 1995, natural wasn’t hip, organic was still newish, and healthy? Well, for much of America, that meant margarine, bagels and Snackwell’s. But LifeThyme’s founders felt New Yorkers deserved better—and they delivered, with an oasis of fresh organic produce, a full range of nutritious natural groceries and even a vegan bakery. The reputation the store built for quality, service and unique product offerings in those early days has lasted through today. NFM spoke with General Manager Jason Bander about how LifeThyme stays on the cutting edge and outshines its ever-increasing competition.

What was your path to LifeThyme?

Jason Bander: LifeThyme was started by my father and two partners, so I am in line to become a second-generation owner. My background is actually in trading and asset management, but LifeThyme was built across the street from where I lived, so assisting with the construction and grand opening was a convenient side project at the time. Years later, when the store and its ownership were going through a major transition, I was approached to help out.

Why do customers choose LifeThyme over the countless other places they could shop?

JB: The store is in a great location in Manhattan’s West Village, but mainly, our reputation is what draws in customers. LifeThyme is a known pioneer and product incubator. Our selection of quality, locally produced groceries, dairy and produce is unmatched. All of our produce is organic and relatively exclusive to us. We have curated strong relationships with farms so that we can truly say to customers, we are “bringing the farmers market to you.” And no one makes better vegan, gluten-free baked goods than us, let alone the full selection of goods we produce for special dietary needs. Our kitchen and vegan bakery are more influential than we can estimate. We’ve seen so many derivative businesses come and go over the years, and we know they were influenced by us.

Your bakery has always been vegan?

JB: Yes, 100 percent, by the fortune of hiring a baker in the early days who said, “I only bake vegan.” Done. This has survived as it has been handed down through several teams of bakers. Our bakery also uses only unrefined flours and sugars, is mostly organic and is still uniquely exceptional. I mean, does any bakery counter-cut cake anymore? We still do. We have considered easing the standards to include non-vegan ingredients such as honey and whey protein, but we haven’t made any decisions yet. It’s important to keep our finger on the pulse.

Who is your main competition?

JB: Today is far different than 1995. Now we sit quite uncomfortably at the epicenter of (soon-to-be) three Trader Joe’s within a half-mile, give or take, and roughly four Whole Foods Markets if we stretch the radius. Big-box stores and e-tailers are intense competition that motivate us to adapt and sharpen our retailing skills. We also see more competition thanks to the mainstreaming of natural products.

How do you maintain your competitive edge?

JB: We regularly evaluate and curate new products for the next best-in-class. We incubate brands that radiate transparency, quality, integrity and sincerity. These products sit alongside their competitors for the discerning shopper’s intuitive choice. When a product does well here, it’s a draw. Because of our unique position as an incubator for startups, we recognized the value of LifeThyme as an anchor for their growth. We aim to protect interest in the brands we build, so we created an investment capital fund many years ago that functions to help smaller brands while we secure a stake in their growth.
Also, we joined the Independent Natural Food Retailers Association back in 2011. INFRA is a great strategic partner and provides a host of valuable resources that enable us to improve and offer better pricing.

How important is marketing to standing out?

JB: Marketing and audience identification are so critical to keeping our head above water when our customer base is so easily lured by the omnipotent big-box retail competitors. Today we carry a budget for planning, execution, social media presence and advertising. We share expectations with our vendors to actively support their brands.

What are the biggest challenges you face as an independent in Manhattan?

JB: There are many, but No. 1 is the cost of doing business. NYC is more in alignment with national retail chains than ever before—small businesses like LifeThyme work hard to make it look easy. Also, innovation. We’re an older business competing against new corporate retail models with modern blueprints and larger budgets.

Do you do a lot of grocery delivery?

JB: Yes, always. This is New York City, so we’re very much a pedestrian-centric business. But many folks shop and have their bags delivered—that is normal for us. And on bad-weather days, our delivery business spikes. We co-brand with online shopping and delivery startup But we are challenged by the migration to a click-and-shop platform because our inventory and product selection is not hard-coded.

Being in New York City, LifeThyme and its customers are on the forefront of new food trends. So what’s next?

JB: We continually roll out new products that capture the early stages of a trending movement, such as what we did with paleo, not knowing the term until the trend was formalized. Right now we are incubating a few locally produced, hot new styles of seeded cracker, a high-protein, no-sugar snack, as well as grain-free cookie brittle and international foods. Shoppers here are xenophiles—they love specialty foods from abroad and adaptations of them. At the same time, they are fairly parochial in their shopping radius. So that opens the doors for us to introduce them to international foods we love that you can only find in the outer boroughs. We also anticipate a growing movement toward prepared grab-and-go foods given the convenience factor that rules in this area of NYC.

Do you have plans to open more locations?

JB: We are enduring a four-year-long (and counting!) major renovation of our infrastructure, exterior and interior that includes the implementation of new state-of-the-art self-checkout units. We’re continuing the branding and rebranding process to maintain a competitive edge with our super-heavyweight competition. We have no plans to open another location as of now. Rather, we are focused on our many opportunities to participate in “road shows,” where we bring our food production to offsite events.

Trump's talk of tariffs and trade wars poses unknowable challenge for supplement industry

wael alreweie/iStock/Getty Images Plus China U.S. tariffs

Call it a trade war or call it the bluffs and feints of political theater, but White House bluster on tariffs and threats of escalating retaliation, with China as a focus, have some in the supplement industry concerned, if not worried.

Scott Steinford, who leads the CoQ10 Association and is building a set of single-ingredient trade groups through his Trust Transparency consultancy, has witnessed the on-again/off-again policy gyrations up close. CoQ10 was on a list of proposed import tariffs, but was removed. That shifting uncertainty proves that every supplement company needs to be involved and attentive, he says. “I think people believe it’s not going to happen, but I think people in other industries that have been affected were thinking the same thing.

“Just because we dodged the bullet now doesn’t mean that we’re not going to be impacted in some form or another,” Steinford says.

TSI Health Sciences co-founder Larry Kolb says he and his executive staff are watching the trade talk closely but have been unable to make concrete plans because there has not been enough consistency in the dialogue to make predictions. “You just have to keep going, because there is nothing you can do,” he says.

Kolb explains that a TSI ingredients, Ostivone, has already shown up on a list of tariff targets, but he describes the overall situation as “a crapshoot” at this point. “Nobody knows if the other side is going to blink,” Kolb says.

Steinford and others note that even if the trade war fizzles, the tone of the back-and-forth coming out of the White House has not been helpful. “Just the rhetoric is harmful,” says NOW Foods CEO Jim Emme. “There are many ways to put up trade barriers that go beyond a tariff, and that’s probably where the biggest risks lie.”

Emme points to potential problems with product registration in China as one example and notes that ripple effects across international markets could cause problems for an industry that has been a “made in the USA” success story. “Right now, our fastest growing channel is international,” Emme says.

Steinford says that the way conversations are conducted in the media by President Donald Trump and others can “filter down to levels that are more emotional.” Business, particularly in China, often happens at that more personal level. “The tone of conversation can be as impactful as the outcome of the conversation,” Steinford says.

But not everybody is concerned the bombast will have a lasting effect when dollar signs enter the equation. BI Nutraceuticals CEO George Pontiakos calls the matter—at least so far—little more than stagecraft. “This is all theater for the media, on both sides,” Pontiakos charges. “Neither country wants a trade war. Neither country can afford a trade war.”

In the end, Pontiakos says, agricultural imports and exports will not be casualties of a trade war. The commodities are too mundane for the headline-grabbing that is much of the target of the talk, he says. “Nobody is going to be wringing their hands over vitamin D.”

Still, some companies are already seeing problems in planning around the threat of tariffs and other measures.

Beth Lambert, CEO at Herbalist & Alchemist, says her company has to view orders through a lens skewed by uncertainty. “Rather than selling as much as we can sell of products with herbs grown in China, we now have to pay careful attention to orders from larger clients who buy in sizeable quantities to make sure we will have enough to meet our production schedule for our formulas,” Lambert says.

Even without tariffs, shifts in trade policy could manifest in shipping delays and other challenges. Uncertainty can hurt companies like hers, Lambert says. “We’re an example of how these changing trade policies truly do affect livelihoods of people in small towns.”

Stories like Lambert's could resonate with people who influence how the trade policy develops. Council for Responsible Nutrition President and CEO Steve Mister says his organization is having conversations with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and contacts in Congress about the unique position of the supplement industry, with companies both dependent on ingredients from China to manufacture supplements and those looking to China as a market to sell the finished product. Supplements are a positive trade story for the United States and a situation where tariff's could kill jobs.

“There are so many countries where the fact that the supplement is made in the United States is a real point of differentiation,” Mister says.

CRN has signed onto a letter supporting an amendment from Tennessee’s Sen. Bob Corker that would limit the president’s ability to unilaterally set trade policy. Beyond that, and conversations with Congress, trade groups have to play the trade war situation carefully, Mister says. He advises against grassroots letter writing or other activities that would raise the profile of the supplement industry.

“There are some ingredients that are already kind of getting caught, but for the most part, the supplements industry has not been on the radar yet,” Mister says. “You don’t want to put yourself on the radar more than we already are.”

The uncertainty and the nature of the conflict leave companies in a frustrating spot, Emme notes. It’s not time to threaten or even talk about moving production offshore, "but certainly it’s a real-life situation," and it’s difficult to make plans around a supply chain that’s both global and firmly rooted in China. "There's not much we can do,” Emme says. “And we’ve got to be careful about chasing phantoms."


How to use advertising to crush your Amazon goals

Sam Hager Booyah

If you’re asking the question, “Why would I want to advertise on Amazon?” then you should probably start with my article on leveling the playing field on Amazon. But if you’ve moved past that stage and are thinking to yourself, “I should probably be advertising on Amazon,” then you’ve come to the right place. Equally, if you’re already advertising on Amazon there are some gems in here for you too, so stick with me.

But seriously, can I advertise my stuff?

Whether you are a seller or vendor on the platform (your relationship with Amazon is a whole other article worth of breakdown), you can advertise your products to millions of shoppers. The main thing to know is that your relationship with Amazon determines how and where you can advertise on the platform. In this article, we are speaking strictly about advertising on the Amazon platform.

The primary ways to engage with Amazon are either as a vendor or as a seller. Not surprisingly, Amazon does a funny thing in which they have named their advertising platform for vendors, Amazon Marketing Services (AMS), but not the advertising platform for sellers (no fancy acronym in sight). For our purposes, we will refer to Vendor Central Advertising as “AMS” and Seller Central advertising as “SC".

Types of on-platform advertising

On the Amazon platform, there are three distinct ad units, or ad types, that you can utilize. All three of them are based on a Cost Per Click (CPC) model of spending.

Sponsored Product Ads (SPA): Available to both SC and AMS accounts, this is the most prevalent and common ad unit on the platform. SPA Ads also tend to be a bit more cost effective from a CPC and return standpoint.

  • Displays one product at a time, often your best seller related to the term that was searched.
  • Appears on search results pages as well as on product detail pages.
  • Great for gaining exposure while driving new customer acquisition.
  • Targeting based on keyword.
  • Best data transparency in comparison to the other two ad types.
  • Largest reach by number of impressions available.

Headline Search Ads (HSA): This ad unit is available to both SC and AMS accounts. Keyword level reporting is available for this ad type but there is no search term report to support analysis.

  • Displays three of your products across the top, bottom, middle or side of the search page for a larger share of the search page “real estate” (much like a banner ad).
  • Appears on search result pages only.
  • Great for brand protection or awareness building on brand-agnostic keywords given the visual space that the ad unit occupies.
  • Targeting based on keyword.
  • 50 characters of copy available to communicate your offering.

Product Display Ads (PDA): This ad unit is available to AMS accounts only. Seller Central does not (yet) have access to PDA ads. There is only campaign level reporting for this ad type with no keyword, location or ASIN level data available.

  • Displays one product at a time below the Buy Box of another ASIN’s detail page.
  • Great for direct conquesting of competitors and awareness building.
  • Can target customers browsing with specific "interests" such as customers in-market for “snacks, cookies and candy.”
  • Can also directly target competitor ASINs.
  • 50 characters of copy available to communicate your offering.

So where do I go from here?

As you can see, each ad type on the Amazon advertising platform has its merits. From a strategic standpoint, what’s most important is that you first define what you’re trying to accomplish with your advertising efforts. We call this objective-based management. Once you have defined your objectives, you can set out to allocate your budget across the ad types, using each one for a specific purpose that lines up with your objectives. Once you have this in place, you can start iterating and optimizing your ads to crush your Amazon goals.

Sam Hager is a marketplace strategist and Amazon advertising expert at Booyah Advertising, a full-service digital agency.

Hear more from Hager on leveraging advertising to sell more on Amazon. Watch the replay of our recent BrandCamp webinar, Navigating Amazon—A How-to for Sales and Marketing.

Just getting started on Amazon? Consider these factors when choosing a platform

Getty Images worker packing Amazon package

Amazon has made online shopping so simple for consumers, but oh-so-complicated for brands.

“It was really daunting starting out on Amazon, and there was just so much we didn’t know,” said Erika Welsh, co-founder and chief marketing officer of nut butter company Wild Friends Foods. “It was a really steep learning curve.”

Welsh shared her experience in the most recent episode of the New Hope Network webinar series BrandCamp, which explores some of the toughest challenges in growing a natural products business today.

One of the first big decisions a brand must make is deciding what platform to sell on, which, for most packaged food and personal care brands, means weighing the pros and cons of Seller Central and Vendor Central.

Brands that engage with Amazon through Seller Central are technically a third-party and are selling directly to customers, giving them more control around that experience, said Andy Thompson, a marketplace strategist at digital marketing agency Booyah. On the other hand, brands must be invited to engage through Vendor Central, and in that case they sell wholesale to Amazon just as they would to any other retailer, while Amazon is actively pricing their products on the platform.

For Welsh and the small startup team that Wild Friends had when it first started selling on Amazon, it made more sense to start with Seller Central, which had a lower barrier to entry and allowed the company more control. “We’d heard stories about retailers being upset about brands’ pricing on Amazon, [so we were cognizant about] setting a price that wasn’t going to upset any of our retail partners,” Welsh said on the webinar. Seller Central also allowed Wild Friends to collect some good customer data, adhere to a more flexible fulfillment timeline, receive payment quicker and access Seller Support services, she added.

But as the brand has grown, Welsh said it’s converted most of its Amazon business to Vendor Central to simplify the selling and distribution process and take advantage of more rich marketing and brand storytelling opportunities.

For skin care company Thrive Natural Care, the transition went the other way. Following its launch in Whole Foods Market stores in 2014, Thrive was approached by Amazon, which was at that time starting up its Launchpad program for startups and beta testing what is now A+ Content, a program that allows for vendors to enhance their product pages with media and detailed product descriptions. “We saw a really good opportunity as a really small brand to partner with them and to do something other than just talk about our price and maybe a few ingredients,” co-founder and CEO Alex McIntosh said on the webinar.

But by 2016, the company had transitioned most of its business to Seller Central. “What made that a good bet for us was that we had really clean distribution, so we knew that we could own the Buy Box entirely, or at least consistently,” McIntosh said.

Booyah's Thompson and his colleague Sam Hager offered up some considerations for brands when deciding which platform is best:

  • Fee structures
  • Pricing control
  • Content
  • How you receive money
  • How much data you want
  • How you want to engage with the customer

For more on the pros and cons of Vendor Central and Seller Central, plus an overview of key factors for Amazon success, how to optimize your listing quality, and considerations for harmonizing e-commerce and brick and mortar, purchase the BrandCamp: Navigating Amazon replay. 

[email protected]: Brands rethink products, packaging for e-commerce | Amazon jumps into health care

Thinkstock grocery shopping online

How Whole Foods’ suppliers are shifting from shelves to screens to better sell on Amazon

As a result of Amazon encouraging more crossover between online and brick-and-mortar shopping, some brands that had previously stayed offline are jumping on—and they’re retooling their packaging and products to sell better online. Lillabee Baking, for example, redesigned its paperboard baking mix boxes into pouches to make them more durable for shipping and more appealing for e-commerce. And cider company Red Jacket Orchards debuted a 52 oz. version of its beverage online, instead of the single serve or 64 oz. version it sells in stores, to optimize shipping costs. Read more at Inc…


Amazon makes $1 billion splash in health care, buying PillPack

Amazon has just acquired access to a big chunk of the U.S. prescription drug market by buying PillPack, a medication subscription service that packages people’s pills into daily packs and delivers them monthly. The prescription drug industry was already in the midst of a shakeup as insurance companies and drug-benefit managers team up to take on what they suspected would be a move from Amazon. Industry watchers say the most immediate threat from the deal is to pharmacy chains like Walgreens and CVS. Read more at Bloomberg…


Behind Conagra’s $10.9B deal for Pinnacle Foods: Why the frozen food aisle is suddenly so hot

The deal announced yesterday is the biggest global food deal yet this year, according to financial markets platform Dealogic. It puts a spotlight on frozen food, which is a bright spot for growth among the otherwise lackluster center-store categories. But center store still commands more sales than perimeter categories—$344 billion last year, to be exact. And, in the last year, frozen sales were up 1.8 percent, outpacing dairy and packaged groceries, according to Nielsen. Read more at Forbes…


This female founder raised over $1 million for a zero-waste beauty brand

Sure, many companies sell “all natural” beauty products, but they’re wrapped in plastic packaging that ends up in the landfill. So says Ethique, a zero-waste beauty brand in New Zealand that sells waterless shampoos, moisturizers, serums and more in solid form, packaged in compostable boxes free of laminates and plastic coatings. Read more at Forbes…


Palm oil sustainability group suspends Nestle on failure to submit report

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil suspended Nestle’s membership as a result of the company not submitting an annual report to explain how it had ensured—and would ensure in the coming year—that it was using sustainable palm oil. Read more at Reuters…


Has the internet ushered in an era of choice fatigue?

online shopping choice fatigue nail polish

Anybody who has shopped online for anything from a bike helmet to a pair of winter gloves knows that the convenience of shopping from the sofa is easily eclipsed by the tedious task of choosing which Bluetooth speaker or gloves to buy. It’s hard enough in a store. Online, the choices can feel infinite and overwhelming.

It’s easy enough to point and click, but each choice offers a constellation of options and information. And not just reviews of the product, but reviews of the online outlet selling the product. All the while, the consumer is reviewing the reviewers, wondering which appraisal of that bike helmet is fair and accurate. The time spent ferreting out the best price for the best product saps some of the convenience out of the equation. And that’s before you start prowling the blogs for the latest word on the category and the hot new model that’s surely coming out as soon as you click the “complete purchase” button.

This could explain why some of the more notable “digital disruption” is happening in categories that fit well into a subscription model. Men who join the Dollar Shave Club don’t have to think about which razor is best or where to buy it. Pick out the right dog food for Bandit on and he’ll lose his animosity for the mailman pretty quickly.

That’s what we see in how consumers approach natural products online. Supplements and natural living are growing far faster than food. Outside of staples, food is a new set of choices every day. Get on a supplement regiment and you know exactly how much you need every month. How often do you need to change your shampoo or your moisturizer brand? It’s early in the game on food, and Amazon’s purchase of Whole Food suggests that a hybrid model that mixes stores and two-hour delivery will develop, but for supplements and natural living, no such evolution was required.

Sales growth, as detailed in the new NBJ Sales Channel Report, suggests which natural product categories will do best in the subscription era. While online sales of natural and organic food and beverage grew strongly at 10 percent to reach $2.4 billion in 2017, natural living products grew at 14 percent. That growth may come off a smaller base—$821 million in 2017—but the easy fit into the subscription model suggests the numbers could eclipse food if trends continue. Supplements are already there. Sales in 2017 reached $3.2 billion on 15 percent growth.

The NBJ Sales Channel Report features more information about sales growth, broken down by sales channel, as well as proprietary research that details which product categories consumers see fitting best into which categories. Consumers may be overwhelmed by choices, but choosing which channels a brand should pursue is easier with data.


What Whole Foods Market's latest GMO policy decision means

Megan Westgate

When Whole Foods Market first announced its GMO labeling transparency initiative at Natural Products Expo West in March 2013, it made history by being the first national retailer to set a deadline for GMO labeling. While many co-ops and independents had blazed the trail with product policies encouraging a non-GMO commitment, the Whole Foods announcement was bigger and bolder than anything that had come before and it forever changed the natural products industry.

At the Non-GMO Project, we had been steadily engaging brands in our Product Verification Program since 2008, with the first butterfly labels showing up in stores in 2010. While we were progressively gaining ground, it was often still a hard sell. Many companies, even those committed to natural and organic, were reluctant to do the hard work and testing required by the Non-GMO Project Standard.

The policy Whole Foods announced in 2013 changed the conversation. While it didn’t require brands to become non-GMO, it said that any products that weren’t either Non-GMO Project Verified or certified organic would have to be labeled to disclose that they might contain GMO ingredients.

For brands that hadn’t already committed to non-GMO, this put the conversation in stark terms. It made it clear that avoiding the issue was a losing proposition—the spotlight was about to shine on the GMO issue more brightly than ever, and brands needed to be ready. The industry responded quickly, and overnight we saw a doubling in the monthly number of products submitted to the Non-GMO Project Product Verification Program.

Fast forward five years. At Natural Products Expo West this past March, Whole Foods held two supplier workshops focused on the transparency initiative. Compared with similar previous sessions, the workshops were sparsely attended, presumably because, with a clock ticking toward a Sept. 1, 2018, deadline, most suppliers already knew what the policy required and/or had already come into compliance.

Then on May 3, the USDA published its long-awaited draft of the National Bioengineered Disclosure Standard as required by a law passed in July 2016. Two weeks later, Whole Foods announced to suppliers that it was “pausing” its GMO labeling policy deadline. Many have wondered what to make of this—is Whole Foods backing down from its commitment?

The short answer is that the “pause” is a perfectly logical response, and really the only prudent one from a risk mitigation standpoint. Remember that when Whole Foods put its policy in place in 2013, the idea of mandatory federal GMO labeling seemed fantastical at best. Retailers were taking stands precisely because the government was not. In the wake of heroic grassroots efforts to secure mandatory labeling at the state level, in 2015 industry pressure began to grow to create a federal labeling bill that could preempt the state laws. Proponents argued that this was necessary to avoid a “patchwork” of laws across the country; opponents claimed that the federal rule would undoubtedly be weaker than what had already been obtained in some states and as such would be a step backwards.

While the draft of the rule published May 3 leaves many questions unanswered (including how much less rigorous, clear and accessible it will be than some state bills), one thing that’s not vague is its scope. It WILL be the regulatory authority for how GMO claims are made, including by prescribing exactly what phrases and acronyms can be used. This is why Whole Foods really had no choice but to pause its deadline; it can’t enforce a requirement to label GMOs if the language in its policy goes against the language in the federal law.

And have no doubt, there is a high likelihood the Whole Foods policy will conflict with the National Bioengineered Disclosure Act. Why? Because the language and acronyms proposed in the May 3 draft of the federal rule are ludicrous. According to the draft, the only allowed term would be “bioengineered,” a medical term that has no meaning in the food industry and no clear association for consumers with “genetic engineering” (the more familiar language used in the Whole Foods policy). Further, rather than the universally recognized acronym “GMO,” the USDA is proposing use of a newly invented acronym—“BE.” That’s right, they literally invented an acronym—about as far from transparent as you can get! (If you share my ire, please check out the Non-GMO Project’s webinar and blog on how to comment on the draft standard—the deadline is July 3, 2018).

In summary, the Whole Foods “pause” does NOT indicate a backing away from the issue, nor does it indicate that GMO transparency is lessening in importance. The retailer has made clear that the non-GMO aspect of its policy remains in effect—this includes a requirement for non-GMO claims to be verified by an approved third party such as the Non-GMO Project. Whole Foods was clear in its May 18 communication that it still will not promote or advertise a product as non-GMO unless it has been third-party verified.

Meanwhile, more consumers than ever are seeking out non-GMO products, with a recent Hartman report showing that 46 percent of shoppers are now actively avoiding GMOs. For brands looking to win shoppers’ trust, as well as comply with the Whole Foods policy and avoid hassles from the impending federal law, the simple solution is to get Non-GMO Project Verified.

Megan Westgate helped launch the Non-GMO Project in 2006. She became Executive Director in 2007 and has been hard at work to protect the future of non-GMO food ever since.

[email protected]: Conagra's Pinnacle buy shows faith in frozen | Hawaii bans sunscreen chemicals with entrepreneur's help

Conagra Conagra brands

Conagra to buy Pinnacle for $8.1 billion, creating frozen food powerhouse

Conagra Brands Inc., which owns brands including Blake’s All Natural Foods, Healthy Choice, Hunt’s, Angie’s Boom Chicka Pop, Alexia and Swiss Miss, will make a push further into snacks and frozen foods with its $8.1 million acquisition of Pinnacle. The parent company of Boulder Brands, Pinnacle counts Gardein, Evol, Glutino and Udi’s as part of its portfolio. Once complete, the deal would make Conagra the second-biggest frozen food maker, behind Nestle. Conagra CEO Sean Connolly says the deal will also improve the company’s relationship with retailers and reduce its supply chain costs. Read more at Reuters…


Longmont-based business lobbies to ban chemical sunscreens

Nova Covington founded natural sunscreen and cosmetics company Goddess Garden with her husband, Paul Halter, out of concern for their daughter, who was allergic to some of the chemical ingredients in conventional skin care products. Now the company is becoming a leader in the movement to do away with sunscreen chemicals—like octinoxate and oxybenzone—thought to harm coral reefs. Covington played a crucial role in the success of a bill recently passed in Hawaii that bans sunscreens with these ingredients. She petitioned the Hawaii governor to sign the bill and got more than 50,000 signatures of support, and sent letters to Hawaiian senators. Read more at Denver Post…


Finless Foods secures $3.5M seed round led by Draper Associates

Investors continue to put money behind alternative protein and meat replacements. This time it’s lab-grown seafood company Finless Foods, which uses cellular biology to grow fish in bioreactors. The year-old company, founded by two biochemists and accelerated at IndieBio, says it’s already “dramatically lowered cost and secured precious cellular material that will push us into rapid commercialization within years.” The round brings the company to the end of its initial R&D phase and will allow it to move into production. Read more at Medium…


Danone considers selling organic produce company

Interest from potential buyers has prompted Danone to consider divesting Earthbound Farm, say sources cited by Reuters, as the company looks to revamp its North American fresh foods business. Earthbound Farm, which markets packaged greens, fruits and vegetables, was acquired by WhiteWave Foods in 2014 and became part of Danone in 2017 when it bought Earthbound Farm. Though Danone may still opt to Keep the brand and turn the fresh foods unit around, the sources say, a deal could fetch up to $500 million. Read more at Bloomberg…


Red meat allergies caused by tick bites are on the rise

Over the last 10 years, more people have been diagnosed with alpha-gal meat allergies due to Lone Star tick bites. By one physician’s estimate, there are more than 5,000 diagnosed cases in the U.S. alone. It’s likely that ticks get alpha gal, a sugar that occurs in animals, from feeding off of wild animals and inject humans with it when they bite, stimulating an immune response that produces antibodies to a particular sugar in red meat. Read more at NPR…

Vitamin K2-7 supplementation linked with heart health

Thinkstock/Hywards vitamin K2 atherosclerosis

One in four deaths each year in the United States is caused by heart disease, according to the CDC, and coronary heart disease, also known as coronary artery disease, is the most common form of heart disease in the U.S. This disease is caused by plaque buildup in the walls of the arteries that supply blood to the heart and body. The plaque causes the arteries to narrow over time, which may partially or completely block blood flow.

Recent research has reaffirmed vitamin K2’s ability to improve arterial stiffness. In nature, the fat soluble vitamin K comes in two forms—vitamin K1 (phylloquinone) and vitamin K2 (menaquinones). Phylloquinone is primarily found in leafy green vegetables and is the main dietary form of vitamin K. Menaquinones, which are predominantly from bacteria, are present in modest amounts in some animal and fermented foods such as natto, hard cheeses, soft cheese, egg yolk, chicken breast and ground beef. 

The research study looked at renal transplant patients, as subclinical vitamin K levels are very common in this population. These low vitamin K levels have been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. This study looked specifically at change in vitamin K status and indices of arterial stiffness after eight weeks of 360 mcg/day vitamin K2 supplementation.

Fifty-three percent of the participants had subclinical vitamin K levels. Supplementation was correlated with a 14.2 percent reduction in mean carotid-femoral pulse wave velocity, a measure of arterial stiffness. There was also a 40 percent reduction in subclinical vitamin K deficiency. Controls were age, duration of hemodialysis and transplantation, and the change in 24-hour mean arterial pressure. 

Previous studies have shown that vitamin K2 is associated with the inhibition of arterial calcification and arterial stiffening in healthy postmenopausal women. This presumably occurs because the vitamin K2 activates matrix GLA protein, which stops the deposits of calcium on arterial walls. Low vitamin K intake could impair the process of calcium removal and increases the risk of calcification of blood vessels. Because of the limited availability to consume vitamin K2 even in a healthy Western diet, supplementation could be a means of lowering calcium-associated health risks and promoting heart health.