Teamsters strike again at UNFI's Fort Wayne distribution center

Teamsters Local 414 Teamsters strike again at UNFI's Fort Wayne distribution center

Members of Teamsters Local Union 414 went on strike Thursday at the United Natural Foods Inc. (UNFI) distribution center in Fort Wayne, Indiana, an action the grocery wholesaler called illegal.

About 160 member drivers, warehouse and maintenance workers are taking part in the work stoppage, according to the local. The union, which represents 2,500 Teamsters members overall in Fort Wayne and northeastern Indiana, claims UNFI engaged in unfair labor practices by arbitrarily firing two members.

A “major issue of contention,” Teamsters Local 414 said, involves a work rule on how union employees must respond when given a direct order by an UNFI supervisor or manager. The local reported it has filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board in connection with the firing of a 35-year Fort Wayne DC worker for allegedly failing to respond to a supervisor’s order. One other member was fired and another suspended under similar circumstances, the union said. The union steward wasn't present when the supervisor gave the order, according to the union.

“The big issue is whether a union steward or another member has to be present when UNFI supervisors issue that order,” Local 414 said in a July 21 message to membership. “Our historic work rules require the presence of a union steward or member when such an order is issued.”

In addition, the local said UNFI employee members have been working without a contract “for many months,” despite participating in collective bargaining for almost a year.

UNFI on Thursday denounced Teamsters Local 414 for “rejecting a highly competitive long-term contract” and “initiating an illegal strike amidst the COVID-19 crisis” at the Fort Wayne DC, a former facility of Supervalu, which UNFI acquired in a $2.9 billion deal in 2018.

“We’re deeply disturbed that Local 414’s leadership in Fort Wayne, Indiana, has chosen to disregard the best interests of its own members and orchestrate a counterproductive illegal strike,” Jill Sutton, chief legal officer of UNFI, said in a statement. “UNFI put on the table a generous four-year contract offer that would preserve health plan benefits for current associates, maintain pension contributions and provide strong annual wage increases in line with other facilities in the Midwest. 

"In exchange for delivering this stability and security to our valued associates, we asked Local 414’s leaders to meet us halfway on updating decades-old work rules and operational policies with terms aligned to other standard union agreements across the country. Unfortunately, Local 414’s leadership rejected a generous offer that would have provided meaningful security and stability to associates over a single provision that is completely out of line with our other contracts or common market practice.”

During the pandemic, UNFI has stepped up support of employees—including workers at the Fort Wayne facility—by implementing $2-per-hour “temporary state of emergency” bonuses, investing in cleaning and safety practices, and easing time-off policies and production standards, according to Sutton.

“We’re particularly disappointed that during a time when Americans are facing extreme economic pressures, Local 414’s leadership is unwilling to protect its members by accepting our four-year contract that includes annual wage increases and preserved benefits,” she added.

However, Teamsters Local 414 said dozens of rounds of talks with UNFI since last August have proved fruitless in producing a new contract.

“Over the course of more than 40 bargaining sessions, we have worked hard to reach an agreement with UNFI for a new collective bargaining agreement. Unfortunately, we have not reached an agreement. Several open issues remain, including health insurance, wages and work rules,” Teamsters Local 414 said in a July message to members.

“Throughout these negotiations, developing trust has been difficult. UNFI came into negotiations with a number of extreme proposals, including proposals regarding work rules, subcontracting, management rights, mandatory arbitration of individual civil rights claims, and changes to the standards of production,” the union stated. “It took months for UNFI to move off some of the more extreme proposals. In the process, Local 414’s bargaining committee was flexible in its efforts to reach agreement, including by making major movement toward a primary goal of UNFI to revamp work rules that have been in place for more than 30 years. Yet we have not reach agreement.”

As a result of the strike, UNFI is now implementing contingency plans and enlisting third-party partners to maintain business continuity, according to Jim Gehr, chief supply chain officer.

“UNFI will not allow a localized labor dispute in Fort Wayne to impede our long-term customer service in the Midwest region or anywhere else, especially during the pandemic,” Gehr said Thursday.

“UNFI remains steadfast in supporting its associates while adapting its business to new economic realities and shifting customer expectations. Since the pandemic began, we’ve also spared no expense when it comes to investing in industry-leading safety and risk management initiatives designed to help keep our associates, customers and partners safe amidst the pandemic,” he explained.

“The reality is that in order for UNFI to meet the needs of its various stakeholders, including associates across the country deserving of strong wages and benefits, it is important to have labor agreements that allow us to be flexible and nimble in today’s changing food distribution environment," Gehr said. "This is exactly the type of agreement we have worked out with other unions and have been trying to work towards in Fort Wayne.”

Teamsters Local 414 said in a July 23 press release that the two sides have met more than 40 times to negotiate an agreement.

“The members of Local 414 at UNFI have been working without a contract for many months, including through the COVID-19 national pandemic,” the union said in that press release. “During this time, our brothers and sisters have put their safety and health at risk daily to ensure the delivery of the food products that UNFI distributes to numerous regional grocery stores.”

In December, UNFI and Teamsters Local 414 returned to the bargaining table after a strike at Fort Wayne DC led to walkouts at UNFI facilities in Hopkins, Minnesota, and Green Bay, Wisconsin, whose 850 combined Teamsters members honored the picket lines. That labor dispute and others stem in part from UNFI’s merger with Supervalu, which brought thousands of Teamsters members at DCs nationwide under a single company. At the time of the December work stoppage, the Teamsters union described Supervalu as a “decades-long, Teamster-represented company” but said UNFI “has had a troubled labor history.”


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

5@5: Meatpacking plants cover up COVID-19 cases | Stores continue serving mask-less shoppers

Getty Images meat packaged supermarket

COVID-19 cases appear to be slowing at meat plants. But companies aren’t releasing test results

Three major meatpackers are failing to accurately disclose infection rates at their facilities and have no public-facing plan for regularly testing their employees. Recent investigations have shown significant discrepancies between the number of COVID-19 cases reported by these companies in the past and the actual amount of sick workers. Experts say that workers in isolated rural communities without unions and advocates will be especially vulnerable moving forward. Read more at The Fern


Walmart and others will still serve customers who refuse to wear masks, despite new rules

Big-box retailers made headlines last week by announcing a new requirement for customers nationwide to wear masks in their stores. But in an effort to avoid confrontations it would appear that mask-less shoppers are not being actively prohibited from entering and shopping at these locations. Both labor advocates and retailers agree that it shouldn't fall to employees to enforce this rule, but this leaves an uncomfortable gray area that leads to masks once again becoming optional. Read more at CNN



Advocates push for more farmworker protections as coronavirus cases surge

Farmworkers are lacking in protection against COVID-19, and their employers are largely to blame. This is because temporary agriculture workers on H-2A visas are given housing and transportation by their employers, and these "labor camps" are constructed in a way that makes social distancing extremely difficult. The food supply chain has already been dealt a huge blow, but a surge of COVID-19 cases among farmworkers would bring this upset to the next level. Read more at CNBC


New plant-based bottles degrade in 1 year

A new "green" plastic is currently being developed in the Netherlands in partnership with several major beverage manufacturers like Coca-Cola and Danone. Dutch company Avantium expects the eco-friendlier plastic-like material to be used as bottles, textiles and protective films. This kind of plant plastic derived from fructose decomposes in just a single year but is also recyclable. It will likely be on store shelves by 2023. Read more at Futurism


Vertical farms fill a tall order

Food security has been top of mind for many throughout the pandemic, and vertical indoor farms are being posited as part of the solution to an unpredictable food supply chain—especially in cities. AI-controlled indoor vertical farms bypass worries about pesticides and climate change; however, they don't as of yet pose a serious threat to conventional farming when it comes to commodities such as fruit from orchards or grains grown in large fields. Read more at The Wall Street Journal

'Wall farm' allows shoppers to pick their own produce in store

Evergreen Kosher Market evergreen-market-vertical-farm.png

The world of freshly harvested greens and herbs is looking up—literally—in Monsey, New York. Evergreen Kosher Market is debuting a revolutionary 20-foot-high geoponic (soil-based) wall farm that lets customers choose clean, fresh-picked produce and see exactly where it comes from. 

The pesticide-free lettuce, kale, arugula, basil and cilantro from Evergreen's on-site farm are sold at in individual pots, making the "buying local" experience more convenient than ever. Pesticide-free and grown in soil that is never exposed to bugs, all products are Star-K Kosher Certified for purity. 

"We are gratified to be the first kosher supermarket in the country to introduce the Vertical farm," said Malki Levine of Evergreen. "Our customers are very much looking forward to buying fresh produce that is grown in our own backyard rather than being transported on long hauls from farms across the country. They will also appreciate the significantly reduced level of infestation, a major concern of kosher consumers." 

Shoppers can visit the vertical farm when they visit the store. The system features a controlled, sterile environment with soil beds containing a proprietary mix of minerals and nutrients. Advanced sensors constantly monitor, irrigate and fertilize the crops throughout every growth stage. 

Evergreen's wall farm is the latest installation from Vertical Field, an Israeli ag-tech company that produces innovative vertical agricultural solutions that help the environment, improve human health conditions and make fresh produce available all year round. 

Geoponic (soil-based) vertical farming yields a new crop every few days, ensuring that fresh greens and herbs will always be in season in Monsey. The sustainable and eco-friendly method produces cleaner, healthier, tastier veggies than those shipped from miles away. And reduced soil-to-plate time means a longer shelf life and fewer hands involved—a welcome benefit in the age of COVID-19. 

"We are extremely excited with the partnership with Evergreen," said Guy Elitzur, CEO of Vertical Field. "They are precisely the type of supermarket that has the right customer base and will successfully integrate the latest technological advances in geoponic farming." 

Source: Evergreen Kosher Market

Beyond Meat partners with Social Change Fund to fight racial inequality

Beyond Meat joins with Social Change Fund to fight racial inequality

Beyond Meat Inc., a leader in plant-based meat, and the newly formed non-profit Social Change Fund have formed a partnership to further the company’s commitment to fighting disparities in the Black community through initiatives tied to social justice, education and health equity.

In response to the continued issue of racial injustice, the Social Change Fund was created by NBA All-Stars Carmelo Anthony of the Portland Trail Blazers; Chris Paul of the Oklahoma City Thunder; and Dwyane Wade, who retired in 2019 after spending most of his career with the Miami Heat; and a group of Black industry executives.  

With Beyond Meat, Goldman Sachs and the nonprofit Reform Alliance have contributed funding.

Beyond Meat and the Social Change Fund both share the goal of creating lasting, systemic change for Black communities across America and fighting for justice on all fronts.

“We are honored to join in partnership with Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, and Carmelo Anthony in support of the Social Change Fund. Beyond Meat is dedicated to serving broader social goals, using what’s on the center of the plate as a critical starting point,” said Ethan Brown, founder and CEO of Beyond Meat. “And we are excited to support and work with the Social Change Fund initiative to address racial inequalities in nutrition access and health outcomes in America.”

Paul, who is a Beyond Meat investor and ambassador, said, “I’ve been a longtime supporter of Beyond Meat and am excited to welcome them as a founding partner into the Social Change Fund. Like the Social Change Fund, I know that Beyond Meat is committed to progress for our communities. I look forward to all the good that we can continue to do together."

Beyond Meat believes food is a powerful vehicle for change, as seen in the impact of the company’s Feed a Million+ initiative.

Launched in early April, the Feed a Million+ pledge aimed to provide more than 1 million Beyond Burgers and nourishing meals at no cost to frontline healthcare workers and communities in need.

Beyond Meat asked its employees, ambassadors and fans—a group that includes Paul, actor Kevin Hart, singer Ashanti, model Karlie Kloss, Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn and P.K. Subban, who plays for the NHL's New Jersey Devils—to nominate organizations the company could support. Beyond Meat has since provided more than 5 million Beyond Burgers and nourishing meals to organizations such as Feeding America, Food Bank For New York City, Lenox Hill Hospital, Cedars-Sinai, The Food Bank for Central & Northeast Missouri, DC Central Kitchen, Houston Food Bank, Second Harvest Canada and more.  

5@5: Trump administration rolls back food safety laws | Mega-retailers sell SNAP users junk food

Getty Images meat plant sausage

7 ways the Trump administration has deregulated the food system during the COVID-19 pandemic

The Trump administration has rolled back a wide variety of restrictions on various segments of food production including labor protections for meatpacking workers and food labeling requirements for food manufacturers. Critics say that the efficiency that less bureaucracy incurs is far outweighed by the inevitably negative effects on food workers and the environment. Read more at The Counter


COVID brought SNAP users online. Advocates say mega-retailers are selling them junk food

A new report shows that online SNAP retailers, which currently consist of Walmart and Amazon, are locking the program's low-income participants into online shopping patterns that favor highly processed, unhealthy products. Big-box retailers have a long history of using personalized data and multicultural marketing to target certain demographics, and the e-commerce boom due to the pandemic has only made this easier for them. Read more at Civil Eats


Virus can travel 26 feet at cold meat plants with stale air

A new study shows that the novel coronavirus can travel greater distances in conditions where the air is cold and stale. This would explain why the virus has had such a devastating effect on workers in meat or fish processing plants, because six feet of distance simply isn't enough. Read more at Bloomberg


Whole Foods punished workers for Black Lives Matter masks, suit says

14 employees at Whole Foods stores in California, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Washington State were sent home without pay and threatened with the loss of their jobs for refusing to remove their Black Lives Matter masks, apparel and pins. Workers have previously been allowed to wear messages on masks and apparel when they supporting other causes, such as L.G.B.T.Q. rights. Now the employees are stating in a class-action lawsuit that the company is retaliating unfairly against them. Read more at The New York Times


USDA issues update on beef price-fixing investigation, but no conclusions

While an investigation into price-fixing within the beef industry is ongoing, USDA has confirmed that the disparity between the price of processed beef and the price paid to ranchers is the highest in recorded history. The big four meat companies (Tyson, JBS, Smithfield and Cargill) appear to be celebrating prematurely as the organization has yet to report on potential violations of the Packers and Stockyards Act, which is the bill that the price-fixing would apply to. Read more at Modern Farmer

How to create a detailed buyer persona

Getty Images Business woman character

When developing a new brand or product line, it’s crucial for founders to understand who their core consumer will be. If you don’t, how can you be sure your products will resonate? How will you know which sales channels are the best fit? Or where to direct marketing dollars for maximum reach? You won’t know. You’ll pour your time, energy and money into creating something based only on guesses—a haphazard strategy that rarely works out well.

“If you haven’t proven that anyone wants to purchase your product and shown why they want to purchase it, you’ll launch without landing with any particular audience,” says Allison Ball, creator of the Retail Ready online course and host of the Food Biz Wiz podcast. “As a result, nobody will respond to your launch, your sales will be slow and your product will feel like a flop.”

To avoid crashing and burning before you’ve really gotten started, founders should create a detailed buyer persona for their brand. Sometimes called client avatars or ideal client personas, these are semi-fictional illustrations of the consumer who buys the products and why they’re so connected to the brand. “A common mistake that entrepreneurs make is thinking everyone loves my product, so it’s for everyone,” Ball says. “It’s natural to assume that a larger target audience means higher sales, but that just isn’t true. When you launch a product that has generic branding and doesn’t spark an emotional connection with a core audience, it ends up being kind of ‘meh.’”

The best time to create a detailed buyer persona is during product development, when you still can tweak the formula, packaging, size, target price point and other specs. But Ball says many entrepreneurs skip doing this work, sometimes due to cost constraints, or they do it superficially. “They do a lot of testing with friends and family and give out samples to anyone who pays attention—but of course those people will tell you they like your product,” she says. “Then when they get good feedback, the entrepreneur says ‘yep, people like it’ and move to the next step without having done that in-depth consumer analysis.”

Although it’s ideal to create a detailed buyer persona before finalizing a product, Ball insists it’s never too late. “If you haven’t done this work yet, now’s the time to go back and revisit it,” she says.

Start asking questions

While there is more than one way to create a detailed buyer persona, Ball instructs her Retail Ready students to first craft a consumer survey. “You’re looking for ‘the big why,’” she says. “Why do they care about this brand? Traditionally, that goes back to what problem you aim to solve with your product. Also ask how frequently they buy products like yours and what they buy instead of your product. Who are you competing with?”

To ensure your questions generate the most useful feedback, construct them very thoughtfully. “Ask questions that give you data you’d use to change your products,” Ball says. “Avoid asking leading questions and those that assume they’d purchase your product in the first place. For example, a bad question is ‘would you buy this product?’ Even if they say yes, that still doesn’t help. It’s much more valuable to ask ‘would you buy this product in a 12-ounce container for $6.99?’ Or, if you’re launching a natural toothpaste, ‘how frequently do you purchase natural toothpaste?’”

Learning where your ideal buyer shops for products akin to yours is also key because it tells you which sales channels to pursue. “If you’re launching crackers, and everyone is buying your competitors’ crackers on Amazon, you need to be on Amazon,” Ball says. “If they’re buying from Kroger, you better try for Kroger.” She also advises finding out where your core consumer gets information, whether from Instagram, mom bloggers or The New York Times, and which voices they trust. That way, you can be sure to include those kinds of outlets in your marketing strategy.

The next step is getting your survey out there—to the right people, which means not family and friends. “There’s nothing wrong with friends twice removed, though,” Ball says. “So maybe don’t ask your sister-in-law how she likes your baby food line, but if she is in mom group on Facebook and will post your survey to it, great. Moms who don’t know you or care about your brand can give you unbiased feedback.”

Brands can also conduct this research via Amazon or other online platforms that incentivize consumers to fill out surveys with payment or free product in exchange for their time and demographic and psychographic information. This route is significantly cheaper than hiring a professional research firm, says Ball, and brands can specify that the survey go to a very specific audience versus anyone and everyone. If the product is still in development and not ready for sampling, still survey, but focus the questions on the category and consumers’ shopping patterns and product preferences within it.

Put your ideal buyer persona to work

Once you receive survey results and begin analyzing the data, “make sure you’re checking your own bias every step of the way,” Ball says. Really soak up all the feedback received, not just the responses you like.

“It’s also important to create an inclusive brand, which might feel counterintuitive to the idea of narrowing down your audience and marketing to your ideal customer,” Ball says. “That’s why, when creating a detailed buyer persona, be sure to focus on the psychographics of that person rather than the demographics. At the end of the day, I don’t care if it’s a 24-year-old white female living in Chicago who buys my product or a 38-year-old Black man in Austin, Texas. If it solves a problem for both of them, then they both fall into your bucket of target audience.”

Also, just because you’ve mapped out your core consumer, that doesn’t mean they are the only consumer who will buy your products. But this is who you’ll be speaking to primarily and keeping in mind when making branding and business decisions. “This gives you a framework and a filter to run decision-making through,” Ball says. “Let’s say you’ve named your ideal consumer Lauren. Then you can ask ‘would Lauren like this granola in a three-pack or a six-pack? Would Lauren like to buy it from Walmart or would she think that’s not in line with our brand and want us to stick with independent grocers?’

Finally, how you know if they've nailed your detailed buyer persona? How can you be sure you’re actually solving the problem you think you are for the consumers you think want your solution?

This is a question Ball gets a lot. “At the beginning, it can feel like you’re guessing, and that’s OK,” she says. “You’ll know if you got it right when it comes time to sell. You’ll get cues like people signing up for your email list an saying they can’t wait to buy your products. But if you’ve chosen an audience, gone down that path and done the work, then post on social media and get crickets, you’ll know your brand doesn’t resonate with particular audience—you’ve missed the mark.”

10 ways the natural products industry can move forward


If you want your natural products business to grow big, who better to learn from than industry leaders who got ahead of trends and saw their companies soar as a result?

That was the context for Naturally Chicago’s June 4 webinar entitled “Navigating the New Normal: Stoking Momentum at High-Growth Brands.” Three of the panelists are innovators whose still-young companies have blossomed into market leaders over just a few years. They are:

  • Kurt Seidensticker of Vital Proteins, which makes collagen-based products synonymous with wellness.
  • Katlin Smith of Simple Mills, producer of delicious cookies, crackers, baking mixes and bars that are grain-free, gluten-free, and, as Smith says, full of ingredients that you can pronounce.
  • Seth Goldman, founder and chief change agent of Eat the Change, a developing startup aimed at making climate-friendly products more broadly accessible to consumers, and co-founder of PLNT Burger, a rising chain of restaurants featuring sandwiches made with plant-based meat alternatives. Goldman helped build Beyond Meat into a titan within the plant-based meat category as its former executive chair and current board chair. (He previously created Honest Tea, the first organic and low-sugar bottled tea.)

They were joined by:

  • Brigette Wolf, head of SnackFutures Innovation at Mondelēz International, who brings a better-for-you and better-for-the-planet ethos to a snack food megacorporation.

It would have been much easier for a panel like this to take a “nothing but blue skies” approach at the beginning of 2020. With more and more consumers demanding an increased focus on wellness and sustainability in the products they put in and on their bodies, the growth curve for the industry appeared to be inexorably rising.

But this optimism was shaken to its core, first by the COVID-19 pandemic and the vast hardships it has caused since March, and then by the civil unrest against racism and brutality following the May 25 death in Minneapolis of George Floyd, an African-American man in police custody.

“It has been a tumultuous week and year. It's clear that we need to transform a culture that has far too much institutional racism,” said moderator Jim Slama—the co-founder of Naturally Chicago and CEO of FamilyFarmed, its parent nonprofit—as he introduced the panel.

Yet the tone of the panel was one of cautious optimism, with hopes that consumers will put a greater emphasis on their health and wellness due to COVID-19, and that American society will move assertively to address the inequities and need for reforms exposed by the George Floyd tragedy.

“The Chinese characters for crisis are composed of two elements. One of the elements is danger and one is opportunity, and there is real danger, to our economy, to health and even the fabric of our society,” Goldman said. “But I think there's opportunity as well.”

We urge you to view the full video of the webinar, which is included at the end of the article. Below are 10 takeaways straight from the expert panelists themselves:

Leverage personal experiences

1. Wellness through real food. Smith: "I started Simple Mills about eight years ago after cleaning up my diet and taking out a lot of the processed food and a lot of the sugar and for me it made just a huge difference. I couldn't believe the difference that that great food makes, and so I wanted to help change our food industry and help change what people are eating."

2. Born to run … and run. Seidensticker: "I was experiencing joint pain and I went on a journey to try to figure out how I could continue to run and live a full life well into my 70s ... We discovered that your body really needed like 20 to 40 grams of collagen per day to maintain, repair inside the body … I quickly launched the company at the end of 2013, and we've had explosive growth year over year."

Now’s the time for big fixes

3. Get real. Goldman: "I hope what's happening now is a wake-up call, and all the terrible things that are happening are a provocation that we can't deny facts. We can't deny reality around race, around climate … It's also a time where impact is needed more than ever."

4. Learn From nature’s self-repairs. Wolf: "Earlier in the year was, it was as if Mother Nature just said, “Enough!” and sent us all to our rooms for bad behavior… While we sit here to think about what can we do more for each other and for the planet, we're seeing that impact in the skies clearing, in the water clearing, and things growing, or even just not commuting as much with our headsets on. We're hearing the birds. We have an opportunity to move forward with kindness. more knowledge, and shape a better future"

Adapting to uncertain times is possible

5. Pivoting fast ahead of COVID. Seidensticker: "We launched Vitality [an immunity-boosting powdered drink] and normally a product launch would take probably three to six months. I said, 'O.K. team, let's get this to market in five weeks.' That means entire formulations, sourcing packaging, marketing, and out the door… We had product shipping out the door right when we went to shelter at home and it became relevant."

6. Patience can be a virtue. Wolf: "You just have to remind yourself, it's not a buyer or a consumer, there is a human being with a job and a life. That's just kind of exploded as well on their end, and they're trying to navigate that. So try to be sensitive to where their resets are now and will come. We're in slow motion right now."

7. Wipe the whiteboard clean. Goldman: "The first thing I tell entrepreneurs I work with is whatever business plan you had in January, just rip it up. It's irrelevant. You're trying to build a business in a world that no longer exists and is not going to exist. It's gone. It is a different world right now, and it's not going to be the way it was before."

Get closer to customers who are getting closer to good food

8: Roots (to leaf) movement: Goldman: "I do see more people exploring plant-based diet. We've certainly seen it in sales growth, but I think I don't think the world's going to become vegan overnight and I do think the world and people are certainly examining their diets and saying are there more opportunities for me to have plant-based meals and make that shift."

9. Measuring up. Smith: "We love to really meet our customers where they are and help them along their health and wellness Journeys and help support them in that. At and so we think about how can we support people during this time? ... I think it was Campbell's that shared that one of their top customer service phone calls during this time has been, 'What is a teaspoon.' I loved it because it meant that people who weren't usually cooking, they were getting into the kitchen and trying out new things and learning how to cook fresh foods."

Don’t forget the farmers

10. Localizing supply chain. Smith: "There's an opportunity to purchase directly from local farmers to help keep them in business during this time. Some of the farmers who are most at risk are the organic farmers. We've been fighting for more organic acreage. We've been fighting to get more organic production out there. Let's not lose that ground. Let's support the people who support us eating well throughout the year."


Monitor: How sales are unfolding this year


Natural Products Industry Health Monitor, July 24, 2020
A global lockdown might make weeks feel like months and months weigh like centuries, but business allows little room for ennui. As distracting as the daily inundation of the negative can be, the time to look forward is always now. In this feature, Informa Health and Nutrition sister properties provide that right-now-right-here update. Look for the Industry Health Monitor every other Friday to learn the major news that is affecting the natural products market immediately and the less obvious insights that could dictate where the market may struggle or thrive in the months to come.


Consider this: Best food forward

Crisis, it is often said, brings out the best in people. That may be a difficult phenomenon to see in a summer during which a pandemic has killed more than 140,000 Americans, and yet wearing a mask has become a partisan issue. Maybe we need to look in different directions for that “best.”

One place one might look is the natural products industry checkout lane.

Results will vary by individual store and even whole classes of stores, but sales data coming out of the natural and organic grocery store world suggests the current crisis is bringing out better eating habits. According to sales aggregator SPINS, retailers focusing on natural and organic products are seeing remarkably better sales in 2020. And it wasn't just those first lockdown weeks. It's still happening.

In the four weeks ending June 14, sales were up by 14% over the same period in 2019, and that after spiking by 39% in March.


Know this: Consumers are paying attention

Not surprisingly, some categories fared far better than others. In this story for, it is noted that sales of shelf-stable grains, rice and beans shot up by 160% in March compared to a year before and demand kept sales 26% higher than average going into June.

At the same time, Pepsico saw North American beverages sales plummet by 7% in the second quarter. That can be explained by the evaporation of foodservice beverage sales—supermarket and dollar store sales are up for the brand—but it's still far fewer Big Gulps than a year ago. Eat-at-home brands are the big winner in that foodservice equation. Nielsen findings show that eat-at-home food sales were up 11.5% for the 12 weeks ending July 11.

The few figures above do not definitively indicate that people are turning to natural products and eating better, but with diabetes and obesity high on the list of comorbidities for COVID-19, it’s fair to say that more people are paying more attention. We certainly see that in supplement sales, which are projected by Nutrition Business Journal to grow by 12.1% across all categories, with immunity supplements topping 50% growth.

Natural Products Industry Health Monitor indexes

Investors are clearly seeing the power of natural brands as habits change and sales channels shift. The Nutrition Capital Network investment index shows investment activity since March is alive and well, matching and even surpassing 2019 benchmarks before COVID-19 emerged. That suggests investors are still focused on the health and wellness space with investments indicative of continued support for growing companies bubbling with ideas, innovation and solutions. Standout new natural product investment includes Native American Natural Foods securing a “multimillion dollar equity capital investment” through the Candide Group and mission-driven HumanCo acquiring a majority stake in plant-based ice cream brand Coconut Bliss. Mongram Capital also led a $13 million B funding round for Vive Organic.


Consumer behavior indexes measure consumer behaviors through weekly surveys that are compared to a 2017 benchmark before COVID-19 emerged to see how the novel coronavirus is changing consumers. Behaviors seeking environmentally and responsibly made products, high-quality ingredients, nutrient density, transparency, and natural products are scoring a few points higher than 2017 index benchmark scores. 


The natural products industry engagement index tracks social and mass media engagement of the top 50 trends defining and shaping the natural products industry. The index tracks weekly keyword engagement of these top trends that are compared to a Q4 2019 weekly average benchmark before COVID-19 emerged. With four months of tracking since the outbreak of COVID-19 in the United States, engagement in these trends remain a few points above 2019 benchmark scores. 


Hear this: Lining up for benefits, deli takeout

The dietary supplement industry may be seeing great sales in finished product, but companies in the space did not miss their chance to benefit from the federal Paycheck Protection Program. According to reporting in Natural Products Insider, 172 companies in “medicina and botanical manufacturing operations” received assistance grants of at least $150,000. Notable brands on the list include CV Sciences Inc., Nutrabolt and Xymogen.

Foodservice was an increasingly important get-customers-in-the-store strategy for natural retailers, but COVID-19 may force a rethinking of the offerings. Industry experts tell that retailers will have to give up on self-serve olive bars and focus on “simple and convenient.


Enjoy this:

This will only feel familiar to everybody. It's blursday.

blursday calendar

Supplement industry news and updates – July 2020


Online supplement sales projected to double between 2019 and 2022

With the pandemic accelerating e-commerce momentum, online sales of supplements are likely to double from 2019 to 2022. This is the latest installment in a data-based series from Nutrition Business Journal’s senior analyst.

Dr. Majeed Foundation makes significant contributions to combat COVID-19 in India, including $1.32 million to PM CARES Fund

The Dr. Majeed Foundation, a nonprofit institution established by Dr. Muhammed Majeed, founder and chairman of Sami-Sabinsa Group, has channeled significant support to people impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic through contributions to organizations and its own community outreach programs to vulnerable communities in Bengaluru and Hyderabad, India. Read more.

Omni Impact Stories: Visionary solutions through eye camps - Part 2

Omni Impact Stories is a series that chronicles the actions taken to uplift farming villages in rural India as well as document the real-life accounts of the farmers and their families who are positively affected by the Improving Lives Foundation. This installment follows Maniyamma and Shurvaiah, who tell their stories of overcoming their personal struggles with failing vision and how they regained their livelihoods through medical intervention.

A focus on children's growth and development

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention emphasizes that healthy eating during childhood and adolescence is essential for proper growth and development. However, the majority of children don’t follow proper Dietary Guidelines, which includes eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, protein foods, oils and fat-free and low-fat dairy. Read more.

5@5: Instacart customers' data hacked into, sold | Coke to kill more 'zombie' brands

Instacart Instacart's valuation skyrockets with increased pandemic-related delivery demands

Hundreds of thousands of Instacart customers' personal data is being sold online

This week, sellers on two separate dark web stores began selling accurate information from 278,531 Instacart user accounts. The data includes names, order histories, the last four digits of credit cards and names. Instacart has thus far denied that a data breach has occurred. Read more at Buzzfeed News


Coke says it will kill more 'zombie' brands, weeks after dropping Odwalla

Coca-Cola is planning on dumping more of its "zombie" brands like Odwalla that aren't growing in order to cut costs. All major consumer packaged goods companies have, over the past few months, prioritized best-selling brands to help ease the growing pandemic-related burden on supply chains. Read more at CNN


Grocery shopping once a week or more has decreased by 20% from pre-COVID-19 levels

37% of shoppers are spending more money per shopping trip as well as continuing to stock up on their staple products, a new report from Acosta shows. Roughly three-quarters of shoppers also believe another shutdown is nigh and will likely continue eating at home while COVID-19 cases surge nationwide. Read more at Acosta


This scientist uncovered problems with pesticides. Then the government started to make his life miserable

Jonathan Lundgren is an entomologist whose research has raised serious red flags about the agrichemical industry's "most lucrative existing products and promising future ones." As a result, Lundgren's USDA superiors are retaliating on a professional level in addition to trying to suppress his findings regarding the negative effects of blockbuster pesticides. Read more at Mother Jones


How Ben & Jerry's perfected the recipe for corporate activism

Ice cream behemoth Ben & Jerry's has been participating in corporate activism for decades, which is partly why its responses to the Black Lives Matter movement and other recent social justice campaigns are perceived as genuine by the public. Essentially, the company walks the walk and puts its money where its mouth is, while other giant companies have failed to go beyond basic platitudes. Read more at Bloomberg