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[email protected]: PCC rebrands to emphasize its local roots | Nestlé buys majority of Blue Bottle coffee

PCC Community Market PCC Community Market name change

PCC rebrands to emphasize its local roots

With a nod to its local history, PCC Natural Markets has changed its name to PCC Community Markets. The co-op decided to make the move as traditional grocers, e-commerce and Amazon are moving in on the company’s Seattle-based territory. Read more at The Seattle Times …

Nestlé targets high-end coffee by taking majority stake in Blue Bottle

Fifteen years after James Freeman began roasting his artisanal coffee in Oakland, California, Blue Bottle coffee is being taken over by a behemoth traditional food company: Nestlé. The deal—largely lamented Thursday on social media—means Blue Bottle can expand its retail locations as well as create a presence on grocery shelves. Read more at The New York Times …

Farm technology startups raise $1.13 billion in first half of 2017

Farm technology startups are hot, and venture capitalists know it. In the first half of 2017, the startups raised 56 percent more money than they did in the same period a year ago. The sector represents about 25 percent of all ag tech funding. Read more at AgFunderNews …

Gut germs play role in multiple sclerosis, studies show

As we continue to learn the effects of the gut biome on our overall health, two studies have found that intestinal bacteria might be involved in multiple sclerosis, an incurable autoimmune disease that attacks the myelin coating on our nerve cells. One study involved transplanting gut microbes from twins, but of course, more research is needed. Read more at STAT News …

Why you should be buying air-chilled chicken

Have you heard about air-chilled chicken? Neither had we. In fact, we had visions of butchered poultry sitting in a basement like mushrooms. But, it turns out, blasting chickens with cold, purified air reduces the risk of food-borne illnesses. And they taste better, as well. Read more at Delish …

Testing: Gallery with downloadable and Lead Gen

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Testing: Gallery with downloadable No Lead Gen

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Natural Products Expo

Why more brands are investing in sustainable supply chains

vertical integration

As leaders of NSF International’s Responsible Sourcing team, Joshua Brugeman and Meredith Reisfield work with companies to assess and diagnose their responsible sourcing practices and build programs to help them improve their supply chains. They say they’ve seen an uptick in companies investing in creating more sustainable and responsible supply chains, for a number of reasons.

In a session at Natural Products Expo East, Reisfield and co-presenter Gabriel Thoumi of Climate Advisers will unpack one of those reasons that we don’t hear much about—why there is growing demand among investors for food and agriculture companies to invest in sustainable supply chains. They’ll also explore steps that companies can take to become aware of, monitor and mitigate risk within their supply chain.

Here, Reisfield and Brugeman set the stage for that conversation.

In working with your clients in the food industry, what are some of the supply chain challenges you see over and over again?

Meredith Reisfield: One big challenge we see is an information or diagnostic challenge. At any stage in a company’s journey toward a more sustainable supply chain, there are going to be new sources of data or information that a company needs that they didn’t look into or didn't have access to before. It could be knowing who their suppliers are on the farm level and knowing where things go back past their co-packer. Or, even if they’re feeling confident about where their suppliers may be on some things, being able to figure out what those knowledge gaps are and assess where they need more information.

Joshua Brugeman: We’re seeing a real range of maturity in what Meredith is describing. Some companies are much more advanced in understanding their supply chains and being able to obtain information from their supply chains, while others may have a hard time getting access to that information or having a full view into their supply chain. Overall, more companies are realizing that this is something they need to pay attention to. If they really want to have an impact on social and environmental impact, they need to be working with their supply chains, and they’re starting realize that a lot of the hidden risks that can affect their brand are in their supply chains, so they need to pay attention to that.

Another macro trend going on is that there is greater focus on supply chains now, especially on social issues. That’s been a pretty significant shift that’s occurred in the marketplace over the last couple years. With that being said, you still have some companies really focused on trying to get their own operations in shape—so they might be focused more on the energy, water and waste equation in their own manufacturing plant. And then you have other companies that have already done that and now they’re saying, we need to pivot from our own operations to working with our own supply chains now.

Josh mentioned a couple drivers of this shift. Are there others?

MR: Broadly speaking, we have seen three main drivers for this type of work. One is from the consumer. A second is that internal driver, where you have a company culture or a leadership team that’s really invested in being a responsible and sustainable company. The third one is that investor lens, which is the one we’ve found is a little more difficult for many people in this industry to get a handle on because it’s not as big of a part of their day-to-day. A lot of the information on how a potential group of investors—whether they’re institutional or individual investors—or how the larger industry is interpreting things like environmental and social governing data, is something that’s potentially a more quickly-evolving story.

JB: Most of the session is going to be focused on that financial driver and what companies should be paying attention to as the financial communities become more and more in tune to this.

For companies that are at that first stage, where they’re just dipping their toes into the water, are there any particularly good entry points in working toward a more sustainable supply chain?

MR: I’d say there are two or three big starting points. The first is going to be getting that organizational consensus on what the company’s vision is for what its operations or supply chain might look like three or five or ten years down the line.

Another would be an information or fact-finding mission to see what the emerging standards might be in your space, whether it’s regenerative agriculture, whether it’s an emerging commodity-specific standard and also figuring out within operations where there might be some potential areas to improve on your impact and opportunities to engage with your suppliers or consumers or stakeholders around that narrative.

Catch Meredith Reisfield at Natural Products Expo East.
What: Managing Investor Expectations & Risk: How to Establish a Responsible Supply Chain
When: 2 p.m., Friday, Sept. 15, 2017
Where: Hilton, Holiday Ballroom 2

Mikey's scores $5 million investment to increase innovation, distribution

Hooray for food startups that are really on to something An inspiring 25yearold entrepreneur developed this grainfree certifiedGF quotEnglishquot muffin that39s rocking the glutenfree and paleo worlds Made with just six wholefood ingredients no dairy or soy either they39re addictive when welltoasted These satiate us for breakfast or lunch and make us wonder what Mike will be up to next

Mikey’s, the ground-breaking baked goods company, today announced that it is partnering with Factory LLC, a new innovation and scale-up operating company based in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Factory has agreed to an initial investment of $5 million in two tranches and will commit its full complement of resources and relationships to help Mikey’s achieve its strategic goals.

Mikey’s is a next-generation gluten-free baked goods company offering certified gluten free, plus combinations of the most widely sought after better-for-you attributes, including certified paleo, grain free, dairy free, soy free, peanut free, non-GMO, diabetic friendly, vegan and Kosher—all delivered with great taste.

“Eating gluten free is critical for people with celiac disease, and valued by many people as a lifestyle choice,” said Michael Tierney, founder and CEO of Mikey’s. “But just removing gluten doesn’t make food better for you. I started Mikey’s to meet the growing demand for baked goods that offer more than gluten free: unparalleled nutrition with superior taste.”

Tierney continued, “We are beyond ecstatic to partner with Rich Thompson, Tim Pollak and their incredibly talented and accomplished team, and I’ve chosen to relocate Mikey’s to the Lehigh Valley to take full advantage of Factory’s assets and resources.  In the short time we’ve been working together, Mikey’s has made tremendous strides. Our future is very bright.”

Factory’s investment will be Mikey’s largest round of funding since its 2014 launch. Richard Thompson, founder and CEO of Factory LLC, said, “We are thrilled to be adding Mikey’s to our portfolio. The brand meets all our key criteria: innovative, differentiated products that address real consumer needs and taste good, led by a great entrepreneur. We think Mikey’s has huge potential.”

Currently available in over 3,500 stores, the Mikey’s frozen line includes three varieties each of English muffins and muffin tops, plus sliced bread, pizza crust and, its newest entry, vegan tortillas. With a commitment to clean eating, simple ingredients, low carbohydrates and calories, and great taste, Mikey’s products have broad appeal to health-conscious eaters and meet the needs of communities with alternative dietary needs, including celiacs, diabetics and paleo diet fans.

Source: Mikey's

UNFI: Contracts with Amazon, Whole Foods in place until 2025

UNFI logo

United Natural Foods Inc. executives didn’t hesitate Wednesday to share their excitement about Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods Market last month.

And they have good reason: Before the deal closed, the two retailers committed to continuing their current contracts with UNFI until 2025, said UNFI CFO Mike Zechmeister during the earnings call regarding the end of fiscal 2017.

“We feel terrific about the combination. We feel terrific about the relationship we have with both companies. And we think they’re going to do terrific things. We’re glad to be a part of it,” Zechmeister said. “We’ve got a lot of scale across a lot of products, and a lot of suppliers that, quite frankly, is hard to replicate,” he said later in the call.

Noting that mergers and acquisitions continue to shape the food industry, UNFI Chairman and CEO Steven L. Spinner shared Zechmeister’s optimism about the $13.7 billion deal.

“Amazon and Whole Foods are both incredible brands. We believe UNFI is well-positioned to service them … through our network of distribution centers, our logistics capabilities and our breadth of differentiated and unique product offerings,” Spinner said.

Spinner and Zechmeister also reported positive news on all fronts for both the fourth quarter and the fiscal year, which ended July 29.

Net sales during the fourth quarter were $2.34 billion, a 5.7 percent increase over the fourth quarter of 2016, the company announced. For the fiscal year, net sales increase 9.5 percent, to $9.27 billion, from the previous year. Acquisitions made in 2016 positively affected 2017’s sales, according to the company.

“We had incredible success in getting considerably more synergy out of several of the acquisitions than we initially planned. That really came as a result of very careful integration planning and execution,” Zechmeister said.

For the fourth quarter, the gross margin was 15.75 percent, up from 15.6 percent in 2016. In fiscal 2017, gross margin increased by 31 basis points to 15.41 percent, from 15.1 percent in 2016.

Spinner said the increase came from the company’s 2016 reorganization to three sales regions, each with one president and associates offering products across all categories. “We saw our gross margin stabilize early in the year, then expand with a 15 basis point improvement over prior year in our fiscal fourth quarter 2017,” he said.

The gross-margin increase came despite deflation that reduced sales value about $130 million in fiscal 2017, Spinner said. UNFI also saw its customer base reduced through consolidation, and many customers saw challenging same-store sales, he said.

Nevertheless, UNFI enjoyed its second-highest free cash flow, $224.7 million, Spinner reported. At the end of fiscal 2016, the company’s free cash flow was $255.2 million. For the fourth quarter, free cash flow was $101.6 million; it was $78.7 million for the same period in 2016.

“We continue to adapt and grow in an operating environment that is evolving in ways we’ve never seen. Consumers are shopping for better-for-you food in an increasing number of store formats and channels,” Spinner said. “They want variety, and that includes newer and more established brands, exclusive brands, and private label. We are helping our retail customers across those formats, channels and product offerings with merchandising, data analysis and category management.”

UNFI reported other financial results, as well:

  • Net income for the fourth quarter of 2017 was $38.9 million, a 12.1 percent increase from the fourth quarter of 2016. For the year, 2017 net income increased 3.5 percent to $130.2 million from $125.8 million in fiscal 2016.
  • Operating income fell $1 million to $61.5 million for the fourth quarter of fiscal 2017 compared to the same period in fiscal 2016. For fiscal year 2017, operating income was $1.9 million higher ($226 million) than it had been in fiscal year 2016.
  • Operating expenses increased $24.2 million in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2017 to $307.1 million. For the fiscal year, operating expenses rose $147.7 million to $1.2 billion. Operating expenses were 12.97 percent of net sales for the year, 51 basis points higher than in fiscal 2016.

Spinner also acknowledged the leadership, poise and dedication of UNFI employees who kept buildings and systems running during and following hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Needed supplies were delivered to the affected areas quickly and safely, he said.

He also reported that all UNFI associates were safe and accounted for following the storms; the company’s warehouses are in good shape and operating, he added.

[email protected]: Vitamin World files bankruptcy | Head of USDA's organic program retiring

Vitamin World Vitamin World pill organizer promo

Vitamin World files for bankruptcy, closing 51 stores

In its Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing on Monday, Vitamin World said it plans to close 51 of its 334 stores. As part of its restructuring, Vitamin World hopes to renegotiate property leases for underperforming stores. If that fails, those stores likely will be shuttered, as well. Read more at Consumerist …

Head of USDA’s organic program steps down after 8 years

Miles McEvoy, the deputy administrator of the USDA’s National Organic Program, is retiring in October, he announced on Sunday. He plans to find other ways to be involved in the organic community, he wrote. Read more at Food Safety News …  

Whole Foods' foot traffic surges over 25 percent following Amazon price cuts

On Aug. 28 and 29—the first two days of the merger between Whole Foods Markets and Amazon—the number of shoppers visiting the brick-and-mortar stores was 25 percent higher than it had been a week earlier, Foursquare reported. Amazon cut Whole Foods’ prices as much as 40 percent after the takeover. Read more at CNBC …

The great nutrient collapse

As a graduate student in 1998, Irakli Loladze learned that algae that receive more light grow faster, but are less nutritious for the zooplankton that eat them. Since 2000, he’s looked at studies on how excess carbon dioxide affects the land-based plants that you and I eat. He’s connected the dots, but more research is needed. Read more at Politico.com …

The fate of NYC’s undocumented bakers could change the food industry

The food industry employs millions of undocumented workers, but the Trump administration is cracking down on those immigrants. Last week in New York City, dozens of bakery workers, union members and workers’ right advocates protested the firing of 24 undocumented workers at Tom Cat Bakery. What can—and what should—companies do to protect its workers? Read more at Civil Eats …