From Point A to Point B: UNFI Chair Steve Spinner on the Future of Distribution

Author: Steven Hoffman
Source: This article originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of Presence News

UNFI Chairman, President and CEO Steven Spinner was in Colorado recently to address the Naturally Boulder business community about the future of distribution in the natural, organic and “better for you” consumer products market. 

The takeaway: “It’s a good time to be in this space,” Spinner said. “We are one of the few industries other than tech that actually grows,” he said, noting that the natural and organic market is growing at 10% vs. 1% growth in conventional foods.

From left:  Mark Retzloff, Cofounder, Alfalfa’s Market; UNFI Chair Steve Spinner; and Carlotta Mast, SVP of Content, New Hope Network, and President, Naturally Boulder.

From left:  Mark Retzloff, Cofounder, Alfalfa’s Market; UNFI Chair Steve Spinner; and Carlotta Mast, SVP of Content, New Hope Network, and President, Naturally Boulder.

Yet, be prepared for change, Spinner encouraged. “Change is pretty good. The reality is those who have been in the natural products industry for a while have learned that in order to deal with all that growth, you’ve got to be comfortable with handling a great deal of change. Because UNFI is conservative, our balance sheet is conservative – we carry very little debt – and we can weather the changes,” he said.

Shifting Market Drivers

Among the drivers affecting the healthy lifestyles market, Spinner noted, “We are seeing consolidation among manufacturers and the maturation of retail. Also, consumer buying habits are shifting. People are living longer and buying homes and having children later. And with the growth of alternate channels, things are going to get more competitive, so be careful of the price you charge. The Internet has made everything more transparent,” he advised.

“For us, our margins have come down materially year over year – 80% of our volume is a cost-plus program of 10% or less. A common misconception is that we make all this margin on the backs of our suppliers, but that is not true. The way we achieve income growth is by becoming more efficient – we seek to reduce our costs further than our contracting margins,” Spinner shared.

While sales of natural and organic products are growing in mainstream stores such as WalMart, Costco, Kroger and others, “That’s not necessarily all bad because these stores are serving crossover shoppers, and then we get a committed natural and organic shopper,” he said.

At the helm of UNFI – the largest distributor of natural and organic products in North America, with more than $9 billion in annual sales – since 2008, Spinner has become widely recognized as one of the top distribution and logistics experts in the food industry. A publicly traded company (Nasdaq: UNFI), UNFI serves 43,000 customers in the U.S. and Canada from 33 distribution centers. 

The company recently reorganized itself into three regions: Pacific, Central and Atlantic. Additionally, Spinner noted, “In the past manufacturers had to deal with a number of different regions and policies were different. We have now shifted to a single Supplier Relationship Manager (SRM) system in which the manager works with the supplier on promotional schedules, product introductions, etc. We encourage brands to build a relationship with their SRM. Ask them for advice, for help in resolving issues with deductions, pricing, anything. Even though our managers have to respond to many brands, you might want to make the trip to visit your SRM. It can improve your relationship with UNFI dramatically,” he added.

Shift to the Perimeter

“About five years ago, we determined that the whole retail industry was going to shift from the center of store to the perimeter, that is, less space allocated to grocery and more allocation to dairy, deli and other perishables,” Spinner observed. “So we invested $500 million in refrigerated centers across the country. What we got wrong was the timing of the contraction in the center store – it happened a lot faster than we thought. Deli, produce, meat, frozen – these categories are all growing north of 9%. The perimeter is growing faster than the center of store.”

“The perimeter is growing faster than the center of the store,” noted UNFI Chair Steve Spinner. Source: UNFI.

“The perimeter is growing faster than the center of the store,” noted UNFI Chair Steve Spinner. Source: UNFI.

UNFI serves all aspects of a retail store, what it refers to as “Building out the Store,” through its complete catalog plus private label brands including Blue Marble, Haddon House, Woodstock Farms, Select Nutrition and others. For the perimeter, UNFI serves retailers through its subsidiaries Albert’s Organics, Tony’s Fine Foods and Gourmet Guru.

A recent acquisition, Honest Green, also provides UNFI with the ability to drop ship over 35,000 products on behalf of small and national retailers that want to offer a broader range of items beyond their shelves, plus other non-traditional accounts that want UNFI products.

Speaking of e-commerce, Spinner said, “I know sometimes our [private label] products end up on websites, and perhaps those e-tailers try to get a price advantage. We try to prevent that. But the truth of the matter is, e-commerce is here to stay and we plan to get into it in a bigger way. We have to embrace it, understand it, and figure out a way to make it work while also serving our brick and mortar customers and helping them with their online sales platforms,” Spinner said. “E-commerce is still less than 4% of what’s sold in the U.S. However, U.S. food sales at retail are close to a trillion dollars, so a percentage point can mean a lot.” 

UNFI Next: An Option for Emerging Brands

“Some would say that we’re a really big company and hard to do business with…but we are a really efficient company that gets product from point A to point B,” Skinner admitted. “However, we do believe we should treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves.”

For established national brands, UNFI’s fee-based ClearVue program converts a brand’s total distributor promotional spend into one flat rate – “No more deduction surprises, and a tremendous amount of portal information available,” said Spinner, who reported that close to 100 suppliers currently participate in the ClearVue program.

UNFI Next Logo.png

For smaller companies, UNFI launched this past year its “UNFI Next” program to help bring smaller, innovative brands into its distribution system, working with a new team that curates and incubates emerging brands not currently in distribution. According to UNFI’s blog announcing the program, the product and brand criteria to define an emerging brand for UNFI Next include:

     • Brands/Products that disrupt their category

     • Products that are on-trend with key industry/category trends

     • New or break-through product entries to the market

“We realized we had gotten too big for some small suppliers, so we are excited about UNFI Next to find and on-board new and emerging brands,” said Spinner. “We are opening UNFI Next centers one DC (Distribution Center) at a time – Denver was recently added as a new UNFI Next center. This enables us to build and extend our pipeline to offer fast growing and exciting brands to our customers. When it works, we hand off the brand from UNFI Next to UNFI.”

To learn if your brand qualifies for UNFI Next, Spinner recommended contacting the appropriate regional Supplier Relationship Manager (SRM). To find contact info, visit here: You can also learn more about the UNFI Next program at UNFI’s Blog, October 2016 edition, here:

Finally, in working with a distributor, Spinner cautioned that the reason suppliers may fail is when they think just getting into the distribution system is the “be all, end all.” Once the SRM places an order, that’s only the beginning, he said. “It’s your responsibility to sell it, get it placed, and get it off the shelf. We will work with you to help promote your brands, but again, I encourage you to build your relationship with your SRM. We also are committed to working with evolving retail stores that are responding to the needs of the future retail marketplace.”

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Steven Hoffman is Managing Director of Compass Natural, a full service agency dedicated to Public Relations, brand marketing, digital communications, social media, and strategic business development in the healthy lifestyles market for natural, organic, regenerative and eco-friendly products and services. Contact

Natural Products Industry Matures; Independents See Sales Growth

As the natural and organic products industry reached $141 billion in sales on 7.4% growth in 2016, Natural Foods Merchandiser’s 2017 Market Overview reports independents are starting to thrive again as the market shifts.

By Steven Hoffman

Source: Natural Foods Merchandiser, July/August 2017, published by New Hope Network

Source: Natural Foods Merchandiser, July/August 2017, published by New Hope Network

As a new Managing Editor back in 1986 with the Natural Foods Merchandiser, I was charged with conducting, analyzing and reporting on the natural products industry’s annual retail market overview survey. I recall spending late evenings poring over data with New Hope Network founder Doug Greene to determine overall sales, growth categories and emerging trends. That was when the industry was just breaking $5 billion in sales – a fraction of what it is today.

Thirty years later, the natural and organic products industry is maturing, reaching $141 billion in sales on growth of 7.4% in 2016, according to the 2017 Market Overview, published in the July/August 2017 edition of Natural Foods Merchandiser (NFM) in partnership with Nutrition Business Journal, with additional data provided by SPINS and the Organic Trade Association’s annual organic industry survey.

Over this time, the natural, organic and better-for-you products sector has become widely recognized as a hotbed of innovation and growth in the overall food industry. Point in fact, the Amazon – Whole Foods Market deal announced in June promises to be a game changer not just for the natural products landscape, but also for the entire retail food market worldwide.

Independents Find Stronger Footing

Yet, as the market shifts, independents that have been able to weather the past few years may now find themselves in a stronger position, according to NFM’s 2017 Market Overview.

While sales growth was modest among independent natural products retailers – sales grew 4.3% to $54.4 billion, or 39% of overall natural products sales in 2016 – NFM also reported that 69% of natural products stores surveyed recorded a sales increase, and 72% noted they did not have a competitor open up in their neighborhood in the last year.

“It may go against conventional wisdom, but well-managed and strongly positioned independent grocers can coexist with big retail. While large, often publicly held chains may have scale and strong financial backing, independent grocers are often more agile, enabling them to move quickly to address emerging trends and shifting consumer preferences,” the editors of Food Dive observed in a July 19, 2017, report. 

“The difference between the corporate model, which you would now have to say includes Whole Foods, and the authentic, community-owned independent, is becoming clearer every day,” retail specialist Jay Jacobowitz of Retail Insights told NFM. “Those who embrace that authenticity and are passionate about serving their unique community will do well.”

Jacobowitz also noted that while the natural products industry may be maturing, there are areas of the country, including the East South Central region (Missouri, Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky), that are far from saturated. “It’s a big country, and the big boys can’t be everywhere at once,” Jacobowitz said. “There are still opportunities out there.”

Independents also are more nimble in that they can feature local products, and are often the first to take advantage of such emerging product trends as cannabidiol, or CBD, a new category driving growth in dietary supplements and personal care.

Conventional Retailers Own 44% of Natural Products Market Share

During this time, razor-thin margins, increased competition and price wars impacted large mainstream grocery chains, as well as of some of the “supernaturals.” Kroger reported its first decrease in same store sales in 13 years in March 2017, NFM reported, and Whole Foods Market struggled with declining same store sales throughout 2016, prompting shareholder activism in April 2017 from Jana Partners, which held an 8.8% stake in Whole Foods, and ultimately, the announced sale to Amazon in June 2017.

Other publicly traded supernatural chains, including Natural Grocers and Sprouts, saw their stocks decline in 2016 as a result of increased competition from all sides. Natural Grocers’ stock price continues to be depressed in 2017, though Sprouts’ stock price has rebounded.

Yet, through all that jockeying for market share, the bottom line is that conventional retailers, including food, drug, mass, convenience and club stores, now command the majority of natural and organic products sales.

According to NFM’s survey, in 2016 conventional retailers captured 44% – or $61.5 billion – of all natural and organic products sales, while traditional independent natural products retailers and chains claimed 39% ($54.4 billion) of overall natural and organic products sales in 2016. Additionally, while sales among independents grew a modest 4.3%, sales of natural and organic products among conventional retailers grew at double digits, or 10.2%, in 2016.

Here Comes the Internet

As consumers become ever more comfortable shopping on the Internet from the comfort of their homes, offices and mobile devices, ecommerce sales of natural and organic products grew 11% to $5.7 billion in 2016, capturing 4% of overall natural products sales, reported NFM’s Market Overview survey. 

Online sales are sure to continue a strong growth curve, as ecommerce retailers such as Thrive Market, meal kit providers including and independent brick and mortar retailers increase their online presence. Plus, a growing number of manufacturers are finding markets by creating their own online shopping pages and also by offering their products on Amazon, which continues its juggernaut as the dominant force in online retail. (With its acquisition of Whole Foods Market, it will be exciting to see how Amazon integrates and advances its brick and mortar and online retail strategies.)

The online channel is likely to capture significantly more market share in the next decade from brick and mortar stores, predicted a January 2017 report by Food Marketing Institute and Nielsen. Online sales could grow five-fold over the next 10 years, with U.S. consumers spending $100 billion on “food-at-home” items by 2025, FMI and Nielsen predicted. The report also found millennial shoppers surveyed were more willing to buy groceries online in the future than other consumer groups.

Health supplements, in particular, are benefitting from ecommerce, with $2.6 billion in online sales reported in 2016 by market research firm 1010Data. Brands that focus on “natural” products experienced the most online sales growth last year, 1010Data reported.

Herbal Blends, CBD Drive Supplement Sales Growth

Sales of herbal and homeopathic products increased 13.4% over the 52 weeks ending March 19, 2017, to reach a market value of nearly $2 billion, according to SPINS data shared in NFM’s Market Overview. Vitamin and supplement sales also grew 3.5% to approximately $12 billion in sales. Overall, SPINS reported 5% growth, valuing the total supplements market at approximately $14 billion.

SPINS also reported that sales of herbal blends grew 22% over the previous year, accounting for much of the herbal category’s success. According to research firm Mintel, consumers are responding to supplement formulas that call out benefits, rather than ingredients—and blends often meet that criteria, NFM reported.

Other top-performing supplements in 2016 include turmeric/curcumin and cannabidiol, or CBD, which is emerging as a leading supplement for anxiety and pain management. Despite the regulatory grey area surrounding CBD, sales of CBD supplements grew more than 1700% last year, primarily in the natural channel, reported Hemp Business Journal. Leading market research firm SPINS named CBD oil one of the “ingredients to watch” in its 2016 Trend Watch report.

Other supplement categories of note include organic supplements, which grew 7.4% in 2016. Retailers in NFM’s Market Overview survey also cited probiotics, bone broth and kombucha as top growth categories.

Other categories showing strong growth in 2016 include organic meat, fish and poultry (9.1% growth); organic beverages (6%); organic condiments (6.3%); and organic personal care and other products (8.1% growth in 2016).

The Indie Universe: Over 26,000 Independent Stores

Among NFM’s findings is that, among independent natural products retailers, on average, 60% of a store’s offerings are organic and 40% are described as “natural.” Also, roughly half of all sales in independent natural retail stores are from products that are “Non-GMO certified.”

Additionally, NFM estimates there are 26,042 independent stores in the U.S., including health food stores, natural foods stores and supermarkets, specialty food stores, personal care and herb shops and related boutiques and kiosks, and natural chains including Whole Foods Market, GNC, Vitamin Shoppe, Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage, Sprouts Farmers Market, PCC, Earth Fare, Fresh Thyme Farmers Market, MOMs Organic Market, and others.

Click here to download the complete 2017 Market Overview report, including all data charts, published in the July/August 2017 edition of Natural Foods Merchandiser.

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Steven Hoffman is Managing Director of Compass Natural, a full service agency dedicated to Public Relations, brand marketing, digital communications, social media, and strategic business development in the healthy lifestyles market for natural, organic, regenerative and eco-friendly products and services. Contact

Better for You Beauty: U.S. Natural Personal Care Sales Reach $5.7 Billion in 2016

The market for natural and organic personal care products, including cosmetics, skin and hair care and other products, reached $5.7 billion in 2016, an increase of 9.2 percent over the previous year, reported Global Cosmetic Industry Magazine in May 2017. “Consumers’ increasing focus on wellness – from diet to exercise to self-care – are a leading factor behind this growth,” said Naira Aslanian of the Kline Group, producer of the study.

According to the study, 67 percent of consumers who purchased natural and organic personal care products (NOPC) are trying to live a healthier lifestyle, and 49 percent of NOPC consumers consider them safer and of better quality than conventional alternatives. Most consumers who don’t purchase NOPC cite higher cost compared to conventional products.

Consumer concerns around ingredients and synthetic materials has boosted demand for natural formulations, and brands have responded with a spectrum of offerings from organicto wholly natural to what Aslanian described as “natural-inspired.”

According to Kline Group, facial treatments are the leading growth driver in skin care, which comprises the majority of U.S. natural beauty care products sales. Natural hair care sales have outpaced those of natural cosmetics, said Kline, in part due to lack of conventional retail growth for the latter segment.

Children’s personal care products are ripe for growth, too, according to market research firm Mintel. “Parents are information seekers when it comes to raising their kids and, therefore, could be more aware of ingredients to avoid in their children’s personal care products, as well as their own,” Jana Vyleta, health and personal care analyst at Mintel, told Global Cosmetic Industry Magazine. “This presents an opportunity for natural and organic personal care brands to target parents, as they should incentivize them to purchase both adult- and child-specific products.”

Whole Foods Market recently celebrated its third annual Beauty Week to raise awareness of the benefits of natural and organic personal care products. The natural grocer notably has disallowed more than 75 ingredients from the body care brands it carries, including phthalates, microbeads, triclosan, BHT, BHA and aluminum chlorohydrate.

Global Natural Health Supplements Market to Grow at 8 Percent CAGR

It’s the supplement a day that keeps the doctor away. Or so think the world’s consumers, as people prefer to adopt a healthy lifestyle and preventive healthcare, reports international market research firm Persistence Market Research in a new global market study released in April 2017.

Such interest in staying healthy and avoiding urban lifestyle-related diseases such as diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure will drive an estimated 8 percent CAGR from 2016 – 2024, projects Persistence Market Research. Valued at U.S. $37 billion in 2016, the global natural health supplements market is forecast to reach U.S. $70 billion by 2024.

“Growing adoption of self and direct medical practices is propelling growth of the global natural health supplements market in the coming years. Furthermore, upsurge in demand for natural health supplements among an older population suffering from disorders related to joints and bones is likely to fuel growth of the global natural health supplements market over the coming years,” said Persistence Market Research.

In addition to retail, growing trends of digitalization and e-commerce platforms will significantly boost growth of the global natural health supplements market, the market research firm added.

“People have begun realizing the importance of preventive health measures and therefore are drifting towards choices that decrease the negative effects of such lifestyle diseases,” said Persistence Market Research.

“Natural health supplements act as a healthy alternative to prevent such diseases. This has led to an explosive growth in the market for natural health supplements globally. Moreover, due to the increasing penetration of the Internet, various health magazines and online forums such as and provide vital information to consumers regarding the health benefits associated with the intake of natural health supplements. This has had a positive effect on the global natural health supplements market.”

Organic Products Growth Outpaces Overall Conventional Food Market; Hits 5 Percent Market Share

Market Research
Author- Steven Hoffman
Published In- June 2017 Presence Marketing / Dynamic Presence Newsletter

The news is just in from the Organic Trade Association (OTA) and it’s very good. Sales of organic products in the U.S. reached a record $47 billion in 2016, up from sales of $43.3 billion in 2015, reflecting overall growth of more than 8 percent. Compare that to a lackluster growth rate of less than 1 percent for the overall food industry, says OTA. Another significant first for the organic industry, reports OTA in its May 2017 Organic Industry Survey, is that organic food now accounts for more than 5 percent – 5.3 percent to be exact – of total U.S. food sales.

The organic industry is creating jobs, too, according to the OTA report. More than 60 percent of all organic businesses with more than five employees reported an increase of full-time employment in 2016, and said they planned to continue adding to their full-time work staff in 2017.

Source: Organic Trade Association, May 24, 2017

Source: Organic Trade Association, May 24, 2017

“Organic farmers are not just staying in business, they’re often expanding. Organic handling, manufacturing and processing facilities are being opened, enlarged and retooled. Organic farms, suppliers and handlers are creating jobs across the country, and the organic sector is growing and creating the kinds of healthy, environmentally friendly products that consumers are increasingly demanding,” said Laura Batcha, CEO and Executive Director of OTA. Produce – organic fruits and vegetables – accounted for nearly 40 percent of overall organic food sales. Growing at 8.4 percent in 2016 – almost three times the 3.3 percent growth rate of total fruit and vegetable sales – organic fruits and vegetables now account for nearly 15 percent of the produce Americans eat, says OTA. Organic meat and poultry products, too, marked record growth of more than 17 percent in 2016 to $991 million. The category is expected to top $1 billion in sales in 2017 as consumers demand transparency and awareness continues to grow about the benefits of organic over conventionally produced meat, poultry and dairy products.

Other organic food categories showing explosive growth included organic dips, growing 41 percent to $57 million, and organic spices, posting a 35 percent increase to $193 million. Of the overall $47 billion in sales of organic products, non-food organic items claimed nearly $4 billion of that total. Organic fiber, supplements and personal care products accounted for the majority of those sales, reporting nearly 9 percent growth in 2016.“Increasing consumer awareness that what we put on our body is as important as what we put in our body is driving the growth in organic fiber sales, while a growing desire for transparency, clean ingredients and plant-based products is spurring sales of organic supplements and personal care products,” OTA noted. “Organic products of all sorts are now found in the majority of kitchens and households across our country,” said Batcha. “But the organic sector is facing challenges to continue its growth. We need more organic farmers in this country to meet our growing organic demand, and the organic sector needs to have the necessary tools to grow and compete on a level playing field. That means federal, state and local programs that help support organic research, and provide the organic farmer with a fully equipped tool kit to be successful.”

Crystal Ball Briefs: 2017 Product Trend Predictions for Natural and Organic Living

Crystal Ball Briefs: 2017 Product Trend Predictions for Natural and Organic Living

Source - Presence Marketing January 2017 Newsletter

Author - Steven Hoffman, Compass Natural Marketing

The New Year is a time for product trend predictions, and we've highlighted some of the 2017 trend pieces in natural and organic living that caught our eye, plus a few prognostications of our own. 

Whole Foods Market Predicts Top 2017 Product Trends

Whole Foods Market may have gone through some changes in 2016, but they remain a global leader and major market force in natural and organic products. So when the natural and organic grocer released in December its predictions for 2017's hottest food trends, compiled by experts who track consumer behavior at more than 400 of the chain's stores, it's worth taking notice. Among the retail giant's predictions: Wellness tonics, such as apple cider vinegar-based beverages and turmeric elixirs; coconut everything; creative condiments; alternative pastas made from quinoa, lentils, chickpeas, etc.; all foods purple, including purple asparagus, purple corn, acaí, elderberries and more; "Flexitarian" diets; "on-the-go" beauty care products; reducing food waste (manufacturers will use by-products to create other new products); oven-ready meal kits; and "mindful meal prep" using a mix of "make some/buy some" ingredients. 

InstaCart Predicts Explosive Growth for Non-Dairy, Gluten Free Foods

"2017 will usher in more delicious ways to ditch dairy," says InstaCart, which partners with retailers including Whole Foods Market, Costco, Publix and Andronico's to deliver groceries to customers. Reporting which products and brands saw the highest jump in searches in the past year, InstaCart noted a 222% increase in searches for non-dairy products such as yogurt, milk, coffee creamer and frozen desserts with a coconut, soy or almond base. Gluten free remains a top search term, as consumers continue to search for anything gluten free; and the paleo diet is becoming increasingly popular, reports InstaCart. 

Kids' Palates Are Expanding

Kids' palates are expanding beyond just cereal and candy, their interest in cooking is growing, and food companies are taking notice, says Innova Market Insights in its Top Ten Food Trends for 2017. Other predictions:  Transparency and cleaner formulations as consumers increasingly demand truth in labeling; personalized nutrition; plant-based dairy and meat alternatives, or what Innova calls "Disruptive Green." 

Sugary Shifts

With sugary drink taxes and "added sugar" labeling requirements under FDA's new labeling guidelines, manufacturers will make further strides in sweetener reduction, reports Todd Runestad of New Hope Network's Engredea in his 2017 trends piece. Additionally, "low sugar," "no added sugar" and "sugar free" label claims will rise. Among Todd's other predictions: probiotics and digestive health, with dietary supplement manufacturers marketing high potency probiotic strains, and bitters (herbal digestive aids) in the "what's old is new again" category; adaptogens for stress (e.g., ashwagandha, rhodiola, schisandra, ginseng, maca); vision supplements ("Our screens are making us blind," says Runestad); and "carbon-friendly" foods.

Insect Protein; "Responsible Fats"

New Hope Network's Senior Food Editor Jenna Blumenfeld in December outlined some promising predictions for food and beverage in 2017. For starters, the edible insect industry now has its own trade association, as does the newly formed Plant Based Foods Association. Among other trends:  Biodynamic and Regenerative Agriculture; herbal infusions; reducing food waste; drinkable soup; and "responsible fats," seen from a social, environmental and health perspective, such as coconut oil, sustainable palm oil, grass-fed butter and ghee. For example, a new group, Palm Done Right, promotes sustainable, organic production of palm oil and is seeking to change the story and destructive impact of industrial palm oil production.

Hemp and CBD Extracts - A Future in Natural Foods

As the world awakens to the benefits of consumer products made with phytocannabinoid hemp extracts rich in cannabidiol or CBD, traditional independent natural products retailers are seeing the most success as sellers of these products, with sales of CBD products up more than 1,700% in the past year, primarily from the natural channel, reports Hemp Business Journal in an article written by Steven Hoffman of Compass Natural. Manufacturers committed to quality, efficacy, sophisticated marketing, and strict compliance under the Dietary Supplements Health and Education Act (DSHEA) stand to benefit from this emerging botanical category, too. Most are taking a wait and see approach as Big Pharma and the Feds challenge the consumer market for CBD products. However, the law does not prohibit the sale of consumer products made with CBD from hemp, says the , and while caution is urged, the natural living market stands to be among the first to benefit from growing interest in CBD products as prohibition of hemp and cannabis ends in the U.S. 

Organic Under Trump - How Concerned Should We Be?

"The truth is that we have absolutely no idea what to expect" under Trump, writes Max Goldberg in Living Maxwell. Goldberg is also publisher of the new subscriber-based Organic Insider ( "It could be favorable, especially if Ivanka gets personally involved, or it could be a complete disaster," he says, noting in his Organic Insider 2017 trends newsletter that Ivanka Trump eats healthy, organic food, and she has expressed concern for climate change (Ivanka also was instrumental in inviting Al Gore to meet with President-elect Trump). But, adds Goldberg, whatever Trump does, "it will not be worse than President Obama. While many assume Obama has been a friend to organic," Goldberg points out that Obama signed the GMO-labeling "DARK Act" into law and his administration has approved "every single genetically modified crop that has been applied for" under his administration.

GMO Labeling Transparency

On July 29, 2016, President Obama signed the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard into law. This federal law requires the labeling of foods containing GMOs, forming a nationwide standard and preempting all previous and future state-level GMO labeling laws. The law offers manufacturers the option to label for GMOs with a QR code, scannable by a Smart Phone app that then guides the consumer to a company website with GMO disclosure information, or a toll free number a consumer can call. Plain English disclosure on the product label now becomes a voluntary option. As a result of the new law, dubbed the DARK Act by GMO labeling advocates because of its lack of outright consumer transparency, USDA has taken over administration of GMO labeling from FDA, and it has two years to create a national mandatory disclosure standard. But questions remain. "For instance, even though the law directly states genetically engineered ingredients that are commercially grown—such as canola, corn, soy and sugar beets—are required to be labeled, it has yet to state whether food made from these products (i.e., canola oil and high-fructose corn syrup) will be required as well," writes nutrition industry executive George Pontiakos in Natural Products Insider in December 2016. Will new GMO technologies such as CRISPR and gene editing be included under the new disclosure standards? In related news, Whole Foods Market has revised its GMO transparency policy requiring product manufacturers to disclose GMO ingredients by September 2018. See A.C. Gallo's October 2016 progress update here.

Americans Don't Trust Scientists About Food

A lot of Americans don't care what scientists think about GMOs and food, and a deep cynicism about the motives of scientists in the GMO/non-GMO debate is growing, reported the Pew Research Center in December 2016 in a 99-page report on consumers' attitudes toward GMOs, organic food and the importance of eating healthfully. While many mainstream media reports indicate that there is no evidence proving GMOs are unsafe, Pew's survey discovered that 39% of Americans believe that genetically modified foods are worse for your health that non-GMO food. Roughly equal shares of Republicans and Democrats (39% vs. 40%) feel that GMOs are worse for people's health. More Democrats than Republicans (60% vs. 50%) believe that organic foods are healthier, a significant, but not a huge difference, reports NPR. The survey also didn't find any major differences between men and women, or between rich and poor, when it came to views about GMOs or about the healthy qualities of organic food. The wealthy, however, were more likely actually to buy organic food regularly. One overwhelming consensus point: 72% of Americans believe that healthy eating habits are very important in improving one's chances of a long and healthy life. According to the survey, Americans feel that scientific research findings are influenced in equal measure by the following factors: the best available scientific evidence; desire to help their industries; and desire to advance their careers. In the view of the public, all of those factors are more important to scientists than concern for the public interest, the Pew Research Center reported.

Climate Change and Organic: The Solution is Under Our Feet

As a handful of leading companies, producers and organizations embrace the concept that soil carbon sequestration can reverse climate change, look toward "Organic 3.0." Coined by IFOAM Organics International, Organic 3.0 builds on the concept of Regenerative Agriculture, promoted by Rodale Institute and others, in which we can draw carbon out of the atmosphere – where it is causing global warming – and put it back into healthy organic soils, grasslands, forests, urban landscapes and elsewhere. We knew organic was great for reducing environmental and dietary exposure to toxic pesticides, but now we also know that by building healthy organic soil, we can literally feed the world...and cool the planet! Biodynamic agriculture, too, promotes very similar concepts and is a rising star among consumers and natural products retailers. Learn more at and, and at Delicious Living.

Organic Rules: Animal Welfare, Hydroponics, Animal Welfare in the Spotlight

The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) at its November meeting voted to ban the ubiquitous and controversial ingredient carrageenan from organic foods. While the industry is fighting back, we will see reformulations of many products, based on this new proposed rule. Additionally, NOSB voted to ban new GMO technologies from being approved under Certified Organic, including gene editing, CRISPR-Cas9, mutagenesis, nanotechnology, synthetic biology, and others. Postponed until the Spring 2017 meeting is the consideration of hydroponics, currently allowed in Certified Organic production in the U.S. Expect the debate about the role of soil and hydroponics in organic vegetable production to continue well into 2017. Additionally, proposed animal welfare rules in Certified Organic, primarily for providing additional space for humane poultry and livestock production, while passed by NOSB in April 2016, may not be finalized before President Obama leaves office, "leaving open the possibility that they may never go into effect," reports Luke Runyon of Harvest Public Media in December. The Organic Trade Association says the updates to animal welfare regulations are necessary to keep the organic label from being watered down. These rules, says OTA, should prevent producers from looking to the organic seal as a way to charge a premium for meat and animal products without making changes to their conventional farming practices, reports Runyon. 

Investing To Grow in Natural, Organic and Healthy Lifestyles

With the launch of a number of private equity funds dedicated to investing in emerging natural and organic producers and brands, including BIGR Ventures, Sunrise Strategic Partners, Iroquois Valley Farms (investing in organic farmland) and others; mission-based micro-investing organizations including RSF Social Finance, Slow Money and others; plus "Kickstarter-style" crowd-funding platforms such as Barnraiser, founded by food and tech veteran Eileen Gordon Chiarello and focused on investing in artisanal food producers, not to mention Whole Foods Market's Local Producer Loan Program, start-ups and emerging companies can look to a number of sources for the capital needed to grow. As the natural and organic market continues to grow at double-digit pace into 2017, expect M&A and investment activity to remain hot. Follow the financial news at Nutrition Capital Network

Seeds Go Open Source:  Around the world, plant breeders are resisting what they see as corporate control of the food supply by making seeds available for other breeders to use, reports leading environmental news source Ensia. The Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI), inspired by "the free and open source software movement," was created to ensure that some plant varieties and genes remain free from intellectual property rights and available for all plant breeders in perpetuity. As part of the initiative, U.S. breeders can take a pledge that commits the seeds they produce to remain available for others to use for breeding in the future. That doesn't mean they can't build a business with or sell them. What the pledge does is allow farmers who buy seeds from an open-source breeder to cross them with other material to breed their own varieties and save them for future seasons — two things many crop patents forbid. Dozens of breeders and seed companies have pledged since OSSI launched in 2014.

Steven Hoffman is Managing Director of Compass Natural, providing brand marketing, PR, social media, and strategic business development services to natural, organic and sustainable products businesses. Contact

U.S. Organic Farmland Reaches Record 4.1 Million Acres, Up 11% Compared to 2014

U.S. Organic Farmland Reaches Record 4.1 Million Acres, Up 11% Compared to 2014

Source - Presence Marketing December 2016 Newsletter

What do California, Montana, Wisconsin, New York and North Dakota have in common? They are the top five states, respectively, in terms of overall organic acreage, says a new report from market research company Mercaris. California, with nearly 689,000 acres, remains by far the top organic producer, yet surprisingly, Montana saw 30% growth in organic acreage, and is now the number two producing state, with over 417,000 acres in 2016 – an increase of 100,000 acres since 2014 and adding 50 new organic farms, writes Ken Roseboro in the Organic and Non-GMO Report. Adding more than 40,000 acres, North Dakota edged out Oregon for the number five position. 

Overall, organic farmland in the U.S. reached 4.1 million acres in 2016, an 11% increase compared to 2014 data, reports Mercaris. Additionally, the number of U.S. certified organic farms were up 6.2%, totaling 14,979, an increase of 1,000 farms compared to 2014. Top organic crops include alfalfa/hay, with more than 800,000 acres in production in 2016, followed by organic wheat, corn, soybeans and oats, reported Mercaris. However, except for organic oats, which now accounts for 3.6% of total oat acreage in the U.S., organic wheat, corn and soybeans account for less than 1% of total respective crop acreage in the U.S. 

With larger companies entering the organic market, such as General Mills’ announcement to increase organic acreage from which it sources ingredients to 250,000 acres by 2019, and Dean Foods’ announcement in November that it has formed a joint venture with Organic Valley, the number of organic acres is likely to increase. “I think we will see more of an impact of those programs in the next few years as more farmers start the transition process (to organic),” said Alex Heilman, a spokesperson for Mercaris

Steven Hoffman is Managing Director of Compass Natural, providing brand marketing, PR, social media, and strategic business development services to natural, organic and sustainable products businesses. Contact

*This content was originally published in the Presence Marketing December 2016 Newsletter.

New Era in Food Safety Regulation: FDA Issues Guides for Small Businesses to Comply with FSMA Preventive Controls Deadlines

New Era in Food Safety Regulation: FDA Issues Guides for Small Businesses to Comply with FSMA Preventive Controls Deadlines

Source - Presence Marketing December 2016 Newsletter

As deadlines approach to comply with final food safety prevention rules established under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) – the most sweeping reform of U.S. food safety laws in more than 70 years – FDA in October issued guidances for both human and animal food manufacturing to help small businesses with the implementation of the Preventive Controls for Human Food and Preventive Controls for Animal Food rules. 

The title for human food says it all: Small Entity Compliance Guide: What You Need to Know About the FDA Regulation: Current Good Manufacturing Practice, Hazard Analysis, and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Human Food. You can download a pdf copy here

Enacted in 2011 and now entering the enforcement stage, FSMA “introduces a new era in food safety by focusing on preventing food safety risks rather than on responding to crises after they happen,” reported Food Safety Magazine. “Under the Preventive Controls rule, a facility is required to develop a written food safety plan that includes a risk-based assessment to identify hazards where preventive controls are necessary to significantly minimize or prevent hazards for any food that is manufactured, processed, packed or held at the facility. The written food safety plan must also include procedures for monitoring, corrective actions and verification of each preventive control,” Food Safety Magazine reported, while advising food producers to be prepared to produce a written food safety plan within 24 hours if FDA requests a review.” 

The guidances outline which companies must comply with the rule, which are exempt from parts of the rules or subject to modified requirements, and also key information for qualified facilities (i.e., small businesses). The guides are two of dozens of guidance documents the FDA intends to release as it continues with the implementation of FSMA. 

Food Safety Magazine offers an excellent summary of the new FSMA rules and compliance deadlines in its October/November 2016 issue, here

*This content was originally published in the Presence Marketing December 2016 Newsletter.

NOSB Fall 2016 Meeting Results: Carrageenan Disallowed; New GMO Technology Banned; Jury Out on Organic Aquaculture

NOSB Fall 2016 Meeting Results: Carrageenan Disallowed; New GMO Technology Banned; Jury Out on Organic Aquaculture

Source - Presence Marketing December 2016 Newsletter

The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) voted 11-3 to disallow the controversial ingredient Carrageenan in certified organic products at its biannual public meeting held November 16th to 18th, 2016, in St. Louis, Missouri. 

Carrageenan, a food additive derived from a type of red seaweed and commonly used as a thickener, emulsifier and/or stabilizing agent in processed foods such as chocolate milk, soy milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, deli meats and other products, has been subject to intensifying debate in the organic industry. Larger organic producers have maintained that Carrageenan is safe, while consumer groups including the Cornucopia Institute petitioned NOSB to remove the ingredient, asserting that Carrageenan is linked to gastrointestinal inflammation and is a possible carcinogen. As a result of the vote, Carrageenan will no longer be allowed in certified organic products beginning in 2018. 

Also, while traditional genetic engineering (GMO) methodologies are prohibited in organic production, NOSB voted to officially prohibit newer technologies that have emerged since the original national organic law was passed. NOSB added biotech methods including CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing, mutagenesis and synthetic biology to the excluded methods list, along with guiding principles and criteria to be applied in the evaluation of new technologies. 

In further testing the waters for hydroponically grown certified organic products – another organic “hot button” issue – NOSB voted to delay a decision on the issue, referring any recommendation on hydroponics back to a subcommittee until the spring 2017 meeting. In 2010, the NOSB made a recommendation to ban hydroponics, as the original definition of organic, written in 1995, included the word “soil,” while a revised definition written in 2002 omitted “soil” and used “biological practices” instead, reports Max Goldberg in Living Maxwell

USDA has allowed some certifiers to certify hydroponically grown produce including tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, eggplant and other products, while other certifiers do not because of a lack of guidance from the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP), says the Cornucopia Institute. Mexico, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, and 24 European nations all prohibit hydroponic vegetable production – where plants are grown in water with their roots in nutrient systems instead of soil – to be sold as organic in their own countries, reports Living Maxwell

The next NOSB meeting will take place April 19th to 21st, 2017, in Denver, Colorado.

*This content was originally published in the Presence Marketing December 2016 Newsletter.

Engaging Via Blogs Helps Meet Consumers Where They Are: An Interview with Steve Hoffman

Nutra Ingredients USA - News / Markets

Author - Hank Schultz

Engaging Via Blogs Helps Meet Consumers Where They Are

Interacting with consumers through blogs continues to become an important part of marketing plans in the dietary supplement and functional foods industries. “Companies and brands have to meet their customers where they are, and that’s increasingly online in communities of their own choosing,” says Hoffman. Consumers are starting to put their trust in new voices throughout the blogger community, and that trust is critical to the ongoing relationship between consumers and bloggers. Steve Hoffman, CEO of Compass Natural, continues to expand on his thoughts surrounding industry and media relations throughout the following article, along with details of the upcoming ShiftCon event this December in New Orleans. 

Click here to read the full article!

Source: Nutra Ingredients USA - News / Markets

GMO Roundup: Whole Foods Market, Pope Francis Top GMO News

GMO Roundup: Whole Foods Market, Pope Francis Top GMO News
Source - Presence Marketing November 2016 Newsletter                                              
Author - Steve Hoffman

Whole Foods Market Updates Progress on GMO Transparency

To mark national Non-GMO Month in October, Whole Foods Market released a progress report on the retailer’s GMO labeling policy. First announced in 2013, “We are well on our way to providing GMO transparency for the food we sell by our self-imposed deadline of September 1st, 2018,” writes President and COO A.C. Gallo in a company blog published on October 10th. While QR codes are a labeling option in the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Law, signed by President Obama on July 29th, 2016, “This is absolutely unacceptable for our policy,” Gallo writes. Also, in a modification of its original announcement, made to align with the new federal law, says Gallo, Whole Foods Market will not require suppliers to label ingredients derived from animals fed GMO feed; that is, a food product that contains a meat or dairy ingredient but does not contain any other risk ingredient will not be subject to a labeling requirement. Whole Foods Market requires all non-GMO claims on products sold in its stores to be verified by approved third-party verification programs including the Non-GMO Project, NSF True North and USDA Certified Organic (and equivalent international programs.) “Part of our current focus is working closely with suppliers and manufacturers to help meet our GMO Labeling Policy,” Gallo writes. 

Pope Francis Questions GMO Crops, Urges Action on Climate Change

Pope Francis called into question the role of GMO crops in his annual message on World Food Day on October 16th, reported Catholic Culture Magazine. In a letter to the head of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the Pope said, “There is a growing number of people who believe they are omnipotent, or able to ignore the cycles of the seasons and to improperly modify the various animal and plant species, leading to the loss of variety that, if it exists in nature, has and must have its role.” Pope Francis contrasted the “wisdom of rural communities” with “the logic of consumerism and production at any cost, a logic that, cloaked in good justifications, such as the increasing population, is in reality aimed solely at the increase of profit.” In his message to the FAO, the Pope also said, “Genetic selection of a quality of plant may produce impressive results in terms of yield, but have we considered the terrain that loses its productive capacity, farmers who no longer have pasture for their livestock, and water resources that become unusable? And above all, do we ask if and to what extent we contribute to altering the climate? Not precaution, then, but wisdom: what peasants, fisherman and farmers conserve in memory handed down through the generations and which is now derided and forgotten by a model of production that is entirely to the advantage of a limited group and a tiny portion of the world population. Let us remember that it is a model which, despite all its science, allows around eight hundred million people to continue to go hungry.” 

Adjusting to Demand, Cargill Announces First Non-GMO Project Verified Ingredients

As demand for non-GMO food rises, Cargill has obtained Non-GMO Project Verification for three of its food ingredients, including erythritol, cane sugar and high oleic sunflower oil. Annual sales of Non-GMO Project Verified products increased from $348.8 million in 2010 to more than $19 billion as of March, 2016. According to Packaged Facts, demand for non-GMO products is expected to grow 12% annually through 2018. With nearly 2,800 Non- GMO Project Verified brands sourcing ingredients to comply with the standard, food and beverage industry demand is outpacing supply, said Cargill in a statement. “Consumer demand for non-GMO food and beverages is growing, and Cargill is responding,” said Mike Wagner, Managing Director for Cargill Starches and Sweeteners North America. “We’re delighted to work with the Non-GMO Project, the leading verifier of non-GMO products in the United States. Their distinctive trademark is the most recognized symbol for non-GMO products in the country.” Collaboration with Cargill, one of the largest food companies in the world, is an opportunity to increase the availability of non-GMO foods to consumers, said Megan Westgate, Executive Director of the Non-GMO Project. “The Non-GMO Project’s mission is to preserve and build sources of non-GMO products, educate consumers, and provide verified non-GMO choices. Achieving this mission requires participation by companies of all sizes, including supply-chain leaders like Cargill that can provide large-scale availability of non-GMO food ingredients,” she said. 

Okanagan Gains Approval for Third GMO Apple Variety, But Will It Be Labeled? 

British Columbia biotech company Okanagan has gained U.S. approval for its genetically engineered, non-browning Arctic Fuji variety. The Fuji apple joins the non-browning GMO Golden Delicious and Granny Smith varieties developed by Okanagan, using a new gene editing technology known as CRISPR/Cas-9, a technology that labeling proponents fear will not be subject to labeling disclosure under the new federal GMO labeling law, which requires only older, recombinant genetic engineering technology to be labeled. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of USDA granted the non-browning Arctic Fuji approval in late September, reported Food Safety News on October 5th. As part of the review process, the agency sought public comment on the genetically modified organism (GMO). By the mid-September deadline, 626 comments had been filed with APHIS, with those against approval outnumbering those in favor by about 10 to 1. Among those commenters opposed to the GMO apple was the Center for Food Safety, which attached a letter signed by more than 25,000 of its members opposing the apple, reported Food Safety News. Okanagan says it plans next to seek approval for genetically modified Gala apples. 

UVA Study: GMO Crops Increased Use of Herbicides on U.S. Farms by 28% 

In one of the longest studies ever conducted of genetically engineered crops, researchers found that GMO crops increased the use of herbicides on U.S. farms by 28%, reported Organic Authority. Researchers at the University of Virginia examined data over a 14-year period from 5,000 soybean and 5,000 maize farmers in the U.S. The GMO soybean and maize farms each comprised two GMO varieties – one pest-resistant variety, and one herbicide- tolerant variety. The researchers found that while the use of insecticides decreased by about 11% on GMO farms due to the pest-resistant varieties of the crops themselves, use of herbicides, mainly glyphosate marketed by Monsanto as Roundup, increased by more than twice as much due to herbicide- resistant GMO seeds. “In the beginning, there was a reduction in herbicide use,” said University of Virginia economist Federico Ciliberto, who led the research team. “But over time the use of chemicals increased because farmers were having to add new chemicals as weeds developed a resistance to glyphosate.” 

Canadian Groups Call on Competition Board Over Bayer-Monsanto Merger

Bayer AG’s proposed $66-billion, all-cash deal to acquire Monsanto will face a number of political and antitrust hurdles over the coming months, as well as consumer unease in the U.S. and abroad around the consolidation of multinational agriculture, chemical and biotech corporations and the future of food production. The Monsanto-Bayer deal, which would be the largest-ever all-cash acquisition, faces intense and lengthy regulatory processes in the U.S., the E.U. and elsewhere, reported Reuters. In Canada, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, a farmer’s group, and the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, a group of 17 non-GMO organizations, separately submitted comments to Canada’s federal Competition Bureau to review the possible implications of Bayer’s pending takeover of Monsanto. “Our position right now would be for the Competition Bureau to really...examine what the impact is going to be and making sure that there’s fair pricing and competition in the marketplace, Ron Bonnett, President of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, told CBC News. "This merger could further increase the price of seed, decrease choice in the marketplace for Canadian farmers, and stifle research and development," said the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network’s submission to the Canadian Competition Bureau, reported CBC News in late September.                  

China Vying for Control of GMO Technology

In the past month both the New York Times and Bloomberg News have focused on China’s ambitions to become a major player in genetically modified food. However, at the same time Chinese consumers have become increasing suspicious of GMO foods. Food safety issues continue to plague China, and there is widespread belief that GMOs are a foreign conspiracy against Chinese health, reported Bloomberg News. Yet, one of China’s state-run companies, ChemChina, is vying to acquire Swiss agricultural biotech giant Syngenta for $43 billion, which would make it China’s largest foreign purchase ever, reported the New York Times. China is increasing spending on research and development and supporting a nascent domestic industry that it hopes can someday become China’s answer to Monsanto and DuPont. In a 2013 speech, Xi Jinping, the country’s president, said, “We can’t let big foreign companies dominate our GMO crops market.” According to the New York Times, Chinese officials see GMO science as a way to bolster production in a country where large-scale farming is still uncommon – a legacy of the Communist Revolution, when land was stripped from landlords and given to peasants – and better feed its growing and increasingly affluent population on its own. 

The New GMOs 2.0: Will They Be Labeled? 

Silenced genes, edited genes, algae engineered to produce compounds that taste like food: new genetically modified organisms (GMOs) made with these experimental techniques are making their way to your dinner plate. It’s the next wave of genetic engineering, or GMOs 2.0, reports Stacy Malkan, Co-Director of US Right to Know and author of Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry. In a Huffington Post interview featuring Consumers Union Chief Scientist Dr. Michael Hansen, Malkan warns that vague wording in the new federal GMO labeling law opens the door for industry pressure on the USDA to exempt many – possibly even most – GMOs from labeling at all. Read Stacy’s article, GMO 2.0 Foods Coming Your Way: Will They Be Labeled?, here.