The Food Safety Fight Coming To Your Natural Products

The food safety issue has had an impact on your natural product manufacturers. I know, natural products, what’s to worry about, right? Well this interview by Shari Barbanel in Nutrition Industry Executive explains some of the ways your natural products manufactures are coming to terms with food safety. As always, it’s more complicated than you would expect, but it’s worth taking a look at the landscape of how natural products remain natural and safe. Read more.

School Snack Time Goes Low Cal

The Science of VeggiesBeginning in the 2014-15 school year, public schools across the country will have to comply with new standards for snacks sold on their campuses.

Those new standards include limits on calorie, fat, sodium and sugar for all foods and drinks sold during the day at 100,000 schools.

Doughnuts and cookies will be out, baked chips and granola bars will be in. Sugary drinks like fruit punch and sports drinks will be replaced by no-calorie flavored water and diet sodas. The beverage industry has also had their input on standards for school beverages.

It’s a good thing we have some standards because the FDA has warned apple juice makers to limit the arsenic levels. The dairy industry eager to get in on the bandwagon wants to put aspartame in flavored milk.

The new snack standards were laid out by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in June 2013.  To be clear, the USDA snack standards only affect food and drinks sold at schools during the day and do not apply to food that kids bring from home.

School groups can still sell bags of chocolate chip cookies and brownies at fundraising bake sales on campus–once the school day is over, and kids can still bring in cupcakes for the class on birthdays. And food vendors will still be able to buy naming rights to athletic facilities, school yearbooks and event programs. Gotta love capitalism.

In a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. Pediatrics, researchers found that as of mid-June, more than three quarters of the nation’s public elementary schools faced no state or district limits on the sale of candy, salty snacks and sugary drinks.

The USDA regulations for snacks sold at schools follows on the heels of nutritional guidelines for subsidized school lunches that were revised last year and implemented last fall. It’s a start, but is it too late to make a substantive difference for the numerous generations who have grown up without being taught what to eat and why it’s good for you?

“Millions of children will benefit from having healthier options because of the updated USDA standards for snacks and drinks sold in schools—where many of our kids consume up to half their daily calories,” said Maya Rockeymoore, director of Leadership for Healthy Communities, a policy group that is working to fight childhood obesity, in a statement.

School Salad BarOne solution to getting children to eat more vegetables has been to add science. Adding a taste test has also proven effective in  middle schools where the consensus thinking was that kids wouldn’t touch the stuff on the school salad bar. All evidence to the contrary, the best evidence points to reaching them at an early age while participating with their peers.

Knowing how to be healthy isn’t so complicated that we need tons of regulations. An educated consumer will make the right choice more often than not. That’s basic self interest. That’s also the best way to drive a market. When Riverside Unified School Districts Rodney Taylor offered to pay the local organic farmers in 30 days, unheard of in school district accounts payable, the acreage in organic production for the schools went from two to forty acres in just a few short years.

That’s a testament to not only a forward thinking food service program, but it’s the proof in the pudding so to speak, that kids know what’s good for them. If they’re given a chance to taste it along with their friends, learning what to eat will be the best long term result from their education.

California’s Prop 37 Recount Backstory

GMO_CoverThere WAS a recount, headed by Tom Courbat, former senior budget analyst for LA County. The recount process was met with cooperation in Orange and Sierra counties and with massive opposition in Fresno County, to the point that the private citizens who were paying for the recount were unable to pursue and complete the recount. You can read the whole story here:

Next Steps.

As you are aware, there are many new initiatives around the country to label GMOs. Counties, towns and states are taking this issue seriously and implementing change. It is wonderful that our PROP 37 did serve to educate many people.

What you can do now to continue your commitment to a wholesome food supply is join FOOD INTEGRITY NOW. This is an initiative, as the name states, dedicated to educating about and supporting integrity in all aspects of our food supply. To join, go to

CALL TO ACTION: Join Food Integrity Now at

Thank you to all those who were so generous in offering to donate talents, skills, abilities, services and time to this issue. Carol Grieve, founder of Food Integrity Now, is eager to hear from you about resources you wish to share to support the return to a clean, sustainable and wholesome food supply.

Supermarkets Get Healthy or Green Grocers Greenwashing?

A recent story By ANNIE GASPARRO  in the Wall Street Journal pointed out some of the ways mainstream groceries are rushing to copy Whole Foods to stem the shrinking margins against rising food costs.  There’s some skepticism about just how much “healthy” or “organic” food is really in the market. If you don’t believe me, just ask any grocer to point out the food products in their store that have no genetically modified ingredients. Go ahead, . . . . .  I’ll meet you in the produce aisle.

Traditional supermarkets are investing more in the healthy food fad, trying to win back customers from the increasingly popular Whole Foods Markets Inc. and farmers markets. (Healthy food fad?? WTF??  Poor health and absenteeism is costing U.S. companies $564 billion a year. I think we’re past healthy food being a ‘fad’. Maybe a lifeline would be more apt).

Kroger Co., one of the nation’s largest grocery store networks with 2,200 locations, is the latest in rolling out a new natural and organic foods brand it hopes will boost profitability and help it compete more strongly in the segment.

In recent years, mainstream supermarkets have been losing their hold on the grocery business to myriad competitors infringing on the territory. Meanwhile, food cost inflation and budget-minded consumers are making it tougher for them to turn a profit.

Kroger has outpaced competitors, such as Safeway Inc. and Supervalu Inc., by marking down its prices to become value-oriented, even before the recession started, and expanding its store-branded line of products to lure budget shoppers.

Kroger’s first natural foods line, Naturally Preferred, was brought to stores in 2000. The company then launched its Private Selection Organic line in 2006. But the two didn’t generate the loyal following Kroger hoped.

“Our customers told us that having multiple brands was confusing to them,” Mary Ellen Adcock, Kroger’s vice president of natural foods division, said in an interview.

“This way it’s easy for them to find natural and organic products that they know they can trust, and to have more choices of both…. Choice drives incremental sales,” she added.

Kroger’s new brand, Simple Truth, is intended to be less complicated—by rebranding the two existing lines under one umbrella—and to be more affordable than fancy organic brands. Simple Truth reminds me of Clear Skies, No Child Left Behind and all the other attempts to co opt language to obscure meaning.

Even though private-label prices are lower, that business is more profitable for grocery stores than sales of name-brand products. Safeway, which operates regional chains such as Vons and Randalls, has said profit margins on its store-brand products are about four percentage points better than name-brand sales. And on average, store brands generate a 35% gross margin compared with 25.9% for national brands, according to the Food Marketing Institute.

Kroger has increased its store-brand business over the past few years to now constitute about 34% of the grocery items it sells, compared with just 19% at rival grocer Supervalu.

Demand for organic food is also on the rise, according to the Organic Trade Association, which claims 78% of U.S. families say they are choosing organic foods as part of their shopping. California is poised to pass the first of it’s kind GMO labeling law in the U.S. (Most foreign countries already have labeling requirements for GMO’s).

The trend has gotten credit for the continuing success of stores like Whole Foods and The Fresh Market Inc., along with the big boost in farmers markets over the past few years. Yet it appears Whole Foods has proven to be less concerned with their principles of whole food, whole people and whole planet by carrying produce from China and labeling it as organic.

“People are still value conscious, but they are even more organic conscious,” said Whole Foods Chief Operating Officer A.C. Gallo. “Supermarkets pulled back their focus on organics during the recession, and are now starting to bring that back. But for us, it isn’t something we get in to or out of based on a fad or which way we think the wind’s blowing,” he added.

As mainstream grocers try to compete with the leading organic players for the best value proposition, they will also be up against Whole Foods’ private line, dubbed 365 Everyday Value, which already has a loyal following and wide range of products. (Apparently, not all certified organic as labeled).

“The mainstream supermarkets are launching private-label organic offerings to show customers that they have natural and organic options, but that is our entire store. So our purpose with 365 is to show our customers that we also can offer a good value.” He said the store’s margins on the products aren’t always better than sales of the national brands, but that Whole Foods is more focused on building sales volume and increasing customer frequency with the line.

Kroger is rolling out nearly 250 new products to the Simple Truth line now, and plans to come out with others, such as cereals and frozen pizzas, over the next few months. The company expects Simple Truth to become a “billion-dollar brand” in terms of sales, like the rest of its private brands. (I wonder what the simple truth about these foods really is. We do know one truth about genetically modified foods — they cause tumors and organ failure when administered to mice in safe doses. That’s a simple truth.)

Other grocery stores, such as Supervalu, have also recently moved to a single private-label line across all their stores, counting on the larger-scale operations to help decrease costs and increase marketing capabilities.

Supervalu, whose brands include Albertsons, Jewel-Osco, Shaw’s and more, is also expanding its private-label business this year, including a line of natural and organic foods called Wild Harvest. Safeway introduced its all-natural brand, Open Nature, in late 2010, to complement its existing organic line and health-oriented brand

One way is to patronize merchants willing to be transparent about the food products they carry or their educational outreach about those products.  For example, Earth Fare carries no products containing high fructose corn syrup ( HFCS).  Mother’s Market & Kitchen offers educational information to both customers and staff.  Our food is in peril. How can we be sure that what we buy in a health food store is healthy?

Lewd Food in your supermarket aisles? Rebranding is not a guananteed path to success especially when consumers are playing Russian Roulette with each food purchase.  It’s still a buyer beware marketplace and the savvy food shoppers  know value and what questions to ask their grocers.

Hey FDA, What About Other Bogus ‘Natural’ Claims?

by Kelsey Blackwell in New Hope 360 Blog

Dec. 5, 2011 1:00pm

The Food and Drug Administration sent a warning letter last week to a food processor for misusing the term “natural.” According to my research, it’s not the only company doing so.

One of these foods is not like the other. One of these foods, according to the Food and Drug Administration, should not be using the term “natural.” Can you guess which?

Truvia Natural Sweetener

Sun Chips Jalapeno Jack Flavored Multigrain Snacks




Alexia Foods All Natural Roasted Red Potatoes & Baby Portabella Mushrooms


Hormel 100% Natural Brown Sugar Deli Ham

Breyers Natural Vanilla


And the winner is … Alexia Foods. Last week the FDA issued a warning letter to the food manufacturer for misleading consumers by using the term “All Natural” on its Roasted Red Potatoes & Baby Portabella Mushrooms which contain the synthetic chemical preservative disodium dihydrogen pyrophosphate. But if you scanned the above list and thought more than one of these foods sounded suspicious, you’re right on in my eyes.

The FDA’s definition of what can be labeled as “natural” is, shall we say, pretty loose. According to the government agency’s website, “from a food science perspective, it is difficult to define a food product that is ‘natural’ because the food has probably been processed and is no longer the product of the earth. That said, [the] FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.”

There’s plenty of incentive for companies to slap on an all natural label. For whatever reason, consumers trust the term.  According to a survey released last year by the Shelton Group, a Knoxville, Tenn.-based advertising agency, 31 percent of consumers chose “100 percent natural,” 25 percent chose “all-natural ingredients” and 7 percent chose “contains natural ingredients.” In contrast, only 14 percent chose “100 percent organic” and about 12 percent chose “certified-organic ingredients.”

A fuzzy FDA defined definition coupled with consumers’ clear affection for the term, has led to a Wild West approach to its use. In less than 10 minutes of Googling, I found plenty of “natural” foods with very unnatural ingredients. Take a look at what’s in the above mentioned products:

  • Truvia Natural Sweetener: This sugar substitute is enhanced with “natural flavors.” As Eric Schlosser points out in his book Fast Food Nation, “The distinction between artificial and natural flavors can be somewhat arbitrary and absurd based more on how the flavor has been made than on what it actually contains. A natural flavor is not necessarily healthier or purer than an artificial one.”
  • Sun Chips Jalapeno Jack Flavored Multigrain Snacks: I’d pass on these chips made with genetically modified corn, natural flavors and maltodextrin.
  • Hormel 100% Natural Brown Sugar Deli Ham: What’s a sandwich without added hormones and antibiotics?
  • Breyers Natural Vanilla: I don’t think ice cream made with rBGH milk and cream tastes so sweet.

While I appreciate the FDA’s effort in targeting Alexia Foods, I think it’s time for the government agency to narrow its definition of the term “natural” and go after other companies misleading consumers.

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