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Whole Foods Shakes Down Organic Farmers

Is Whole Foods Markets Throwing Organic Farmers
Under the Bus to Fund Grocer’s Marketing Program?

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Incensed and insulted, five of the most respected and influential, veteran Certified Organic farmers in the nation have sent the CEO of Whole Foods Market a letter calling the company’s new “Responsibly Grown” produce marketing scheme “onerous and expensive” and stating that it devalues the Certified Organic label.

The signatories come from California and Pennsylvania. They, along with many other growers around the country who felt unable to speak on the record for fear of risking their livelihoods as Whole Foods suppliers, express concern that the giant retailer is setting aside decades of partnership with farmers in building the organic movement to pursue an ill-advised, self-serving marketing program.

Their letter was addressed to the corporation’s Chief Executive Officer, John Mackey.

Whole Foods’ growth, with annual sales approaching $15 billion, has run into strong headwinds in the maturing marketplace for organic food. Same-store sales are flat and other retailers are gaining market share from a company that has long had a reputation for being top-quality, but expensive, earning the nickname “Whole Paycheck.” The iconic natural foods grocer has more than 400 stores.

One of the signatories, Tom Willey, of T&D Willey Farms, located in Madera, California, is a longtime Whole Foods supplier. “Intending to create a value-added image for the conventional produce on their shelves, Whole Foods is undermining the work my family and I have done, along with so many others in the organic farming movement, to create a Certified Organic ‘gold standard’ in terms of safe food production,” Willey said.

While devising a new labeling program that identifies fruits and vegetables as “Good,” “Better,” and “Best,” Whole Foods is asking the growers to pay for participating in the retailer’s verification program.

Another signatory to the letter, Jim Crawford, founder of New Morning Farm in Hustontown, Pennsylvania, said numerous growers reported that their cost to comply with Whole Foods’ new program ranges from $5,000 to $20,000. “That is not an inconsequential sum for medium-sized, established organic growers like myself. But this cost, and the added labor to administer the program, could be impossible for some smaller and new-entry farmers to absorb,” stated Crawford.

“I call this marketing model ‘Robin Hood in reverse’,” said Mark A. Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst at The Cornucopia Institute. “Although their market capitalization has taken quite a hit recently, at over $14 billion Whole Foods remains one of the wealthiest grocers in the United States. In an effort to enhance their image, they are asking modestly scaled family farmers to pick up the tab for a program whose benefits will almost exclusively accrue to the corporation,” Kastel stated.

One of the most objectionable elements of the “Responsibly Grown” program, for farmers, is the company’s alleged attempt to devalue the importance of the Certified Organic label in terms of customer perception. Under the Whole Foods program, conventionally grown produce, treated with toxic agrochemicals, can be rated higher than Certified Organic produce, which is grown under strict, legally enforced compliance overseen by the USDA.

An example of this grievance is clearly illustrated in photos taken this spring at Whole Foods stores in California. The company was selling conventionally grown asparagus, imported from Mexico, at $4.99 per pound with signage identifying it as “Best.” 

AsparagusConventional

Simultaneously, the grocer was offering locally grown, Certified Organic asparagus for $7.99 per pound, which only garnered the stores’ lowest rating, “Good.”

AsparagusOrganic

“Why would a customer pay three dollars more per pound for the Certified Organic asparagus when they could buy what a trusted retailer has labeled ‘Best’?” asked Kastel.

Because T&D Willey Farms has not yet complied with Whole Foods’ program, their produce is currently labeled “Unrated.” “I am most assuredly rated!” said Willey. “I have been Certified Organic for 28 years and my farm undergoes a rigorous annual physical inspection and auditing by CCOF, an independent certifier, accredited by the USDA. That’s a pretty high rating in my book.”

This is not the first time The Cornucopia Institute has referred to some of Whole Foods’ marketing tactics as “bait and switch.”

“Here is a business that touts their status as being the nation’s first national Certified Organic grocery chain,” Cornucopia’s Kastel explained. “In their marketing materials and signage they are constantly promoting their dedication to organic agriculture. But when you shop at their stores, you might notice that a high percentage of their offerings are not actually organic. Now the ‘Responsibly Grown’ program is attempting to put some of this conventional food on a pedestal higher than organic,” Kastel lamented.

Whole Foods has long been criticized by some in the organic movement for developing a proprietary meat department rating system, which predominately sells premium-priced conventional meat labeled as “natural.”

“The meat Whole Foods sells that is not Certified Organic was produced from livestock that were fed conventional feed, almost assuredly genetically modified, and, based on USDA research, likely contaminated with agrochemical residues,” Kastel added.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that there are traces of 29 different pesticides in the average American’s body. Dr. Michael Crupain, Director of the Food Safety and Sustainability Center at Consumer Reports, states, “We’re exposed to a cocktail of chemicals from our food on a daily basis.”

Although the new Whole Foods rating system bans a selected list of synthetic pesticides, most toxic agrochemicals are still available for their conventional growers to use based on the company’s “Responsibly Grown” protocols.

For example, the USDA’s National Organic Program bans the use of antibiotics, sprayed on fruit trees to control the bacterial disease fireblight, in apple and pear orchards. The agency also bans the use of synthetic mold and sprout inhibitors, sprayed on the skins of potatoes after harvest. However, these materials can be used on fruits and vegetables that receive the “Best” rating under Whole Foods’ new approach.

“Undoubtedly, based on research, some of the produce that Whole Foods has rated ‘Best’ carries detectable levels of pesticides demonstrably higher than anything that would be found on Certified Organic produce,” added Kastel.

Tom Willey, who farms year-round in California’s San Joaquin Valley, added, “If Whole Foods truly is committed to the values they expound, nothing in their stores should be rated ‘Better’ or ‘Best’ unless it first passes muster under the strict regulations Congress designated when they passed the Organic Foods Production Act.”

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Jim Crawford, of New Morning Farm, and Tom Willey, of T&D Willey Farms, were both recognized in a 2014 gathering, covered by the New York Times, of “Organic Elders” who founded the organic movement. Crawford thinks Whole Foods’ marketing program is unfairly burdensome and expensive for farmers, especially smaller-scale ones, but he says that’s not the worst aspect of it.

More harmful, he says, is the fact that the program deceives consumers in their perception of which foods deserve to be rated “Best.” “It’s a privately dreamed up, proprietary food-rating system directly contrasting and competing with a publicly created system, USDA Certified Organic, which was painstakingly developed over years and is administered rigorously and with verifiability.”

Crawford thinks it especially ironic that the private Whole Foods program is made to appear more demanding, more rigorous, and more restrictive than Certified Organic. “In reality, it is drastically more permissive, especially in the area of pesticide use, and not rigorous or verifiable at all in the way it’s administered,” Crawford said.

And, unlike within the USDA National Organic Program, farmers participating in Whole Foods’ labeling campaign are not subject to annual, on-site inspections or audits of the paper trail for their farm inputs and all sales to assure compliance. Nor could any detected malfeasance lead to large fines and other sanctions.

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WHAT’S THE BEST BURGER IN THE COUNTRY?

RANKER RELEASES RESULTS OF BEST FAST FOOD BURGER POLL BASED ON
42,000 VOTES
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In-N-Out Double Double and Five Guys Hamburger Top Poll
Millennials Prefer Wendy’s Baconator
West Coasters More Partial to In-N-Out & Fatburger
Five Guys and Wendy’s Earn 2 Spots Each in Top 10

When you’re under a time crunch or just hungry, there’s nothing better than a fast food burger. With burger sales in 2014 increasing to nine billion served (NPD Group, 2015), people are consuming one of the most iconic foods in record numbers. In honor of National Burger Month (May), Ranker.com, the #1 online destination for crowdsourced rankings of everything, today released the results of its public poll asking voters to rank The Best Fast Food Burgers to determine which ones are a cut above the rest.

The poll, which closed voting on May 11, included 46 burgers for consumers to rank.
The Top 10 as determined by over to 42,000 votes are as follows:

1. In-N-Out Double Double
2. Five Guys Hamburger
3. Five Guys Bacon Cheeseburger
4. Whataburger Original Whataburger
5. Burger King Whopper
6. Wendy’s Baconator
7. Fuddruckers The Original Fudds
8. Wendy’s ¼ LB Single
9. Steak ‘n Shake Double ‘n Cheese Steakburger
10. Fatburger Burger

Full Poll Results

While In-N-Out, Five Guys and Wendy’s dominated the Top 10 overall, Ranker’s poll also reveals:

· Men’s top choice is Five Guys Hamburger and also voted the Burger King Whopper in their Top 3.
· Women chose the In-N-Out Double Double as their top choice and also ranked the Wendy’s Baconator in their Top 3.
· Millennials #1 choice was the Wendy’s Baconator. They were the only group to also vote the McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with Cheese and the McDonald’s Big Mac in their Top 5.
· While the In-N-Out Double Double was #1 for West Coasters, Fatburger’s Burger and Carl’s Jr. Western Bacon Cheeseburger followed close behind.
· Midwesterners #1 choice was Culvers Butter Burger.
· Southerners top pick was the Whataburger Original.
· Northeasterners voted Five Guys Hamburger #1 and also voted White Castle Sliders in their top 3.

About Ranker:
Ranker.com is a crowdsourced destination where consumers view, rank, and vote on broad opinion-based Rankings ranging from “The Best Board Games” to “The Best Movies of All Time” to “The Best Inexpensive Cars”. While lists and opinions are all over the web, Ranker’s technology is based on user engagement, turning these lists into the “best possible rankings” based on the wisdom of crowds.

Ranker, a Quantcast Top 200 site, attracts over 19 million monthly unique visitors, and over half a million people a month vote on various lists on the site. As a result Ranker has one of the world’s largest databases of opinions with more than 100 million votes gathered on 50,000 items. For more information visit www.Ranker.com and follow Ranker on Twitter and Facebook.


Millennials Are a Highly Engaged Audience Willing to Spend on Arts Events

Art is definitely not dead and today Eventbrite released new insights that showcase Millennials’ unique perspective on Performing and Visual Arts events.

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Eventbrite, the global ticketing and events marketplace, today released new research that examines how millennials define, discover, spend on and engage with performing and visual arts events. Eventbrite, which experienced a 54% year-over-year increase in performing and visual arts events, surveyed more than a thousand Americans who attended an event in this category in the past 12 months. The study, “The Art of Attraction: How to Grow Your Millennial Arts Audience,” uncovers key insights including:

Millennials Attend and Spend
The millennial generation currently commands an estimated $1.3 trillion in direct annual spending and they are allocating a healthy amount of their disposable income to performing and visual arts events; one in five millennials spend $500 or more in the past year on or at performing arts or visual arts events. They also splurge on souvenirs at these events; one in three millennials said they were likely to buy merchandise, such as posters or apparel, while attending an arts event.

Numerous millennials are apt to prioritize spending on arts events over other discretionary spending. When presented with the question, if you won $1,000 and had to spend it all in the next 12 months, more millennials said they would allocate the money to arts events (50%) than coffee (35%) or alcohol (29%).

Defining and Fueling a New Performing and Visual Arts Experience

Millennials are expanding the definition of ‘arts’ and ‘arts’ events: nearly one in three (31%) feel that iPhone photography is considered a visual art, more than half (54%) consider graffiti or street art a visual art, and 43% consider comic books or graphic novels a visual art. While some speculate that millennials are less engaged with the arts, Eventbrite’s survey found millennials are often more engaged than boomers and crave a closer, more interactive look at the performing and visual arts world. Forty-three percent of millennials said they would prefer to attend events that incorporate audience participation, while only 29% of boomers feel the same way.

Some millennials take this engagement even further and set out to acquire new skills following arts events. Millennials are more than five times as likely as their boomer counterparts (21% vs. 4%) to take a class related to the arts after attending an event, such as enrolling in dance lessons after visiting the ballet.

Focus on Digital Discovery and Crowdsourced Recommendation
Millennials are more likely than boomers to hear about arts events through online resources like social media (48% vs. 24%), online ads (28% vs. 19%), and blogs (25% vs. 4%). In contrast, boomers are more likely than millennials to learn about arts events through traditional channels, including TV (66% vs. 42%), print (63% vs. 33%) and radio (49% vs. 33%) ads.

When it comes to taking action from reviews, everyone’s a critic in millennials’ eyes: they are almost equally as likely to attend an arts event because it was recommended on a site such as Yelp (47%) as they would if it was recommended by a critic or reviewer (53%). Boomers are more influenced by critics, with 73% likely to attend arts events if they recommend it and only 27% likely to attend based on a recommendation from a review site.

A Millennial Rendition of Arts Events
In 2014, Eventbrite saw a more than 60% growth in performing and visual arts events where alcohol is served, a trend in line with survey findings that more than half (58%) of millennials prefer arts events with drinks on the menu. Additionally, two in three millennials (66%) prefer arts events with food, and 31% said they would attend more arts events if they could eat or drink during a performing or visual arts event.

Millennials embrace the tradition and formality around arts events; survey results found that they enjoy dressing up and attending fancier gatherings. Thirty-five percent of millennials would rather attend an arts event that is formal instead of casual (vs. 14% of boomers). Nearly half of millennials (49%) even think performing and visual arts events are not dressy enough. Even though formality can be a draw for millennials at arts events, they don’t want to be forced into a tux. Sixty-three percent would prefer events without the rules of a dress code, proving a little freedom can go a long way with this generation.

“Amid recent studies indicating a decline in arts event attendance rates for U.S. adults, it was encouraging to see that our study found 70% of millennials who recently attended an arts event expressed interest in attending more,” said Martina Wang, marketing lead at Eventbrite. “The challenge for performing and visual arts organizations is to effectively reach this highly-connected, influential generation, while staying true to deep-rooted traditions. Our findings offer them valuable insights into the future of this industry.”

For more details and to view the full study, please visit the Event Academy, Eventbrite’s resource for event organizers with webinars, whitepapers, and industry insights for events of any kind. To learn more about Eventbrite ticketing and registration for performing and visual arts events, check out eventbrite.com/arts.

About Eventbrite
Eventbrite is the global marketplace for live experiences that allows people to find and create events. Since 2006, the self-service platform has helped event organizers of all kinds to sell more tickets through robust technology and promotional tools, totaling $3.5 billion in gross ticket sales. In addition to providing technology for organizers, Eventbrite has become the destination for consumers looking to discover a variety of live experiences from small photography and yoga classes to large concerts and festivals with tens of thousands of attendees. More than 200 million tickets have been processed on the platform, and in 2014 alone, Eventbrite processed $1.5 billion in gross ticket sales for attendees in more than 180 countries. Eventbrite investors include Sequoia Capital, Tiger Global and T. Rowe Price. Learn more at www.eventbrite.com.

 


Whole Foods Market® hosts first-ever ‘Beauty Week’ in all stores 

This event actually started yesterday but I didn’t get the release until the last minute.  However, if you are a Whole Foods fan or regular shopper you will want to visit your local store.

wfFrom March 18-24, stores will offer events, limited edition beauty bags, facial care sales and more

Whole Foods Market kicks off its inaugural “Beauty Week,” March 18 through 24, to celebrate all things beauty related.  Store Whole Body departments will host events, classes, demonstrations and promotions to inform shoppers about Whole Foods Market’s large selection of quality personal care products and cosmetics that support healthy people and a healthy planet.

“Our beauty department is really growing at Whole Foods Market and we’re excited to spotlight new products and showcase customer favorites in our stores this week,” said Maren Giuliano, executive global Whole Body coordinator.

wwDuring “Beauty Week,” all Whole Foods Market locations will offer a limited edition “Hello, Beauty!” bag for $18 (valued at $60), beginning Saturday, March 21, at 10 a.m. local time. Bags are made with 100 percent cotton recycled saris from RIJI Green, a business committed to ending human trafficking. EachAcure Cell Stimulating Facial Mask, Giovanni 2chic Ultra Repair Shampoo, Pacifica Eye Shadow Duo or Lipstick, Trilogy Vital Moisturizing Cream and Gabriel Mascara, plus $5 in beauty coupons.

From March 20 to 22, shoppers will save 25 percent on all facial care items at Whole Foods Market.

“One thing that really sets us apart in the beauty industry is our standards,” Giuliano said. “Our shoppers know and trust us because we have baseline standards that prohibit 50 ingredients in the products we sell, along with our top-tier standards, called Premium Body Care. When we first launched our premium standards in 2008, we had about 400 products that were certified—now we have more than 4,000.”

Whole Foods Market has been lauded for its beauty department standards over the years. In 2012, the company was named “the leading national retailer” in personal care product safety by theCampaign for Safe Cosmetics. The grocer was also named runner-up in the Sustainable Beauty Awards’ “Sustainable Leadership” category in 2014. Last month, Giuliano was named one of the “50 Most Powerful Women in Beauty” by Women’s Wear Daily.

The retailer also set its own standards for organic labeling on personal care products, as there are no mandatory government standards for the “organic” label claim on body care products.

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About Whole Foods Market®

Founded in 1980 in Austin, Texas, Whole Foods Market (wholefoodsmarket.com, NASDAQ: WFM), is the leading natural and organic food retailer. As America’s first national certified organic grocer, Whole Foods Market was named “America’s Healthiest Grocery Store” by Health magazine. The company’s motto, “Whole Foods, Whole People, Whole Planet®” captures its mission to ensure customer satisfaction and health, Team Member excellence and happiness, enhanced shareholder value, community support and environmental improvement. Thanks to the company’s more than 87,000 Team Members, Whole Foods Market has been ranked as one of the “100 Best Companies to Work For” in America by FORTUNE magazine for 17 consecutive years. In fiscal year 2014, the company had sales of $14 billion and currently has more than 405 stores in the U.S., Canada and the U.K.

 


HERSHEY’S MILK CHOCOLATE AND KISSES TO GO NON-GMO BY THE END OF 2015

It’s beeing called a victory for the consumer.  I just think Hersheys latest move following the removal of GMOs by General Mills, Unilever and Post Foods is just plain awesome!  And I’m personally grateful that one of our most beloved American companies is finally answering chocolate lovers everywhere with a message they’ve been hoping to hear.

kissesIn response to tens of thousands of Facebook posts, emails, and telephone calls from consumers who took part in GMO Inside’s campaign calling on Hershey’s to move to non-GMO ingredients, the U.S. chocolate giant released a statement last week (http://www.thehersheycompany.com/newsroom/news-release.aspx?id=2017846) that it “will feature a lineup of simple ingredients, and transition some of its most popular chocolate brands, including Hershey’s Kisses Milk Chocolates and Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bars to simpler ingredients.”

Today, Hershey’s confirmed that as part of its commitment to simpler ingredients, its two iconic products will be non-GMO by the end of the year.

Green America Food Campaigns Director Nicole McCann stated: “We congratulate Hershey’s on this important move and great first step. As one of the leading chocolate companies in the U.S., this commitment will help move the rest of the companies in this sector. Hershey’s joins General Mills, Unilever, Post Foods, and other leading companies in responding to consumer demand to make at least some of its products non-GMO.”

Two years ago, in February 2013, GMO Inside began calling on consumers to put pressure on Hershey’s (as well Mars) to make its products without GMOs due to concerns over the environmental and health impacts of GMOs (http://gmoinside.org/hershey-mars/). In response, thousands of consumers emailed the company urging it to remove GMOs.

In December 2014, when Hershey’s announced it was exploring transitioning away from high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), GMO Inside mobilized consumers to call the company to urge it not to use any other form of GMO sugar, such as from GMO sugar beets (http://greenam.org/1Bfmbre); and then again in February 2015 called on consumers to post on the company’s Facebook page on Valentine’s Day (http://gmoinside.org/hersheys-show-us-love-organic-sugar/).

“Hershey’s needs to take the next step and go non-GMO with all of its chocolates, and get third-party verification for non-GMO ingredients. This includes sourcing milk from cows not fed GMOs and agreeing to prohibit any synthetic biology ingredients, starting with vanilla,” stated John Roulac, co-chair of GMO Inside. “Consumers are increasingly looking for non-GMO products and verification, and Hershey’s and its competitors would be wise to offer third-party verified non-GMO products to consumers.”

ABOUT GMO INSIDE

GMO Inside is a campaign dedicated to helping all Americans know which foods have GMOs inside; and removing GMOs and toxins from our food supply. We believe that everyone has a right to know what’s in their food and to choose foods that are proven safe for people, their families, and the environment. GMO Inside provides the information for a growing community of people from all walks of life, to make informed decisions around genetically engineered foods. Join the campaign at www.gmoinside.org, and take part in the GMO Inside community on Facebook and Twitter.

ABOUT GREEN AMERICA

Green America is the nation’s leading green economy organization. Founded in 1982, Green America (formerly Co-op America) provides the economic strategies, organizing power and practical tools for businesses, investors, and individuals to solve today’s social and environmental problems (http://www.greenamerica.org).


Happy Fat Tuesday!!!!

Don’t forget to eat a pancake and if you are in New Orleans a beignet to also celebrate National Pancake Day.  Perfect storm in every way!!!

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What’s In A Name?

I was told by another writer who analyzed one of my websites that I should completely throw out my name.  Get rid of it altogether so that it would be more appealing to sell my work for profit as a writer myself.

But what if that name is already a brand?  And what if that brand is already a public identity that not just readers recognize, but other influencers who are tying to make a connection: publicity and marketing specialists, merchants and artists in the arts & culture sphere, hoping I’ll hear what they have to say and write about them?

I never actually thought of my blog as a tool for sales.  That was never the point.  It was designed as a platform through which I could parlay my former celebrity and notoriety with other reinventions of my entertainment career and create a place where others could launch themselves.  That may sound very altruistic, but opening up the door for other artists in the ways I had needed, wanted and sometimes got, over the years, was, I thought. necessary.  I needed a champion.  I could now be one.

This was the first time I’d ever heard this advice from anyone including other professionals. But instead of it being a shock, I focused.  I asked myself, “what’s important to me and what’s important to others about what I do?”

Through the advice of  a friend, colleague and brilliant business strategist, I realized I needed a new direction, a larger goal, some minor tweeks for a dynamic change.  And yes, I could make money, keeping my integrity and my name intact.

I guess you could say that it wasn’t the name, it was the meaning.  I now have a better plan.