The Kroger Co. will hold open interviews in its stores nationwide on Saturday, May 14, to fill an estimated 14,000 permanent positions in its supermarket divisions.
“We have openings across the country for friendly, hard-working associates to join our team,” said Tim Massa, Kroger’s group Vice President of Human Resources and Labor Relations. “We are looking for people who are passionate about making a difference for customers and communities – and want to do it in a fun, team environment with great benefits and advancement opportunities.”
Over the last eight years, Kroger has created more than 74,000 new jobs. This figure does not include jobs created as a result of capital investment, such as temporary construction jobs, nor does it include increases due to the company’s mergers.
Kroger’s total active workforce grew by more than 9,000 during 2015. More than 90 percent of the new jobs are in the company’s supermarket divisions, ranging from full-time department heads and assistant store managers to part-time courtesy clerks and cashiers. The company hired more than 7,000 veterans in 2015, and has hired more than 35,000 veterans since 2009.
Sprout Nutrition and CROSSMARK, Inc. announced a new nationwide partnership to bring organic whole foods to babies, toddlers and all family members. The partnership gives Sprout expanded category presence and broad access to retailers with consumer insight capabilities while broadening CROSSMARK’s presence within the baby and organic family snack categories.
With this agreement, Sprout is investing in proven capabilities that will drive growth of the Sprout brand nationally. Sprout gains a knowledgeable sales force with a solid track record in the organic space and access to more than 5,500 retail merchandisers across the country. Retailers will benefit from collaborative planning to bring dynamic innovation and category/shopper insights to the rapid growing organic segment of the baby category.
The partnership with CROSSMARK is an important part of a major new brand investment by Sprout, under new ownership of private equity firm North Castle Partners, and a new CEO, Rick Klauser, a 10-year veteran of Gerber. The brand revitalization was ignited earlier this year with a packaging graphic redesign, the launch of 15 new products and a major marketing investment to drive retailer and baby category growth. Sprout also plans to build on its momentum, by adding new items in the fall, including Sprout Smash, an organic fruit puree snack expanding the brand into the squeezable snack category. The improved speed-to-shelf capability will allow parents to find healthy, whole organic foods at their favorite retailers.
“Securing national distribution and strong retailer partnerships are both strategic priorities for us. Our new relationship with CROSSMARK represents a significant building block to achieve this important milestone,” said Rick Klauser, CEO of Sprout. “Organic baby food is a Millennial mom’s expectation for what’s best for her baby. Parents are setting a higher bar for product quality and clean, honest, labeling. It’s no surprise that this would influence the expectations parents have for premium organic purees that we deliver through our honesty pledge: non-GMO, only whole fruits and vegetables (never concentrates, preservatives fillers or thickeners), and transparent labeling.”
“CROSSMARK is honored to work alongside Sprout as they continue to grow and set the standard in organics. Our analytics capabilities and retail representation across the country will help Sprout drive an increasing presence nationwide as they bring ‘real, honest and pure’ products to market and give parents increasing confidence in their choices,” said Steve Schuckenbrock, CEO of CROSSMARK. “This partnership is a win- win.”
By Lorrie Baumann
Cabot Creamery’s partnership with Cellars at Jasper Hill won an American Cheese Society first-place award for Cabot Clothbound Cheddar Select and another first place for Cabot Clothbound Cheddar last July and now is inspiring new Cabot Creamery cheeses created for distribution in mainstream grocers, says Craig Gile, New Product Manager for Cabot Creamery.
The recipe for the clothbound cheddars was developed jointly by Cabot Creamery food scientists and Cellars at Jasper Hill Cheesemaker Mateo Kehler and was designed to make a cheese with a sweet, nutty finish. Cabot Creamery’s large production capacity made it possible to produce large quantities of the cheese – as much as 5,000 pounds a month, depending on market demand, which peaks during the winter holiday season. The cheese is aged for a few months at Cabot Creamery and then sent over to The Cellars at Jasper Hill for affinage, packaging and eventual sale to specialty cheese shops, where it fetches around $25 a pound for wheels aged 12 to 14 months. The difference in scale between the two companies means that while Cabot Creamery can make massive amounts of cheddar cheese for the mass market and take advantages of the economies of scale that come with that kind of production, which depends a great deal on consistency, The Cellars at Jasper Hill can take a small percentage of that product and lavish a great deal of attention on it to produce a product that commands a premium price for its uniqueness. Cabot Creamery also gains access to the artisanal cheese market as well as the cachet of having its name on award-winning cheeses sought after by cheesemongers. “Not only do we get a link to that artisanal cheese world, it gives Cabot the reputation that we’re able to make the artisanal cave-aged product as well,” Gile said.
As the partnership has prospered, though, it’s had some additional effects as Gile, who moved over from managing Cabot’s warehousing and grading to new product development, has had the chance to share knowledge with Jasper Hill Cheesemakers Mateo and Andy Kehler. “We’re each pursuing different areas of what we’re trying to do, and we’ve learned a lot from them,” Gile said. “We’re getting a lot of insight into what the artisanal base is looking for and finding paths to the customers that shop at these cheese shops.”
“I really like what that whole cheese shop environment brings to us,” he continued. “It’s a place to launch new cheeses, to get honest feedback about what you’re working on, to get their feedback from customers…. What I like about the cheesemonger role is that we have people selling it who have passion about the product and can tell the story about it. It’s another challenge for us to come up with products that are exciting…. You have to convince cheesemongers that you have an exciting, interesting, and high-end product.”
That insight into the artisanal cheese market has inspired the cheesemakers at Cabot Creamery to apply that information as well as knowledge about new cheese cultures as they’re figuring out how they can use their existing cheddaring equipment to make new cheeses with different taste profiles. Instead of just adding new flavoring ingredients to existing cheeses, they’ve begun developing the recipes to create entirely new cheeses that the company is able to produce in quantities large enough to target the lines at mainstream delis. These cheeses, which Cabot has dubbed its Founder’s Collection, aren’t intimidatingly different from the mainstream, but they’re definitely designed to appeal to the novice turophile who’s ready to take a step up from the cheeses he’s used to picking up at the supermarket. “These are aimed at the deli counter,” Gile said. “We didn’t want to launch four new cheddars, so we’ve got three cheddars and another unique cheese…. We were looking for a way to add genuine value to the product, not just to make it look pretty.”
The Cabot Creamery Founder’s Collection includes Cabot Private Stock, which has the familiar tang of the New England-style cheddar that consumers expect from Cabot Creamery but with a stronger Northeastern bite to it.
Adirondack is made in the New York facility acquired with the 2003 acquisition of McCadam Cheese Company by Agri-Mark, the dairy farmer cooperative behind Cabot Creamery. Aged 1.5 to two years, it’s similar to Cabot Private Stock but made with the McCadam original stock cheese with its tangier citrus bite that lends a unique flavor profile compared to Cabot’s Vermont cheddars.
Lamberton is similar to Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, except that it’s packaged in plastic rather than with cloth bindings. The name is a nod to one of Cabot’s original founding farmers, and the cheese has a buttery sweetness overlaying the traditional flavors of a strong yankee cheddar.
The last is Orne Meadows, which is completely different from most milk cheddars. It has powerful nutty notes redolent of a Grana-style Alpine cheese with a subtle New England sharpness to it. “That one, we don’t actually call it a cheddar on the package,” Gile said. “ We just say it’s a unique Vermont cheese.”
By Jorge Gonzalez-Garcia
Two California dairy farmers are finding a new way to turn the fluid milk they produce from a product they can sell at commodity prices into a gourmet product that commands a premium price from consumers eager to enhance their experience of food.
Noel Rosa and his brother, Rolland, own and operate Rosa Brothers Milk Co., based in Tulare, in the heart of the nation’s richest agricultural area. Rosa Brothers is very much a family operation, with seven members actively involved. The farm employs 35 workers, covers 600 acres, and manages a herd of about 1,000 Holstein dairy cows.
The Rosa family connection to this rich farmland goes back seven decades. “The farm was started by my grandfather in 1953, continued by my father, and now by my brother and I,” says the 47-year-old Rosa. “That’s a span of more than three generations that our family has been here working the farm and producing dairy products.”
In the fall of 2012, Noel and his brother took a big chance and built a creamery to produce and distribute specialty products like whole milk and flavored milk in glass, and premium ice cream. The idea was to distribute the products to local retailers. A small store was added next to the creamery for local visibility and direct sales.
The brothers made the move for a couple of reasons. One was in response to severe swings in commodity prices in 2009. “They can be very tough financially for a medium-sized dairy farm like ours,” Noel explains. “We needed to create more stability in terms of product, pricing and sales revenue.”
The other reason was the growth of the local food movement in his area. Rosa saw that it was picking up steam. “Our research showed that consumers preferred milk in glass bottles,” Rosa says. “They love the taste, they like that it comes from a local farm, and they support bottle recycling. What we’re doing is a natural extension of the growth of the farm to table movement right in our own area.”
A hundred miles to the northwest, in a small valley next to the river Merced near the town of Winton, lies PH Ranch, home of Top Line Milk Company. It used to be a working cattle ranch. Now it’s the dairy farm owned and operated by Paul van Warmerdam and his wife Sonya. They farm 860 acres, have 55 employees, and manage a herd of about 2,500 Holstein cows.
Top Line Milk is brand new to the specialty milk products business, having launched at the recent Natural Products West Expo 2016 show in Anaheim this past March. “I can’t really point to our specialty milk sales because we’re just starting out,” says the 51-year-old van Warmerdam. “But people at the show loved our milk, and our low and slow pasteurization method. They told us it reminded them of the taste of milk when they were kids, and milk came right off a local farm.”
Van Warmerdam and his wife had talked about expanding into premium dairy products in years past. Then came 2009, with wild swings in commodity prices. “2009 was a bad year,” he says. “We had record low milk prices and high feed prices, and a lot of people left the business.” That experience reinforced their goal of building a successful dairy business that could withstand fluctuations in the commodity market, and that they could leave to their children. Moving into specialty milk seemed like a creative way to do that.
They also considered glass bottles for their milk, but opted instead for white plastic bottles to reduce ultraviolet light exposure and extend shelf life. “We made that decision for a number of reasons,” says van Warmerdam. “We didn’t want to be the third or fourth glass milk bottle company. Also, we wanted to be able to sell into smaller convenience stores. The extra space needed to handle glass returns can be an issue. So those were all factors.”
Top Line Milk emphasizes its low and slow pasteurization process. “Low and slow is our slogan,” says van Warmerdam. “The milk comes out of our cow, we add the minimum of heat to meet pasteurization standards, and it goes into the bottle. It cannot be any fresher or tastier than that. And that was our goal from the beginning.”
Van Warmerdam is now looking to build out his distribution network. “We would like to grow regionally to the Bay Area, and then Sacramento and Fresno,” he says. “We’re in a niche market, so our rollout will be slow and strategic.” Closer to home, he plans to take advantage of traffic passing by his place by setting up a drive-through window for a couple of hours a day so customers can buy directly.
For Noel Rosa, wholesale growth has been solid. “In our first full year of creamery operations, we grew from zero to 70 retail outlets,” he says. “And we won new product of the year in 2013 at the Fresno Food Expo. That gave our sales a boost.” This year Rosa Brothers is selling product in 225 stores in its area.
Industry insiders do not see explosive growth for the specialty milk market, and they caution against unrealistic expectations. “We project slow, steady growth for this segment of the market,” says Murray Bain, Vice-President for Marketing at Stanpac, the large Canadian container manufacturer which supplies bottles to premium milk producers. A California Dairy Advisory Board report for 2015 shows that milk in glass bottles amounted to less than two percent of total sales for the entire state.
Noel Rosa understands the challenge of operating profitably in a niche market. And he takes the long view that as long as there are customers who prefer milk in glass, support the farm to table movement, and are willing to pay a little more for premium quality, he will have buyers for his products.
BJ’s Wholesale Club, Inc. announced that Lee Delaney has been appointed Executive Vice President, Chief Growth Officer effective May 9, 2016. Delaney will be responsible for the company’s merchandising and supply chain organization, and will report directly to BJ’s President and CEO Chris Baldwin.
“I am very excited to welcome Lee to the BJ’s team,” said Chris Baldwin, President and CEO of BJ’s Wholesale Club. “Lee’s strategic capability, extensive experience and high credibility in the industry make him a perfect fit for our team. With a talented merchant organization already in place, adding Lee to our team will ensure that we will not only maintain but accelerate our progress.”
Prior to joining BJ’s, Delaney was a partner in the Boston office of Bain & Company, and a leader in the firm’s consumer products practice. While at Bain, Delaney advised clients on corporate strategy, created new market entry plans, supported client acquisitions, and advised on large cost reduction programs. Prior to joining Bain in 1996, Delaney worked for Electronic Data Systems and Deloitte Consulting advising clients on a variety of engagements.
“I am delighted and feel privileged to have the opportunity to join the BJ’s team,” Delaney said. “BJ’s holds a unique position in the wholesale club retail channel. I look forward to working with BJ’s executives, merchants, and all of BJ’s team members to unlock the tremendous value I see in this segment of the market.”
Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage, Inc.’s board of directors has authorized a new two-year program to repurchase up to $10 million in shares of the company’s common stock.
Repurchases under the company’s new program will be made from time to time at management’s discretion on the open market or through privately negotiated transactions in compliance with Securities and Exchange Commission Rule 10b-18, subject to market conditions, applicable legal requirements and other relevant factors. Repurchases of common stock may also be made under a Rule 10b5-1 plan, which would permit common stock to be repurchased when the company might otherwise be precluded from doing so under insider trading laws. The share repurchase program does not obligate the company to purchase any particular amount of common stock and may be suspended, modified or discontinued by the company without prior notice.
“We are pleased that our strong balance sheet and cash flow enable us to return value to stockholders through this new share repurchase program, while at the same time continuing to invest in the company’s long-term growth,” said Kemper Isely, the company’s Co-President. “Our board of directors and the senior management team strongly believe that the company’s growth prospects are not fully reflected in the company’s current stock price. The share repurchase program demonstrates our confidence in the strength of our business and our commitment to delivering shareholder value.”
The company had approximately 22.5 million shares of common stock outstanding as of May 5, 2016. The company expects to finance the share repurchase program through borrowings under its revolving credit facility.
By Lorrie Baumann
In Washington D.C.’s urban center, a restaurant-inspired nonprofit organization is planting seeds for a new generation of healthy eaters. Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food & Agriculture is bringing fresh, local produce to low-income neighborhoods at regular weekly mobile farmers markets so that the residents of these food deserts can shop for local fresh vegetables, eggs, organic milk and grass-fed and pastured beef and pork. At the same time, the organization is paying the farmers from whom it sources the food a fair market price, and providing government food relief agencies with data they need to develop new tools to encourage their low-income clients to eat a healthier diet. “Just because somebody has a low income doesn’t mean that they don’t want to participate in the joyful process of buying food at a farmers market. They get to participate in this beautiful aspect of food, which is to pick what they want and talk with the people about it,” said Arcadia Center Executive Director Pamela Hess. “If we could get more people spending more SNAP at farmers markets, we would remove a significant portion of hunger, because the hunger problem in this country is not about getting enough calories; it’s about getting enough nutrition. We could have a really powerful influence on public health.”
SNAP is an acronym for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. It’s the largest of the federal government’s food assistance programs. Commonly known as food stamps, SNAP currently provides $75 billion per year in food assistance, according to Rich Lucas, the USDA Food and Nutrition Service’s Deputy Administrator for Policy Support. “With that increased purchasing power, the intention is to allow people to be able to purchase almost anything that’s able to be consumed at home,” he said. “But we all know that all consumers need to improve their diet. SNAP is paying about $400 million a year to teach people how to eat better.”
Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food & Agriculture was started in 2010 by Washington D.C. restaurateur Michael Babin, a co-owner of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, an award-winning collection of independent businesses devoted to the culinary arts in Washington D.C. and Virginia. Babin started the organization, a 501(c)3 charity, after he found himself unable to supply his restaurants with high-quality local produce in sufficient quantity and at an affordable price and reasoned that if he couldn’t find that affordable produce, it stood to reason that low-income residents of the city around him couldn’t do it either, Hess said. The mobile farmers market program, one of four major programs for the Arcadia Center, was launched in 2012 and now makes regular weekly stops in neighborhoods where the closest food access is often at small convenience stores that don’t stock much in the way of perishable produce.
Johns Hopkins University public health nutritionist Joel Gittelsohn has been studying how corner stores in nearby Baltimore, Maryland, serve their SNAP customers. He says that, “When you talk to the customers, they say that, ‘I would love to buy healthy foods, but they are too expensive, not available or are of poor quality in the stores I shop in. Retailers said, ‘I would love to stock them, but no one buys them, and the last time I stocked it, it just sat on the shelves.’”
The USDA is trying to change that situation by proposing new eligibility standards for retailers participating in the SNAP program. Under the new rule, those retailers would be required to stock a wider array of food choices. “USDA is committed to expanding access for SNAP participants to the types of foods that are important to a healthy diet,” said Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon when he announced the proposed rule in February. “This proposed rule ensures that retailers who accept SNAP benefits offer a variety of products to support healthy choices for those participating in the program.”
The new standards are being fought by NACS, the national trade association of convenience store operators, which says the new rule seems designed to push small convenience stores out of the SNAP program. “Small businesses will be harmed and SNAP beneficiaries, who rely on these small stores in both urban and rural environments, will lose options they need to feed their families,” NACS wrote in its letter to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies.
The Arcadia Center’s program aims to attack the same problem of access to healthy food at its roots. Its Mobile Market rolling farm stands make regular weekly stops in low-income neighborhoods around Washington that typically have high SNAP usage, low car ownership and are a mile or more from a conventional grocery store. The program prices the food at fair market value but also matches the face value of benefits from federal food programs. “If you pay $10 for food, what you get is $20 worth,” Hess said. About 70 percent of transactions involve some sort of food assistance, which can be applied to proteins as well as fruits and vegetables. “Customers love the idea of grass-fed meats and organic foods because they know it’s better for their children – they just can’t afford it [at the grocery store],” Hess said. The Mobile Market took in $22,000 in SNAP business in 2015, compared to a total of about $75,000 in SNAP sales at farmers markets throughout the city. The program matched the face amount of those SNAP benefits, so that those customers went home with $44,000 worth of food. “People are using SNAP with us to buy local, high-quality food – they’re eschewing the chance to buy cheap at a convenience store,” Hess said. “They are voting with the resources they have.”
Arcadia Center also has a farm on which much of the produce it sells is grown. The center is partnered with the National Trust for Historic Preservation to transform the 126-acre Woodlawn-Pope-Leighey estate, once a part of George Washington’s Mount Vernon plantation, into a true Center for Sustainable Food & Agriculture.
Other food offered at the Mobile Markets is sourced from local farmers who grow responsibly but don’t bring their produce into these neighborhoods themselves because they can’t sell enough there to make it worth their while. “They can’t take that much time from their fields to sell a couple hundred dollars of food,” Hess said. “The numbers are small, but we put an additional $130,000 in the pockets of local farmers that they wouldn’t have had because they don’t have access to our markets. It helps them diversify their revenue. One of the things that’s very important is that we do not feed poor people on the backs of farmers. Our philosophy is that we have to pay our farmers a fair price. Farmers don’t make much money, and they cannot be expected to shoulder the weight of paying our poor people.”
“Handling hunger might not be just about putting more money into SNAP,” she continued. “I think it’s about helping people make good choices about using their SNAP, making choices that will nourish them – possibly eating less calories, but eating more nutrient-dense food.”
Food Marketing Institute (FMI) President and CEO Leslie G. Sarasin offered the following statement regarding the surprising late Friday afternoon release of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) purported “final guidance” related to the agency’s December 2014 final rule. The rule requires menu labeling at chain restaurants and “similar retail food establishments,” determined by FDA to include grocery stores, notwithstanding the inherent distinction between the operations of grocery stores and those of chain restaurants.
Sarasin said, “The guidance is largely a reprint of the draft guidance the agency released in September 2015 and did not incorporate the critical flexibility requested by the supermarket industry to make chain restaurant menu labeling regulations more practical in a grocery store setting for key areas, including signage at the salad bar or hot foods bar.
“While we are pleased to have any type of guidance to assist with our challenging efforts to comply with a rule and a structure written for chain restaurants – as opposed to one that contemplates the operations of supermarkets with large and varied produce departments evolving to salad bars or seafood departments evolving to hot foods bars – the supermarket industry still seeks flexibility from FDA. Specifically, food retailers wish to preserve their opportunity to sell locally produced foods that are sold at only one or two locations as well as their ability to use one sign/menu/menu board in a prepared foods area or next to a salad bar.
“Unfortunately, FDA has been unable to address these issues through its guidance process, so we repeat the supermarket industry’s support for legislation that does address our concerns, the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act (H.R. 2017/S. 2217), which passed the U.S. House of Representatives in February and is pending in the U.S. Senate.”
Industry pro, Cindy Sitton, joins Oregon’s 87-year-old specialty condiment manufacturer to help build an area of the business that represents more than 120 co-packing partners at Beaverton Foods.
Sitton has been hired as Beaverton Foods’ Co-Packing and Private Label Brand Manager. She is responsible for managing current customers as well as recruiting new business. Additionally, she will help co-packers with their sales efforts, which will include the e-commerce sector such as working with Amazon and other digital businesses. “Everyone wants to do business with Amazon, but they don’t know how to navigate through the process,” Sitton explained. “I bring a lot to the table for both mass market and in the independent natural and specialty trade at the retail level.”
Most recently, Sitton worked at Advantage Sales & Marketing, based in Irvine, California, for eight years as Customer Development Manager. Prior to that she owned a brokerage business for five years; specializing in the natural and specialty foods industry.
Domonic Biggi, CEO of Beaverton Foods, said he’s pleased to welcome a seasoned pro to the sales team. “I’ve known Cindy for a long time and she brings more than two decades of key experience to an area of the business we want to streamline,” Biggi said. “This is a part of the business I’ve wanted to give more emphasis to for a while now.”
Beaverton Foods’ Beaver Brand and Inglehoffer are the leading shelf-stable horseradish and award-winning specialty mustards in the US, and it is the largest Safe Quality Food (SQF) certified processor of authentic wasabi products in North America. The company also offers a wide variety of best-selling gourmet sauces, garlic, spices, and other unique specialty condiments packaged under these labels: Beaver, Inglehoffer, Napa Valley, Tulelake and Pacific Farms. In addition to its own brands, the company develops, produces and co-packs a broad range of products for companies in the U.S. and abroad.
Hangtown Oysters, grown in the tidelands of a natural glacier-carved fjord in the Kitsap Peninsula of Puget Sound, are now available exclusively through Fortune Fish & Gourmet. A member of the Crassostrea gigas species, commonly known as the Pacific Oyster, Hangtown Oysters are farmed exclusively for the seafood purveyor. Grown near the fresh water outflow from Harding Creek Estuary, Hangtown Oysters feature a well-balanced combination of sweetness at the start, with a buttery soft brine finish. The flavor profile is a unique taste of fresh rain and low salinity.
“We had the idea to create Hangtown Oyster a couple of years ago,” explains Sean J. O’Scannlain, President and CEO, Fortune Fish & Gourmet. “Our team really enjoys bringing a little history into our brands, similar to our East Coast offering, the Old 1871 Oysters. We’re thrilled with how fantastic they taste. The farm we work with is producing an incredible oyster, and we are excited for people to try them.”
Hangtown Oysters are named after a unique folktale, dating back to California’s Gold Rush. During this boom time, Hangtown was one of the first towns settlers encountered while in search of the area’s riches. The town earned its name due to the vigilante justice dished out to those who ran afoul of local law enforcement. One particularly crafty swindler had a special request for his last meal: an oyster omelet. Knowing that the oysters would have to be brought from waters over a hundred miles away by steamship and then from port over rough roads, the swindler was able to delay his hanging at least two weeks. Locally, the oyster omelet was renamed the “Hangtown Fry,” known for “extending” one’s life by two weeks.