Get Adobe Flash player

Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage Announces $10 Million Share Repurchase Program

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.

Nonprofit Center Takes Fresh Local Food into Washington DC’s Food Deserts

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.”

FMI Responds to FDA Surprise Release of “Final” Menu Labeling Guidance

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.”

Beaverton Foods Expands Co-packing, Private Label Business with New Brand Manager

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 Now Available

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.

The May Issue of Gourmet News is Now Available

Click the image above or click here to be among the first to read the May issue of Gourmet News. Check back soon to read Sweets & Treats, a Gourmet News special supplement covering the 2016 Sweets & Snacks Expo.

Feeding America Names Hunger’s Hope Winners For 2016

Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization, presented the 2016 Hunger’s Hope Awards at its recent annual conference.

Feeding America is a network of 200 food banks that provides food and groceries to more than 46 million people each year through 60,000 food pantries and meal programs in communities across America.

The 2016 Hunger’s Hope Award Winners are:

2016 Member of the Year
Alameda County Community Food Bank (Oakland, California) was recognized for its nutrition policies, SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) outreach, innovative partnerships and its commitment to advocacy and community engagement.

The food bank’s advocacy team has been named to the Feeding America Advocacy Hall of Fame for three consecutive years, due to its efforts to protect federal nutrition programs.

The food bank was also cited for its innovative partnerships with the city of Oakland, local school districts, libraries and county social service agencies. New programs developed by the food bank have been embraced as state-wide tactics to expand meal programs.

“The Alameda County Community Food Bank is a highly collaborative organization that shares best practices, tactics and ideas with the Feeding America nationwide network of food banks. They actively participate in committees at the national office, present at our conferences throughout the year, and generously mentor other food banks,” said Diana Aviv, CEO of Feeding America.

2016 Network Leader of the Year
Michelle L. Riley, CEO of The Foodbank, Inc. (Dayton, Ohio), was recognized for extraordinary and exemplary leadership and service by an executive director/CEO in the Feeding America network.

Under Michelle’s leadership, distribution of food to people in the food bank’s service area has increased by 58 percent in the past five years. The distribution of fresh produce increased by 215 percent during the same time period.

“Michelle has accomplished much by placing people at the center of her work. She has built a strong team that will continue to make an impact. She was also a major voice in the Feeding America Contract Task Force team, working to ensure that the voices of food banks across the country were heard, and keeping the member contract in line with core values of the Feeding America network,” said Aviv.

2016 John van Hengel Fellowship
Jaynee K. Day, President & CEO, Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee, (Nashville) is this year’s recipient of the John van Hengel Fellowship. The award honors the ideals of the late John van Hengel, who developed the concept of food banking in the 1960s. It recognizes an executive director of a member food bank for his or her excellence in leadership, local impact and national influence, and commitment and entrepreneurial spirit in the area of hunger relief.

Day has served the Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee for 28 years.

Her visionary spirit are best exemplified through various innovations that demonstrate her creativity and boldness in how she approaches problems and barriers to achieve success.

“Jaynee is a network veteran with a caring heart and great vision. Her work has been vital to both Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee and the Feeding America network. In her community, she has played a founding role in SNAP outreach, advocacy efforts and reclamation partnerships. At the network level, Jaynee has served on the National Advisory Council, our Board of Directors and numerous national committees,” Aviv said.

American Heart Association and Aramark Launch Community Health Program

The American Heart Association and Aramark are launching a new community engagement program in three key cities — Philadelphia, Chicago and Houston — as part of their Healthy for Life® 20 By 20 initiative to improve the diet and health of millions of Americans by 20 percent by the year 2020. The pilot program, taking place throughout the spring, will track and measure the impact of attitudes and behaviors of primarily single mothers or single heads of households responsible for food and meal decisions for their families.

“Less than two percent of all Americans meet the AHA’s definition of ideal cardiovascular health due primarily to poor diet. By bringing this high impact program to underserved communities and educating people to make healthier food and lifestyle choices, we hope to watch alarming statistics like this one eventually fade away,” said Penny Kris-Etherton, Ph.D., R.D., Professor of Nutrition at Pennsylvania State University, an American Heart Association volunteer, and a world-renowned cardiovascular nutrition expert.

“We continue to make measurable progress with Healthy for Life 20 By 20 and are excited to launch this next important phase of the initiative to help build a culture of health at the individual, community and national levels,” said Eric J. Foss, Aramark Chairman, President and CEO. “Our goal is to use the learnings from this pilot program to impact the health and well-being of tens of thousands of families in underserved communities across the country.”

The program is designed to help people make better food and lifestyle choices through culturally relevant and family-centric cooking, as well as curriculum based nutrition education focused on teaching easy ways to make healthy and affordable meals.

“The most exciting part of this pilot program is our opportunity to impact and measure the change in attitudes and behaviors with heads of households who make the food and meal decisions for their families,” said Kim Stitzel, Senior Vice President of the Center for Health Metrics and Evaluation, American Heart Association. “We have created measurement criteria that will chart the knowledge and behaviors of participants, allowing us to then use this information to replicate the most successful aspects of the program and scale it nationwide.”

The teaching methods include lesson plans, hands-on activities, take home resources and questions, group discussions and progress reports centered on successes and struggles. Participants will learn how to budget, shop and prepare healthy meals, and increase their level of comfort and knowledge of healthy ingredients, cooking skills and recipes.

Five long-time Aramark Building Community partners will play a vital role in the implementation and overall success of this 12-week pilot: Congreso de Latinos Unidos, Inc., Episcopal Community Services, and Federation of Neighborhood Centers in Philadelphia; Casa Central in Chicago; and Neighborhood Centers in Houston. Following the pilot period, successful solutions will be replicated for broader impact across the country in partnership with the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities, a network of more than 500 community-based social service organizations.

The Healthy for Life 20 By 20 initiative, which was launched last August, builds on existing work by both organizations and underscores the American Heart Association’s focus on its healthy living and prevention goals for 2020. In addition to activating community engagement programs, the initiative continues to grow and expand through healthy menu commitments across Aramark’s businesses, consumer health awareness and education initiatives, as well as thought leadership and research.


Fexy Media Acquires Leading Food Blog Simply Recipes

Fexy Media has acquired Simply Recipes, the popular, award-winning cooking and recipe blog founded by Elise Bauer. Currently the highest indexing cooking site for women, aged 21-49, Simply Recipes joins Fexy Media’s expanding food-focused brand portfolio, propelling it to become one of the top 10 food and lifestyle-based digital media companies. Fexy’s portfolio also includes: Serious Eats, Roadfood, The Food Lab, and Relish. This is the sixth acquisition for Fexy since its formation in late 2014.

Simply Recipes was established in 2003 and quickly grew into one of the most highly trafficked online resources for home cooks interested in quality scratch cooking. The site reached 6.5 million unique monthly visitors in November 2015. In response to a growing trend among Millennials to search for the “best recipes” in their favorite food categories, Simply Recipes focuses on inspired, well-tested recipes that help home cooks be successful in the kitchen. The blog effectively uses social media to reach audiences looking to find consistently great recipes and learn new cooking skills.

“Simply Recipes started as a way to document and share our family’s favorite recipes and has become a trusted resource for millions of people around the world who love to cook,” stated Elise Bauer, Simply Recipes Founder. “Being part of Fexy Media will help us reach even more people who share our passion for home cooking.”

Meijer Adds Medical Clinics Inside Several Stores to Increase Access to Services

Meijer is expanding its partnerships with healthcare providers and hospital systems, which includes adding a relationship with a health system in Wisconsin and a fourth health system in Michigan, to increase community access to services through in-store and store campus medical clinics.

This year, Meijer will join forces with Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin health network to open in-store clinics at the Waukesha and Sussex Meijer stores, and Sparrow Health System in Lansing, Michigan, to open similar clinics at Meijer stores in the Lansing area. The clinics will offer convenient, affordable access to care for many minor health problems, such as cold and flu symptoms, sore throats, and ear, sinus and urinary tract infections, Meijer Health and Wellness Director Jacquelyn DeBruler said.

The effort is the latest way Meijer is strengthening its commitment to health and wellness by providing its customers with opportunities to lead healthier lifestyles through access to service and care.

“Meijer is committed to expanding convenient access to health care providers,” DeBruler said. “These partnerships give us an opportunity to connect local providers and patients, ultimately meeting people where they are.”

Illnesses rarely present themselves at convenient times, DeBruler said and these medical clinics provide a great solution for customers. The clinics are staffed by the partnering healthcare provider or hospital systems’ physicians or physician assistants, and offer a variety of clinical and acute care services.

The retailer began establishing these types of partnerships several years ago, which resulted in four in-store medical clinics, seven hearing centers and 75 optical centers. “We know that access to immediate medical care is very important to our community,” said Florence Steinberg, Director of Business Development for Bronson Healthcare. “That means making sure we are doing all we can to provide the right care, in the right place, at the right time. Having Bronson FastCare inside a Meijer store helps area families get expert medical attention quickly and without having to go out of their way.”

“Patients constantly praise how quickly we are able to see them and how convenient it is to have us right there in the store,” said Melanie Harrison, FNP-C, Practice Manager for Reid Urgent Care and Reid Ready Care Clinic. “Many patients have their family members do the shopping while they are at our clinic. They also love that they can leave our clinic and take a few steps to the pharmacy to get their prescriptions filled.”

Additionally, Meijer partnered with Spectrum Health in November 2015 to open a full-service Meijer retail pharmacy on-site at Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Spectrum Health has also purchased property from Meijer in front of its stores in Ionia and Grand Haven to build medical centers. Construction on the center in Ionia is slated to conclude this spring.

Gourmet News

Follow me on Twitter