Meet 25 supermarket retailers, manufacturers and allied organizations who have transcended ordinary business practices and are leading consumers in their desire to shop better, eat smarter and live healthier.
Despite its lead role in last month's $17.4 billion acquisition of Albertsons and the potential it represents, Supervalu still gets the nod for being the first national player to open a stand-alone whole health banner.
Other operators are in the planning stages of doing so, or thinking about it, but Supervalu took the spotlight when its first Sunflower Market debuted in Indianapolis in January. A second is scheduled to open this summer in Chicago. Plans call for 50 Sunflower Markets - each measuring about 12,000 square feet and carrying 8,000 to 12,000 SKUs of natural and organic products - over the next five years.
"This retail concept offers customers the convenience of a full shopping experience with access to natural and organic products in all categories," said Jeff Noddle, chairman, president and chief executive officer of the Eden Prairie, Minn.-based company. "We've developed a unique merchandising approach."
Sunflower Market offers value-priced products that are organic wherever possible; many conventional items are minimally processed and contain no artificial colorings, sweeteners, flavors or preservatives. The store offers grocery; frozen and dairy; produce and bulk foods; deli and fine cheeses; hormone- and antibiotic-free meat and seafood; and beer and wine.
In addition to national brands, Sunflower Market offers "local treasures," hand-selected by the company's buyers.
The company provides a personal touch with its organic fruits and vegetables, delivered by W. Newell & Co., Supervalu's specialty produce company, and then displayed in the store's shopper-friendly all-glass cooler. The store also has a partnership with the French Meadow Bakery & CafT, the oldest certified-organic bakery in the country.
The company also introduced a private-label strategy that many conventional retailers see as their strongest ticket into the natural/organic playing field. Supervalu's rollout of a value-oriented, natural and organic brand called "Nature's Best" has the power to appeal to consumers turned off by organic foods' higher prices. It will be sold in Sunflower Market and all corporate banners, as well as the 2,200 independents that Supervalu supplies in its wholesale role.
"The biggest barrier to people buying more natural and organic is price," said Noddle, speaking at the opening session of an ACNielsen conference in May.
Safeway's new "Lifestyle" stores are helping consumers make the connection between food, diet and better health - and they're giving the retailer a rosier glow, too.
Steven Burd, president and chief executive officer of the country's fifth-largest grocer, said Lifestyle units typically have sales that are 23% higher than remodeled Safeway stores in past years. Overall sales are up more than 7% for the fiscal year, and a lot of the credit is going to the new format.
"With the Lifestyle store, we've got a great merchandising vehicle and a great shopping environment," Burd said.
Consumers are finding expanded product categories like natural and organic produce and grocery items, and an upscale ambience that incorporates faux wood floors in produce, dark wood shelving and subdued lighting. Since the end of 2003, Safeway has converted nearly 500 of its units to the more inviting footprint. The makeover will continue until fiscal 2009, when all 1,775 stores operating under nine banners around the country sport the new look.
The remodeling and a corporate brand-building initiative are the core of a dramatic marketing program embodied in the Lifestyle format. The Pleasanton, Calif., chain aims to give shoppers "Ingredients for Life" in the form of world-class fresh foods highlighted by a growing variety of natural and organic products.
The format invites consumers into a shopping environment that dramatizes perishables presentations. Full-service meat counters, bakeries, floral design centers, sushi and olive bars accent the retail setting.
Sensing the pulse of today's health-conscious consumer, the chain has committed itself to natural
and organic fare. In produce alone, there are 70-100 organic fruits and vegetables, depending on the season. A new line of organic products called "O Organics" includes some 150 items in dry grocery as well as in dairy with milk and yogurt. More are on the way.
"Consumers are clearly looking for more organic items," said Brian Cornell, executive vice president and chief marketing officer. "We wanted to make it as convenient as possible to find them in our stores, as opposed to going to organic or natural markets."
Wal-Mart Stores' plan to greatly increase the selection of organic products in its supercenters and Neighborhood Markets was greeted with both skepticism and awe when it was announced earlier this year. Questions were asked: How will they source already tight supplies? What will they do to price points? Will they help or hurt the organic movement?
Just watch. The Bentonville, Ark., company has succeeded largely on its ability get products to stores for the least amount of money. It'll be no different with the organic initiative, where customers will see everyday low prices on organic products.
The world's largest retailer will expand its organic produce and dairy selections, as well as dry groceries such as pasta and peanut butter. It already sells organic produce, juice and baby food.
"We are seeing that the majority of consumers today are interested in organics in one form or another, and we want to help them find those organic selections at the best value," said Wal-Mart spokeswoman Karen Burk.
Putting more organic items on the shelf is part of a broader policy to meet consumer demand and reduce the cost of energy and packaging.
Most recently, Wal-Mart has expanded its organic baby product lineup. New additions include George Baby Organic Cotton apparel and Parent's Choice Organic Infant Formula, both found exclusively at Wal-Mart.
"We hope to make these products accessible to parents who might not have chosen organic in the past due to cost or availability," said Beth Schommer, Wal-Mart's divisional merchandise manager for infants and toddlers.
Wal-Mart provides a variety of health and wellness programs and merchandise for its customers and associates to help meet their lifestyle choices for fitness, nutrition and overall health and wellness. There are in-store events such as cholesterol screenings. Also, Wal-Mart is leasing space to independently owned health care clinics. Four health care providers currently operate 12 in-store clinics in this trial phase, though the retailer expects to roll out 50 more clinics this year.
Wal-Mart is also getting credit for environmental initiatives like energy-efficient stores, transportation and distribution improvements, as well as recycling initiatives that use cooking oil from the deli to heat stores.
Health and wellness is a top priority for Ahold USA. The Dutch-owned food retailing behemoth operates Giant Food, Landover, Md.; Giant Food Stores, Carlisle, Pa.; Shop & Shop, Quincy, Mass.; and Tops Markets, Buffalo, N.Y.
While all the chains have various health and wellness products and services, one banner made a statement that caught the attention of the supermarket industry.
A year ago, Stop & Shop installed a branded store-within-a-store boutique in its supermarket in Plymouth, Mass. - the first of five planned sites in the state and neighboring Connecticut. The retail brand is Wild Oats Markets, a leading national natural and organic food retailer.
The boutique is a state-of-the-art holistic health center where customers can find a full line of vitamins and supplements, homeopathic remedies, and natural and organic body care products, as well as a wealth of detailed information about health and wellness. Staffed with knowledgeable Wild Oats holistic health associates, and complete with information kiosks and educational health brochures, the Wild Oats boutique was designed as a one-stop resource to meet the health and wellness needs of consumers.
"Our concept will complement the existing traditional health care and pharmaceutical products offered at the grocery store," said Bruce Bowman, senior vice president of new business development for Wild Oats, when the partnership was announced.
There are other health and wellness initiatives in the stores under the Ahold umbrella.
For example, Stop & Shop and Giant offer shoppers the "Nature's Promise" brand of organic and natural food products. This private label line includes organic fluid and soy milk, assorted natural cookies, organic juices and organic chips, among other offerings.
Giant of Carlisle makes health and wellness a major theme throughout its 92,000-square-foot prototype store in Camp Hill, Pa. The store's community center hosts classes by Giant's staff nutritionists on subjects such as gluten-free living, healthy fats and diabetes management. They often follow up their lectures with hands-on demonstrations in the store's state-of-the-art cooking school.
WEGMANS FOODS MARKETS
"All hail Wegmans!" proclaimed Fortune magazine last year. "The family-run grocer is the best company to work for in America."
The magazine also reported on the fanatical loyalty and attraction of what many consider the best food merchant in the land: "In 2004, the company received nearly 7,000 letters from around the country, about half of them from people pleading with Wegmans to come to their town."
Why? Surely because of the super-friendly customer service, the incredible selection of mouth-watering foods and the pleasant shopping environment. But consider also the number and variety of good-for-you products that rival many health food stores. That is now part of the mystique of Wegmans Food Markets, which operates some 70 stores in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia from its base in Rochester, N.Y.
In a typical Wegmans, health-minded shoppers visit Nature's Marketplace, a store-within-a-store section where several aisles are dedicated to health and wellness. There, consumers find organic and natural dairy, meat, produce and dry groceries, as well as a wide selection of books and magazines on health and nutrition.
The "Food You Feel Good About" line of products is a store brand that is flagged by a bright yellow banner on packaging. These products are free of artificial colors, flavors and preservatives, and often low in fat or lean, low in sodium, or contain extra fiber and key nutrients.
The idea for the line came from Colleen Wegman, the company president and oldest daughter of Chief Executive Officer Danny Wegman. After returning home from college, she could not find the same healthful food choices she became accustomed to out West. Inspired, Wegmans started in the bakery and removed the dough conditioner bromate from its baked goods and replaced bleached flour with unbleached flour. A new lineup was born. "Food You Feel Good About" can now be found in every corner of the store.
Wegmans is actively seeking to increase its offerings of natural and organic fruits and vegetables by working with land-grant universities like Rutgers, Cornell and Penn State. The goal is to support local growers who are now raising produce using significantly fewer pesticides with the Integrated Pest Management system.
UKROP'S SUPER MARKETS
Winner of SN Whole Health's Enterprise Award last year, Ukrop's Super Markets continues to play a leading health and wellness role in its market area in central Virginia.
"We've had a presence in health and wellness since the late '80s," said Julie Bishop, manager of wellness products and services for the chain of 28 supermarkets. "We started with free shopping tours by a dietitian and it just grew from there."
Today, the accent on good health is apparent throughout the chain.
The company holds screenings in their pharmacies every week on "Ukrop's Wellness Day." Store pharmacists or professionals from local health organizations conduct the screenings. They include free blood pressure checks; flu and pneumonia vaccinations; total cholesterol screening; complete lipid profiling including cholesterol, HDL, LDL and triglycerides; and blood glucose checks for diabetes.
Ukrop's registered dietitians often conduct seminars on nutrition, including strategies to help customers make the best health and lifestyle choices. The dietitian then leads customers through the store to shop for healthful products.
Here is a quick look at some of the things they will find:
In-store bakeries offer muffins made with soy and flax, and premium sliced breads that are low-fat, trans fat-free and come in many varieties such as multigrain, oat and flax.
Meats include Ukrop's All-Natural Beef.
The Salad Place serves up more than 60 fresh, high-quality choices with an emphasis on fresh vegetables and fruits.
Deli and fresh meal selections include Delicious by Design, a product of Ukrop's experienced and respected kitchens, with nutritionally balanced salads, entrees and side dishes. The retailer also uses special icons to help customers looking for foods that are gluten-free, vegan or low-sodium, among others.
Ukrop's has taken its health message to the streets - literally, with the Ukrop's Monument Avenue 10K. Begun in 1999, the race in the retailer's hometown of Richmond, Va., has grown to be the fourth largest 10k in the country, attracting more than 17,000 runners. But it's in the stores that Ukrop's is winning the real race for consumers.
PUBLIX SUPER MARKETS
Publix Super Markets has always combined smart operations with dedicated associates to equal customer satisfaction. Part of that formula is keeping tabs on consumer trends such as the growing interest in health and wellness.
"Our goal at Publix is to offer our customers a wide variety of health, natural and organic high-quality products at competitive prices," said Maria Brous, director of media and community relations for the Lakeland, Fla.-based chain of supermarkets with stores throughout the Southeast.
Such commitment is apparent with the GreenWise Market initiative, which includes a private-label brand of natural and organic products and soon a new, stand-alone store format specializing in these products.
Today, each Publix offers shoppers the GreenWise store brand, along with other natural and organic items. Depending on store size and design, they may be displayed in one central location or integrated throughout the supermarket alongside similar mainstream brands.
GreenWise products are produced without any artificial ingredients, colors or flavorings, or additives, pesticides, growth hormones or antibiotics. They meet or exceed industry and government standards and, if applicable, carry the USDA Organic seal.
Publix GreenWise Market includes an array of high-quality produce, dairy, frozen food, vitamins, groceries and sports nutrition products in a variety of package sizes. Also featured are earth-friendly items like recycled napkins, bath and facial tissue. Two self-standing GreenWise Markets are expected to open in South Florida in 2007. One store will be in Palm Beach Gardens and the second will be a conversion of an existing store in Boca Raton.
"Our Publix GreenWise Markets will allow us to offer an extended line of natural, organic and wholesome prepared offerings to our customers," Brous said.
Stores also stock health-related books and magazines, as well as free brochures and a free GreenWise monthly magazine with coupons, stories about health and nutrition, and recipes with ingredients that can be purchased at Publix.
Publix takes part in local health fairs and plans to hire a registered dietitian to assist customers with diet and lifestyle questions. Both serve as fresh indications of the retailer's ever-growing commitment to consumer outreach and education.
More consumers are taking personal responsibility for their health, and there are plenty of reasons why. An aging baby boomer population shows no sign of slowing down, obesity has reached epidemic proportions, and the cost of medical care is almost beyond reach for many Americans.
That's the view of Suman Lawrence, Living Well education/marketing specialist for United Supermarkets, a chain of 47 supermarkets based in Lubbock, Texas.
"As a result, individuals are turning to education and preventive measures to keep costs down while improving their quality of life," she said. "Our company is known for its commitment to meeting guests' needs, so an increasing focus on health and wellness is the natural thing for us to do."
The personal touch is apparent in the stores, where the company's Living Well grocery managers and body care/supplement specialists assist shoppers with questions concerning whole health and specialty products. Other specialists called "foodies" conduct product knowledge classes for team members and educational seminars for customers. "Foodies" are always available on the store floor to assist shoppers with their particular needs.
More advice and information on health topics are provided by "Living Well Monthly," a multipage flier that is mailed to customers. During "Expo Saturday" at the stores, seminars follow the health topics of the month. The retailer is known for its community involvement with health-related organizations such as the American Heart Association.
United is also known for in-store promotion of recipes that cater to certain diets and include natural ingredients. Natural product vendors also lend support through demos as well as making information and samples available.
On the shelf, a tag program implemented by the retailer helps customers make more educated choices regarding products that are heart healthy, diabetic-friendly, gluten-free and organic.
In fresh foods, United now offers a selection of "Healthy Favorites" - a line of dishes that are more healthful to consumers by containing ingredients such as olive oil, or eliminating ingredients such as trans fats and MSG.
Meijer's contributions to the health and wellness of its shoppers range from the smallest details to major concerns such as affordable health care and the overuse of antibiotics.
For example, the Grand Rapids, Mich., retailer regularly promotes health and wellness in its weekly ads, dedicating entire pages to nutritional items, healthy recipes and informational columns written by its in-house nutritionist. The company even provides information about walking distances between its parking spaces and store entrances, as well as the distances of various paths throughout its stores, with the intention of encouraging its shoppers to walk more.
In Michigan, Early Solutions Clinics have recently been added to some Meijer stores with the idea of making health care more convenient and affordable. The clinic plans to set up shop in at least three more stores by the summer. Meijer spokeswoman Judith Clark said the clinics offer customers an affordable, convenient place for health care. This is important as it is becoming more challenging for families to see a doctor at a convenient time, she said.
"These in-store clinics will offer the customer base a convenience that will fit in with their lifestyle," Clark said.
Meijer is taking a lead role in other nonfood issues. One is antibiotic misuse and overuse, which is believed to be contributing to the global rise of dangerous, drug-resistant strains of bacteria that cause bronchitis, tuberculosis, staph infections and other diseases.
"It is a very serious public health threat because these bacteria are growing resistant to antibiotics and they spread very easily, and if we don't have drugs to treat them, we're in trouble," said Mary Eley, executive director of the Michigan Antibiotic Resistance Reduction Coalition.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Foundation in Atlanta joined with Eley's group and Meijer to launch the "Antibiotic Roundup." Earlier this year, consumers could take their expired or unused antibiotics such as penicillin or tetracycline to local Meijer pharmacies for disposal. In return, each participant received educational material on behaviors that contribute to the spread and development of antibiotic resistance, along with a gift from Meijer.
Fred Meyer gives its shoppers a big health and wellness experience.
That's because, with stores averaging 150,000 square feet, Fred Meyer can afford to give health and wellness more generous treatment than other store formats. The Kroger-owned, 128-store chain views itself as a "multi-department store" with many detailed sections apart from traditional grocery. Natural and organic products are key to the mix.
Dubbed Natural Choices, the special sections devoted to health and wellness in each store are highlighted by generous shopping space, wood-grain flooring, unique fixtures and subdued lighting. The area consists of multiple aisles set at an angle with traditional grocery shelves.
Dry groceries, refrigerated and frozen items as well as health and beauty products can all be found here. There are also multiple doors of frozen foods, mirrored by another set for refrigerated items. Household cleaners and paper products, plus an aisle dedicated to herbal remedies, vitamins and supplements, are also typical. Fred Meyer's natural store brand, also called Natural Choices, is represented with an extensive line of vitamins, supplements and herbs.
In the bulk food area, store associates maintain and replenish the bins where nuts, dried fruit, snacks and cereals occupy self-service stations. As in the traditional grocery section of the store, endcaps are used to promote seasonal and value-oriented items.
Associates familiar with health and wellness help customers make buying decisions. For consumers looking for additional on-site information, the Portland, Ore.-based company provides touchscreen kiosks from Healthnotes, an in-store information provider. Customers can instantly bring up information on specific health concerns, healthy recipes, or get more detailed information on vitamins and supplements. The kiosks also alert shoppers to current sales or new product offerings.
The volume of Fred Meyer's health and wellness offerings, along with the careful positioning of products into distinct categories, certainly sets it apart. The Natural Choices assortment is so varied and extensive that it almost resembles a full line of conventional-store brands.
Bashas' Supermarkets is no stranger to health and wellness initiatives. And the best is yet to come.
This summer, the company is planning to open a stand-alone natural food store called Ike's Farmer's Market. Named after one of the company's founders, a key aspect of the new format will be introducing customers to health and wellness, and many brands they may not be familiar with. There will be a strong emphasis on lower prices and a wide selection of private-label products.
"We put a team together and put them on a search - nationwide and coast-to-coast - getting ideas from other operators across the country, coming back to us with recommendations," said Mike Proulx, Bashas' president. "Expertise is going to be a must. Customers are looking for information, they're looking for nutritional ways of enhancing their lifestyles, and they're looking for that expertise."
More than five years ago, the 153-unit, Chandler, Ariz.-based chain launched a store-within-a-store concept to merchandise natural and organic products. The special section, called Natural Choice, today is in most of the company's stores. Natural and organic groceries, supplements, and health and beauty care items can all be found there.
The department is typically located close to produce and dairy. Each month, Bashas' showcases Natural Choice on two pages of its in-store magazine, which features a health and wellness article, nutritional information and product features.
Emil Faithe, holistic pharmacist practitioner for Bashas', often gives discussions on health and wellness, both in-store and out of store. In addition, he writes a monthly column in the chain's newsletter on a variety of topics such as omega-3 fatty acids as a benefit to the cardiovascular system and as an anti-cancer agent.
Bashas' is committed to community outreach, as well. The chain's Food City banner conducts a community service program called íA Su Salud!, meaning "To Your Health." The program is in its fourth year and provides low-income customers lacking adequate health care coverage with in-store nutrition education and blood tests that screen for thyroid problems, prostate cancer, arthritis, breast cancer, cholesterol, diabetes and other ailments. The initiative, coordinated by care provider Healthstyles Southwest, costs about $100,000 a year to administer.
HAIN CELESTIAL GROUP
At Hain Celestial Group, the sky's the limit. This Melville, N.Y.-based company is actually an amalgam of many smaller units that touches every department in the supermarket. It is a major contributor to health and wellness by sheer volume alone - and the new products keep coming.
"Our grocery and snacks unit remains strong, with impressive performance across its brands," said Irwin D. Simon, president and chief executive officer, who envisions continued growth of his brands in the natural and organic category. "We are excited about our opportunities."
And why shouldn't he be with a brand portfolio that includes: Celestial Seasonings, Terra Chips, Garden of Eatin', Health Valley, WestSoy, Earth's Best, Arrowhead Mills, DeBoles, Hain Pure Foods, FreeBird, Hollywood, Spectrum Naturals, Spectrum Essentials, Walnut Acres Organic, Imagine Foods, Rice Dream, Soy Dream, Rosetto, Ethnic Gourmet, Yves Veggie Cuisine, Lima, BiomarchT, Grains Noirs, Natumi, JASON, Zia Natural Skincare, Queen Helene, Batherapy and Footherapy.
Of these products, Celestial Seasonings is perhaps the best known among consumers, and the reason why Hain changed its named to include Celestial after it acquired the tea company in 2000. It's a category leader and one of the first natural food brands to cross over from specialty health stores to traditional supermarkets. Celestial Seasonings offers 90 varieties of tea, and Zingers to Go, the first all-natural, zero-calorie powdered iced tea, was recently introduced.
Snack foods are a mainstay for the company. For all-natural, exotic vegetable chips, Terra Chips fit the bill, while the Garden of Eatin' brand offers tortilla and pita chips made with organic ingredients.
In recent years, there has been a lot of interest in natural and organic foods for children. Hain Celestial meets this need by offering a traditional line of infant jarred foods and cereals, as well as breakfast foods and snacks for toddlers.
Going one step further, Earth's Best, in conjunction with the Sesame Workshop and its Healthy Habits for Life initiative, provides a product line fortified specifically for toddlers.
Organic foods can be convenient as well. Hain Celestial is launching its new Health Valley organic microwave soups fortified with protein and fiber, available in four varieties.
The Heinz Co. owns approximately 16% of Hain Celestial.
Pepsi and Frito-Lay are corporate brand icons in a country where snacking is a national pastime. Even with mounting concern over obesity, it's not easy to completely cross off chips and soda from the grocery shopping list. So world-class brand marketer PepsiCo came up with a more palatable idea: make them more healthful.
The company, based in Purchase, N.Y., undertook the daunting task of reformulating many of its popular brands. In 2003, it took trans fats out of every Frito-Lay product, one of the first companies to do so, and the first to do it on such a grand scale.
To help consumers make wise eating choices, a year later PepsiCo created the "Smart Spot" symbol for products that meet strict dietary guidelines. The green circle with a check mark through it means the products meet certain health criteria. The letters in SMART stand for: Start with a healthy breakfast; Move more; Add more fruits, veggies and whole grains; Remember to hydrate; and Try lower calories or fat.
To qualify for a "Smart Spot," a product must meet one of the following requirements:
Contain at least 10% of the Daily Value of a targeted nutrient (such as protein or calcium) and meet the limits for fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium and added sugar.
Have reduced calories when compared to an original version.
Be formulated to have other specific health benefits.
Such brand favorites as Baked! Lays, Life Cereal and Diet Pepsi Cola are just a few of the many products that qualify.
In addition to a brand portfolio that also includes Mountain Dew and Slice (soft drinks) and Doritos and Fritos (chips), PepsiCo markets an assortment of beverages on many consumers' healthful lists: Tropicana orange juice, Gatorade sports drink and Aquafina bottled water. Its Quaker foods subsidiary offers higher-fiber oatmeal, whole grain Rice-A-Roni, and similar products.
The company relies on its Blue Ribbon Advisory Board to guide its wellness initiatives. The panel of experts in the fields of medicine and education includes Dr. Ken Cooper of the Cooper Aerobics Center and Dr. Dean Ornish of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute.
PepsiCo also sponsors and supports many organizations and programs that raise health awareness and promote physical activity: America on the Move, Gatorade Sports Science Institute and the PepsiCo Employee Wellness Program.
Kraft Foods markets brands that have become household names over the years: Kraft, Maxwell House, Oscar Mayer, Post, Nabisco, Jell-O, Kool-Aid, Miracle Whip and Velveeta. The company didn't grow into the country's No. 1 food maker without listening to consumers. So, with the growing interest in health and wellness, Kraft has responded.
The Northfield, Ill.-based company is widely credited with creating the 100-calorie pack for the country's favorite snacks. Oreo thin crisps, Chips Ahoy! thin crisps and Ritz snack mix are now available in portion-controlled packages that potentially help consumers better manage how much they eat.
The company also took the bold step of creating its first-ever vice president of nutrition, responsible for setting and running companywide nutrition programs and overseeing all nutrition strategies and guidelines.
Trans fats have also been a priority. Several items were reformulated well before the federal government issued new labeling requirements. Today more than 70% of the biscuit portfolio of cookies and crackers - including Oreo, Triscuit and Wheat Thins - have reduced or no trans fat.
"As part of Kraft's broader health and wellness initiatives, we're continually working on ways to enhance the nutritional profiles of our products," noted Lance Friedman, senior vice president, global health & wellness and new category development.
Last year, Kraft launched a line of products for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacking under a new brand, South Beach Diet, after the best-selling book of the same name. There are other new brands: Back to Nature products - cookies, crackers, macaroni and cheese dinners, and organic cheese made with no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives; Balance Go Mix - trail mix with 11 essential vitamins and minerals, protein and less fat; meatless Boca Lasagna made with soy protein and Boca Rising Crust Supreme Pizza with soy-based topping; and CarbWell - low-carb alternatives to popular foods including cereal and condiments.
The company also has improved the selection of low-calorie drinks available, including Capri Sun Sport and Kool-Aid Jammers for children; and Crystal Light Sunrise, a breakfast drink with 100% of the daily value of vitamin C and only five calories per serving.
Dean Foods is a dominant player in the dairy case. The owner of Horizon Organic and WhiteWave Foods offers brands like Silk soy beverages that have already become household names, even among many mainstream consumers.
They are "brands with a mission," according to Joe Scalzo, WhiteWave's president and chief executive officer. "We strive to make them stand for something larger."
Indeed, some new initiatives promise to bring Dean's brand names to other supermarket sections. WhiteWave recently introduced TofuTown, an umbrella logo for the company's line of premium tofu, baked tofu, grilled tofu tenders, tempeh and seitan meat substitute. This combination of health and convenience is attracting a whole new group of consumers who want to eat better, but may not have the time or ability to follow through, Scalzo said.
The bulk of the Dallas company's presence remains in dairy, however. Horizon purchases 80% of its milk from 340 farmer partners. It currently supports 200 transitional dairy farmers through the Horizon Organic Producer Education program and continuously encourages more family farmers to convert to organic farming methods. Farmers don't use antibiotics, added growth hormones or pesticides for cows or the grass on which they graze.
To increase the scope of the organic foods movement, Horizon has partnered with the Organic Center, which is focused on generating credible, peer-reviewed scientific information regarding organic production. The partnership also aims to communicate the benefits of organic products to the public.
Silk, introduced 10 years ago, was the first fresh, refrigerated, organic soymilk brand and today is the No. 1 seller in the category. Silk Live!, a soy yogurt smoothie made with real fruit and real fruit juice, has live and active cultures, and 19 essential nutrients.
Horizon's "fruit on the bottom" and low-fat yogurt contains NutraFlora, a probiotic fiber that supports natural, friendly bacteria in the digestive tract and increases the body's ability to absorb calcium and magnesium.
"We want our products to be part of a broader lifestyle consumers believe in - one that's better and healthier for them, their families and the planet," Scalzo said.
General Mills has given its diverse product portfolio a complete makeover. The list of enhancements includes reducing fat, sodium and sugar, while adding calcium, fiber, vitamins and even plant sterols that can reduce cholesterol.
General Mills now has 250 products that contain 130 or fewer calories per serving. They include soups, yogurt, granola bars, dinner rolls, vegetables, soy milk and - most importantly - ready-to-eat breakfast cereals, its signature category.
The single biggest health improvement initiative in company history was converting all of the Big G cereals to whole grain. Each day, General Mills delivers 28 million whole grain servings of such brand icons as Cheerios, Wheaties, Total, Trix, Lucky Charms and Cinnamon Toast Crunch, among others.
"The science shows a strong connection between whole grain and a reduced risk for heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity, which are the biggest preventable killers in the United States," said Susan J. Crockett, director of the Bell Institute of Health and Nutrition at General Mills.
The new food pyramid emphasizes whole grains among its nutritional recommendations, and with the ingredients update, General Mills promotes MyPyramid on its cereal packaging. The company also added an icon system called the Goodness Corner that provides quick-read nutrition information based on federal guidelines.
"With cereal consumed in 93% of American households and with the information on more than 100 million General Mills cereal boxes, this is a powerful step forward in nutrition education," said John Haugen, vice president of Big G marketing.
The Minneapolis-based food maker has tweaked its other product lines as well, and has adapted an employee weight-management program for consumers. Brand New You allows anyone to lose 10 pounds in 10 weeks.
The company is also bringing organic products into the mainstream through Small Planet Foods, a subsidiary marketing the Cascadian Farm and Muir Glen brands. The former includes cereals, frozen fruits and vegetables, frozen prepared meals and side dishes, pickles, fruit spreads, granola bars and juice concentrates. Muir Glen makes tomato products such as pasta sauces, salsas and canned tomatoes.
Organic Valley Family of Farms, the largest organic farmer-owned cooperative in North America, is getting larger and more sophisticated. But that is not a bad thing.
"There has been a shortage of organic milk, and that's allowed us the opportunity to expand into new regions. It's been very exciting to offer the program to more farmers," said George Siemon, chief executive officer of the La Farge, Wis.-based co-op.
Last year, Organic Valley moved into Texas and Colorado, and this year went into Idaho. Plans are being laid for expansion into Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina.
All of the farm families who produce Organic Valley products - fluid dairy, juice, eggs, meat, soy and produce - are the actual owners of the business.
"We're in the midst of providing a feed service to our farmers since the market is growing so fast," Siemon said. "We feel there is a need to coordinate supply and feed to the farmers.
"We've also beefed up our resources to support farmers," he added, referring to programs the co-op has established to attract conventional farmers and to support them while they transition their operations to organic. "We're excited about the number of educational meetings we've been able to have - just being able to work with and encourage farmers."
The cooperative efforts of more 700 farmers involved with the company represent about 10% of the organic farming community in America. Forty-five percent of all profits are shared by farmers; another 45% goes to the employees; the remaining 10% is pledged to helping the environment.
As large corporations have bought up many family farms over the years, Organic Valley sees itself as an "un-corporation" that nurtures local farming families, a key tenet in America's changing attitude about health and wellness, and the many issues that support this lifestyle. The farmers are involved in every aspect of company business - from the processing plants to quality and taste, all the way to packaging and shipping the products to the stores.
"We're really looking into the idea of food as medicine," Siemon added.
COLEMAN NATURAL FOODS
The strength of Coleman Natural Foods as a leading provider of natural and organic meat and poultry lies in the depth and breadth of proteins the growing company brings to market, including natural and organic beef, natural and organic poultry, natural pork, natural and organic prepared foods, and natural lamb.
"We take the necessary time and care to bring the best possible meat products to families," said Chuck Fletcher, chief marketing officer for the rancher and processor, based in Golden, Colo. "Unlike conventional meats, we never ever use antibiotics, growth hormones, artificial additives or chemicals."
Just this spring, Coleman rolled out an impressive line of options: natural hot dogs and frankfurters, natural bacon, natural cooked and raw dinner sausages, natural deli meats, fresh marinated chicken breasts individually vacuum-packed and ready for freezing or cooking, and natural hickory-smoked barbecue pulled pork and shredded beef. New products this summer will include all-natural white meat chicken tenders and chicken wings.
Also on the poultry side, sister company Petaluma Poultry offers roasters that sell under the "Rocky" free-range and "Rosie" organic brands.
In a sign of just how far the natural/organic meat category has already come, Coleman has introduced a case-ready program. Retailers can offer natural and organic fresh meat without having to run programs out of their full-service cases, Fletcher said.
Coleman's focus on "all-natural" extends beyond food. For more than two decades, the company has advocated sustainable resources: promoting strict environmental standards to protect water, air, land and wildlife. It is a major donor to, and activist for, the American Farmland Trust, an organization dedicated to preserving farms and ranches, and the open spaces they represent.
In 2005, the company also made a 10-year commitment to reforesting, a promise that translates into planting more than 20 million trees in the United States, including the hurricane-torn Gulf Coast area, through the Coleman Eco-Project 2015.
THE HERSHEY CO.
North America's largest maker of confectionery products takes chocolate seriously, and is conducting wide-ranging research into the health benefits of cocoa. The results are encouraging for everyone who enjoys a chocolate bar.
For example, Hershey's study of the flavanols in chocolate and cocoa shows positive effects on blood pressure. The company recently partnered with Yale University for a study which confirmed that Hershey's Natural Cocoa powder can result in measurable improvements in arterial function.
"The natural cocoa used in this study produced remarkable improvements in arterial function in the people tested," said David Katz, associate professor of public health at Yale, and director of the Prevention Research Center that conducted the study.
The scientific findings have brought about new products like Extra Dark bars and miniatures with 60% cocoa butter. Indeed, since 2004, the company has initiated seven clinical trials on a variety of products and health outcomes. These studies have investigated the effects of cocoa, dark chocolate, macadamia nuts and specially-designed nutrition bars on cardiovascular risk factors. Other studies have looked at snacks designed for glycemic control. Four additional trials are in the contractual or planning stages.
In late 2004, Hershey, based in Hershey, Pa., convened a cross-functional team to develop the comprehensive Health & Wellness Initiatives Plan. The result was a set of integrated and measurable goals that focus not only on Hershey products, but also on the company and its employees.
An industry-leading research program was also developed. The seven-member Health & Wellness Advisory Board, made up of nationally known scientists, wellness experts and health trends analysts, will provide additional vision and direction to its clinical research and product development efforts.
As part of its commitment to following the vision of the advisory board, Hershey recently established The Hershey Center for Health and Nutrition. The center brings together various scientific activities within the company to allow for a more targeted and coordinated program for investigations into the health benefits of Hershey's core products: chocolate, cocoa and nuts, as well as snack bars and healthy beverages.
Healthy eating may be trendy nowadays, but the Kellogg Co. realized its importance a long time ago. The company, celebrating its centennial in 2006, is still a leading voice for balanced diets through its breakfast cereals.
"Kellogg's was founded on nutrition leadership over 100 years ago," said Christine Lowry, vice president of nutrition for the Battle Creek, Mich.-based company.
Indeed, that role continues. In late June, the company's recently formed health and wellness division rolled out its first new products, which are protein-packed extensions of the Special K product line: Special K20 Protein Waters, Special K Protein Snack Bars and Special K Protein Meal Bars.
Here are some other ways that Kellogg's is promoting healthy lifestyles:
Kellogg's Healthy Beginnings is an in-store program to help consumers improve their health, including understanding the importance of whole grains. It offers free health screenings; a booklet containing health assessment tools; and coupons and samples of Kellogg's Healthy Beginnings brands, like Smart Start Healthy Heart, Frosted Mini-Wheats, Special K and All-Bran.
Kellogg's works closely with select organizations and partners to promote the importance of physical activity and healthy lifestyles. Two recent examples include the company's Frosted Flakes "Earn Your Stripes" program, which encourages children to get physically fit, eat right and work hard to be their best; and the Smart Start Healthy Heart program, which supports the American Heart Association's Go Red for Women initiative, working to drive awareness of heart disease as significant health risk for women.
Kellogg's counts among its subsidiaries two important health and wellness leaders. Kashi Co., manufacturers of healthy cereals and cereal bars, has played a critical role in helping natural and organic foods transition to the mainstream. Most recently, it introduced a line of crackers and is moving into the frozen entree category as well.
The vegetarian burgers, hot dogs and chicken products that make up the Morningstar Farms line of products has also grown, adding breakfast entrees and a group of alternative-protein Meal Starters to its line-up.
"We are focused more than ever on helping consumers to find simple solutions to support an active and healthy lifestyle," Lowry said.
Dairy is considered a gateway to a more healthful lifestyle, and yogurt is one of the products greeting consumers at the threshold. Few companies are better positioned to guide them than the Dannon Co. It is America's first national yogurt company and the top-selling brand of yogurt worldwide, with more that 100 different types of flavors, styles and sizes of products.
But there's more. Consumers are showing increased interest nowadays in yogurt that contains "probiotics," strains of friendly bacteria that have been shown to strengthen the immune system.
Not surprisingly, Dannon's European roots and stateside market penetration made it the ideal vehicle for bringing probiotics to the United States. It introduced DanActive, the first probiotic-cultured dairy drink imported from Europe. Then, in January of this year, the company rolled out the first probiotic yogurt, Activia, in supermarkets nationwide.
"Activia has been the most successful product launch in the history of Dannon and the U.S. yogurt category," said Jim Murphy, vice president of sales. "The interest level of U.S. consumers in products that provide benefits beyond basic nutrition is rapidly rising, and the successful mainstream introduction of Activia demonstrates that now is the time for the probiotics revolution in the U.S."
In 2001, Dannon took a 40% stake in Stonyfield Farm, the largest organic yogurt producer in the United States. Today the White Plains, N.Y.-based company owns more than 80% of Stonyfield. Since the initial purchase, both companies have invested heavily in developing synergies in the areas of nutrition and health, and the environment, which, in turn, have strengthened existing, independent programs within each company.
One such entity is the Dannon Institute, established in 1997, a non-profit organization founded to create, encourage and support programs in nutrition and health as well as enable people of all ages to learn and experience the role healthful diets play in their everyday lives. Earlier this year, the Dannon Child Nutrition Education Grants program began accepting applications from community groups for aid in establishing children's outreach programs.
NATURE'S PATH FOODS
Nature's Path Foods isn't just following trends. It's helping blaze new trails for health and wellness-minded consumers. The grains-based company, founded in 1985, is one of the few remaining family-owned companies of its size in the organic and natural food industry. It posts a growth rate of 25%-30% per year, according to Arran Stephens, founder and president.
"Many feel that not only are our products authentic and original, but they connect the consumer to the goodness of nature and well-being," Stephens said. "And thus, we've gratefully emerged as a leader in a crowded field that is now largely composed of late entrants wanting to cash in on a hot trend."
One of those venues where it's leading the pack is the club channel, which Nature's Path helped open for health and wellness manufacturers. Some of the best-selling cereals in Costco, for instance, are Nature's Path cereals.
Indeed, the brands marketed by the Richmond, British Columbia, firm include: Optimum (cold cereal, hot cereal, bars, waffles); LifeStream (waffles, pasta); Hemp Plus (cereals, bars, waffles, baking mixes); Heritage (cold cereals); Flax Plus (cold cereals, bars, waffles, baking mixes, flax seeds); Signature Series (snack foods); Mesa Sunrise (cold cereals, waffles); and Manna Breads. The company has also developed the very first organic whole grain toaster pastries.
"We've been innovators in the area of omega-3 nutrition and organics, and have never shied away from competing with the giants," Stephens added.Nature's Path hosts demonstration projects at events around the United States and Canada to introduce kids to the environmentally friendly aspects of their products. The company has also provided prepackaged cereal bowls to school lunch programs in California where kids got a chance to try the product firsthand.
An environmentally conscious manufacturer, the company uses non-toxic, soy-based inks on all of its paperboard packaging. It has also reduced the box size of its flaked cereals by 10%, eliminating packaging waste.
"We believe that our packaging has to reflect the professionalism, integrity and history that underlies our company," Stephens said.
UNITED NATURAL FOODS
The country's largest publicly traded wholesale distributor to the natural and organic food industry has plans to expand the scope of its products and services. United Natural Foods, Dayville, Conn., already supplies more than 40,000 products to over 20,000 customers operating large and small natural and organic product stores, as well as conventional supermarkets.
Indeed, mainstream supermarkets and independent retailers account for the bulk of United Natural Foods' business. Whole Foods Market made up about 26% of the company's sales in 2004 and 2005, while Wild Oats Markets accounted for 11% in 2005.
"We intend to continue to expand geographically and in the product services that we offer to all of our customer segments, from natural product stores to supermarkets, food-service and international customers to assorted mass market accounts," said Dan Atwood, the distributor's executive vice president, chief marketing officer and president.
The company will expand its assortment of products across the board from shelf-stable grocery, fresh foods, frozens and bulk foods to nutritional supplements, personal care and general merchandise. United Natural Foods will also offer a variety of category management tools, new and improved promotional and marketing programs, and assorted other services.
"We also intend to continue to build our company-owned brands, which have been growing at a dramatic 50%-plus rate per year," Atwood said. The brands include Woodstock Farms, Grateful Harvest, Natural Sea, Rising Moon Organics, Organic Baby, Old Wessex and others.
Distribution operations serve four main divisions: United Natural Foods, eastern region; United Natural Foods, western region; Albert's Organics, the nation's leading distributor of organic produce and perishable items; and Select Nutrition, which distributes more than 14,000 health and beauty aids, vitamins, minerals and supplements from distribution centers in California and Pennsylvania. A subsidiary, Hershey Imports Co., has an international presence with the niche of importing, roasting and packaging nuts, seeds, dried fruits and snack items.
TREE OF LIFE
In 1969, Tree of Life began business as a small department in a neighborhood grocery store on Anastasia Island, just across Matanzas Bay from St. Augustine, Fla. In those days, shoppers had a tough time finding natural and organic foods.
Times have changed, and Tree of Life is one of the reasons why.
Today, the company is one of the country's leading distributors of natural, organic, specialty, ethnic and gourmet food products. It has helped thousands of food retailers coast to coast - from the largest chains to the smallest independents - meet the growing demand for these products by offering about 55,000 SKUs. The choices now include a variety of private labels under brands such as American Natural, Harmony Farms, Peanut Wonder and Soy Wonder.
"The Tree of Life strategy focuses on these consumers and on their product preferences and shopping habits," said Greg Leonard, vice president of trade marketing.
The St. Augustine company is also helping retailers increase sales and profits by making available a new marketing service called Smart Assortment. The proprietary program is designed to optimize product assortments both in Tree of Life facilities and at the store shelf. In the facility, the program uses point-of-sale transactional data to ensure that product assortments meet the evolving needs of the target consumer. At retail, the program develops optimal natural, organic, gourmet and specialty product assortments customized to the needs of individual stores.
"Our objective is to maintain a very high level of awareness of the consumer who buys our products, identify the retail stores where they shop, then develop merchandising and product assortment plans specifically tailored to the individual needs of that customer and retail environment," Leonard said.
The combination of a wide assortment of sought-after products and a proprietary program to customize assortments helps retailers increase their sales and profits. It also raises the level of service provided by Tree of Life.
"The foundation of our new strategy is excellence in buying and selling, logistics, and order quality - all of the fundamentals of food distribution," said Rick Moller, category director of natural and organic.
ORGANIC TRADE ASSOCIATION
The Organic Trade Association is right at home in an industry known for strong opinions and fiercely held beliefs.
Organic food sales in the United States totaled nearly $14 billion in 2005, and are expected to grow another $2 billion by the end of this year. Consumers want more products, and the Greenfield, Mass.-based OTA is responsible for promoting and protecting the trade to benefit the environment, farmers, the public and the economy. Its 1,700 members include farmers, processors, importers, exporters, distributors, retailers and others related to the organic industry.
Perhaps the most important work has been in the area of organic guidelines and laws. One of its first accomplishments was publishing Guidelines for the Organic Food Industry in 1986. Over the years, OTA has refined its guidelines, which eventually helped lay the foundation for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Organic Program, implemented in 2002.
"OTA has been instrumental in the creation of the law and its regulation that governs the term 'organic,' said Caren Wilcox, OTA's new executive director. "Since the rule was implemented in 2002, OTA has been very active in making sure that regulation provides assurances to customers and opens the door for organic farmers so they will have an expanding market."
The group was more recently subject to criticism by organic purists when it sponsored a congressional rider restoring the National List of synthetic materials allowed in organic foods. A court challenge temporarily banned the NOP's menu of 38 allowable nonorganic, synthetic ingredients like baking soda, ethylene and xanthan gum. The OTA reviewed the potential impact of a permanent ban, took a tough position and made no apologies. Subsequent passage of the rider allowed many organic packaged food suppliers to continue processing their foods in a way that would allow use of the USDA Organic seal.
OTA will continue to focus energy on stringent national standards and more organic production, said Wilcox, who recently replaced Katherine DiMatteo, who was OTA's executive director for 16 important, formative years.
"We want to make sure that consumers understand what a USDA-certified organic label means to them, and what farmers and processors do to earn that label," Wilcox said.