As I’m sure you’ve heard, Amazon purchased Whole Foods Market last year. Don’t get me wrong; I love Amazon and Whole Foods. I’ve spent loads of money buying product from both. I also think Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, is a brilliant entrepreneur. However, changes in the organic industry have forced changes in the market that Bezos must now address to save the business. But, customer, employee and brand reaction to the changes he has implemented so far suggest he is going in the exact wrong direction, and fast. But if these are the wrong decisions, what are the right ones? What could save Whole Foods?
As a small food business owner and frequent Whole Foods shopper, I am concerned the Amazon changes could actually destroy one of the things that made Whole Foods so wonderful – their selection of local brands. This will actually be the main focus in part two of this series. Oh, and I’ll also cover how Whole Foods’ future could be cannabis banking – yes, I said that. And if that isn’t enough of a tease to read the next blog, I don’t know what is!
Before we head down that path, let’s first look at how a successful, truly revolutionary grocery store once incredibly popular with high income, food conscious shoppers was chased by declining profits into a deal with Amazon.
How Has Whole Foods Changed Since It Started?
When Whole foods started in 1980, they were light ages ahead of the game. Their two biggest advantages they had were “cleaner” food than the average grocery store, and they carried local, small brands that people loved and connected with emotionally. The in-store experience was fantastic because, in addition to the visual appeal of how the store was presented, you also could meet many of the owners of small brands when they came to do demos at the store. For that, we all paid up to a (gulp) 40% premium on our bag of groceries.
What Challenges Were Facing Whole Foods?
The company ran into several challenges. I’m certainly not on the inside at Whole Foods so I can’t speak to all of them, but I can share about two important market issues, (1) the entrance of organic into mainstream grocery and big box stores, and (2) the progression/regression of the organic market.
For many years, Whole Foods was the only major grocery chain offering certified organic food. But times have changed and demand for organics has grown with purchasing increasing 8% annually compared to 3% for all food. Organic products are now easy to find at stores like Wal-Mart, Costco, and Kroger. And yet, despite this growth, still less than 1% of U.S. farmland is organic, and some crops like soy have virtually no organic production in the U.S. How could this be?
The answer, of course, is that much of this organic expansion in supply is coming from overseas. This raises a lot of questions. Let’s look at three of the main ones (I won’t cover farmworker health but that is also a big issue).
Is Overseas Organic Better for the Environment?
The first issue is carbon footprint. Organic production is estimated to be 20% more energy efficient than conventional. However, how many miles can you ship an organic apple before that environmental benefit has been wiped out? To give you some perspective, in 2005 alone, the CO2 emission caused by the planes flying fruits, nuts, and vegetables from other countries to California was the equivalent of putting 12,000 more cars on the road that year.
Is Overseas Organic As Nutritious?
The second issue might surprise you. After much study, we know that organic certification does not necessarily mean the food will be more nutritious. What is probably more relevant to nutrition and taste is the decline that occurs when the time between harvest and consumption is lengthened, and when the product is shipped long distances. If you buy an organic apple grown overseas, it likely won’t have as much nutrition as the conventional, locally grown apple contains. And, often produce is treated to help it arrive in the best condition possible, which can negatively impact taste and may also damage nutrients.
Is Overseas Organic Really Organic?
The third issue is that your imported, organic apple may not be as organic as you think. The USDA says its organic inspection process is the same across the world; however, organic certification is mostly a paper trail. There is very little testing to ensure crops claiming they are organically grown truly are. If I buy sunflower seeds from China, the broker I buy from deals with a middleman in China who may deal with other middlemen, and ultimately sourced from hundreds of farms. We are counting on each of those accurately reporting their organic practices. I’ve tried to chase down that supply chain before and it proved impossible. The US supply chain is not as difficult to trace.
In addition, environmental factors, such as air pollution (particularly in China) and chemical drifts from conventional farms, both of which can seep into organic crops, are not taken into consideration. Glyphosate testing (a chemical of concern found in Round-Up), for example, reveals that surprising amounts are showing up in some organic products.
As the owner of a food company, I can tell you that my colleagues and I consider overseas organic suspect, and in some cases a downright hoax. To be sure, if you can’t get your ingredient domestically grown, like poppy seeds, it’s better to buy organic than not. But I won’t risk exposing my customers to chemicals simply because I want an organic certification. I would buy a reliable, domestic conventional crop over an unknown source of an organic overseas crop any day of the week.
In fact, we do just that for our fruit bars. We source our fruit from Oregon and Washington (and a bit from California) farms because the Pacific Northwest has cold, hard winters, which kills off their weeds. As a result, farmers do not need to use an herbicide like Round-Up on their conventional crops like other regions with warmer climates. In fact, we test for glyphosate in all our products, so I have data to back this up. Our conventional “Just Fruit” bars measure nearly as clean as our organic Seed+Fruit bars. (Side note, there is measurable glyphosate in nearly everything now because it is in the water, even your shower and drinking water. But, that’s for another blog post.)
How Did These Changes Lead to Whole Foods Decline?
I’ve noticed for years that even the domestic, organic produce sold at Whole Foods isn’t as good as it was back when my children were little in the early 2000s. Yes, Whole Foods does sell some overseas organics (I estimate about 1/3rd of my local Whole Foods produce is imported) but I speculate the quality decline I’ve noticed is in part due to storage and shipping practices put into place as the company got larger, and in part due to the commercialization of some organic farms. It’s hard to blame the farmers. Organic farming is expensive; certification is expensive. In response, some organic farms are also operating at the edge of what most consumers would consider organic, using copious amounts of organic chemicals and growing monocultures, hardly the biodiverse farming many of we organic shoppers hope we are supporting. And, I firmly believe these factors impact taste–those suspiciously large, beautiful organic apples usually don’t taste as good as the smaller spotted ones. But, organic farming is expensive and it’s cheaper for stores to source from farms growing on the edge of what’s allowed and from overseas. The problem for Whole Foods is that these lower costs made it possible for grocers like Costco and Kroger to offer certified organic produce, and offer them at lower prices.
My local Whole Foods team members tell me they are really seeing the impact of what they see as bad decision making from Amazon. They told me numerous senior staff members have left the company as a result. For example, Amazon has told them only to order a certain amount of product. So customers shopping later in the day are finding shelves empty. And, it’s not just about supply. Since Amazon has taken over, Twitter has been a-fire with Whole Foods customer complaints of rotten produce and end cap displays of non-organic, big food brands on top of out-of-stock items. So, if consumers can get home delivery from Costco for their organics, be assured it will be fresh and in stock, and save on toilet paper while they are at it, why wouldn’t they?
Can Whole Foods Be Saved from Destruction?
No one ever shopped at Whole Foods because it was price competitive. I shopped there for better, safer foods and local, innovative brands that were ahead of mainstream trends, like gluten-free. Bezos’s response to the mainstreaming of organic has been to focus on lowering prices. That’s a no-win game for him — companies built on superior product and consumer experience never win by competing on price.
I think Whole Foods could have fixed this quality problem two years ago by playing up—offering a higher “better than organic” standard and buying from more local farms. That could have restored their position at the top, though it likely would have meant fewer, more profitable stores. But Whole Foods was in the capitalist game of “go big or go home.” It stumbled at the former, and so chose the latter. Luckily for them, they went home with a big wad of cash in their pockets by selling to Amazon.
Now it’s on Amazon to turn this around. But if the Twitter storm and employee complaints are right, what we’ve seen since the buy-out is that lower prices are coming at the expense of the very things the store was built on — quality products and quality shopping experience.
What’s next for Whole Foods and Small Food Brands?
The next wave of changes have already started at Amazon Whole Foods and, as a result, some small brands have started pulling out of the stores due to Amazon’s new contract requirements. This could lead to the company’s final and full destruction unless Bezos starts listening (and I hope he does) to its small brands and core customers. That is unless cannabis can save them–more on that in the next blog.
Cold weather and holidays mean hot drinks! The only problem is, the eggnog and hot chocolate that most people are drinking aren’t really allergy friendly. So we decided to use our bar flavors as inspiration to make a twist on the classics and give you some amazing flavors that the whole family can enjoy.
We went back to the test kitchen to create four different drinks: Spiced Hot Apple Cider, Mulled Fruit, Ginger Lemon Tea, and allergy friendly Hot Cocoa (with a fun find to go with it!).
Spiced Hot Apple Cider
During these chilly, winter months, one of our favorite things to do is curl up with a soft blanket, a good book, and a cup of spiced cider. We wanted to take the traditional cider up a notch, so we looked to our Seed+Fruit Apple Cinnamon bars to come up with a fun, delicious take on Hot Apple Cider.
If you are entertaining this year, this recipe is perfect, because it is simple, easy, delicious, and it will make your house smell amazing!
6 cups of Organic Apple Cider
1 Organic Orange (sliced)
1 Organic Apple (sliced)
3 Cinnamon Sticks
2 tsp Cloves
1/2 Tsp Peppercorn
1 inch of Fresh Ginger
1/4 tsp of Chinese Five Spice (optional)
Combine above ingredients in a saucepan, and simmer for 20 minutes or until the house is filled with the aroma of spiced cider. Want the no-fuss version? Put it all in a slow cooker on low until it is hot.
Mulled Fruit (Wine Optional)
Mulled wine is one of those traditional drinks that is starting to be left out. But as we know from our Just Fruit bars, there is nothing quite like the taste of fresh fruit. Blending this drink makes it frothy and delicious, not to mention very pretty to serve! It is easy to create this virgin drink, but if you want to add an adult kick, we included those instructions as well. Another great thing about this drink is that there is enough sweetness from the juice, that you don’t have to add any additional sweetener!
8 cups of Organic Cranberry-Raspberry Juice (100% Juice)
1 lb Strawberries washed and hulled
1 tsp Organic Cloves (or to taste)
Extra Strawberries for garnish
Optional: Replace half the juice for shiraz wine
Blend strawberries, juice, and cloves on high. This will make it nice and frothy. They pour into individual cups and microwave for 60 seconds, or simmer on low in a pot until warm, being careful not to overstir so that it stays frothy. Slice a whole strawberry halfway through the middle to slide over the edge of the cup to decorate.
Dairy Free (Allergy Friendly) Hot Chocolate:
Hot Chocolate is an all-time favorite winter drink of ours, but its nearly impossible to find a true allergy-friendly hot chocolate at a restaurant. Even if you sub in a milk alternative, chances are the chocolate will contain dairy, so we looked to our Seed+Fruit Fudgy Chocolate bar to make the most delicious and velvety recipe you’ve ever tried.
This recipe makes enough for the entire season (honestly, it makes a lot!), so just put the finished mixture into a cute jar, and you won’t need to make this again all winter. Next time you’re having a craving, just put 2-4 Tbs of the premed mix into a cup with your favorite milk alternative, and you’re ready to go!
It also makes a cute gift! We keep some of these around to hand out to house guests, so everyone can leave with a tasty little treat. Our friends and family love getting this every year!
2 1/2 Cups of Organic Sugar
1 Cup of Allergy Friendly Chocolate Chips (Pascha is our favorite brand)
2 1/2 Cups of Organic Cocoa Powder
1 Tbs Salt
1/2 Cup of Macha Powder (optional)
1 Cup of your Favorite Milk Alternative when ready to drink
Combine all dry ingredients together and mix well. Store in an airtight container.
When ready to serve, add 2-4Tbs of the mixture to 1 cup of your favorite milk alternative. Top with candy canes.
Do you like marshmallows in your hot chocolate? It can be hard to find ones that are allergy friendly, and even harder to find ones that are vegan and taste good! That is why we were so excited to find these brand – Dandies. They are a peanut and tree nut free facility, gluten free, dairy free, and vegan! And they were the softest, fluffiest, yummiest marshmallows we had ever tasted. It was hard to keep the kids out of them long enough to take this photo. Extra fun? They come in both traditional vanilla flavor, as well as a Peppermint flavor that is colored pink with beets (no artificial colors!) so that you can have mint hot cocoa if you would like as well. They are also Non-GMO certified, so we consider this an all-around win.
Lemon Ginger Spiced Tea
Why have regular hot tea, when you can spice it up? This is a super simple way to take a common drink to the next level and add something that will make it memorable.
8 Cups Hot Water
4-6 Tea bags or 3 Tablespoons whole leaf tea (green tea works great)
1 Whole lemon, sliced
8 pieces of Crystallized Ginger
Brew the tea as usual, and then put a slice of fresh lemon and a piece of ginger into each cup. The longer you let it sit, the stronger the ginger flavor will be. You may want to add an extra pinch of sugar to taste, depending on how sweet you want this drink to be.
Does fall having you craving all things pumpkin? Well, we have you covered with this incredibly easy and delicious recipe for allergy friendly pumpkin muffins (that’s right, they are free of gluten, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, and dairy)! We made these the other day, and the office filled with the aroma of pumpkin spice, it was just perfect for fall.
These muffins disappeared quickly, so be prepared to make a second batch 😉 But don’t worry too much, because not only do they taste delectable, they also have some surprising health benefits hidden inside!
First, the pumpkin provides beta-carotene, which helps your eyes and skin stay healthy. Second, the ZEGO Bar crust adds extra protein and fiber helping you stay full longer. And of course, we never use any artificial sweeteners, flavorings, or colors that you find in most of the pumpkin spice things you can buy right now.
Get ready to take your Fall smoothies to a spooky new level with our creamy, nutritious, and delicious pumpkin smoothie recipe.
Gather all the ingredients together – the secret here is using the Apple Cinnamon ZEGO bar. It helps add fiber and protein to the smoothie, to prevent a sugar crash.
Get the kids, and let them help layer the spooky colors. They won’t even know spinach is what makes it so green! You can also play around with using chocolate protein powder instead to make it a creepy brown color – but we decided to go with goblin green.
Blend all the ingredients together for the pumpkin base. Depending on how creamy you like your smoothies, add more or less of your favorite milk alternative. Pour around 2 cups of the base into a clean jar, and set aside.
With approximately 1 cup of the pumpkin base left in the blender add the spinach and spirulina. Slowly add the milk, being careful not to add too much (you may not need the entire 1/2 cup).
We have big news to announce – ZEGO is now a B Corporation! I love talking about our company because ZEGO is so much more than delicious, Free From snacks. But it’s hard to convey all we hold dear in a Tweet or Instagram post. If you had the time, I would want to tell you we are a family-based business that grew out of a desire to provide delicious and nutritious snacks that are safe for nearly everyone to eat–no matter your dietary restriction, that we are passionate about providing food safety data through dynamic labeling, and how we use our labels to communicate food safety information to you. I would tell you we believe you have a right to know what is in your food and encourage you to demand it from all the companies you buy from – especially when it comes to toxins like glyphosate or cross contact with allergens.
I would want you to know that we are about more than transparency, nutrition and taste. I would want you to know that we work hard to support U.S. farmers by buying locally and regionally grown food for our products. We use our packaging to inform consumers how they can advocate for a cleaner food supply, and that we donate 2% of our revenue to improve nutrition for low-income kids. As you see, it takes us awhile to tell people about all we do, which is why we are so happy to be officially certified as a B Corporation!
What is a B Corporation anyway?
B Corp for business is similar to Fair Trade or USDA Organic for food, but much broader. It covers how you treat your employees, your corporate governance, and your commitment to protecting the environment and giving back to your community. Because not every question on the assessment is relevant to every type of company, to get certified you must score 80 points out of 200. ZEGO scored a full 113!
Being B Corp certified allows us to use one symbol, the B badge, to show that we care about a lot more than profit. It means that we strive to make our business a force for good in our community and in our world.
Why Did We Get B Corporation Certified?
We didn’t get certified as a marketing tool. We got certified as a B Corporation because it’s not enough for ZEGO to be an independent “good guy” company. To be a force for good, we need to join forces with other B Corp food companies to define new, higher standards both in food labeling and food / social responsibility. By working together, we can encourage other food companies to follow the same path. The benefits will be felt for generations.
It is part of our bigger commitment to always improving and setting the standard for transparency for food companies!
What Does Our Being a B Corporation Mean to You?
We have been doing the things that B Corp certified us for since we started ZEGO back in 2013, but it does make a difference to be certified. The certification actually holds legal weight as it is woven into your corporate legal structure. Most importantly, because re-certification is required every two years, you can be confident that as we grow, we will hold true to our values.
How You Can Help
So, here is our call to action for you — It truly matters if you support companies that are making a difference by how they do business. It’s simple, we can’t be a force for good if we don’t have enough sales! So when you are choosing which product to buy, look for the B Corp logo, help us spread the word about ZEGO and other B Corp companies, and ask other companies that you love to consider getting certified! Most of all, thank you for your support.