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Is the Grocery Manufacturers Association Becoming a 20th Century Relic?
Friday, July 11, 2014
The Grocery Manufacturers Association is the voice of more than 300 leading food, beverage and consumer product companies, but will it be a relic of the 20th century?   

A question that it starting to pop up is: Is the Grocery Manufacturers Association still delivering value to its members?  Would members be better served by forming a new organization? What if a new group started?  Let’s just hypothetically call it the Food Production Association, and its mission was to meet the needs of companies in the 21st century?

A look back at the history of the Grocery Manufacturers Association suggests this might be a good idea.

Founded in 1908, the Grocery Manufacturers Association is a self-described, active, vocal advocate for its member companies and a trusted source of information about the industry and the products consumers rely on.

But do 21st century consumers actually turn to this organization today or is it a relic of the 20th century?  And is it an advocate for its members?

The organization’s website goes on to say:

“A vital role of GMA is to serve as a central resource for our members, providing industry model practices and a means for collaboration between members, retailers and service providers on important challenges and opportunities facing the industry."

The organization may have done that twenty years ago, but is it still doing that today?

The landscape of health has changed, and it is changing the landscape of food.  Today, the rates of diabetes is skyrocketing, 1 in 4 children has a chronic condition, 1 in 13 children has a food allergy, 1 in 10 has asthma and 1 in 68 has autism, with cancer now the leading cause of death by disease in American children.  The rates of these conditions are escalating, and parents are reading labels. 

Did any of us expect motherhood or fatherhood to look like this? Not at all.  No one would choose autism, life threatening food allergies or cancer.  No one.  But we find ourselves face to face with these conditions every day.  It is changing so many things in our lives, and it is changing how we approach the grocery store.

Some companies want to spend millions of dollars debating how we got here.  Parents don’t have time.  Their hands are tied managing these health conditions.  CNN/TIME reported that the additional costs of raising a child with food allergies is $4,200/year.  Consumers want transparency and denying them basic information about what is in the food we are feeding our loved ones is out of touch.

Over the last year, more than 60 state laws have been introduced to label genetically engineered ingredients in foods.  Consumers know about it, companies know about it.  Companies inside the Grocery Manufacturers Association are producing product lines without these ingredients, and those product lines are profitable pieces of their portfolio.  One look at the success of Kroger’s Simple Truth, “free-from” line demonstrates what a brand can do when it removes additives, GMOs, high fructose corn syrup and more.

Consumers want "free-from" food.  It's not about debating the "how" or the "why" we got here.  It's about meeting her where she stands in the aisle of the grocery store, holding onto a child with diabetes or food allergies, or shopping for parent with cancer.

Everyone is recognizing the need for food free from artificial ingredients.  Panera Bread recently announced that they are pulling these ingredients from their products, Target's Simply Balanced has committed to removing genetically engineered ingredients by the end of 2014, and Kroger is seeing record earnings growth with its Simple Truth product line, free from artificial ingredients and genetically engineered ingredients.  The brand went from $0 to $1 billion in revenue in two years

So if companies that are dumping the junk are being rewarded by both consumers and the stock market, shareholders and stakeholders, what purpose does the Grocery Manufacturers Association serve by getting in the way of that?  Is that in the best interest of its members?

As the Association spends record amounts filing a lawsuit against the state of Vermont which has just taken a big step towards bringing transparency to its food system for its consumers, you have to wonder if this is money well spent for its members.  What if instead, these members decided to leave the organization and start another one, one that truly met their needs in the face of changing consumer demand and the changing health of American consumers.  Or what if some got aggressive and filed a "loss of business" lawsuit against it given the decline that companies like Kellogg’s are seeing in sales and the resulting employee layoffs as they entrench on the GMO labeling issue? 

21st century families want free-from food.  It isn't complicated, and shareholders and stakeholders are rewarding the companies that understand that and are delivering products that meet that need. 

They're not debating the science, they're not filing lawsuits, they are simply meeting us where we stand: in the aisles of the grocery store shopping for the 1 in 3 American children that now has allergies, asthma, ADHD or autism.  They are building a new food economy, becoming icons for the 21st century consumer, making the Grocery Manufacturers Association look like a relic of the 20th century.

The $2.1 trillion food, beverage and consumer packaged goods industry employs 14 million U.S. workers.  As consumers opt out of food loaded with artificial ingredients, demand is growing.  From 2013-2018, demand for organic is expected to grow 14%, but in the United States, less than 1% of farmland is under organic farm management which means that we have to turn to countries like China and Romania for non-GMO or organic food.  We are literally outsourcing that entire economic opportunity.  It is not in the interest of our food companies, our families or our farmers.

If the Grocery Manufacturers Association was true to its mission it would meet the 21st century consumer where she stands, and it would be addressing this supply chain issue for its members.  But it’s not. 

As it stands, it is quickly becoming a relic of the 20th century, opening the door for another industry organization to form.

Can you imagine if Kroger, Target and other retailers joined together to form the Food Production Association whose mission was to build out a clean and safe food system and to secure the supply chain for 21st century families? Instead of channeling member dollars into lawsuits, it could grow the base of US farmland under organic management, so that we don't outsource this economic opportunity for our companies, farmers and country to our trading partners.

Cancer, autism, food allergies and other conditions we are seeing in the health of our loved ones are not “trends,” neither is the demand for transparency.  American consumers have a right to know whether the EPA regulates their corn as a pesticide or not.  Sixty percent of the world’s population has been given that right. 

Imagine an organization for the food industry that actually focused on securing a non GMO supply chain for American companies, rather than fight this shift in consumer demand and outsource this economic opportunity to China and Romania.  Here’s what a logo might look like. It's food for thought.

 

 


 

Why We Are All Made to Matter
Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Fifteen years ago, I covered Target as an equity analyst.  I learned the business model. 

I've learned the business model as a mom.  So when someone inside of Target's headquarters reached out, I responded. 

She had just lost her dad to cancer and wasn't sure where she wanted to go.  How could she be?  She had lost him too soon to an aggressive form of the disease, and she wanted to channel all of that into doing something. 

We talked about options and what it would mean to do something on the inside of Target.  "To truly make a change, stay inside," I told her.   It is where she could have a tremendous impact.

A few months later, we connected again.  "I'm staying," she said. "Would you come out and speak at our headquarters if we can make something happen?" 

"Absolutely," I said, but also shared that it may not be easy. 

I'd been at this long enough and been told by people on the inside of different companies how hard it could be to start the dialogue.  I understood.  The information was disruptive, but my response was always the same: "I won't let you down." 

So we developed the event and ways to communicate the invitation that did not threaten but invited. 

I arrived into Minneapolis in time for a few meetings and walked the city to get a feel for it and the people that live there.  It was absolutely beautiful, in only a way that a city that is buried under snow for half the year can be when the sunshine descends on it.  It felt like the entire town was outside. 

As I prepared for the presentation, I reviewed their recent earnings reports, press releases and other documents.  No one wants to be part of the problem, but change takes courage.  It is a lot like learning to ride a bike.  You need support because it can be a bit scary at first, but once you get it, it is liberating. 

At 11am, we were in the building.  It felt like a college campus, a palpable energy, young team members everywhere, buzzing in the halls, meeting over coffee.  Young.  It was young. 

Just before noon, our room began to fill.  There is something so deeply respectful about people from the mid west, and it permeated the space.  It was quiet, they knew that this was an area that has been controversial.  The seats filled quietly, then the introductions began, and I spoke. 

I covered Target when I was an equity analyst, I shopped at Target for diapers and baby supplies as a young mom.  It was as much a part of my story as any company.  To be there meant a lot. 

I spoke for 45 minutes.  They were quiet, leaning in.  I could feel it.  There is a responsibility in this work that is so real that every time I am in front of an audience, I feel the enormity of it.  So many were moms, I could feel that, too, and I could understand the heartache of learning something after the fact.  If American companies had formulated their products differently for moms, pregnant moms, families in other countries - without genetically engineered ingredients, artificial growth hormones or artificial dyes - why had they dumped that stuff into our food here? 

Why?  It hung in the air.  You have to land that carefully, as it can break your heart. 

So I spoke about the opportunity in front of all of us, to build a better food system, one that meets the needs of 21st century families, one that instead of using our taxpayer resources to build a food system dependent on chemicals, builds a food system for all of us, as we take on diabetes, obesity, cancer, food allergies and autism for the people that we love.

"There is nothing more patriotic that we could be doing," I said.  This is a fundamental human right, to be able to keep our families safe, especially given that food companies are already formulating their products without artificial ingredients for families in other countries.  We are not asking them to reinvent the wheel, simply to place the same value on the lives of our families that they have already placed on the lives of families in other countries."

Target has already committed to removing genetically engineered ingredients from their private label, Simply Balanced, by the end of 2014. 

"We can do this," I said.  "The opportunity in front of us is enormous.  The stock market is rewarding companies leading on this issue.  One look at the share prices of Chipotle, White Wave or Kroger tells you what is happening, as these companies embrace a 21st century food system, one that is free from all of the junk."

And I looked up.   In the back of the room, a man, slowly, as if in a total daze, wiped his eyes. One side, then the other.  And as I was finishing, he gently got up to leave, slipping out just before the end. 

That is the moment I will remember from today.  Because it doesn't matter who we are or where we work, when someone we love is hurt by cancer, allergies or any of these diseases or conditions, our hearts hurt the same way.  It is that force, that love, that will propel us to change this system, one family, one company, one product at a time. 

Written in memory of Randy Benson.

 

Wishes For My Teenage Girl
Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Dear sweet girl,

Today, you walk across a stage, graduating from middle school.  My heart is a muddle, as all of the memories come flooding back.  

It is too easy to remember you as a little one, to think of the days you learned to swim, to ride a bike, to read.  They feel so close, and I'm not quite sure how we can be here today already on the steps of high school. 

As I look at you and what is ahead, there is so much in my heart.  Your world is different to the one I grew up in, with Ask FM, Instagram, Snap Chat and other programs, you are just a flicker away from knowing everything.  But there are some things, offline in the real world that will remain true, and as you head into high school, these are a few of my wishes for you:

  • I hope that your first real kiss is with a boy that is kind and funny and true.  
  • I hope that you will continue to work hard. It will serve you later. 
  • I hope that you find a friend that lets you be your true self.  They are worth a lifetime of fake ones. Hold onto them.
  • Always be honest. You will be remembered for that.
  • Do what you love.  It may not always be easy or cool, but it will feed your soul in a way that all of the other stuff doesn't.  It will make you feel like you are dancing on the inside. 

The size of your heart is more important than anything else. In a world that is obsessed with thigh gaps, extensions and other ways to manipulate who you are, remember that your original design is beautiful.  Because beautiful on the outside comes from beautiful on the inside.  I will remind you of that until I'm done, because if you love yourself, the love you will have to give to the world will be limitless.

I am so proud of you, and the thought of only having you home for just four more years before sending you off to college is more than my heart can bear right now and my eyes are leaking, so I will put on some sunglasses and smile for you today and always.

I love you.

Mom xoxo 

Politics of the Plate: Marianne Williamson
Sunday, May 25, 2014

A few months ago, I was approached and asked if I would consider speaking at an event for someone running for Congress.  In all candor, my first response was to say no. 

In the past eight and a half years, I have learned more than I ever wanted to about the inner workings of our government.  It wasn't something I ever wanted to know. I was raised in a Republican family in Texas.  We were genetically engineered to be Republican.  You didn't question it, like going to church. It was just something that we did. I didn't question anything to do with politics.   

But then life threw a curve ball that made me question absolutely everything.  While some may think it was our youngest child's allergic reaction to a plate of scrambled eggs one morning, it was actually something else. 

A year into this work, launched in January 2006 when our youngest child had an allergic reaction over breakfast, one of our son's got very sick. He had been chronically sick, meriting two surgeries and constant medication, so when I took him to the doctor that day in February 2007, I suspected more of the same.  Instead our pediatrician said, "Robyn, you have to take him to Children's Hospital in Denver." 

"Let me call my husband so that he can come home to watch the other three" was my reply. 

"No," she said. "You don't understand, you have to take him right now."  He was so sick. 

And in that moment, I completely fell apart.  I had spent a year unearthing what was happening to our food system, learning about the money it, the politics, how broken it had become, how American companies made their products differently for eaters in other countries.  I had reached out to friends and family, trying to share this, and it had challenged every relationship in my life.  I didn't want to know what I'd learned, but I couldn't unlearn it.  I didn't want to have to be the one to speak out about it,  I had tried and been threatened.  Somehow, this was my story to tell. I didn't want it to be.

Our pediatrician had seen me through that first year, since our littlest child's food allergic reaction.  She had seen the toll that the work had taken.  She did not hesitate and took the other children until my husband arrived to get them, and she had us driven to Children's Hospital.

There was no one to call.  The support system was not yet there.  All I could think was, "How is this happening?"  We checked in, and  I watched our beautiful boy laying on that bed, his shock of white hair and little five year old body being prodded by nurses attempting to get an IV into his arm. They couldn't, so they just kept puncturing him, trying to get it in.  He lay there, so stoic and strong.  And I could do nothing. 

And in that moment, a nurse walked in carrying a tray of Fruit Loops and red jello for my sick son. 

It was as if the world stopped. 

I looked at her standing there with that tray, and I looked at my son, and I thought, "What am I really afraid of?"

Was I afraid of what people would say if I started talking about GMOs and the junk in our food, was I afraid of what my parents would say?  Was I afraid of the companies that I would be talking about? 

No, in that moment, I was afraid of losing my son.  And I crossed over into this work and never looked back.

So when a political campaign contacted me to see if I would speak at an event for a Congressional candidate, I wanted to say no.  I had seen the way the FDA worked under both parties, I had seen how former Monsanto employees, both Republicans and Democrats, served in our government, in agencies and on the Supreme Court, I had met with members of the campaigns for both presidential candidates in 2008 and both said that if this subject would compromise their funding ties, they would not be able to address it.  I was disillusioned by politics.

But I would not be doing what I am doing had it not been for the particular person that was doing the asking.  Not only was her work known around the world, but it had also touched mine.

Back in early 2007,  when I was questioning everything, I had a call with an old friend.  We had gone to college together at one of the most conservative schools in the country, Washington and Lee University.  He sang in our wedding.  We'd been there for each other through a lot. 

As I was sharing what I'd learned, how it had challenged so much of who I was and where I'd come from, I shared how I couldn't unlearn it.  "I have to do something," I said. "But who am I to do this, Lew?"

"I'm sending you a quote, Rob" and with that, he sent the following:

 

These words rang so true.  I read them everyday, through every fear, until I had them almost memorized. 

So when Marianne Williamson's campaign reached out and shared that she was running as an Independent, disillusioned by the partisan politics and the corporate financing of the system, I listened.  Her words, written years earlier, had such a profound impact on my life. And now years later, she was highlighting how the broken food system was symptomatic of other issues.

I thought about the work that I had done to help create a consumer awakening and shift, the work I was currently doing to shift capital so that clean and safe food is affordable to all families.  My work has always been non partisan. Cancer doesn't care if we are Republican or Democrat.  Our hearts hurt the same way when a child is diagnosed with autism.

Health is not partisan.  It is patriotic. And I thought about how politics follow the money.  Once the capital shifts, policy will follow, and we will need leaders in Congress who understand that the security of our country is very much contingent on a healthy and secure food system.  

I listened and when one of the team members shared that he had attended the same conservative school, Washington and Lee, there was something in that, an understanding that didn't need words, which led me to say yes.

The landscape of politics is changing as quickly as the landscape of food.  As much as we put both organic and conventional food products in our shopping carts,  families can be full of both hybrid shoppers as well as hybrid voters. 

42% of Americans are now registered as Independents, while only 31% are Democrats and 25% are Republicans, according to a recent Gallup poll.  To think that we only have a two party system, defined decades ago by generations that were not dealing with the issues we face as 21st century families is restrictive. 

We need systems that meet the needs of 21st century families.   

America's best ideas have come from outside of Washington D.C.  The unbridled spirit with which our country was founded is in the hearts and minds of millennials designing new technologies, fathers inventing food products worthy of our families and mothers protecting children with autism, allergies or diabetes. 

It is up to us to create the change, always has been and always will be.


 

Save the Date! Prizes, Fun & Food
Wednesday, May 21, 2014

OK, gang, it is obvious that our food supply has been junked up with artificial growth hormones, artificial dyes, genetically engineered ingredients and a whole lot of toxic pesticides required to grow them.  As a result, we now have to use the adjective "organic" to describe food that is made without them! 

Our grandparents would have just called it "food." 

So now is the time to join the Organic Voices community in getting the word out about organic food and the launch of a new campaign.  If you are coming up to speed, new to the lingo, the food world, what has happened to our food and would you like more information on organic food, farming and healthy food practices, then make sure to join us for a great celebration on June 2nd under the #onlyorganic hashtag from 6-7pm PST.

Who: @organic_voices
When: June 2nd
Time: 6-7pm PST (9-10pm EST)
Hashtag: #OnlyOrganic
Theme: Only Organic campaign launch celebration!
Hostess: Robyn O’Brien @foodawakenings
We are going to have some amazing panelists that represent some of the best brands and leaders in the organic food movement.

Panelists:

1.@Gary_Hirshberg
2. @latejulyorganic
3. @DrBronner
4. @OrganicValley
5. @annieshomegrown
6. @NaturesPath
7. @Happyfamily
8. @rudisorganic
9.@earthboundfar

Giveaways! 
  1. Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap DVDs (5 winners)
  2. Only Organic gift bag (5 winners)
  • Reusable gift bag full of Dr Bronner’s Soap
  • Stonyfield free product coupons
  • Organic Valley free product coupons
  • Rudi’s Organic product
  • Late July Thins
  • Earthbound Farm free product coupon
  • Nature’s Path product
  • Annie’s Homegrown Cheddar Squares.
  1. Happy Family Gift packs of $75 value (2 winners)
  2. Robyn O’Brien book “The Unhealthy Truth” (3 winners)
  3. Myra Goodman books (3 winners)
  • “Food to Live By”
  • “The Earthbound Cook”
  • “Straight From the Earth”

To qualify for a giveaway, tweet out our promotional tweets and join the party!

Tweets:

Organic brands, leaders and giveaways at the @organic_voices party on 6/2 #onlyorganic 6-7pm PST
http://ow.ly/x7bW7 RT!

Join the @organic_voices party on 6/2 under #onlyorganic from 6-7pm PST Details: http://ow.ly/x7bW7 RT!

Love organic food? Join the @organic_voices party on 6/2 under #onlyorganic from 6-7pm PST Details: http://ow.ly/x7bW7 RT!

Curious about organic food? Join the @organic_voices party on 6/2 under #onlyorganic from 6-7pm PST Details:
http://ow.ly/x7bW7 RT!

 

 

 

 



Once We Know Better, We Do Better
Tuesday, May 20, 2014

For those working to make our food supply safer:

The amount of lead churned into the air by cars and factories has declined by more than 90 percent since the 1970s. The last drop of leaded gas was sold in the United States in 1995.

Once we know better, we do better.

The New Food Economy: Serve It Up
Friday, May 16, 2014
There is not a family in the country that isn’t impacted by allergies, asthma, obesity, diabetes, cancer or some other disease.  When these conditions impacted my family, I was paralyzed.  But paralysis wasn't an option, not with four little kids to look after, so I left Wall Street and a career as a financial analyst that covered the food industry and now stand on the front lines of the food movement.

 The CIA ranks life expectancy at birth for kids born around the world.  The US ranks 41st. The United Nations ranks childhood well-being for the top 29 most developed countries. The U.S. ranks 26th, just ahead of Latvia, Lithuania and Romania. This data challenges how we view our country and ourselves.

We can look at this as a crisis or as an opportunity. There is an explosion in the growth of ‘free-from’ products in the grocery stores, farm to table programs, farmers’ markets and investment vehicles to convert farms. From schools to corporations, people are getting involved, creating jobs, new opportunities and health. It’s time for a new food economy. It's an all-hands-on-deck time. The landscape in front of us is wide open and the economic upside is enormous.

Please join me at TEDx Front Range on May 22, 2014 to look at what is in front of us, and how becoming part of the new food economy is one of the most patriotic things we can be doing.

To get details, please click here.

Back at Bloomberg, Remembering Mark Pittman
Thursday, May 15, 2014

In November 2013, I received an invitation to speak at Bloomberg in New York City.

The invitation meant so much.  I'd obviously used Bloomberg as an analyst when I'd worked on the equity desk, but it meant more because of someone I'd met who worked there as one of our country's lead investigative journalists.

He had been an incredible supporter in the early years of my work.  We related on Enron, which he had covered as a journalist and which had recruited me out of business school, and on collateralized debt and commodity obligations, fancy names for paper contracts that banks could make a lot of money on.

In the months leading up to the event (I was billed as their second quarter speaker for their speaker series) I held my breath.  Why?  Because there have been incredible invitations in the almost nine years of this work that have never materialized, from speaking on national television shows to debating the National Cattleman's Association.  Producers will call, having booked segments, scheduled travel, previously unable to contain their excitement, saying they are so sorry, but...

Would this one?  Things had been put in place, dates locked in, we would see.

So when I took the stage earlier this week, I felt all of that and then some.  As I looked out into the sea of faces, all I could think was that I was supposed to be in that audience, in the financial world.  It was everything I had trained myself to do.  I had graduated as the top woman in my class in business school, on a full scholarship, recruited by Exxon, Enron and the banking world. It was the trajectory I had chosen and worked hard on.  But then life had different plans.

Speaking at Bloomberg that day brought all of it back, and it reminded me of two memories. The first was back in November 1999, on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, meeting with some of our traders. They told me to run a trade, I said "Sure!" handed them my jacket and took off. When I got back, they just stared, as my jacket had hidden a 6 month pregnant belly. It was too funny, and they apologized for weeks.

The second memory was of being in Bloomberg's tower five years ago, meeting with one of our country's best investigative reporters. His name was Mark Pittman, and he was a bear of a guy, smoker, rode motor cycles and talked non stop about his wife and girls and the chickens they were raising in their backyard. He fully understood the scope of this, as at the time, he was leading Bloomberg in suing the Fed for full disclosure over the banking crisis of 2008. He died later that year of a heart attack.

It meant a lot to be there. 

We need to finance a smarter food system, one that feeds all families clean and safe food, not processed foods that have been loaded with synthetic ingredients meant to mimic real ones.   We spend more than any other country in the world on health care and disease management and less than almost any other country on food.

Demand for organic food is growing, yet the U.S. farmland for organic food is shrinking.  We are sourcing our organic food from other countries. 

We are smarter than this and can build  a food system that meets the needs of 21st century families, one that makes clean and safe food affordable to all Americans.   

It is going to take all of us, families, farmers and the financial world.   The burden of disease is burdening our families, our country and our economy.  But it doesn't have to be this way. 

Leveraging our collective talents and skills, we can build a smarter system. The legacy is ours to create.

Written in memory of Mark Pittman for his beautiful girls and wife.  He will always be remembered

A Mother's Pledge: A Non Partisan Coalition
Monday, May 12, 2014

It is with tremendous love that we announce A Mother's Pledge this Mother's Day.  It is dedicated to those who give their hearts to others, the quiet heroes, the ones that make us laugh, the ones that sing and hug and share.

The landscape is changing for the health of our families.  Today, 1 in 10 children has asthma, 1 in 2 men are expected to get cancer, 1 in 13 children has food allergies and 1 in 68 has autism.  According to the President's Cancer Panel, 41% of us are expected to get the disease.

As mothers and others around the country work to protect the health of children, one thing remains clear and that is love.

It does not matter if a child is fifty or five, a mother's heart beats with the same intensity, our arms wrap around our children with the same intent.

Please share this video with a mom that you love.  Chances are, she took the pledge. Happy Mother's Day.

http://youtu.be/FIjwqPsCZlE

To join us, please visit www.momsvoices.org

 

 

Food for Thought
Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Back in 2006, I triggered an allergic reaction in the food industry when I asked the question below.  

With no long term human health studies on genetically engineered food, the industry still isn't able to provide a science-based answer. 

Without labels, they aren't held accountable to one either. 

It's time to label genetically engineered food and how our food is produced, so that consumers can take personal responsibility and make an informed choice when it comes to feeding family members with food allergies, cancer, diabetes and other conditions.

We label if OJ comes from concentrate and if milk is pasteurized.  It's time to label food that is genetically engineered.