In the cutthroat food business, manufacturers of natural foods choose to carry a butter knife. Ethics play a big part in their corporate consciences, and permeate all aspects of sourcing, distribution and delivery.
The latest example of this principle at work is an initiative to form an exchange for certain base commodities like nuts, fruits and grains that fall into spotty supply due to huge increases in demand. The idea is to create a central information point to share the sources of basic ingredients.
"There's going to be a certain point where we might have to sit down at the table with our competitors and say, 'How can we do this together?' It's better for all our businesses, it's better for the environment and it just makes sense," said Sheryl O'Loughlin, chief executive officer of Clif Bar & Co., the Berkeley, Calif.-based maker of energy and nutrition bars.
O'Loughlin, who is spearheading the effort, has met several times with the Organic Exchange, created in 2002 as a nonprofit liaison between the apparel industry and organic cotton farmers. The organization's president, Rebecca Calahan Klein, said the idea of bringing food makers into the cotton exchange model would help organic cotton growers get their rotation crops to market, of which there are plenty.
"Our farmers grow anywhere from two or three to sometimes 25 different crops on their land, and almost all of them are food," she said.
Using new business models might hold appeal to many manufacturers - or retailers with natural and organic private-label lines - because it allows them to authenticate the message they want to bring to consumers, and demonstrate true adherence to the principles of sustainable living.
"It encourages brands to figure out how they really use their power to make the world better, because they're going to be telling the story of what's happening from the ground on up," Klein said.
SN Whole Health will launch its second-annual online poll of industry professionals on May 15, looking for opinions on front-line topics like supply problems, integration, mainstream penetration, and emerging health and wellness categories. Last year, nearly 500 people responded, providing a snapshot of an industry in transition: 61% of respondents believed supermarkets would be the primary beneficiary of the whole health movement, though only 15% thought mainstream retailers were taking full advantage of the opportunity.
The poll will be emailed to subscribers of SN's daily news service, or can be accessed by visiting SN's homepage, www.supermarketnews.com.