Expo West Education Wrap-Up

Here are a few take-home points from educational sessions attended by WholeFoods editors.

Featured speaker Rip Esselstyn, author of The Engine 2 Diet, advocated for what he calls the “plant-strong lifestyle.” He told the story of his younger days as an endurance athlete, and how he came to adopt a plant-based diet. Then, he described how he convinced a group of Texas firefighters to adopt it with him. He expressed hope for the future of the American diet as it relates to health, but said that under the current medical paradigm, “We are doing everything except eating for prevention.”

The show’s keynote address was delivered by Tracie McMillan, author of The American Way of Eating. “I think we’re at an interesting crossroads in the way we as Americans think, talk and decide about food,” she told her audience. McMillan walked listeners through the subject of her book, which is an examination of the ways class and food intersect in our society. As an investigative journalist, she worked undercover in an Applebee’s kitchen, a Walmart produce section and as a crop picker in industrial farm fields. She found much waste and economic inequality in her reporting, and drove home the message that though there are obstacles, all people if given the choice would like to eat good food.

In “Managing Your HABA Department,” speakers offered suggestions for growing/improving personal care offerings, which included stocking kids personal care; creating an environment with testers and samples to drive sales away from online retailers; offering layered price points; looking for products with research behind them; educating shoppers that products can take one to three months before a difference is seen on the skin; and trying to get staff samples from the manufacturer since the brands you know are the brands you sell.

The speakers in “Independent Retail Marketing” suggested retailers make sure their marketing is targeted and measurable. Also, find out how people want to be contacted, and market to them that way.

Speakers in “Why Are You Still Doing That?” had an interesting perspective on tomorrow’s buyers. Boomers purchasing power will be falling, they say, but Gen Y’s power (1980–2000) is rising and we’ll see a big shift within eight years of so. Millennials are less loyal to traditional grocery stores and are more willing to explore different distribution models—especially online and mobile shopping opportunities. The speakers shared that 55% of millennials are willing to pay more for natural and organic, while 43% of boomers are. Therefore, retailers need to be prepared to make changes in marketing, ordering, pricing and staffing that appeals to a younger crowd.

At the seminar “Managing the Non-GMO Message,” Megan Westgate, executive director of the Non-GMO Project, and Corinne Shindelar, CEO of the Independent Natural Foods Retailers Association, took listeners through the basics on GMOs, and then gave an update on the progress of the “right to know” GMO labeling movement. This included that status of Just Label It!, the federal campaign and petition to FDA, which has seen over 1.2 million contact the agency. Said Westgate, “FDA has both the jurisdiction and the precedents to require labeling.” An example of such a precedent is the “juice from concentrate” labeling requirement. The pair discussed Initiative 522 to label GMOs in Washington state, and the promotional activities of retailers on the non-GMO front, from participation in Non-GMO Month to engaging the media. The speakers noted the sales increases seen for verified Non-GMO products after a store participates in Non-GMO Month.

At a session sponsored by Fungi Perfecti and titled, “Immunity for Life: Mushrooms for Healthy People and Planet,” mycologist Paul Stamets gave attendees a tour through the world of mushroom science, starting with historical perspectives on mushrooms and their use, and moving to the ways they can support our health and the environment today. He detailed, for example, the potential of mushrooms to adapt to and help mitigate human-created environmental catastrophes like oil spills, and to attract insects in order to reduce disease.

Former head of marketing for Whole Foods, Sprouts and Balducci’s Joe Dobrow spoke in a seminar called, “Which Half of My Advertising is Working?” He focused on advising marketers on how best to utilize their advertising budgets. Top tip: grass roots marketing, like providing in-store sample tables, is laborious, but at times necessary to create visibility.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, May 2013