I was grateful to attend the Independent Natural Foods Retailers Association INFRA conference last week in beautiful Minneapolis, Minnesota. The legacy of food is reflected in the architecture that lines the mighty Mississippi. Signs of Gold Medal and Pillsbury’s Best are signals from a different era as they tower above dilapidated mills and stone river crossings.
A perfect place for the natural food retailers to reflect on the old and activate the new.
I was struck not only by the sincerity of the attendees but also by the business focus interlaced with the urgency of the fact that our food system must shift.
This is where the organic movement began—with small retailers dedicating their lives and livelihoods to bringing whole organic food to people in unsuspecting places.
As organic rushes forth into the mainstream aisles, is it possible Independent retailers will once again lead us forward in the next chapter to change the food and agriculture paradigm?
It’s imperative now more than ever.
Faced with a changing climate and diminishing topsoil across our precious globe, a shift in agriculture can mean all the difference to our collective future.
The folks at INFRA were reminded of the dire state of the world by Alisha Gravitz, President and CEO of Green America, who led the opening keynote. Climate Change is ravishing our planet. Topsoil is disappearing at an unsustainable rate.
Organic, sustainable and regenerative agriculture is the answer to many of our planet’s ills.
Organic, regenerative, Non-GMO, beyond organic—she challenged us not to be perturbed by the many names sustainable agriculture takes. But to embrace the change that comes by taking many paths. We will get there!
Independent Natural Foods Retailers have the ability to make real changes in the food chain. By working with vendors and producers to adopt practices that build soil and capture carbon from the atmosphere, the change can be realized sooner than we think.
The focus on community and paradigm shift was evident when speaking with INFRA members.
Dave Hawkins from Mother Earth Farm in West Virginia said, “I’ve been in business for 43 years and first came to this show just 3 1/2 years ago. What’s most valuable is the connectivity to other independent retailers who are in similar shoes, facing all the challenges we all have today. Independents have the power to move the direction of what can happen in the food movement. This is the real reason we do what we do!”
Mindee Jeffrey’s from Good Earth Natural Foods reflected, “The INFRA conference is an amazing opportunity to build bridges between brands and retailers to help us bring our goals in the food system back to the consumer. I am here speaking about the importance of the USDA Organic Program and what that gives us in our activism for change in the food system and agriculture. Food is still a privilege in this country, and until organic becomes the lowest common denominator, we have to keep working.”
John Pittari from New Morning Market in Connecticut said, “This is the one time of year we get to have a sense of how large our community is. Every year we bond, and we share, and we take away things that we bring back to our stores that have a positive impact in our home community. It’s like a bright network of gossamer threading across the country doing good. It’s a beautiful thing.”
This conference also hosts a trade show that brings the heart of doing business.
Brenda Harris with Apple Crate from Apple Creek Natural Market in North Carolina said, “This show is important because we interact with other retailers. This helps us to learn more about other businesses and gives us a benchmark of where we are in the industry and where we can improve. Being an INFRA member is great—we buy in aggregate and report back in aggregate, so our vendors understand what kind of buying power we have. They give us better pricing which we then pass along to our customers because we want to make being healthy affordable to more people. That’s what we are all about!”
Paku Misra from Sunflower Natural foods in NY said. “I’m on the Board of INFRA, and this conference brings together retailer partners and industry leaders to give us a different perspective. We waste a lot of the food that we bring into our stores and our homes, and we are looking at our practices and policies to cut our food waste. We can make a big impact in our food system by reducing food waste.”
Mike Greenblatt from Pangea Naturals said, “This show means networking, looking for deals and being inspired!
The vendors at the table top show were eager to work with INFRA on changing the food paradigm.
Doreen Hogan from Go Macro reflected, “Infra retailers are aligned with our mission. We are a give-back, sustainable company, and we want to provide good nutrition, so folks have the opportunity to eat balanced and well.
Sere Peterson from Numi Tea said, “INFRA retailers have always been big supporters of our brand. It’s good to be back with the people who helped pioneer us.”
Erin Reynolds from Nordic Natural’s declared, “We just LOVE INFRA! They are the most supportive group out there. The members are awesome, and we can’t say enough about the community and how wonderful they are. We are appreciative to be here.”
NGO’s were a key part of the program.
Lisa Spicka from Sustainable Food Trade Association and the Climate Collaborative said, “The INFRA conference is a great opportunity for the Climate Collaborative to talk about its work helping the natural product industry mitigate climate change through its actions and business models. Retailers are a key part of that. They are in a key position in the supply chain to be a leverage point with consumers to magnify the impact we can have.”
I was inspired to be there and be part of the original tribe of people who moved the world to embrace organic and natural foods.
I believe the next great shift we must make in our food system just may come from this group of people.
May they move forward with great haste.