Our industry fosters wellness. It’s what many of us feel called to do, and we’ve made it our life’s work. Helping our customers feel more energized, more resilient in times of stress, less prone to health concerns...we strive to do all of that, of course, but it’s so much more.

As the COVID-19 pandemic intensified across the U.S., communities turned to their local natural products stores. WholeFoods Merchandising Editor Jay Jacobowitz, President and Founder of Retail Insights, spoke to retailers on the frontlines throughout the country. They spoke of their struggles—and their words illustrate why they are so essential, above and beyond the products they offer. One retailer in the Midwest shared, “Our elderly customers were really encouraged to see my face. ‘[She] is putting groceries in my car.’ They were quite panicked, so were calmed by seeing me.” To all those on the frontlines, we join your communities in thanking you for all you do. Go here to hear from more retailers, in their own words, on the COVID-19 crisis.

COVID-19 also put a bright spotlight on the need to care for the health of the planet. In May, 330 companies joined Ceres’ Lawmaker Education and Advocacy Day (LEAD on Climate 2020) to call for a climate-friendly path forward from COVID-19. That was more than four times the number that participated in last year’s event. Companies came from every sector of the economy, making it the largest ever virtual call to action from the business community. This industry was well represented, with more than 120 natural products companies participating.

“We have the opportunity for a reset on how we rebuild our businesses—we should reset for the long-term health of our planet and all those who inhabit it,” said Stuart Landesberg, Co-founder & CEO Grove Collaborative. “These last few months have reminded me poignantly of our shared humanity, and the importance of using business for far more than profit, but for our common good.”

Our shared humanity...our common good…the pressing need to give so much more of our attention to the common good was clear in June, as civil unrest tore through our country. Throughout the industry, companies spoke up and spoke out, acknowledging the need to do more, to be better. One initiative helping to light the way: The Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion (J.E.D.I) Collaborative, an OSC2 natural products industry collaborative. A statement on the J.E.D.I. website reads: George Floyd’s murder happened during a pandemic that has exposed the food industry as a house of cards, dangerously close to collapsing under the strain of systemic oppression. Workers on farms and in processing plants—many of them immigrants, many undocumented and powerless to negotiate better working conditions—suffer from COVID-19 at far higher rates than the rest of us. Along with those who staff the front lines at our retail outlets, these workers are literally risking their lives to make sure food is available to the rest of us. No matter what Americans do for a living, they are contracting COVID-19, and dying of it, at much higher rates if they are of Native, Latinx, or African ethnicity. The events of 2020 remind us that racism is a life and death issue. We believe that the natural foods industry must take bold steps to create an inclusive, equitable, more just world.

Another concern, as Naturade partners Kareem Cook, CMO, and Claude Tellis, CEO, have been saying for years, is that urban communities and food deserts are underserved by the natural products industry. The reason, Cook told me in an interview in February: “The goal for most companies is to make money...they want to sell to the premium stores where they can sell a product for a high price and people will buy it. And that’s a great business model but it doesn’t solve the problem.”

These are topics we will continue to address in the future, and we can all learn from one another. WholeFoods Magazine is dedicated to listening, to helping raise awareness, to keeping the discussion in the spotlight, and to spreading the word on those bold steps that must be taken. Please, share your stories, your insights, your actions. Email us at editor@wfcinc.com.

Be Naturally Informed!

#NaturallyInformed is a new virtual event series hosted by WholeFoods Magazine and Trust Transparency Center (TTC). The first in the series, “Taking Control of the Immunity & Wellness Market,” took place June 11-12. Covering the entire development and marketing lifecycle “From paper to product to positioning to profit,” this two-day online event featured Mark Hyman, M.D., delivering a keynote on strategies for immune wellness, and sessions throughout the day addressed a range of topics for suppliers, manufacturers and retailers, including how to conduct better clinical research; how to build new science into new product development; effective strategies for omnichannel success; how to engage with consumers in store and online; and much more. ICYMI, you will be able to view the sessions on demand at www.NaturallyInformed.net.

NEXT UP: Join us on August 26-27 for our second event, which will focus on issues related to sustainability. We’re in the planning stages now, so please tell me: What topics would you like to see covered? We’re here to deliver the information that will help you reach your goals, so I would love your input! Email me at editor@wfcinc.com.