2021 INFRA Winter Newsletter

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2021 Winter The Real Deal

Photo from INFRA’s Recipe Box. Find this month’s recipes on the Recipe Box page of the Members-Only-Area (MOA).


As 2020 slowly becomes but a memory, I’d like to acknowledge INFRA’s two greatest assets... the INFRA Member community and our INFRA team. Together we have done, and will continue to do, great things. During my first year as your Interim CEO, I intended to be on the road, visiting member stores, meeting you and your teams, and participating in and contributing to many of the outstanding events for which the natural and organic industry is known. But, to paraphrase a great Scottish poet, best laid plans often go awry. Instead, I was handed opportunity. Opportunity? Yes, that’s an optimistic view of what 2020 gave to us, but indeed it did. The INFRA team was afforded many opportunities to grow, serve our members in new ways, and set the stage for what comes next. We were given the opportunity to consolidate and provide access to all types of resources. From connecting members to financial relief options, holding educational webinars, providing shared safe operating guidelines, to keeping true to our cooperative spirit by offering more sharing events, we continued to be an important resource for information, collaboration, and support throughout the year. We were given the opportunity to pivot our events and programs to virtual platforms so members could continue to make connections and operate their stores with insights. The speakers and information we have been providing have remained incredibly dynamic. We had the opportunity to look inward at our organization and build a strategic framework for the future that the INFRA Board approved in November. We invested in the team to build a better organization to serve our members. We focused our plans for 2021 to positively impact members in the future. So, what opportunities are upcoming for you, our members? New technology for education will replace our aging ART platform in mid-2021. We’ll be testing Cultivate, a new product promotional opportunity focusing on innovative, on-trend brands starting in the Southwest region this Spring. You’ll find a better experience created just for INFRA Members for engaging in and ordering your holiday show products. You’ll be asked to provide feedback on what’s important to you as we explore technology updates for our member engagement and communication programs like the INFRA ListServ and the Members-Only-Area on our website. And so much more that we have planned to increase service, support, and opportunity for INFRA Members. Members also have two upcoming important opportunities to share your voice. First, it’s Board election season and there are four open seats available to be filled this year. Please consider applying to run for one of these seats. A seat on the Board is an opportunity to directly impact our mission and to shape the strategy at your cooperative. It’s also an opportunity to work directly with an inspiring group of members and INFRA team. Second, you’ll be seeing the annual INFRA Census in your inbox in early March. The information we gather in the Census provides INFRA with important data and shapes what programs we prioritize and how we deliver them. Please take the time to complete and submit your data to ensure your store is represented. And finally, I hope 2021 gives us the opportunity to greet each other in person; if not at large events, then in your communities and your stores. I thank everyone in our community for making me feel welcome in 2020. I look forward to working with each of you in 2021, a year of opportunity.

The Board Corner Hi, this is Cheryl from The Whole Wheatery and the INFRA Board of Directors. As I handed the gavel over to our new Chair, John Pitarri from New Morning, I reflected on all the benefits of serving on the INFRA Board. Now it is time for new officers to be nominated for those seats that will be vacated. I want to share some of those benefits of serving with you and encourage you to seriously consider becoming an INFRA Board Member for a few years. If you ever want to expand your network, invest in our community, gain a new skill set or would like your voice heard in a unique environment, these are some great reasons to serve on the INFRA Board. Yes, you will expand your network of business associates, friends, and resources. The personal and professional connections you gain from the experience of serving on the INFRA Board will make it worth your time and attention, and it will benefit you and your business. Prepare to become more educated than you were before, as you now have a strong circle of talented and dedicated peers serving on the Board with you. Each of us brings our own talent and experience to that boardroom and each of us has a vital role in the decision-making process that guides INFRA forward.

Reap More Than You Sow

CHERY L HUGHE S BOARD VICE CHAIR & OWNER You will build a new set of skills in the process as you learn about the issues facing our industry and OF THE WHOLE WHE ATERY

our organization. You will be able to practice your skills as a leader and an effective communicator among industry peers seeking common solutions and opportunities driving the growth and success of INFRA. Certainly, you will be involved with the dynamics of persuasion and discussion and appreciate everyone having a voice. Yes, we all come from different backgrounds with different skill sets, but here on the Board we all work as one unit. Ultimately, our voices become one. The Board of Directors at INFRA plays a critical role in our organization. We protect our mission and values, oversee our financial and legal well-being and provide future direction for our association. You will become even more of an ambassador for our organization and an advocate for our causes. I invite you to consider running for an INFRA Board seat as indeed you will reap more than you can sow. But sow you will!

2021 Board of Directors Election TERRI NE L SON BOARD ADMINI S TR ATOR

We are currently accepting applications for the INFRA 2021 Board of Directors until February 24, the application deadline. Serving on the Board is a 3-year commitment and if you have been a member for at least one year as of April 1, 2021, you are eligible to apply. Please consider joining this passionate group of independent retailers to help guide INFRA’s future. See timeline details below. Click here to apply! February 24: Applications due March 3-March 24: Applicants interviewed and slate prepared by Nominations Committee May 4: Slate presented to INFRA Board for ratification May 5: Electronic voting begins June 2: Electronic voting closes June 7-11: Candidates notified of election results June 23: New Board Members announced during Annual Membership Meeting


The year is well under way and we are excited to invite you to a variety of engaging virtual events. Take a look at what is coming up in the near future and register now! VIR TUAL INTEN S IVE S AND S HARE GROUPS S HARE THE LOVE — CRE ATING A REWARDING LOYALT Y PROGR AM INTE N S IVE

Have you ever wished you could create a shopping experience with the potential to increase sales while also rewarding dedicated customers? Are you looking to elevate your customers’ shopping experience beyond smiles at the door and great products on the shelf? Do you want to reward your dedicated customers while driving additional sales? Well, you can do just that with a customer loyalty program! In this educational series, you will discover the fundamentals of developing and promoting a successful loyalty program. INFRA Region Managers Drew Alexander and Meagan Van Beest will share what to expect for costs, sales, marketing, and implementation. You’ll get an overview of loyalty apps and software that can either be standalone or integrated with your POS (such as LoyaltyBot from ECRS). We’ll also dive into how to capture and utilize customer data to measure and improve store performance. Plus, there will be ample opportunity for peer sharing and plenty of time to ask your burning loyalty program questions. Whether you’re looking to start offering customer rewards or want to improve your existing program, this series offers many implementable ideas for creating a rewarding loyalty program that helps you share the love with your customers! Day 1: February 11 at 2pm–4pm Central At time of publishing, this session has passed. Watch the session recording on the MOA and join us for the remaining sessions! Day 2: February 18 at 2pm–4pm Central As we continue to discuss how to create an exceptional loyalty program, we will take time for you to meet with your peers and share your experience, ideas, and wisdom on the subject. Day 3: February 25 at 2pm–4pm Central As we wrap up our discussion on loyalty programs, we will focus on implementing the tools and knowledge we have learned. By registering for this event, you are able to join any or all sessions. Register here! ECOMME RCE AF TE R THE PANDE MIC S HARE GROUP

The world of retail will look a lot different as we emerge from the changes the pandemic thrust upon us. Please join INFRA this March for a share group focused on the innovation that has emerged in ecommerce. You will have the opportunity to hear from your fellow INFRA peers, experts, and speakers from ecommerce platforms. Your peers will share what they have learned from their experiences of moving onto an ecommerce platform. INFRA experts will speak to their ecommerce guidance and wisdom as well as best practices and store-agnostic solutions. Listen to ecommerce vendors to better understand what platforms are out there and which platform may be the best for you. Come prepared with your questions, concerns, and advice. Kick-Off, Tuesday, March 30 at 11am Central. Register here! C ATEGORY RE VIEWS AND WE BINARS CENTER S TORE & FRE S H DEPAR TME NT ME RCHANDI S ING C ATEGORY RE VIEW

How is your merchandising? Do you feel like your departments play well together, or could you use some fresh ideas? Do you wish you could tell a better story with your promotions? Or are you feeling like the look of your store is visual perfection? Wherever you are with your merchandising, please join us for a webinar exploring ways to cross merchandise your Fresh and Center Store departments to grab all the sales you can. Whether you feel completely lost and need some pointers, or if you are confident in your strategy and have ideas to share, you are welcome! Join Jesse Roque, INFRA’s Retail Services & Merchandising Specialist, as well as Michael Paynic, Food

Service Program Manager, and Matt Olson, Fresh Program Manager, as we talk about how to get all departments in on the fun that is cross merchandising. Thursday, February 18 at 3pm Central. Register here! NEW FRE S H S HARING S E RIE S : FOOD S E RVICE & PRODUCE

In 2021 the Fresh team will focus on bringing together Food Service and Produce level staff in order to build a network of professionals in each department. The networking groups will share ideas or expertise and support each other in improving operational excellence. The first meetings will be held in March. During this time, Matt Olson, Fresh Program Manager, will introduce the Produce Sharing Series and Michael Paynic, Food Service Program Manager, will introduce the Food Service Sharing Series. Suggested topics for the year will be shared and feedback will be gathered from members on topics they would like to see covered. Food Service Sharing Series Introduction Join Michael Paynic, Food Service Program Manager, to learn more about INFRA’s new initiative to build a network of food service professionals. This is a great opportunity to interact and build relationships with food service department staff outside of your store! Tuesday, March 9 at 3pm Central. Register here! Produce Sharing Series Introduction Join Matt Olson, Fresh Program Manager, to learn more about INFRA’s new initiative to build a network of produce professionals. This is a great opportunity to interact and build relationships with produce department staff outside of your store! Thursday, March 11 at 3pm Central. Register here! CEN SUS 2 02 0 WEBINAR : INFORMATION I S POWE R !

INFRA Members are competitors in the natural foods industry, and their influence is still growing! The annual census is our chance to take a snapshot of membership and gain specific, measurable insight into your business. We use aggregated, anonymized data to negotiate with industry partners on your behalf and to learn how we can serve you better. Join Senior Region Manager Mike Ohman and Reporting Analyst Zoë Stromswold for a conversation about why the census is important and how you can do your part. Wednesday, March 10 at 2pm Central. Register here! GROCERY BULK C ATEGORY RE VIEW

Bulk departments have changed a lot over the years, going in some cases from vats of peanut butter scooped into jars to fancy nut grinders and artisan olive oil. Today, bulk departments are an environmentally and economically conscious way for your shoppers to get the products they need in the quantities they want. Whether your bulk department is a sleek destination or a small corner full of spice jars, it’s a great time to discuss what else this area can do for your customers. Join Jesse Roque, INFRA’s Retail Services & Merchandising Specialist, to explore some best practices and new ways of looking at this crucial area. Tuesday, March 16 at 1pm & Thursday, March 18 at 3pm Central. Register here! WELLNE S S BULK AND D. I .Y. C ATEGORY RE VIEW

Bulk wellness items can be a fun way to get effective products into your customers’ hands for much less than their packaged counterparts. Bulk can also be a more sustainable way to increase your product offerings while introducing your customers to the world of DIY skin and body care. Join Jesse Roque, INFRA’s Retail Services and Merchandising Specialist, for an exploration of how to utilize bulk in the wellness department. Come with your own ideas on products, packaging, and best practices to share with your peers, or just sit back for a discussion on this exciting area. Tuesday, March 23 at 1pm & Thursday, March 25 at 3pm Central. Register here! FROZ EN FOODS C ATEGORY RE VIEW

Ever since COVID hit last spring, sales of frozen foods have skyrocketed, forcing a lot of stores to re-evaluate their frozen sets. What used to be a dependably steady, if not slightly stale, segment was brought into the forefront as shoppers stocked up and looked to tried and trusted frozen foods to fill the gaps. Will the frozen segment continue to grow as more shoppers realize that flavor and nutrition don’t need to be second fiddle to convenience? Or will this category decline with a return to “normalcy?” We’ll be looking into those questions, as well as perusing product offerings and trends in Frozen. Tuesday, April 20 at 1pm Central & Thursday, April 22 at 3pm Central. Register here! All virtual events are open to both INFRA Members and Associate Retailers. See all upcoming events and more on the Events page of the MOA. If you have questions, feel free to reach out to Hannah, INFRA’s Education & Events Coordinator, at hgomes@infretailers.com.

Pricing Intensive Recap: Planning Your Next Steps for Pricing Strategy Success MAT T RYAN RE TAIL S ERVICE S MANAGE R

In January more than 80 INFRA Retailers attended INFRA’s first virtual intensive of 2021, Priced to Compete! Over the span of three sessions, participants learned why adopting a hybrid pricing strategy is more important than ever, reviewed essential pricing tools and tactics, and networked with peers in small group breakouts. Members walked away with clarity on the necessary steps for establishing a pricing strategy and what INFRA resources are available to help. INFRA is currently offering a pricing strategy check-up to any member who attended the Priced to Compete virtual intensive. If you have not scheduled your store’s check-up, contact your INFRA Region Manager for details. Did you miss the session? No problem, the full recordings are now available through the Events page of the MOA. Along with the recordings, you will also find useful tools that were shared during the intensive, including a pricing strategy readiness assessment, competitor assessment, and a pricing strategy primer. These resources will help you identify your strengths and weaknesses with pricing and chart your path to improvement. If you’re looking to supercharge your pricing strategy and want some help getting started, INFRA’s Retail Consulting team is available to support you. Our team can do everything from delegating the tasks with store staff to creating deli pricing that entices shoppers while maintaining strong margins. To learn more about Retail Consulting, and to view our complete menu of expanded offerings, please visit the Retail Consulting page of the MOA or contact Matt Ryan, Retail Services Manager, at mryan@infretailers.com.

INFRA’s E-learning is Taking a Big Step Forward! MAT T RYAN RE TAIL S ERVICE S MANAGE R

INFRA previously announced that we are moving away from our current platform for the Academy of Retail Training (ART) and into a more modernized, user-friendly system. After trialing several systems and considering vital feedback from member testers, I’m happy to report that we have made significant progress in our decision for a new Learning Management System (LMS) and will begin onboarding existing ART users starting in Quarter 2 of this year. The new LMS will offer member-users numerous advantages over the legacy platform, including courses that can be created using a variety of formats from recorded screenshares to PowerPoint presentations to interesting YouTube clips. Store managers will benefit from improved staff management and course reporting that informs them of the most useful data. And, in true INFRA spirit, you’ll be able to share your most effective lessons with your INFRA peers! Look out for communications in the near future that will detail how the transition will work and how your store can take the next step in e-learning with INFRA. If you have any questions, please contact Matt Ryan, Retail Services Manager, at mryan@infretailers.com.

A Deeper Look at CoMetrics: Sales Per Labor Hour MAT T RYAN RE TAIL S ERVICE S MANAGE R

When looking at CoMetrics and considering Sales per Labor Hour (SPLH) for budgeting, remember that it is a measure of efficiency and not profitability. To this end, the best practice is to aim for an SPLH number that is neither too high nor too low and takes into account total sales growth and a healthy margin. Ignoring other metrics may endanger overall profitability. For instance, a SPLH number that exceeds even the upper quartile performers may lead to Grocery stockers rushing products sloppily onto the shelf which leads to a poor shopping experience and thus to smaller sales. On the flip side, a very low number may indicate poor scheduling with Wellness employees hanging out in a lightly shopped department. Once you have established a budget for labor hours, you can use this measure to improve accountability in each department. Your managers will be given this goal and work with their team to fill the hours available to get the job done. Experienced managers will use this to make a highly productive department. It may be a sign that more training is needed if the targeted number is consistently exceeded while the work is just barely getting done. A department’s budget can also be tied to hourly sales volume to best serve the customer. High touch departments like Deli, the Meat Counter, or Front End (cashiers) greatly benefit from schedules that are tied to high demand times. Conversely, you might want to schedule certain projects for down times when shoppers won’t be negatively impacted by resets, cleaning, stocking, or other tasks that are done in the aisles. Looking at certain benchmarks by department also illustrates some of the different ways that each department contributes to the store’s bottom line. In most natural food stores, the Grocery department is the workhorse, contributing big dollar volume with low labor input through the execution of good merchandising and a superior product assortment. Deli is a place where you invest in a high labor cost to bring in customers with unique offerings using high quality ingredients. It is tough to compare the labor inputs for these two departments within a store, but with CoMetrics benchmarking you can compare your performance to these specific departments. You can find the latest CoMetrics Digest on the CoMetrics page of the MOA. For more information on CoMetrics, please reach out to Matt Ryan, Retail Services Manager, at mryan@infretailers.com.

Capturing Your Shoppers’ Spend NICK AUZ E NNE DIREC TOR OF PURCHA S ING

The INFRA community has been having a lot of conversation about access to product in today’s turbulent marketplace. Consistent access to goods at a fair price can make all the difference in the growth of your business, but it is only part of the equation. What are some of the other variables, you ask? I believe that pricing strategy and product differentiation are key to the success of a grocery business. Developing a pricing strategy that wins over your customers is paramount to maintaining sustainable growth of your business. If you have not given much thought to a pricing strategy, I encourage you to spend some time reviewing the concept with your team. Make the time to discuss how your business can improve performance with better execution of promotions and a targeted use of EDLPs (Every Day Low Prices) in the most price sensitive categories and product segments. It is important for you to survey the local marketplace and see how your pricing compares on signpost items to avoid losing cost-conscious customers to the competition. Price continues to be one of the utmost considerations for shoppers when choosing where to buy groceries. INFRA Retailers must become more strategic with price to maintain competitiveness against both conventional and “supernatural” grocers. With the right pricing strategy, INFRA Retailers can compete on price, and win a fair share of each shopper’s grocery spend, every time they visit!

Product differentiation is also an important variable in the growth equation. Having the right product mix to meet your customers’ needs is a contributing factor to the growth equation. This means finding the right balance between local, specialty, and nationally recognized brands. Optimizing your mix can have dramatic effects on improving customer loyalty and your bottom line. The INFRA Team works hard every day to help members stay competitive at shelf, both in price and differentiation. These points are key drivers in our work to support INFRA Members’ resiliency in the marketplace. Day in and day out, INFRA is constantly exploring ways to enhance programming to better help members stand out in the crowded landscape of natural foods grocers. Some of the 2020 highlights included: • • • • • • •

revamped Regional Ad program development of the Family Brand Ad program rollout of the Project Waste Not estimates platform securing secondary access to INFRA Deals through Threshold and UNFI INFRA’s first ever virtual Conference & Tabletop announcement of the Cultivate new item pilot in the SW renewal of the Equal Exchange Bulk Coffee Program

The member response to these initiatives has been positive, and development of new programs hinges on increased member participation in the current programs. I encourage all of you to assess your current level of engagement with INFRA, your utilization of INFRA programs, and where we might provide additional value to your business.



The year 2020 posed many challenges to all points of the supply chain. Access to holiday product was no exception. On top of COVID-19 challenges, retailers had to navigate seasonal product minimums, deadlines, and lost orders. We heard you loud and clear. I am happy to announce that the INFRA Team is working closely with KeHE on ways to improve your 2021 holiday planning experience. Stay tuned for more details in the coming weeks!

New Equipment & Supplies Benefits for Members R ACHEL COME AUX FRE S H TE AM MANAGE R ATL ANTIC FOOD BARS

INFRA has entered into a partnership with Atlantic Food Bars, a supplier of standard and custom hot and cold food display equipment. This relationship brings the following benefits to members: • • • •

National chain single unit pricing National chain quantity discount pricing on orders of 5 or more units at one time Guidance in case recommendations Quotes upon request that include drawings and photos

For over 70 years, and now in its 4th generation of family leadership, Atlantic Food Bars’ peerless design, engineering, and manufacturing teams have created standard and custom food display equipment that meets the ever-changing needs of growing food retailers, from single unit operators to multi-national companies. Their reputation for attractive, quality merchandisers at competitive pricing is unmatched, but it is their ability to tailor any design to their customers’ specific needs, along with their attention to detail and worldclass customer service that has distinguished them in the food service equipment industry. They excel at making their customers happy each time, every time. From extensive hot and cold prepared food lineups to 26-inch chicken cases, all Atlantic Food Bars equipment carries the industry’s longest warranties and offers guaranteed temperature maintenance. For more information about Atlantic Food Bars please visit their MOA page. Drew Feldman, Executive Vice President is available for questions and assistance at (888) 632-5765 or drew.feldman@atlanticfoodbars.com.


As a preferred Cintas customer, disposable gloves are now available for members to purchase through Cintas. You do not need to have a current contract setup with Cintas to purchase gloves. Contact INFRA’s Account Manager at Cintas, Chris Nagurski, for more information on glove types and pricing. He can be reached at (218) 349-2261 or nagurskic@cintas.com.


Kick off 2021 by adding sustainable, convenient, and multi-use products from Bagito to your shelves. INFRA’s relationship with Bagito provides members with discounted pricing for all Bagito items. See their full product catalog and special INFRA Member pricing. Current INFRA promotions running through the end of April: • •

Order 50 Bagito Originals or Grandes and get FIVE FREE Handbags or Cutlery Sets Reduced minimum order requirement – 25 pieces and free set-up fees for first imprint screen (regularly $45) for Bagito Original, Grande, Produce/Bulk Bags and Bamboo Cutlery Sets

Bagito reusable products reduce trash by up to 100% and reduce carbon emission by up to 80% when compared to their single-use counterparts. Made from either 100% recycled plastics, 100% organic/non-GMO cotton or 100% natural bamboo, Bagito products are premium, convenient, and designed to last. As an added bonus, each Bagito sold teaches a K-12 student how to sustain their natural world through a donation to Bagito’s sister non-profit Power2Sustain. Each product comes with a hangtag that shares a story. John Hendrix, Sales Director at Bagito, is available to answer questions or provide quotes. He can be reached at john@bagito.co or (530) 815-4565.


As the weather turns from cool to warm, we challenge you to sell more leeks! Leeks are a great vegetable to transition the season. They are versatile enough to use in colder-weather dishes, such as soups but also in salads or sautéed with other vegetables. As other spring alliums come into season, leeks work well as a centerpiece for fun seasonal displays. With this spirit of fun and education in mind, we have created a Spring Leek Challenge for INFRA Members. The contest will run for one week from March 8–March 14. In addition to the contest, we have created a suite of resources to go along with this. Please visit the Fresh page on the MOA to download those resources and find more details about the Spring Leek Challenge. If you have questions, please reach out to Fresh Program Manager Matt Olson at molson@infretailers.com.


Take County Road 1 from Fergus Falls, Minnesota to the outskirts of town and you’ll soon run into Meadow Farm Foods. There is plenty of parking space in the loose gravel lot, but based on the surrounding cornfields one wouldn’t expect to walk inside and find a mature natural foods store. The store has been in business for more than 40 years, but it was only recently purchased by Sander Habraken four years ago. Sander is something of a renaissance man. Like many INFRA Members, he bought the store because of his passion for local and organic fresh foods. In addition to running Meadow Farm Foods, he is also deeply involved in other local businesses, and he even works piloting a private jet. But what really makes Sander and his family stand out among INFRA Members is the work they do with the local community. The Habraken family also works for an organization that seeks to find meaningful employment and skill-development opportunities for people living with disabilities in the Fergus Falls area. Sander has worked hard to make Meadow Farm Foods a hub for this mission. As of this writing, almost half of the store’s employees have come from this program, offering a sense of purpose and belonging to people who are often excluded and ostracized from their greater community. Because of the loyalty that Meadow Farm Foods has earned throughout its 40 years in business, customers know that the store and its staff can be a trusted source of empathy and patience during the dark winter of COVID-19. Patricia Wahl, the store’s General Manager, has worked tirelessly to adapt the small store to the rapidly changing and diverse needs of her community. She and her staff are leaning in on a “people first” approach to customer service, acknowledging that customers want to shop in a variety of different ways. One of the most important examples Meadow Farm Foods sets during the pandemic is that our businesses need to stay focused on our missions and our humanity, now more than ever. Learn more about Meadow Farm Foods and their story on their Facebook page. DATE AND TH Y ME ORGANIC C AFE AND MARKE T LINDY BANNI S TER CEO, FOOD MAT TERS MARKE T

Have you ever dreamt of going to the tropics? Where the locals are friendly, the sand is warm, and the food is exquisite? Turn your car south from Fort Lauderdale and visit Date and Thyme in Key West. Yes, we have another member that lives in paradise. Here is their story, we hope you enjoy it and give it a try. In 2008, Charlotte Sophia moved to Key West and turned her vision of health and wellness into a reality. With the support of her business partner Simon Basner, a lot of faith, and an unrelenting vision, they have seen Date & Thyme grow from a small take-out cafe into a thriving community center. In their own words: “Date and Thyme began as a one room operation, in a charming little space that was an early twentieth century gas station. In less than 300 square feet, [we] turned out breakfast, lunch coffee, and freshly made smoothies every day. After much hard work and passion, what began with two or three employees at a time (we couldn’t fit in anymore!) we began to grow into something greater. During our early years, there was a great need in Key West for more organic produce and so our weekly Farmer’s Market was born. Every Monday morning, table of fresh fruits and vegetables lined our patio, and our community followed. Two years later, when the only supplier

of organic produce stopped offering deliveries to the Florida Keys, we had to take matters into our own hands. Rather than compromise our quality, we deepened our relationships with our local South Florida farmers and eventually bought our own refrigerated truck. We set out at 2am every week, (organic coffee in hand) to pick up our own deliveries from mainland Florida and began delivering product to our fellow cafés and health food stores throughout the Keys who had also been affected by the loss. In 2012, the time was right to take another step forward. We expanded our business, taking over the laundromat adjacent to our café to open our retail store and expand our offerings in the café. The mission remained the same: provide the freshest organic food possible and make living well easy and accessible to all. Now with a 10-door walk-in cooler, we were finally able to offer organic produce 7 days a week. To this day, Date & Thyme is the largest purveyor of organic and local produce in Key West.” Charlotte and Simon’s beliefs are that “there is a date and time in our lives when we understand that our old ways of eating, acting, thinking, or feeling no longer serve us. We realize that change is possible, and that we can help ourselves. We believe that true health and wellness come not only from the food we eat, but the thoughts we think, the actions we take, and how we choose to live our everyday lives. To live life well is to nourish body, mind, and spirit. The date and time is now!” So, throw your suitcase in the car, head south to the end of the road, and enjoy! If you’d like to learn more, visit their website at dateandthyme.com. SOULBE RRY NATUR AL MARKE T DREW ALE X ANDE R REGION MANAGER

Soulberry—it’s not the most common fruit in the market. In fact, you have probably never heard of it before. Well, you’ve probably gotten a taste before and have no idea. . . Soulberry isn’t a fruit—it’s a market, one of the latest to enter the INFRA ranks. But the owners—Ameer & Brittany Yassin—are no strangers to our community. We’ve been spending time with the two at INFRA events for years, through their previous work at Green Life Market in New Jersey. The couple jumped the state line into Pennsylvania and are about to open Soulberry in the town of New Hope. They’ve spent the better part of 2020 building from the ground up and have reached a fever pitch of excitement—the kind many INFRA Members know good and well! It has been Ameer’s dream to open his own store for many years and despite remodels, expansions, and new location acquisitions at Green Life, the process of cultivating Soulberry from scratch has been quite a challenge. Especially during a pandemic! But it’s been equally rewarding for the couple, as well—that special pride that comes from seeing all your hard work coming to fruition. They credit a lot of their successes to what they’ve learned as a part of INFRA and emphasize the gratitude that they have for the relationships built through the INFRA community. Both locally and across the country, Ameer and Brittany have found priceless guidance from members, large and small, who’ve plowed the same soil. Soulberry might seem like an odd name for a store, unless you live in the area—they are located in Solebury Township. The play on words is not just a nod to their new home but also a reflection of how the market combines their dedication and values with the food that they love! Read more about their story and stay tuned for their grand opening by visiting their website at soulberrymarket.com!


In the Fall Real Deal, I gave content space to three brands who are making great strides in sustainability as more companies are discovering ways to lessen their environmental impact through their packaging, operations, and ingredients choices. This quarter, I reserved space for two women I met over the last couple years, one in-person at the HealthFirst Conference in Banff, and the other at a virtual event through EXPO Spark. Their stories of resilience, perseverance, and gratitude are ones that should be told, and I hope you enjoy reading and learning a little more about these women who are in the throes of building their businesses. ELLIE BIANC A PROVIDED BY KOMAL BA S HIR , BR AND MANAGE R

Evelyne Nyairo, Founder of Ellie Bianca, came to Canada from Kenya on her own at the age of 16, hoping to build a better life. After working her way to a power position consulting in the oil and gas industry, she followed her passion into the business of skincare. During one of her engineering projects, she travelled to Chad in Central Africa, and couldn’t help but notice how beautiful the womens’ skin was – they were tapping into the power of plants and superfoods all around them. During that trip, she also noticed how much women were unfairly treated. When she was purchasing mangoes, she was told to pay the husband when it was the wife that picked the mangoes for her. This was unfair and wrong, and she was motivated to help improve the lives of the women there. That is when she decided to start her own natural skincare company. Now in our fifth year of operation, Ellie Bianca is a Canadian-based skin care line that boasts thirty-four all-natural products. We use organic oils and butters from Africa and all over the world to formulate and produce many of our products. With Evelyne’s background as a chemist, we are combining modern day science and the power of plants that have been used for centuries. We have since launched skin oils, face oils, face serums, bath salts and lip balms. All of our products are Evelyne Nyairo, Founder of Ellie Bianca scientifically formulated with naturally sourced ingredients and are environmentally friendly, organic and non-GMO. Recently, as a result of the current pandemic, we pivoted and have been manufacturing organic sanitizers and liquid hand soaps to keep our customers safe. Ellie Bianca is a holistic skin care line that cultivates, sustains and empowers women through sustainable business practices and fair trade. We are committed to creating a superior beauty brand that is luxurious and provides a sustainable livelihood and a fair supply chain for the men and women who cultivate the ingredients we all love to use on our skin. We are also heavily invested in the Ellie Bianca Woman Scholarship, offering financial support to single mothers who are pursuing a post-secondary education. We also support boys and girls in Africa who are striving for a higher education. “When you invest in Ellie Bianca, you are not only investing in your skin but are also investing in bettering the lives of others around the globe.” -Evelyne Nyairo, Founder We are fully committed to the following pillars: •

Kind to your Skin: We believe that beauty is more than an aesthetic, that’s why each of our products is carefully formulated using all-natural ingredients that have been specifically chosen for their quality and effectiveness. Kind to the Earth: We actively work to source directly with producers for our raw ingredients. This allows us to have more control over ingredient quality, it greatly reduces our carbon footprint, and it ensures that we are Ellie Bianca skin care products applying fair trade practices. Kind to Women: We are passionately committed to bettering the lives of women around the world by empowerment through business, including profit sharing, fair trade programs, and education. The Ellie Bianca Foundation is an educational bursary which supports single mothers in Canada and boys and girls in Africa pursuing their educational studies.

This year we at Ellie Bianca are asking you to keep being unapologetically you, BEAUTIFUL YOU- celebrating you as you are without the obligations you feel about making improvements to yourself because you think you should be doing something better. To not only invest in ethical and effective skincare for yourself but also in bettering the lives of others around the globe, place an order now on store.elliebianca.com and choose from our specially curated selection of luxurious Skin Oils, Face Oils, Face Serums, Bath Salts, Lip Balms, Liquid Hand Soaps, and Hand Sanitizers. We offer free shipping in North America on all orders above $100. To learn more about Ellie Bianca, visit our website at elliebianca.com and find us on Facebook (@EllieBianca) and Instagram (@ elliebiancabeauty). S HE A Y E LE E N PROVIDED BY R AHAMA WRIGHT, CEO & FOUNDE R

I first learned about shea butter in 2003 after my time as a research intern at the U.S. Embassy in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. This internship was a pit stop before my Peace Corps service in Mali and laid the groundwork for my entrepreneurial pursuits. Looking back, I did know about shea butter, just not where it came from. During my internship, I learned that shea butter is extracted from the seeds of the shea fruit grown on shea trees exclusively in Sub-Saharan Africa. My embassy research on African women’s small businesses revealed the importance of shea butter production and how women in rural villages are the traditional harvesters of this commodity. Mothers pass the harvest and production traditions to their daughters as a skill to generate income. However, I noticed from my research that these women rarely earned enough to provide for themselves, much less their families. On average, roughly 16 million shea butter producers throughout Africa generate less than $2 per day. These thoughts stayed with me as I completed my internship and prepared for Peace Corps service in Mali, where I was assigned to work at a community health center. After 10 weeks of language and culture training I arrived at my village, anxious and excited for what was to come. Reality hit when I noticed that many women visiting the health center could not pay for medicine or health services. I became frustrated with the realization that without income, any service we could provide at the health center would be limited. Thinking back to my internship report, I decided to learn more about shea butter production.

Rahama Wright, CEO & Founder of Shea Yeleen

After a few weeks of watching Malian women make shea butter, I had a light bulb moment—a traditional practice could become the path for income generation. I would spend the time I had remaining in the Peace Corps further developing this idea—and afterwards, I moved to D.C. and launched Shea Yeleen. The mission was to create high-quality shea butter products to generate living wages for women in African villages. I had very little money, zero business experience, a tiny network, and frankly no idea what I was doing. The only concrete thing I had was a deep belief that women in Africa deserved to benefit from this global supply chain. I would work to make that vision a reality, no matter how long it took.

Fast forward to today, and my entrepreneurial journey has spanned from bootstrapping to landing deals with Whole Foods Markets & MGM Resorts International. I have navigated challenges related to manufacturing, supply chain development, marketing, and sales. Throughout my journey I’ve often felt like an outsider in an industry that lacks diversity, yet often benefits from the hard work and labor of people of color. That said, I was able to take an internship experience and turn it into a beauty brand that includes 800 women in Northern Ghana who receive living wages for their work. Being a first-generation entrepreneur, I have learned so many things about myself. The most surprising part is that believing in my dream drew me closer to God and deepened my spiritual practice. There were so many moments when I felt completely defeated and questioned my ability to go on. But at the most unlikely times, things turned in my favor. I’ve experienced moments I never could have imagined: Our shea butter producers traveling to the U.S. to meet our buyers at Whole Foods. My appointment to President Obama’s Advisory Council on Doing Business in Africa. But the most powerful of all the lessons I’ve learned thus far is the power of believing. Whatever the goal may be, believing is always the first step in achieving. To learn more about Shea Yeleen and their mission, visit their website at sheayeleen. com and find them on Facebook (@sheayeleen) and Instagram (@sheayeleen). Shea Yeleen’s Body Balm line

Introducing Natural Products Expo Virtual: Connecting buyers and sellers anywhere, anytime to cultivate a healthier tomorrow Natural Products Expo Virtual is a platform focused on connecting the natural and organic industry through a series of five virtual events that will provide information to support buying decisions throughout the year. Through this new platform, attendees will have the ability to request meetings, view brands’ products and content as well as request samples during three Spark Change virtual events and during any virtual components of Natural Products Expo West and Expo East. Natural Products Expo West and Expo East hybrid events are focused on an in-person experience for product discovery, networking and industry trend discussions, with the addition of online education sessions as a resource for those who choose not to travel. Spark Change events are focused on uniting manufacturers, service providers, buyers, and sellers through a series of product/service discovery activations and focused meetings. These events will complement Natural Products Expo hybrid events by addressing the specific needs of key audience members while providing engaging and meaningful virtual experiences throughout the year. To learn more about what this platform will bring and get registered, click here!


In the past, the INFRA team has supported Sponsor-A-Family MN through team members purchasing gifts or donating financially to a family in need during the holidays. This year, instead of sponsoring a specific family, INFRA’s Culture Committee suggested that we collect only monetary donations to have the maximum positive impact due to the unexpected needs during the pandemic. On behalf of the Culture Committee, I am proud to report that not only did we collect $1,410 through generous staff donations, we were able to double our impact with an INFRA match to bring the total contribution to $2,820. Kudos to the team for supporting our local community members!


Hello! I am very excited to be starting my career at INFRA as the Education and Events Coordinator. My purpose at INFRA is to serve our membership through the online education platform and the creation of in-person and virtual events, such as the Annual Conference, webinars, and more. I am excited for all the creativity and opportunities this position offers as I learn about our members and find the best ways to meet their educational needs.

HANNAH GOMES Education & Events Coordinator

Before INFRA, I taught at Illinois State University for two years while in graduate school, and I had the opportunity to create an education-based program for a juvenile detention center. In addition to my time in education, I have also worked as an event planner. I helped organize The Wish Ball, the primary fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Minnesota, and I coordinated prospective student events at Bethel University. All of these great opportunities have led me here, and I am so excited to get going! When I’m not working, I like to play sports (tennis, golf, volleyball), read, try new baking recipes, and go for walks with my very fluffy dog, Cooper. I am honored to be a part of such a great organization, and I look forward to meeting everyone!

I am so excited to be joining the INFRA network! I joined the INFRA team in November 2020 as the Director of People & Culture. My position was added to help drive toward INFRA strategic goals, which ultimately align with member needs. I am fortunate to be able to focus on people as the subject of my job, driving all aspects of People Operations service delivery and strategic consulting. My role creates an impact by partnering with stakeholders to create inclusive, empowered, engaged, innovative, happy, and high functioning teams. Essentially, most of my job is giving people the tools and info they need, and then getting out of their way so they can do great things. More specifically, my high-variety job is leadership on all things related to employment. . . talent acquisition, DEI, talent development, culture building, total rewards administration, policies, procedures, systems, legal compliance, the list goes on. We want to make the People Operations stuff fun, easy, and intuitive. Beyond the basics, I’m most excited about how I might support the INFRA Membership. We are brainstorming ways in which I might be able to continue supporting INFRA and also provide shared services for members. More on this to come! Until then, I’m always happy to ideate and chat to grow ideas and consider best practices.

MICHELE LAMPPA Director of People & Culture

It’s fun to be able to use my varied experience to support the good food movement. I have 18 years of progressive experience in People Operations/Talent Leadership in a variety of places, including small/ medium-sized professional services firms, large manufacturing companies, and healthcare organizations. I also have a strong appreciation for the retail industry—I started my career in service, retail, and retail management. As a curious person, I love learning from others and picking up new skills or info. My current personal passions include houseplants, baking, and birding. In my role, I am able to work with mission driven organizations and incredibly kind, smart, driven people to make a real difference in our world. I’m looking forward to adding value and continuing our path into the future.

Hey y’all! Just this February I joined INFRA as Content Marketing Lead! In this role, I will support members in their marketing and communications as well as work with stores to create strategic plans for both in-store and digital marketing. I look forward to participating in Retail Consulting, working with members on specific activations and content development. I’ll also support INFRA’s marketing efforts generally.

SARA FULTON-KOERBLING Content Marketing Lead

Prior to joining INFRA, I worked in marketing and community engagement at a local co-op grocer and served as a regional marketing lead at a national natural and organic chain retailer. I recently completed an MBA with an emphasis in Business Analytics, and I’m excited to further develop data analytics skills in my new role. I have worked at every step of the supply chain including organic vegetable farms, a farmers’ cooperative, selling my own products at the farmers market, developing school garden and farm to school programming, culinary school and food service.

Food is the driving force in my life. You can find me sharing food, exchanging recipes, planning trips around must-visit restaurants, or just thinking about my next meal. I’m otherwise occupied by my two cats, Tilly and Niko, reading, or planning my next outdoor adventure. I do the New York Times crossword puzzle every day, and I miss karaoke and trivia.

CONGR ATUL ATIONS , JOHN! John Fieldstrom, former Member Services Manager and Minnesota Region Manager, recently became a Region Manager (RM) full time! We are excited to have John working with us more on the RM Team and he has already made meaningful connections with many of his new members in the southeast. He invites you to reach out at your convenience; John loves to chat – give him a call! “I am humbled at this opportunity, and I am very much looking forward to working with and supporting even more of our members,” said John. “I am thrilled to be able to be in a more intimate role in the many innovative and extraordinary things our members accomplish every day.” Across the entire membership, Region Managers are excited for what 2021 holds for members and are always happy to learn how they can be of service. Reach out anytime!


Meggie and her husband, Chris, welcomed their first child, Finn Thomas, into the world on December 8!


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Calendar of Events February 18 at 2pm Central: Share the Love— March 16 at 1pm Central: Grocery Bulk Category Creating a Rewarding Loyalty Program Intensive Review February 18 at 3pm Central: Center Store & Fresh Department Merchandising Category Review

March 17: St. Patrick’s Day March 18 at 3pm Central: Grocery Bulk Category Review

February 25 at 2pm Central: Share the Love— Creating a Rewarding Loyalty Program Intensive March 23 at 1pm Central: Wellness Bulk and D.I.Y. Category Review March 8: International Women’s Day March 25 at 3pm Central: Wellness Bulk and D.I.Y. March 9 at 3pm Central: Fresh Sharing Series: Category Review Food Service March 30 at 11am Central: Ecommerce After the March 10 at 2pm Central: 2020 Census Webinar Pandemic Share Group Kick-Off March 11 at 3pm Central: Fresh Sharing Series: Produce

INFRA Team Q1 Anniversaries

Debra Gagner • 9 years Purchasing Coordinator

Zoë Stromswold • 2 years Reporting Analyst

MJ Mueller • 9 years Financial Manager

Drew Alexander • 1 year Region Manager

Greta Sikorski • 5 years Director of Operations

Abigail Alves • 1 year Data Entry Clerk

Michael Paynic • 4 years Food Service Program Manager

Brenna Connolly • 1 year Marketing Coordinator

Meggie Smith • 4 years Marketing Manager, Branding and Communications

Andy Huth • 1 year Category Lead

John Pittari, Board Chair New Morning Market

Kimberly Hallinan Independent Director

Cheryl Hughes, Vice Chair The Whole Wheatery

Laughing Water Real Food Market + Deli

Terry Brett, Secretary Kimberton Whole Foods

Adam Stark Debra’s Natural Gourmet

Paku Misra, Treasurer Sunflower Natural Foods Market

Mylese Tucker Nature’s Cupboard

Summer Auerbach Rainbow Blossom Natural Markets

Pat Sheridan Interim President & CEO

Board of Directors

Thomas Barstow Guido’s Fresh Marketplace Independent Natural Food Retailers Association 2356 University Ave W, Ste 200 St. Paul, MN 55114 (651) 888-4700 naturalfoodretailers.net @infretailers

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