Thursday, March 11, 2010

From Twitter-to-the-Blog: The Natural~Specialty Foods Memo Natural, Organic & Specialty Food Entrepreneurs' Showcase

Entrepreneurs have historically been and remain in the main the innovators and trend-starters in the natural, organic and specialty foods product businesses in the United States.

In fact, were it not for entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial companies, we would not likely see the robust, and constantly growing, natural, organic, specialty, gourmet and ethnic foods industry that exists today in the U.S.

Entrepreneurs - be they chefs, farmers, former food industry executives and workers, ex-lawyers, accountants and doctors, or just plain people with ideas, were the first to create domestic natural, organic and specialty foods products in the U.S., often selling them directly to consumers to start, along with peddling their wares from store-to-store, door-to-door, talking retailers into putting the items on the shelves to give them a try, which is something that's still done in the business in varying degrees.

Entrepreneurial natural and specialty foods distributors, along with pioneering natural and specialty foods retailers and grocers, also played and continue to play a key role in creating and growing the natural, organic and specialty foods industries in the U.S.

It's been only since about the mid-1980's in fact when larger food companies became involved in the business in a significant way (with the exception of imported specialty foods), primarily doing so in the beginning by acquiring many of these entrepreneurial companies, which over the years grew into substantial businesses.

Today, natural, organic and specialty foods products, or packaged goods, of all kinds are big business. The products line the shelves of even the most basic supermarkets, and are sold in discount stores run by giants like Walmart, Costco, Target and many others, for example.

And of course, in many cases yesterday's natural, organic or specialty food product (or category) is today's mainstream or near-mainstream product or category.

For example, look at organic and premium/specialty coffee.

Just 15 years ago buying and drinking anything but Folgers or Maxwell House (plus a few other mainstream coffee brands) was considered something only the rich or elite consumer did in the U.S. Today, buying and drinking organic and premium coffee is something that cuts across all income and social class consumer lines.

What about olive oil and balsamic vinegar?

As recently as the early-to-mid 1990's in the U.S. (and mid-to-late 1990's in the case of balsamic vinegar) both products were considered niche, specialty items. Organic olive oil particularly was a super-niche item.

Today, olive oil - and to a lessor but very significant degree balsamic vinegar - are essentially mainstream products. Organic olive oil isn't mainstream at present, primarily because of its higher cost, but its much more than a super-niche item than it was just a few years ago.

The case history of natural, organic and specialty foods items that have moved from super-niche and niche to near-mainstream and even mainstream is extensive.

Entrepreneurs still remain the backbone of the U.S. natural, organic and specialty food product (we include beverages) industries. It's the start-up companies, and those in the small-to-medium range, where the majority of idea-generation and innovation remains today.

To celebrate this phenomenon - and some of the entrepreneurs leading this charge, particularly despite the bad economic times the U.S. remains in - starting today, and running until the end of March, Natural-Specialty Foods Memo is showcasing various natural, organic and specialty foods entrepreneurial companies on Twitter, at our feed, which you can see in the top right hand corner of the blog.

If you go to our NSFoodsMemo twitter page linked above, look for the #foodentrepreneur hashtag on our tweets. Such hashtags are a way of allowing for a search on Twitter. For example, if you type in #foodentrepreneurs in the Twitter "search" box, all of our tweets, and those of any other feed using the hashtag, will come up for your viewing.

We're also tieing-in our #foodentrepreneurs "tweet showcase" on our Twitter page with the blog.

We will include all of the tweets in this post, adding them in real time. At the end of March this post will contain all of the #foodentrepreneur showcase tweets we make from today to March 31, 2010.

The Project

We're calling the project: "From Twitter to the Blog: The Natural~Specialty Foods Memo Natural, Organic & Specialty Food Entrepreneurs' Showcase," which is the title of this post.

As you click on the links on the tweets (below) about the various entrepreneurial food companies in this post and read about them, we invite you to comment, using the "comments" link at the end of this post.

We welcome comments about the companies, particularly if you've tried their products and have an opinion of them, but also in general - your views, opinions and analysis.

Below then are the tweets comprising our "From Twitter to the Blog: The Natural~Specialty Foods Memo Natural, Organic & Specialty Food Entrepreneurs' Showcase" project.

March 11, 2010 Tweets:

~Rori’s Ice Cream is the 'hottest' ice cream in Santa Barbara, California #foodentrepreneurs

~Berkeley CA's June Taylor Jams mixes organic fruits with a bit of politics #foodentrepreneurs

~Grocer @locali tells us the vegan desserts made by @chloecoscarelli are selling faster than... hotcakes #foodentrepreneurs. (And we were right - 32 minutes later locali tweeted back this: @locali @NSFoodsMemo: We're actually sold out already! Unfortunately, we won't have more back in stock until March 24th. We're counting the days.) Some of the @chloecoscarelli vegan desserts on display @locali in Hollywood CA #foodentrepreneurs

~Crave Foods is bringing Indian street food to America via the grocery store #foodentrepreneurs

~Mother/daughter #foodentrepreneurs Janet Owings & Mary Schulman focus on innovation of all kinds @Snikiddy

March 12, 2010 Tweets

~Fast-growing @udisglutenfree introducing new granola, baked goods at #expowest #foodentrepreneurs

~Beryl's Boulder-based Bobo's debuts bold new Bobo's Oat Bars at #expowest #foodentrepreneurs

March 13, 2010 Tweets

~Agave Dream, lead by two moms with a cold, creamy dream, is growing its brand #foodentrepreneurs

~Tanka Bar adds value - and its CEO was honored for it and more at #expowest #foodentrepreneurs

~The #foodentrepreurs at want you to visit their Falafel Republic often

~Couple aims to revolutionize bottled water w/their @h2oboxwater water-in-a-box #foodentrepreneurs

~Blue Horizon [@BHOrganicWild] goes, sustainable & gluten-free #foodentrepreneurs

~Bluebird Grain Farms finds a niche growing/marketing ancient, heirloom grains #foodentrepreneurs

March 14, 2010 Tweets

~Diabetes led farmer Bob Wilt to the blueberry, and he created @SunsetOrganics #foodentrepreneurs

~Moms Kristin & Kirsten started @RevolutionFoods to revolutionize how kids eat #foodentrepreneurs

~The birth of her son led Gigi Lee Chang to start frozen baby food Co. @PlumOrganics #foodentrepreneurs

March 15, 2010 Tweets

~Vans Natural Foods is getting a makeover: New logo, packaging, website & more #foodentrepreneurs

March 16, 2010 Tweets

~"White-Girl Tamale Maker" Deborah Stern merges tradition w/nutrition @lagueratamalera #foodentrepreneurs

March 17, 2010 Tweets

~Bert Cohen's Surf Sweets makes the organic versions of your favorite candies #foodentrepreneurs

March 19, 2010 Tweets

~Natural-Specialty foods company does it all, from the farm to the grocery shelf #foodentrepreneurs

March 20, 2010 Tweets

~Turtle Mountain wins "Best" award for its @So_Delicious Coconut Water Sorbet #foodentrepreneurs

~The #foodentrepreneurs @FunkyMonkeySnck think fun, along w/fruit, is a key ingredient for success

March 21, 2010 Tweets

~@FrontierSoups is celebrating 20 years of innovation & growth, including its own online sales operation #foodentrepreneurs

~Mary Waldner's [] @GoneCrackers was born from her own intolerance to gluten. #foodentrepreneurs

March 22, 2010 Tweets

~Not only do they taste good, many folks say Jill Frechtman's @fretzels [] are edible art #foodentrepreneurs

~ has a plan to get to the top of the natural-specialty heap #foodentrepreneurs

~Sister & brother #foodentrepreneurs Dobrasevic Foods bring fresh produce right to the front porch

March 23, 2010 Tweets

~Stephanie Lester's Cavemen Bakery-made @CavemenCookies have an ancient pedigree #foodentrepreneurs

~The folks @delprado mix a heaping dose of charity in with their gourmet fruit nectars #foodentrepreneurs

March 25, 2010 Tweets

~ It's an organic, all in the family story for founder Heather and her @MomMadeFoods #foodentrepreneurs

March 26, 2010 Tweets

~After 22 yrs, family-owned natural-organic pioneer Amy's Kitchen gets a slogan #foodentrepreneurs

March 27, 2010 Tweets

~Our #foodentrepreneurs aren't limited to the edible. The @TheGourmetGirl Elaine created a magazine

~#foodentrepreneurs are a diverse group. Meet farmer/small-plot gardening book guru Sal Gilbertie

~Chuck (brother of author Ken) & Sue Kesey celebrate 50 yrs as #foodentrepreneurs @ Nancy's Yogurt

March 29, 2010 Tweets

~Salsa-maker @Renfrofoods is celebrating 70 years with a big recipe contest #foodentrepreneurs

March 30, 2010 Tweets

~Russell's cheesecake is truly an "Ultimate Sin." But in a very good way. #foodentrepreneurs #NASFT

~Coconut water is "hot," and @onecoconut wants you to go nuts over its brand. #foodentrepreneurs

~The #foodentrepreneurs @TXHillCtryOlive are a new breed of Texas oil wildcatters - olive oil

~The #foodentrepreneurs @sevencups Tea dare you to drink just 6 cups of their tea; now for sale @WholeFoods

~Two guys from Jersey put the famous New Jersey tomato in a jar for the masses #foodentrepreneurs

~The #foodentrepreneurs at bring a taste of the islands to the mainland. @Islandgourmet

March 31, 2010 Tweets

~People are going nuts over mother/daughter #foodentrepreneurs' Gayle & Sarah's @NutsAboutGranol

~The #foodentrepreneurs @kaiafoods sell healthy, organic granola & snacks in shelf-popping packages.

[Readers: If you know of an entrepreneurial natural, organic, specialty/gourmet or ethnic foods company (or individual) you think we should showcase in our project, feel free to send us the information at As much information as possible is requested, particularly a website address.

Of course, we reserve the right to decide if we showcase the company in a Twitter tweet and in the blog.

Follow us on Twitter at

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Investor Ron Burkle Cashes Out For A 200% Return On $98 Million Investment in Whole Foods Market

Seven degrees of Ron Burkle: Grocer, investor, philanthropist and man about town. [Photo Credit:]

On February 16 we wrote in this piece [Ron Burkle's Rather Excellent One Year Investment Adventure With Whole Foods Market] about investor and supermarket industry veteran Ron Burkle's beyond excellent return (on paper) of his $98 million investment in Whole Foods Market, Inc. in just a hair over one year. (Also see the links to past stories about Ron Burkle at the link above.)

This week we learned that Burkle and his Yucaipa Companies investment firm's return on his January 2009 $98 million investment in Whole Foods, through his Yucaipa Companies is no longer - at least the majority of it - just on paper.

According to Yacaipa, Burkle has sold the majority of his shares in Whole Foods, which represented an about 7% ownership stake in the natural grocery chain, for a return of about 200% Not bad for a year's worth of investment.

In our February 16 story we suggested Burkle might sell most or all of his Whole Foods stake soon because he's currently extremely busy tending to his about 19% ownership stake in book retailer Barnes & Noble, not to mention the myriad of other investments Yucaipa has.

Burkle has been selling off the Whole Foods shares for about the last month or so as the natural grocer's share price has continued to soar.

Among Burkle's activities vis-a-vis Barnes & Noble has been a campaign he's launched to be allowed to buy additional shares in the bookseller, something its board and CEO have been blocking.

Apparently they fear an activist shareholder who puts his money behind his ideas and strategies for making what has become a laggardprimarioy bricks-and-mortar book retailer, under fire from and other online book retailers, a potentially better performing one. Barnes and Noble sells books online but hasn't been able to compete in any significant way with Amazon.

Burkle has told Barns & Noble's board he wants to buy up to about 38% of the company. They have put in a provision which prohibits any outside investor from acquiring more than a 20% ownership stake.

Burkle is also interested in taking a substantial stake in the storied New York City retailer Barneys. He's bought some of the struggling apparel retailer's debt and has told its foreign owners, Dubai's Istithmar World investment firm, that he is interested in lending the firm, which has been hit hard by Dubai's financial meltdown, $50 million in return for taking control of Barney's, which Burkle thinks he can return to its glory days.

The Dubai investment firm bought Barney's in 2007 for about $900 million.

Based on his track record in the supermarket retailing industry, we think if he acquired Barney's, Burkle would first invest in it, like he did when he acquired the various chains to comprise Ralphs/Food 4 Less, which he eventually sold to Kroger Co. in the 1998's for $13.5 billion.

He likely then would cut costs, in part by wringing as much cost as he could out of Barney's supply chain, something he knows a thing or two about doing in the retailing business.

We think Burkle would also extend the Barney's brand, both into opening new stores in key U.S. markets and perhaps even selectively overseas, as well as into other forms of business. The Barney's brand still has considerable equity.

After doing these and other measures, operating Barney's for a few years, it's likely Burkle would then take the company public, which could result in substantial profits if all went well in the process we describe above.

But meanwhile Burkle has exited, at least for the most part, Whole Foods Market - and done so with a nice 200% return on his $98 million investment.

He's not out of the supermarket industry investment game completely though: Burkle owns 30% of the A&P supermarket chain and is playing a major role in the east coast grocery chain's strategy, along with how it's being managed. Remember, he's an activist shareholder, and with a 30% stake he should get involved in a hands on manner.

Burkle's Yucaipa has about $9 billion worth of investment funds, according to the firm. Among its investors are two of California's biggest pension funds.

Burkle lives in Southern California and New York City. His personal worth is estimated at $3.2 billion, according to Forbes magazine, which lists him in its storied richest people in the world ranking.

Look for Burkle - who grew up in the grocery business, starting as a bag boy at Southern California's Stater Bros. grocery chain then eventually moving into a vice president position there before leaving to start Yucaipa - to make new investments in the supermarket industry. It's not only the business where he made his first and major fortune - it's also in his blood.