Last updated on April 23rd, 2018 at 04:56 pm
Whole Foods Market celebrated the winners of its sixth annual Supplier Awards April 18, spotlighting producers that “exemplify the grocer’s mission and core values through their commitment to quality, environmental stewardship, ethical sourcing and culinary innovation.”
“Our shoppers look to Whole Foods Market for new and delicious products, and we are honored to recognize our top supplier partners who demonstrate industry-leading innovation and impactful work,” said A.C. Gallo, president and chief operating officer at Whole Foods. “These national and local suppliers were selected from thousands of driven, passionate, mission-based brands at Whole Foods Market and represent the best in class in sourcing, and commitment to the highest-quality standards.”
A total of 27 perishable and non-perishable suppliers were recognized this year, including two all-star global “Supplier of the Year” recipients and 11 local supplier partners who received region-specific “Supplier of the Year” recognition for their outstanding partnership and product innovation within their local communities. This year’s list of honorees includes brands that have partnered with Whole Foods anywhere from two to 25 years, and six that have expanded their business through the support of Whole Foods’ Local Producer Loan Program.
Whole Foods revealed its Supplier Award winners at a reception held in Austin, Texas. Honorees in both perishable and non-perishable categories included:
Global Supplier of the Year
Pacha Soap Co., “for pioneering experiential, natural bath and body care, and exceeding goals for growth by delivering an innovative assortment of products to Whole Foods shoppers.” A supplier since 2014 and a Local Producer Loan Program recipient, Pacha Soap is a mission-based brand that supports clean water and entrepreneurial initiatives around the globe.
Miller Poultry, “for their visionary approach to animal welfare and their commitment to raising high quality, healthy chickens.” In addition to providing an organic selection, Miller Poultry only uses non-GMO feed for its conventional, no-antibiotic birds. “They’ve shown true innovation and growth with both their Non-GMO Project Verification and the purchase and remodel of an outdated feed mill, that not only expanded their business but created jobs in their community,” says Whole Foods.
Lotus Foods, “for implementing the ‘More Crop Per Drop’ system, allowing farmers to dramatically increase yields while decreasing water consumption, seed use and methane gas emissions.” Lotus Foods’ B Corp certification is a testament to its commitment to serve as a force for good, specifically through small-scale farmer partnerships and environmental responsibility, notes Whole Foods.
Blue Circle Foods and Kvarøy Fiskeoppdrett, “for leading the charge for sustainability in aquaculture.” Through their farm and feed partnerships, there has been a significant improvement in fish-in-fish-out ratios, which considers the use of fishmeal and fish oil in feeds and the amount of wild fish it takes to produce farmed fish. Blue Circle continues to serve as a key supplier in Whole Foods’ smoked and frozen salmon categories while maintaining the same high level of stewardship.
Fage, “for raising the bar in dairy quality standards by becoming the only large-scale Greek yogurt manufacturer with a Non-GMO Project Verified certification.” Whole Foods notes that Fage’s commitment is an important step towards making non-GMO dairy available for shoppers, additional brands and product lines.
Jacqueline’s Gourmet Cookies, “for their early interest in the non-GMO initiative and committed follow-through in offering non-GMO frozen cookie doughs, scones, biscuits and biscotti.” The company was first to market with a non-GMO cookie program in Whole Foods Market’s bakeries nationwide, and all their offerings are on track to receive Non-GMO Project Verified certifications this year.
GimMe Health Foods, “for offering a differentiated, certified organic seaweed product portfolio in the growing functional snacks category.” Created by Annie Chun, GimMe Snacks organic seaweed thins, chips and roasted snacks continue to resonate with Whole Foods Market’s health-conscious shoppers, the grocer says.
Coke Farm, “for pioneering the organic produce industry and representing a diverse group of local fruit and vegetable growers across the U.S. and Canada.” Coke Farm works with organic growers to develop growing plans and supports receiving, cooling, selling and shipping of their produce. A long-standing partner of Whole Foods, Coke Farm is a thriving organic produce aggregation company committed to offering consistently high-quality and specialty produce to stores and customers.
Pacific Highway Wines & Spirits, “for sourcing award-winning wines and innovative, trending products from Spain, Chile, New Zealand, France and around the globe.” Most recently, Pacific Highway Wines & Spirits supported the Whole Foods Market launch of Pure Provence rosé wine cans, which have been a hit with customers, according to the grocer, and represent a growing trend in beverages.
Ocean Hugger Foods, “for creating and bringing Ahimi, the first-to-market sashimi-grade vegan tuna product, to Whole Foods Market shoppers in Los Angeles and New York City.” Ocean Hugger Foods’ innovative product spurred Whole Foods Market culinary experts to include “High Tech, Plant Forward” foods as a trend for 2018. Ahimi was created out of Ocean Hugger Foods’ mission to support greater seafood sustainability.
Golden Boy Foods, “for their dedication to improving the quality and consistency of bulk products through modernizing plant production processes.” From introducing new bulk packaging equipment to creating more quality control positions on the production floor, Golden Boy Foods is continuously looking for ways to improve efficiency without sacrificing the high quality of the bulk food products they provide, says Whole Foods. Shopper favorites include trail mix, snacking nuts and dried fruits.
Rainier Fruit Co., “for the rigorous standards applied to both organic and conventional cherries, apples, pears and blueberries provided to Whole Foods Market throughout the year.” From orchard to pack house, Rainier develops and uses the latest innovations to ensure an excellent quality experience in each box they deliver. Rainier previously has been recognized by the Whole Foods Market perishables team as Supplier of the Year in both 2016 and 2017.
Rookie of the Year
Kettle & Fire, “for taking the burgeoning category of bone broths by storm with their grass-fed, organic line of traditional bone broths in sustainable biodegradable packaging.” Kettle & Fire initially launched in Whole Foods Market’s Rocky Mountain region in 2016 and followed with a successful national launch in 2017.
Service and Partnership
Country Natural Beef, “for their commitment to win-win partnerships at every level of business.” Family ranchers from the Country Natural Beef Co-op personally sample their products in Whole Foods stores in order to highlight their animal welfare standards, innovations in grain-finished pasture beef, goals for sustainability, and to create an open dialogue with consumers to learn how to better meet their needs. Country Natural Beef is a partner that continues to evolve alongside Whole Foods.
Conlego, “for playing an integral role in developing and building a sustainable blueprint for enhancing Whole Foods Market private label supplier partnerships, processes and efficiencies.” From support on organizing exclusive brands supplier summits, to developing training sessions, Conlego has improved internal processes and tools for supplier partnerships.
Kuli Kuli, “for providing fair, sustainable wages to moringa farmers and women-led cooperatives around the world and growing a trusted moringa supply chain.” In addition to providing a nutrient-dense superfood product to Whole Foods shoppers, Kuli Kuli is spearheading a campaign to reforest Haiti with drought-tolerant moringa trees, providing Haitian farmers access to the growing market for moringa leaf powder. Kuli Kuli is a Local Producer Loan Program recipient.
Supplier of the Year, Southern Pacific Region
Hearst Ranch Beef, “for launching a 12-week seasonal grass-fed beef program carried out in all Whole Foods Market Southern California stores and providing a year-round selection of high-quality, customer-favorite wines.” Hearst Ranch shares many values with Whole Foods Market, including animal welfare standards, a focus on environmental stewardship and giving back to the community.
Supplier of the Year, Pacific Northwest Region
Terra Breads, a long-standing partner of the Pacific Northwest region and recipient of Whole Foods Market’s Local Producer Loan Program, first introduced their slow-rise fermented breads to the Vancouver market at the Whole Foods Market Victoria store, helping to contribute to a highly anticipated store opening in 2016.
Supplier of the Year, Northern California Region
Diestel Family Ranch, “for their unmatched commitment to quality and innovation.” Diestel Family Ranch, a partner of Whole Foods for more than 25 years, partners on store events for the community and supports team member development and training. Diestel was the first to market with a non-GMO, global animal partnership Step 5+ animal welfare rated turkey. They continue to develop innovative products like their Cook-in-Bag turkey breast roasts.
Supplier of the Year, Midwest Region
Kitchfix, “for bringing delicious, paleo products to shoppers while giving back to the community.” In 2016, Kitchfix expanded beyond granola after receiving a low-interest loan from Whole Foods Market’s Local Producer Loan Program, using it to develop and launch a successful line of frozen paleo waffles. The Chicago-based company’s founder is a mentor for other small brands in Chicago, and Kitchfix participates in two programs to employ the homeless or previously incarcerated.
Supplier of the Year, Northeast Region
Plenus Group Inc. (PGI), “for their partnership in product development and their ability to source high quality, hard-to-find ingredients for Whole Foods Market’s prepared foods team in the Northeast region.” PGI has developed more than 40 flavors of soups for Whole Foods Market store hot bars and created seasonal sauces inspired by global flavors.
Supplier of the Year, Rocky Mountain Region
Ela Family Farms, “for their commitment to sustainable farming methods, investment in renewable energy and advocating for national adoption of responsible production methods—all while providing high-quality fresh and dried fruit, apple butters and ciders.” The Ela Family Farms team uses sustainable pest control techniques like legume ground cover, beneficial insect habitat creation, soil fertility and drip irrigation to grow delicious fruit while protecting the environment, and owner Steve Ela initiated and organized three National Organic Tree Fruit Research Symposiums.
Supplier of the Year, South Region
Eastern Carolina Organics, “for efficiently expanding production of both popular and specialty produce items to meet Whole Foods Market customer demands.” Since 2004, Eastern Carolina Organics has received two Local Producer Loan Program loans from Whole Foods Market. The brand continues to collaborate with the grocer’s South region to expand in-store offerings like hot peppers and varietal squashes.
Regional Supplier of the Year, Mid-Atlantic Region
Lancaster Farm Fresh Co-op, “for their focus on creating healthy, high-quality foods from highly maintained and enriched soils on small-scale family farms.” The nonprofit organic farmers cooperative is made up of more than 100 family farmers committed to quality, heirloom varietals and superior customer service, says Whole Foods. Lancaster Farm Fresh Co-op enthusiastically participates in annual meetings and new store openings for Whole Foods Market’s Mid-Atlantic region.
Regional Supplier of the Year, North Atlantic Region
Hans Kissle, “for their collaborative efforts, efficient production methods and creativity in developing new and innovative products for Whole Foods Market’s prepared foods department in the North Atlantic region.” Hans Kissle partners closely with the grocer’s regional research and development team to create offerings for customers that adhere to the highest standards in quality and food safety.
Supplier of the Year, Florida Region
Sushi Maki, “for setting a high standard in the sushi industry, being the first and only sushi chain in the U.S. to earn the Marine Stewardship Council Certification.” Sushi Maki brings fresh, local and sustainably sourced sushi to Whole Foods Market customers in several Florida stores.
Supplier of the Year, Southwest Region
Thunderbird, “for their partnership to launch a gluten and grain-free kid’s line of fruit, nut and seed-driven bars, available in all Southwest Whole Foods Market stores.” They’ve been a strong collaborator, always willing to participate in customer-focused contests and promotions, as well as seasonal initiatives and priorities for Whole Foods Market, the grocer says. Thunderbird is a Local Producer Loan Program loan recipient.