In Episode 100 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on June 22, 2013, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Bill Acevedo, chair of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Dick Lyons, co-host of the Wendel Forum and co-founder of Wendel’s sustainable business practice group.

Richard Lyons, co-host of The Wendel Forum and Wendel Rosen Green Business Attorney

Richard Lyons, co-host of The Wendel Forum and Wendel Rosen Green Business Attorney

In the early 1980’s, Lyons was practicing business law when he worked on one of the early wind power projects in the Altamont Pass.  Since that time, he has continued to work on wind power projects and has worked with solar power companies too.  Before long, he began to hear about the business activity related to natural and organic products.  He attended his first Expo West – the trade show devoted to natural and organic products – in the 1990’s.

“I was amazed by the number of companies, the different types of foods and the overall energy of the people,” he recalls. The natural products industry expanded even more with the creation of Whole Foods, which retailed natural products across the nation.  Since then, he’s represented many natural foods companies, including United Natural Foods Inc., which is now a $5 billion company thanks in part to mergers and acquisitions that Lyons worked on.

Around the same time, Lyons wanted to create a cohesive law firm practice group that would focus on representing companies that benefited the environment. As co-founder of Wendel’s sustainable business practice group, he also wanted to incorporate sustainable practices into the law firm itself.  Together with his co-founders, he was able to convince his partners that recycling and energy saving measures were also good business.

Sustainable business start-ups face many of the same issues as new companies in other industries, but they often have specialized concerns, according to Lyons.  For example, if the product is certified organic, there may be supply chain issues.  In addition, these companies are often formed not just to make a profit but also to achieve larger social goals such as having positive effect on the environment and their community.  They also need capital from investors that have the same social values and expectations about the return on investment.

From co-hosting The Wendel Forum radio show, Lyons (who, incidentally, played and recorded the Forum’s intro and outro music) learned that people start sustainable companies for one or more of the following reasons: they had an epiphany related to sustainability, they wanted healthy products for themselves that they couldn’t find, or they wanted to benefit the environment and the community.

We’d love it if you would share your favorite Wendel Forum moment with us. What was your favorite interview with Dick as host?

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Lyons: Episode 100 of The Wendel Forum (27:52 mins; mp3)

960 KNEW AM Radio website: http://www.960KNEW.com

Wendel Rosen’s Sustainable/Green Business Practice Group: http://www.wendel.com/greenbusiness  

Bill Acevedo’s online profile: http://www.wendel.com/wacevedo

Dick Lyons’s online profile: http://www.wendel.com/rlyons

In Episode 96 of The Wendel Forum  (originally aired on April 27, 2013, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Dick Lyons, co-founder of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Terry Hunt, CEO of Wild Planet Foods, which supplies sustainably caught seafood.

 Terry Hunt, CEO of Wild Planet Foods

Terry Hunt, CEO of Wild Planet Foods

In 2000, William Carvalho, the founder of Wild Planet Foods, attended a presentation about overharvesting at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  According to Hunt, Carvalho had an epiphany then, deciding he wanted to help conserve wild marine ecosystems.  He vowed to never again source or sell fish from an unsustainable fishery.  Today, the company’s albacore tuna, its primary product, is sourced internationally only from sustainable fisheries.

For Wild Planet Foods, being “sustainably caught” is a high hurdle.  Specifically, the bycatch must be close to zero. That is, the company works only with fisheries that “poll and troll” – using one pole to catch one fish, as opposed to long lining.  Also, the fishery’s catch method must not damage the marine ecosystem, and the local fish population must not be under stress or in decline.  Following these principles, Wild Planet Food is rated green by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.

In addition to serving as CEO of Wild Planet Foods, Hunt is also the founder of Preserve Capital Group.  The boutique investment company’s mission is to provide funding advice for businesses launching a new product.  Hunt works with them to build a business and sales plan.  Past Preserve Capital companies include CleanFish, supplier of high-end sustainable seafood, and SunSpire, maker of natural, handmade confections.

Does sustainability matter to you in purchasing seafood?

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Hunt: Episode 96 of The Wendel Forum (27:42 mins; mp3)

Wild Planet Foods Website: http://www.wildplanetfoods.com

Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Website:  http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/seafoodwatch.aspx

Preserve Capital Group Website: http://preservecap.com

960 KNEW AM Radio website: http://www.960KNEW.com

Dick Lyons’s online profile: http://www.wendel.com/rlyons

 

In Episode 91 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on March 9, 2013, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Dick Lyons, co-founder of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Michael Funk.  Funk is a pioneer of the natural foods industry; founder and chairman of United Natural Foods, Inc. (UNFI) and co-founder of Non-GMO project of California (a non-profit organization that educates consumers and builds sources of non-GMO products).

Michael Funk

Michael Funk, founder and chairman of UNFI

Genetic engineering began in the late 1980’s.  While the practice can be beneficial, Funk suggests applying the precautionary principle by which new technologies are proven safe before their widespread circulation. Existing GMO research is largely funded by the biotech industry, which, Funk says, is not independent.  Therefore, he’d favor a moratorium on GMOs in foods until further research has been done about its health and environmental impacts.  Already, there’s an epidemic of “super weeds” that are resistant to herbicides.  As a result, super weeds are, ironically, requiring more and different chemicals to grow foods.

In the meantime, Funk advocates labeling foods with GMOs.  Currently, there’s no federal or state oversight on labeling, a practice that can be tricky because although it’s easy to identify a genetically modified ear of corn, tracking down the origin of micro ingredients such as corn starch or corn syrup in another product is challenging.  The Non-GMO Project has developed a consumer shopping app that verifies GMO status of more than 9,000 products.

Nearly 50 countries – including the EU, Russia and China – already have mandatory GMO labeling.  In the US, intense lobbying by the biotech industry (outspending labeling advocates 10 to 1) has prevented labeling laws.  Studies show that once GMOs are noted on a food label, consumers chose not to buy it.

What do you think about GMO labeling?

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Funk: Episode 91 of The Wendel Forum (27:50 mins; mp3)

United Natural Foods Web Page: https://www.unfi.com/Pages/default.aspx

Non-GMO Project: http://www.nongmoproject.org

960 KNEW AM Radio Website: http://www.960KNEW.com

Dick Lyons online profile: http://www.wendel.com/rlyons

In Episode 85 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on November 17, 2012, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Dick Lyons, co-founder of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Kelly Boyd, founder of My True Nature, a line of natural body care products for children.

Kelly Boyd, founder of My True Nature

After Boyd’s first child was born, a baby nurse introduced her to natural products for kids.  Always interested in cooking and in organic foods, Boyd, a corporate securities lawyer and tech company executive, began developing her own formulations for personal care products, including bubble bath, shampoo, lotion and body wash.  She gave the products to friends, who tested them for her.  One of the things she learned in the process was how sensitive people are to scents.  In the process of finding the right formulation with the right scent, Boyd made more than 300 batches of her products.

After her second child was born, Boyd quit her job, and she and her husband financed and launched My True Nature.  Using all natural, largely organic ingredients, My True Nature products are manufactured locally in the Bay Area.  She describes them as “mainstream green,” meaning they look and feel like comparable mainstream products.  For example, the shampoo and body wash suds up and the bubble bath does, in fact, bubble.

Initially, Boyd sold the products to friends, who helped spread the word by putting the products in gift bags at birthday parties.  Later, she began selling online, including offering group deals through sites like Groupon.  Some of her products are now in “brick & mortar” stores, but the majority of her sales come from the big internet retailers, such as Amazon.com.

Boyd says that it was important that she not have investors in her company.  With her experience in the legal and tech company worlds, she knew investors would demand, and rightfully so, that she spend her entire time and energy on building the company.  And she knew that she would feel responsible to do so.  Instead, without having investors to answer to, she can devote the time and energy she wants to her children.  She recognizes that her company will grow more slowly, but the real payoff is that she can be the kind of mom she wants to be.

Boyd believes the rigidity of corporate jobs is contributing to the emergence of a generation of mothers who are starting companies.  In fact, Boyd believes there’s no better time than now for a woman to start a business.  There are funding sources particularly looking for women entrepreneurs, especially women launching green businesses.

Do you know green mompreneurs like Boyd?

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Boyd: Episode 85 of The Wendel Forum (27:46 mins; mp3)

My True Nature Website: http://www.mytruenature.net

960 KNEW AM Radio Website: http://www.960KNEW.com

Dick Lyons’s online profile: http://www.wendel.com/rlyons

In Episode 82 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on October 27, 2012, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Bill Acevedo, chair of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Caroline Duell, the founder of Elemental Herbs, an organic body care company based on the central coast of California.

With a background in herbal medicine, Duell is a massage therapist and outdoor enthusiast who began making skin care products for her friends and family.  Later, after success selling the products at farmers markets, she launched Elemental Herbs, a California certified B Corporation.  That certification is to sustainable business what Fair Trade certification is to coffee – it measures a company’s commitment to operating a business responsibly and sustainably.

Caroline Duell, Founder of Elemental Herbs

Duell also runs a farm, from which she harvests some ingredients for her natural healing products such as All Good Goop, a moisturizer and salve.  While Duell also gets ingredients from outside suppliers, she only partners with similar-minded businesses.  In particular, she examines other companies’ employee benefits, utilities use, social benefits and transparency.  Though not certified organic, all Elemental Herbs holistic products and remedies contain organic ingredients and are free of GMOs (genetically modified organisms).

The Elemental Herbs farm also offers a CSA (community supported agriculture) and serves as an education center, including offering courses about sustainable living.  As a member of 1% for the Planet, one percent of all Elemental Herbs revenues is dedicated to fighting for social and environmental justice around the world.  Organizations it supports include a local marine mammal protection organization, a local trail organization, Save Our Snow, which provides information about how global warming affects the planet’s snowfall, and cityWILD, which brings inner city kids into the mountains.

Do you care about the company policies, as well as the ingredients, of your skin care products?

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Duell: Episode 82 of The Wendel Forum (26:47 mins; mp3)

Elemental Herbs website: http://elementalherbs.com

B Corporation website: http://www.bcorporation.net/

1% for the Planet website: http://onepercentfortheplanet.org/en/

960 KNEW AM Radio website: http://www.960KNEW.com

Bill Acevedo’s online profile: http://www.wendel.com/wacevedo

In Episode 76 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on September 15, 2012, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Dick Lyons, co-founder of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Ben Lee, director of business development at San Francisco-based CircleUp, a crowd funding platform founded in April.

Ben Lee of CircleUp

Ben Lee of CircleUp

CircleUp provides an online mechanism for consumer products companies and retailers to reach out to a broad network of potential investors, who may fund the companies in exchange for equity. CircleUp, which affiliated with WR Hambrecht, takes a commission.

So far, they’ve received 600 applications; they’ve selected 10 companies and four – including a baby skin care brand and an organic food brand – have been successfully funded.  CircleUp’s team serves as a curator for the investors. In evaluating companies, they look for businesses with $1 million to $10 million in annual revenue.  Usually these companies are seeking to raise $500,000 to $2 million to launch new products and achieve the next stage of growth. The typical investment is $5,000 to $25,000 (while each company’s offer is different, these are generally in the form of preferred stock shares); CircleUp assists with larger transactions offline.

While CircleUp streamlines what can otherwise be a year-long funding process, raising money through the platform can still take several months. Although CircleUp selects companies and presents opportunities, investors must do their own due diligence.  Like any private company investment, crowd funding is risky and the investment horizon may be three to seven years.

Lee says CircleUp’s goals include enhancing the ecosystem around consumer products, helping as many small consumer brands get financing as possible, and making sure CircleUp’s platform is a great experience for investors and companies.

Have you participated in crowd funding?  What do you see as the biggest opportunities and challenges to this form of financing?  

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Lee: Episode 76 of The Wendel Forum (27:56 mins; mp3)

Circle Up Website: https://circleup.com

960 KNEW AM Radio website: http://www.960KNEW.com

Dick Lyons’s online profile: http://www.wendel.com/rlyons

In Episode 59 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on April 14, 2012, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show host Dick Lyons welcomes Morris Shriftman, a brand strategist for natural foods and green products, and CEO of Mozart, Inc. (A classical music fan, Morris’ company name carries the name of the great composer and is a double entendre on his name: “Mo’s Art.”)  He also serves on the board of the American Botanical Council, which provides consumers with credible information about plants and herbs used in natural medicine.

Morris Shriftman of Mozart Inc. visits The Wendel Forum studio

Morris Shriftman of Mozart Inc. visits The Wendel Forum studio

A marketing expert, Morris has been focused on the natural food and alternative medicine industry since 1970.  He began as brand consultant in New York.  In the 70’s, he met the founders of Tree of Life and was hired as vice president of marketing, where, he says, he gained a “360 degree perspective” on the wellness industry, handling product creation, development, manufacturing, packaging, distribution, marketing and retail partnerships.

Tree of Life became both a major national distributor of natural products and had its own line of branded natural products.  Among other things, Morris designed the well-known “Tree of Life” logo.  In 1985, when Tree of Life was sold, he founded Mozart, Inc., which “creates products and builds brands for companies doing the right thing, including using healthy ingredients, removing objectionable ingredients and having the courage to be transparent.”

Dick and Morris discuss how natural products companies can communicate their message to retailers and consumers, a particular challenge for smaller, undercapitalized companies that can’t afford the marketing practices of larger companies, such as product placements, public relations, trade advertising, events marketing or consumer advertising.  Those companies have to be inventive, Morris says.

Fortunately, social network marketing is an inexpensive way to reach a narrow audience of people who share similar values, what Morris calls “narrowcasting” (as opposed to broadcasting). Better than a new logo or slogan, narrowcasting permits a small company to convey its mission directly to communities that will be drawn to the mission.  That happened for Avalon Natural Products where Morris was brought in as senior vice president of marketing. 

He led the company to eliminate allergens and artificial and petroleum-based ingredients, including parabens, a preservative implicated in breast cancer.  Avalon’s “consciousness in cosmetics” mission resonated with The Breast Cancer Fund, an organization that informs women about the environmental causes of breast cancer. Collaborating with The Breast Cancer Fund and networking with other women’s health organizations and green scientists became a major driver in Avalon’s marketing.  That kind of work, Morris explains, can distinguish a company and create empathy with consumers.

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Morris Shriftman: Episode 59 of The Wendel Forum (27:31 mins; mp3)

Mozart, Inc. website: http://www.mozartinc.com/

American Botanical Council website: http://abc.herbalgram.org/site/PageServer

Tree of Life website: http://www.kehe.com/treeoflife/Home.aspx

Avalon Natural Products website: http://www.avalonorganics.com/

The Breast Cancer Fund website: http://www.breastcancerfund.org/

960 KNEW AM Radio website: http://www.960KNEW.com

Dick Lyons’s online profile: http://www.wendel.com/rlyons

I scream, you scream, we all scream for (organic, fair trade, unique, delicious) ice cream!

In Episode 58 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on April 14, 2012, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show host Bill Acevedo welcomes Neal Gottlieb of Three Twins Ice Cream.

Neal discusses the life path that led him from corporate finance to ice cream, with a stint in the Peace Corps along the way.  When he founded Three Twins, he was determined to build a company that honored his values, as well as offering him a reasonable living.

Neal Gottlieb of Three Twins Ice Cream visits The Wendel Forum

Neal Gottlieb of Three Twins Ice Cream visits The Wendel Forum

According to Neal, organic ice cream has been done before, but not well.  The early attempts from some of the bigger names on the ice cream scene typically made organic varieties in boring flavors (vanilla, chocolate or strawberry) and saw it as an opportunity to sell smaller containers while charging more money than for their conventional flavors.   

By contrast, the Three Twins model puts organic at the core of the product, rather than as an afterthought.  In addition to using basic organic ingredients, Three Twins concentrates on building up multiple flavor layers in its ice creams for surprising twists on classics.  An increasing number of Three Twins’ flavors are using certified Fair Trade products as well.

Bill and Neal discuss what it means for a business like Three Twins to obtain USDA Certified Organic and Fair Trade certified designations. They also discuss the company’s corporate giving initiatives, which include membership in 1% for the Planet and their new giving initiative “Ice Cream for Acres.” Through the Ice Cream for Acres program, Three Twins makes a donation to Global Wildlife Conservation, an environmental nonprofit that buys large tracks of land to protect habitat for endangered species.  For each one pint purchase, Three Twins donates enough money to buy at least six square feet of land.  To date, the company has underwritten the purchase of 100 square acres and they expect they’ll be able to facilitate the purchase of thousands of acres in the next few years with their anticipated growth.

Where can you find these delicious sweet treats?  On the East Coast you can find them in Whole Foods (except in New York and New Jersey) and Fresh markets. On the West Coast, they currently have a larger footprint in Whole Foods, neighborhood corner bodegas, and some conventional grocery stores.  But perhaps the most fun you’ll have is if you’re lucky enough to encounter the “pimped out” ice cream truck (which is really a refurbished school bus) known affectionately as “Carl.”

Carl the Three Twins Ice Cream Bus

Carl the Three Twins Ice Cream Bus

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Neal Gottlieb: Episode 58 of The Wendel Forum (27:20 mins; mp3)

Three Twins Ice Cream website : www.threetwinsiceream.com

Global Wildlife Conservation website: http://globalwildlife.org/

1% for the Planet website: http://onepercentfortheplanet.org/en/

960 KNEW AM Radio website: http://www.960KNEW.com

Bill Acevedo’s online profile: http://www.wendel.com/wacevedo

In (originally aired on April 7, 2012, on 960 KNEW AM radio) show host Bill Acevedo talks to Christopher Angell, co-founder and president of Jungell, makers of Angell organic candy bars and GlucoLift all natural glucose tablets.

Co-founded with his wife, Suzanne, Jungell Inc. makes better versions of products the couple

Christopher Angell, Founder of Jungell

Christopher Angell, Founder of Jungell

feels passionate about.  The two grew up loving candy bars, but realized as adults that they would have to stop eating them after reading the labels.  You’ve probably seen organic or fair trade chocolate bars in your favorite health food stores, but Angell’s line of products are the first true organic and fair trade candy bars on the market.  They make a point to bring their own flavors to products and not just make an organic copy of what’s already on the market. 

Why make candy that’s both organic and fair trade?  Christopher believes if your interest in organic goes beyond your own health benefits to include the health of the environment (for example, the overall environmental and human health impacts of pesticides in farming), you’ll realize that the two go hand in hand.

Christopher and Bill discuss the organic and fair trade certifications and what goes into receiving those designations, including buying component ingredients from certified farms, inspections from certifying agencies and restrictions on genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) in food products, as well as the fertilizers and pesticides used in many farming operations that typically supply the candy industry.

A relatively new company (launched in 2010), Angell generated significant interest in the marketplace and recently announced the sale of the candy bar operations to Betty Lou’s, another organic snack manufacturer that was a contract manufacturer of the bars. 

With the transfer of the candy bar business, Jungell is now focusing on its other major product, GlucoLift, which is an all natural glucose tablet designed to help raise blood sugar in a safe and quick way.  Christopher, who has diabetes, saw a need in the glucose tablet market and put his product creator hat on to come up with a better solution.

As he had discovered in the candy bar industry, most of the glucose products available to those managing diabetes and hypoglycemia were filled with additives, artificial ingredients and questionable GMO components. Christopher thought he could do better. The result of his work was GlucoLift, the first all-natural glucose tablet on the market.  And while he was at it, he made them palatable, in a series of fruit flavors and in packaging that made it easy for someone experiencing the symptoms of low-blood sugar to manipulate. 

What’s next for Jungell?  As the company wraps up the sale and transition of Angell Bars to the new owners, Jungell will continue to focus on GlucoLift.  And Christopher and Suzanne will look for the next need in the marketplace where they can make a difference.
 

Post Links:

Interview with Christopher Angell: Episode 57 of The Wendel Forum(27:53 mins; mp3)

Jungell website: www.jungell.com

Betty Lou’s website press release: http://bettylousinc.com/news_detail.php?id=38

960 KNEW AM radio website: www.960knew.com

Bill Acevedo’s online profile: www.wendel.com/wacevedo

In Episode 54 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on March 17, 2012, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show host Dick Lyons continues his conversations with attendees of Natural Products Expo West 2012 in Anaheim.  The show sees nearly 60,000 attendees and more than 2,000 exhibitors showcasing their products, including a wide range of natural living products, specialty foods, natural ingredients, supplements, and health and beauty aids.  In addition there are numerous seminars and presentation, as well as informal discussions on topics from fair trade and supply chain issues to organic labeling and greenwashing. 

Photo of Arran Stephens, President & Founder of Nature's Path

Arran Stephens, President & Founder of Nature's Path, talks GMOs

In this episode, Dick talks with Arran Stephens, President and Founder of Nature’s Path, an organic cereal manufacturer in North America. The two discuss Genetically Modified Organisms, or GMOs, and their impact on our ecosystem and food supplies. In California, there is currently a signature campaign to put a proposition on the ballot that, if passed, would require product labeling so consumers will know whether their food has been made with genetically modified organisms. 

 

What’s a GMO?

To genetically modify plants, bacterial DNA is spliced into the DNA of the plant.  The bacterial DNA then may make the plant produce its own bacterial pesticide, thereby reducing the need for chemical pesticides (at least in theory), or make it more resistant to herbicide.  The modified plant becomes a transgenic organism because it has had the genes of another organism spliced into its genome.

Whether humans consume GMOs directly by eating transgenic plants or indirectly through animals that have been fed GMO feed, GMOs are common in our supermarkets.  In fact, Arran claims that about 85% of all foods consumed from our supermarkets contain GMO ingredients. There is little known about whether there may be long term consequences.

Since labeling is not currently required in the U.S. or Canada, it’s hard for consumers to know whether their food contains GMOs. Around 50 other countries in the world currently require labeling, from Japan to Germany and Brazil to Saudi Arabia.

 

How can you avoid GMOs?

U.S. consumers can avoid eating transgenic food by choosing to eat certified organic food. If a food wears the USDA Organic Seal, the product can be traced back to the source. However, even that doesn’t account for “drift” in our agricultural system.  A field of corn or soy that is grown organically may still get some amount of background or trace contamination from naturally occurring cross-pollination with neighboring fields that have been planted with GMO plants. 

Nature’s Path and many other concerned food manufacturers participate in a voluntary program, the Non-GMO Project, which was started in 2005. It’s a non-profit organization that puts products through lab testing to determine if there are trace amounts of GMOs. The testing is expensive, but many food producers, especially those who operate on a high-volume scale, find that it is worth the expense.

For Arran and others in the non-GMO movement, the first big battle is to require labeling that will allow consumers to freely choose.

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Arran Stephens:  Episode 54 of The Wendel Forum (27:51 mins; mp3)

Nature’s Path website: www.naturespath.com

Non-GMO Project website: www.nongmoproject.org

Natural Products Expo West 2012 website: http://www.expowest.com/ew12/public/enter.aspx

960 KNEW AM Radio website: http://www.960KNEW.com

Dick Lyons’ online profile: http://www.wendel.com/rlyons

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