“All of the companies that were on this year’s list [of supplier award honorees], or which are in Whole Foods stores in general, were started by people who were just really passionate about wanting to either make something that wasn’t available but that was important to them, or make something that made a difference in the world,” A.C. Gallo, president and chief operating officer at Whole Foods Market, told FoodNavigator-USA.
In addition, he said, they meet the retailer’s and customers’ high standard of quality.
“What we are looking for generally are companies that have a particular commitment to either quality or innovation or creating a whole new category that hasn’t existed before, or to organics or non-GMO. So, things that are really important to our customers and products that really resonate with our customers,” he said.
He further explained “our customers are really looking for innovative products. Products that are really special. Products that are extremely high quality.”
Kuli Kuli and Kettle & Fire represent the passion Whole Foods seeks from partners
This includes products like those made by Kuli Kuli, which has played a pivotal role in bringing moringa to the US and making the superfood approachable by using it in familiar products, such as teas, nutrition bars and energy shots.
Whole Foods recognized Kuli Kuli’s founder Lisa Curtis for Women-led Entrepreneurship and for “creating this whole amazing company that has made a real difference” even though she had no idea how to start a company as a 23-year-old when she returned from Peace Corps where she learned about the healing properties of moringa, Gallo said.
“She had a passion for this particular plant … and a desire to want to do something that will make a difference in the world, which I think makes for some of the best products,” he added.
The founders of bone broth company Kettle & Fire share this passion, which helped them earn Whole Foods Market’s Rookie of the Year award. The company’s story also illustrates much of what Whole Foods looks for when considering what new products to stock and what new companies to support.
“There are so many companies who come to Whole Foods initially with an idea or a product or we may find them selling in a farmers’ market,” and “what we look for are products that are on trend – and certainly bone broth has been on trend for a few years,” Gallo said. But, he added, what stood out about Kettle & Fire’s bone broth was its quality.
In addition, positive customer reactions to the product spurred Whole Foods to slot Kettle & Fire in more stores and more regions, he said.
Whole Foods seeks companies on the cutting edge
Whole Foods also seeks to work with companies that are on the cutting edge and willing to try new approaches to continually meet consumers’ evolving demands. For these and other reasons, it recognized Miller Poultry as a Global Supplier of the Year.
“Even though they are a relatively small family run chicken processor, they have been on the forefront of many areas, including early adoption of not using antibiotics, early adoption of organic certification, offering air-chilled chicken, which provides a nice quality, and their progressive approach to animal welfare,” Gallo said.
He explained that when Whole Foods began working with Miller in the mid-1990s, it serviced only one store in Chicago, but now it supplies five of Whole Foods’ regions.
Pacha Soap Company also was recognized as a Global Supplier of the Year for its fast growth as a mission-based brand that supports clean water and entrepreneurial initiatives around the globe.
Winners represent Whole Foods Market values
Other winners also represented different values held by Whole Foods Market and its consumers, including:
- Lotus Foods, Blue Circle Foods and Kvarok Fiskeoppdrett for the environmental stewardship,
- Fage and Jacqueline’s Gourmet Cookies for their non-GMO commitment,
- GimMe Health Foods and Coke Farm for their organic commitment,
- Pacific Highway Wines & Spirits and Ocean Hugger Foods for their outstanding innovation,
- Golden Boy Foods and Rainer Fruit Company for their quality,
- Country Natural Beef and Conlego for service and partnership,
- Hearst Ranch Beef as supplier of the year for the Southern Pacific region,
- Terra Breads as supplier of the year for the Pacific Northwest region,
- Diestel Family Ranch as supplier of the year for Norther California region,
- Kitchfix as supplier of the year for the Midwest region,
- Plenus Group Inc. as supplier of the year for the Northeast region,
- Ela Family Farms as supplier of the year for the Rocky Mountain region,
- Eastern Carolina Organics as supplier of the year South region,
- Lancaster Farm Fresh Co-op as supplier of the year for the Mid-Atlantic region,
- Hans Kissle for supplier of the year North Atlantic region,
- Sushi Maki as supplier of the year Florida region, and
- Thunderbird as supplier of the year Southwest region.