Conserving by Buying in Bulk with Bulk is Green Council’s Clint Landis

November 9, 2011

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and we’re honored to have with us on Green is Good Clint Landis, who’s the Chief Marketing Officer at Frontier Natural Products Co-op. Welcome to Green is Good. CLINT LANDIS: Thank you. Glad to be here. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Hey, Clint. You know, everybody that we have on this show are some of the greenest rock stars throughout the green revolution industry, cutting across all different verticals, and most of your journeys are all fascinating, much more fascinating than me sitting here and taking 20 minutes of our precious time to read your bio. Why don’t you share a little bit your unique journey with our listeners? Because there’s lots of young listeners out there, Clint, that want to be the next Clint Landis, that want to be the next visionary or leader in your sector. So share your journey a little bit before we get into talking about what you do day-to-day. CLINT LANDIS: OK. Thank you. I got my Master’s Degree in Marketing from the University of Iowa. I won’t say exactly how many years ago, but it was quite a few. I started out in the food industry as a brand manager in conventional food. I got a call one day from a headhunter about this little co-op in eastern Iowa that was looking for a marketer to work on their aromatherapy business called Aura Cacia. I said, “Well, you know what? That sounds interesting.” So I went there, and that was in 1993, and I’m still here today. It’s just been a real treat to work in an industry where there’s things A) that are more important than making money and that you can make great products, and you can do it in a natural, organic way, and also that you can make a difference through sustainability in both packaging and how you source. So it’s a treat to work in this industry. The great thing about it, also, is it’s a growing industry, so that’s a great place for a marketer to be. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You’re so very humble. You’re also the founding member of the Bulk is Green Council, which we’re going to be talking about today. CLINT LANDIS: I’m one of the two, yes. Thank you. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Yeah. This is the first time, and we’ve had so many wonderful guests on this show, and Mike and I are so honored and blessed in so many ways to be able to share all of you leaders of the green revolution with our listeners around the world, but this is the first time we’ve ever hit on this issue. Talk a little bit about what was the genesis behind co-founding the Bulk is Green Council, and what does the Bulk is Green Council really do? CLINT LANDIS: I’d love to. Our company, Frontier Natural Products Co-op, we started as a supplier of bulk herbs and spices. That’s how we started back in 1976. Still today, even though we do bottled spices and we do aromatherapy, as I mentioned earlier, our bulk business is still our largest business. We were just talking about bulk, and I was having dinner at Expo West, which is a natural products exhibition out in Anaheim, and I was sitting down with Scott Johnson from Trade Fixtures. They build all those pull bin displays that are in the bulk section. We were just talking about how to get the word out there about all the great advantages of buying bulk. Bulk was a really big thing in the sixties and the seventies in co-op stores and things like that, and there are still a lot of things today about bulk that people don’t understand, or maybe they’re a little intimidated by it. So we wanted to kind of just figure out a way to get to consumers, and to explain to them all the great benefits of buying your organic food in bulk. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it. So when did you start this exactly again? CLINT LANDIS: So that was in March of 2008, and not too long after that, we decided that we’d put together this Bulk is Green Council, and we recruited a number of other companies. Today we have Frontier, we have Lundberg Family Farms, we have the Hain Celestial Group, and we have SunRidge Farms, along with Trade Fixtures. As an organization, we meet and we discuss different ways to educate consumers and the trade about the advantages of buying in bulk, which we’ll get into in just a minute. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s wonderful because these are all amazing and wonderful brands. We’ve actually had a Lundberg family member on our show talking about the great work Lundberg Farms does, so we’re just so glad to have you today and also tie it into the Bulk is Green Council. For our listeners out there, Mike and I right now are on your beautiful and wonderful and very green website, www.bulkisgreen.org. So we’re going to talk about that today, but also just for our listeners, if you’ve got your iPad or laptop in front of you like Mike and I do, or your desktop, go to this website. Clint and his team have done a wonderful, very descriptive, very informative job at this website, and we’re going to get into that in a little bit. Talk a little bit about National Bulk Foods Week, which is coming upon us right now, and how, out of the Bulk is Green Council, you then created this National Bulk Foods Week, and why did you do that? CLINT LANDIS: Really, National Bulk Foods Week was a vehicle that we thought we could use to educate and celebrate buying your foods in bulk. We sat around and we came up that this is deserving of that, and if we could get stores around the country to participate and really make this a consumer event, that we can, as a country, work together to really celebrate the things that are so great about buying in bulk. Bulk foods, in this day and age, are more relevant than they ever have been. There are a number of things people don’t understand about buying in bulk, and it’s just because they haven’t done it yet. Everything from saving on packaging, which has never been more important than it is today, saving money – I mean, who doesn’t need to save money? With the economy the way it is, bulk is a phenomenal way to save money. It’s also a way to experiment and try foods maybe you hadn’t tried before, because you only have to buy a tiny amount. It’s not like you’re going into a club store and you have to buy 32 rolls of paper towels. Buying in bulk means you can buy a pinch or a pound. So we thought, “OK, let’s get natural foods stores and grocery chains across the country to participate in National Bulk Foods Week, put signage up in the stores, we’ll offer promotions to the stores on our products that we supply, and let’s get people into that section and start experiencing the fun and all the benefits associated with bulk. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it. So then, besides this great website, how do you engage shoppers to really do this and start understanding that, a pinch or a pound, it’s not about buying 40 rolls of toilet paper and 1,000 cans of soda? How do you get our listeners involved? How can our listeners get involved? CLINT LANDIS: Well, a couple of ways. One of the first things we did as the Bulk is Green Council is we developed a couple of YouTube videos. The purpose of those was to help people get over maybe a little bit of concern about not understanding how to go into a bulk aisle, what you do, and how you measure it, and things like that. So on YouTube, if you type Bulk is Green Council, you’ll find a couple of videos. One of them is how to shop in bulk, and it will make it real easy for you to understand A) how simple it is, and so when you go in there you don’t have to be afraid to try it because there’s no reason to be. And then there’s another video on there that shows how much time and money you can save by buying in bulk. So that’s one way. They can first be familiar with how to shop in bulk, then find your local store that carries bulk. I mean, they’re all over. There are tens of thousands of stores that carry bulk, so find that store. If you can’t find it, you can go to our website under Latest News, and it has a list of stores that are participating in the National Bulk Foods Week. They’re going to have those specials and they’re going to have those point of purchase displays and materials about National Bulk Foods Week. We have over 700 stores across the country that are participating. MIKE BRADY: You know, one of the things that I absolutely love – in case you’re just joining us right now, we’re on the phone with Clint Landis. Clint is the Chief Marketing Officer at Frontier Natural Foods Co-op. Clint, one of the stores where I shop – and there’s two, really, where I go – one, of course, is a big box club store, but the other grocery store that I go to has a tremendous bulk foods section. I mean, you’re talking about dried fruits, you’re talking about beans, legumes, just everything that you can possibly think of. When I come home, most of the stuff is bulk that we buy. My wife and I just absolutely love shopping that way. CLINT LANDIS: Well, we appreciate that plug, and I think that’s another thing that you bring up is it’s fun. It really is. You get to experience the food in a way that you can’t when something is inside of a package, inside of a cardboard box that’s sitting on a sterile shelf. So you’re there experiencing it, you’re smelling it, and you’re actually seeing the product. I’m sure you also appreciate the fact that you’re saving 30-60% on the products that you’re buying. MIKE BRADY: Sure, especially when it comes to spices. If we need just a dash of basil or something, we’ve got our little herb garden going, but there are certain things, like a pinch of saffron. You don’t really need a pound of that. As expensive a spice as that is, a pinch or a pound is exactly right on. CLINT LANDIS: Yeah, and I think that your other point about variety, the variety within a bulk section, as you mentioned, is immense. Whether it’s your cereal, your grains, your gluten-free oats, your spices, your chocolates, nuts, or whatever, it’s really a very broad selection. JOHN SHEGERIAN: On your website, bulkisgreen.org, I love the landing page because the picture there is exactly how it really is. When you see a beautiful aisle of bulk foods like that, as you pointed out earlier, Clint, to try new foods or to try a new trail mix or to try something, because it’s so visual and it’s so much fun to shop that way instead of through all this fancy packaged material that is highly stylized, but truly actually hides the transparency of the quality of the product. It’s just a great photo on the landing page there. Talk a little bit about people, profits, and planet. Those are the three major legs of sustainability that Mike and I focus here. Go back, Clint. Talk a little bit about the selfishness, the selfish good reasons for our listeners in the United States and around the world, frankly, to shop in bulk. Talk a little bit about the bottom line and other benefits to all three of those major points of sustainability that bulk shopping really hits upon. CLINT LANDIS: I think from a people standpoint, there are a couple things. First of all, we’re offering consumers a chance to really expand their budget. Like I said before, 30-60% is a general, although it can be a lot more than that. It’s real money, and that’s really important today, particularly for families that are going through tough times. The other thing about our organization is that we really promote organic, and all of our founding members are organic suppliers. What you find in the bulk section in these natural foods stores is mostly organic and natural products. As we all know, that’s a very important issue for our planet today. The other issue related to our planet is this packaging issue. I’ll give you an example on buying in bulk versus buying a packaged product. A box of cereal, the packaging would weigh about 73 grams for a typical box of cereal. If you were to go into a natural foods store and buy what you need in the same amount and put it in the bag and bring it home, you’re talking about 3 grams of packaging. So, you’re literally talking about a reduction of 70 grams of packaging with each purchase, so you can replace one million boxes with bags, and save 70 tons of waste in the household waste stream. That’s just one example. So, when we talk about the planet, we’re talking about organic and natural products, we’re talking about packaging reduction, we’re also talking about freight. When you’re shipping heavy packaging from the manufacturer to the distributor and then to the store, that costs money and you’re shipping a lot of air. When we ship bulk products to our retail stores, you’re shipping the actual product; you’re not shipping a lot of air. So, now all of a sudden, you’re saving in terms of carbon use, so there’s another savings there. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s so important. People don’t realize that, but I’m so glad you pointed that out. Also, isn’t there a food reduction waste also? CLINT LANDIS: Yeah, that was the other one I was going to get to. If you buy something and you use one-third of it and you throw it away, either it gets expired or whatever, that’s a waste. With bulk, this ability to buy a pinch or a pound really gives you the flexibility to buy just what you need. Now we’re throwing away less good food, and that just helps everybody. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Gotcha. Besides you, talk about the other organizations that are really involved with the Bulk Foods Council that our listeners will want to hear about. Obviously, Frontier is, and Lundberg and others. Who else that we should know? Who else that our listeners should be tuning into and tuning into their brands? CLINT LANDIS: Before I get to that, I would also just mention that the other people that they need to support are those local grocery stores and natural foods stores that are offering bulk sets. For example, Wegmans and Tops and Richards and the National Cooperative Grocers Association, these are all chains that are helping support the National Bulk Week. But there are a number of other companies. As I mentioned before, Sunridge Farms is a supplier of a wide variety. If it would help, I could even list a couple of things that some of these companies offer, so you know exactly what they offer. Cereals and candy and things like that, the Hain Celestial Group, which we talked about. Sunridge Farms has nuts, seeds, trail mixes, granola, grains, and beans. At Frontier, of course, we have the herbs and spices. We also have bulk teas. Tea is a really cool thing to buy in bulk because not only do you get to experience it and you get that great selection, but you’re also buying the highest quality tea. It’s a whole leaf tea. For 25 cents a cup, you can buy what you need, and really experience a really high-quality tea, as opposed to maybe something that comes in a bag. And then of course, as you mentioned, Lundberg is really the leader in rice. They’re another great supplier. And then Trade Fixtures, which makes the bins. Those are kind of the major bulk suppliers today. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Perfect. Now you have this National Bulk Foods Week coming up. How has the movement grown? Since you started this whole thing and started the Council in 2008 or so, how has it evolved? Is the movement growing? Are you getting more brands? Are you getting more families? Are you getting more stores? It took three years to get to 700 stores. What’s your goal, a couple thousand a year form now or two years from now? Where is this moving towards? CLINT LANDIS: We couldn’t be happier with the growth from last year because last year we had seven stores participating. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Yeah, you’ve done good. It looks like 693 extra. Good for you, Clint. CLINT LANDIS: It wasn’t such a huge disappointment because we really knew that the first year we just had to learn. So we went from seven stores last year to 700 this year, and I’d like to double that next year because there’s over 10,000 of these stores out there. The other neat thing that we got this year is we have seven states that have made state proclamations, that October 16-22 is National Bulk Foods Week. We even had some states that participated with us, and we’ll get a lot more of them next year as well. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Gotcha. Your other council members and others – besides the stores and besides the movement getting more and more publicity in terms of more groups joining, more brands joining, how’s that going? Do you want to have 50 brands be part of your Council, or is this a good number? How does that work in terms of decision making and also growth and democratization of the whole movement? CLINT LANDIS: That’s a really good question. I don’t have what I know is the exact correct answer. What I can tell you is that we feel pretty comfortable with our ability to manage the group at the size that we are today. While it’s true that all bulk companies benefit from the work we do because we’re not out promotion our own products, necessarily. We’re really out promoting bulk as a category, but when you’re just kind of volunteering as a group and it takes a certain amount of people’s time and coordination, that if it were to get too big, it might become difficult to manage, and you’d start to enter other things outside of growing bulk foods. So, right now, we would certainly invite other members, but we are not really actively pursuing more. But that could change down the road. You know what? We’ve been working together since 2008. I feel like we work really well together. We’re on the same page, making progress, so I’m not sure we want to change that formula too much. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Given that our show is heard and people download it off of the iTunes network in Paris and in Brazil and in Shanghai and in Seoul, is this a movement that you feel is growing around the world, or is it really a movement that started in other countries, and we’re now just bringing it here to the United States? CLINT LANDIS: That’s interesting that you bring that up. Your very first question, you asked me how this started. It was myself and Scott Johnson talking, and he had brought up to me that there was something called the RAP study, which was done in the U.K. The RAP study, which is on our website — you can download it — was the first attempt at a quantitative measure of the savings of bulk, not only the savings to the consumer, but also the environmental savings in packaging and freight. He was talking to me about that, and we had to get this out to people. So that actually came from the U.K., and so yes, it certainly it definitely is in other countries. The other thing is we have now just signed up Portland State University, and some of the funds from the Bulk is Green Council are going to them to perform an additional study here in the States that quantifies these savings and the environmental impact of bulk. So we’re so very excited about having some results next year to publish about that. JOHN SHEGERIAN: For the upcoming National Bulk Foods Week, and for others around the United States and around the world that want to get more involved with this, I know I’ve read that you have some tips to commemorate this week coming up. Can you share with our listeners things that they can do to really sort of jump in and dip their toe in and really be a part of this? CLINT LANDIS: Yeah. Get on our website, find a store that’s participating, go in the store, take a friend with you. Watch the video. Learn how to shop in bulk. Take a friend with you and go in together and shop the bulk aisle. Quantify how much you saved while you were there, and then tell your friends and put it on your Facebook and Twitter it, and talk to people about your experience in buying bulk. With social media today, it’s such an awesome platform for smaller companies like us and for consumers to share with them those things. The thing about bulk, and the reason it’s fun to tell other people and take them to the store, there’s nothing bad about it. Let’s see. It saves money, it’s better for the Earth, it’s organic, it tastes great, and it’s fun. I mean, who doesn’t want to share that with somebody? JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s a win on every level. That is just such a win. Talk a little bit about your own brand, the Frontier Natural Products. It seems as though the green revolution is starting to get some wind at its back here in the United States, whether it’s solar or wind, or whether it’s recycling, or whether it’s eating more organic, or whether it’s even eating more vegan food or eating under those rules and procedures. How does that affect what you’re doing at Frontier Natural Products, and how have you seen the growth of your company? CLINT LANDIS: Yeah, since 1976, we’ve been committed to all the things that have now become popular to talk about, like sourcing sustainably, like recycling, like reducing emissions, like offering products that are organic and not treated with pesticides and fertilizers. These are things that we did in ’76, whether anybody cared about it or not. So we haven’t changed at all. We’re exactly the same as we used to be. It’s just now, all the things that we were doing back then just because we wanted to, are now resonating with consumers. So it hasn’t been us having to change our story or shift to the moving tide of what consumers are talking about or the media, or any of those kinds of things. That’s true of many natural food companies, it’s not just a Frontier phenomenon. We just stayed right where we were, and people started coming this direction. It’s not a surprise, right? It’s not a surprise that over time people want products that aren’t treated with ethylene oxide and chemical fumigants. It’s common sense that over time people are going to start moving that direction, so we just stayed put. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That stuff sounds scary, by the way. I don’t know what it is, but man, you just scared me. Clint, the other great thing about having great people like you on as our guest, Mike and I, the whole generation of young folks, that when they listen to this show, and they’re on a college campus or they’re in graduate school or they are in their first job, but they realize they want to go do something else where they can change the world every day, look backward a little bit. If our listeners are typically going to listen to this show and they’re going to e-mail Mike and I, “How do I become the next Clint Landis?” Share some of your pearls of wisdom on not only your journey, but some of the pearls that you’ve learned from in terms of our young listeners out there that really want to take your place one day at that right juncture. CLINT LANDIS: That’s a great question. I’m going to speak as a marketer, because that’s what I am. I think as a marketer, if you have a passion for the channel and industry, that’s great, and it’s definitely a plus. But as a marketer, it’s not that much different, in that you have to understand who your consumer is, you have to understand how to differentiate yourself and your company from others, and you have to figure out a way to add value through your brand. That’s typical, even among conventional or some of the large CPG companies. The fourth element, though, if you’re in our industry, is that there’s a huge connection between doing good and growing your brand. That may not be true for other brands out there, really large brands, but I think that you A) you’ve got to have the fundamentals of marketing. It’s not a matter of just coming in, shooting from the hip, and doing things. You still have to do the research. You still have to know that you’re making money, a margin that makes sense. You still have to understand your customers, so there’s still a lot of hard work and a lot of quantitative work. Now, once you’ve recognized that you still have to do that, that fourth element, that cool part, which is making the world better and still being able to do it under a profitable company, that’s the one that really makes it fun and it appeals to certain people. But you’ve still got to have your background, and it’s still a lot of hard work, but if you commit yourself to it and you love the industry, it’s a great combination. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, obviously, you’ve got it all going because you love what you do. It just comes across in your voice, Clint, and you are always welcome to come back on Green is Good. Mike and I, unfortunately are out of time today, but like we said, good luck with the upcoming Bulk Foods Week. Any time you want to talk more about the Bulk is Green Council and all the great work that you’re doing, you have an open invitation to come back on here. Clint Landis, you are a visionary and sustainability leader, and truly living proof that green is good. CLINT LANDIS: Thank you. Thanks for the opportunity, and keep up the good work.