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Spotlight on Jimbo's...Naturally! Selected by OCA as one of the 2013 ‘Diligent Dozen' Right to Know Grocers

  For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Genetic Engineering page, our Millions Against Monsanto page and our California News page.

Fifteen years ago, Jimbo Someck €“ grocer and father €“ set out on a mission: €œA piece of organic fruit in every child€™s recycled lunch bag.€

Today, Jimbo's success as an industry-leading natural foods grocer is the perfect example of how strong ethical values and a passion for providing the best quality products can generate commercial success.
Jimbo's... Naturally! is a thriving four- (soon-to-be-five) location natural foods retailer in the San Diego area with humble beginnings. Jimbo€™s interest in the natural foods business took root in the early 1970s, when he traveled to California to visit his brother. He took a job cutting up cardboard at what has since become the Ocean Beach People€™s Organic Food Co-op, also an OCA Diligent Dozen Star Grocer.

As his passion for organic foods and the retail business blossomed, Jimbo opened his first store in 1984. The original small, cramped store has since grown into nationally known chain. Throughout the company€™s evolution, Someck has remained true to the principles he espoused early in his career regarding organic foods. Today, 95 percent of produce sales at Jimbos€™ . . . Naturally! Stores are organic.

Jimbo uses the company website to educate consumers. Here€™s an excerpt from the site:

Why buy local and organic produce?
Economy: You are supporting small, family-owned farms and businesses, while building a sense of community.

Consumer: Fresher foods keep us healthier because we avoid food which has been prematurely picked, preserved using unnatural methods or transported long distances.

Sustainable Agriculture: Organic farms use natural resources to produce food in a regenerative and non-deteriorating way. They farm in harmony with nature so as not to compromise planetary life support systems or the capacity of future generations to nutritionally sustain themselves.

Jimbo€™s ethics are front and center in the store's mission: "We do the right thing, by providing the highest quality organic and natural foods." From Jimbo€™s 22-point product policy,  to the Jimbo's Naturally Bill of Rights, Jimbo's store policies are a natural extension of Someck€™s values.

Jimbo also takes seriously the €œrecycled lunch bag€ piece of his mission. In 2008, Jimbo's... Naturally! stopped providing customers with plastic bags. Every customer who brings in a reusable bag receives credit via a wooden nickel. All proceeds from the wooden nickels go to local nonprofits.

Jimbo says he€™s happy the stores are doing well financially, as it lets him support local organizations and causes. The company recently donated $10,000 to support Washington State€™s YES on 522 campaign to label GMOs. Last year, Jimbo€™s donated $10,000 to a similar initiative to label GMOs in California, Proposition 37.

Jimbo's... Naturally! believes in providing transparency about the company€™s purchasing standards, as evidenced by this statement on the company website:

Jimbo€™s€¦Naturally! Ingredient Standard: Avoidance of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms)
We do not claim to be GMO-free, we are moving in that direction. Going forward, we will do our best to limit any products that contain GMOs. In that vein, we prohibit ingredients that are most likely to contain GMOs.

Specifically, at this time and to the best of our ability, we will not accept any new items with non-organic corn, soy, canola, sugar beets, alfalfa, or Hawaiian papaya unless the Non-GMO Project certifies that item as GMO-free. This includes ingredients such as fructose that are produced using corn or soy. We strongly encourage any manufacturer that is making a non-GMO claim to verify that claim with the Non-GMO Project and to label their products accordingly.

Furthermore, to the best of our ability, Jimbo€™s€¦ Naturally! will not promote any item that contains an ingredient that is at risk for GMO contamination unless that product is certified organic (95% or more organic ingredients), verified as non-GMO by the Non-GMO Project, or the at-risk ingredient itself is certified organic.

Jimbo works at the national level to improve retail practices, and has won several awards. For example:

€¢    Jimbo was one of the four retail grocery owners who in 2005 founded the Independent Natural Foods Retail Association (INFRA), a cooperatively owned and governed resource for sharing best retail practices and for leveraging members€™ operational experiences and collective purchasing power (127 stores doing a collective $714 million in annual sales).

€¢    Jimbo's . . . Naturally! was chosen as "2012 Socially Responsible Retailer of the Year" by the Natural Products Association for its success in integrating social responsibility into multiple aspects of the company,  including volunteerism, education, employee empowerment, environment and health.

€¢    Jimbo's . . . Naturally! was named "2012 Retailer of the Year" by Whole Foods Magazine.

Jimbo€™s . . . Naturally!  was recently selected as one of the OCA€™s €œDiligent Dozen€ Right to Know Grocers. Here are excerpts from an interview with store owner Jimbo Someck.

On GMOs . . .

Q. When did Jimbo's Naturally! decide to take action to protect your customers from GMOs?

I had been hearing about GMOs for several years but did not initially recognize that this would turn into an industry-wide threat. I wanted to do something as an individual and as a grocer to address the issue. So five years ago, I signed our stores onto the Non-GMO Project as a participating retailer and later joined the project€™s retail advisory board.

Q. How did your store's GMO education, labeling and purchasing policies and practices come about?

When I became a member of the Non-GMO Project's Retail Advisory Board, the board sent letters to all major manufacturers stating its opposition to GMOs and requesting they remove GMO ingredients from their products. After receiving only a handful of responses, I realized that we needed to create our own non-GMO policy.

Q. What has been the most difficult aspect of keeping GMOs out of your store?

Our staff is removing suspect products that have been "grandfathered in" department by department. It€™s been especially difficult to find non-GMO alternatives for chips and for nutritional supplements and bodycare products.

Also, I had to address the concerns of our store managers about losing sales of GMO products to competitors. But once the decision was made, we found that we were actually building additional customer loyalty.

Q. Please share a few stories about your success in persuading manufacturers to remove or replace GMO ingredients in their products.

Our buyers have persuaded several manufacturers, including Endangered Species, Angie's Kettlecorn, Popcorn Indiana, Turtle Island (Tofurkey) and Sunfood Superfoods to switch out suspect ingredients for GMO-free ingredients, and whenever possible, organic ingredients.

I believe in working cooperatively with manufacturers to go GMO-free. But we also let manufacturers know that we will eventually replace their products with GMO-free alternatives if they do not have a plan for removing GMO ingredients. Our buyers meet with manufacturers and brokers, who now understand our position and don't offer GMO foods. Our stance on GMOs has led several manufacturers to enroll in the Non-GMO Project in order to keep us as a customer.

Q. What customer feedback have you received about your GMO policies and practices?

We were initially worried that we€™d lose customers. As it turns out, customers have been appreciative of our stance, which has actually led to an increase in sales.

Q. What tools could OCA or the natural foods industry provide that would help you and other grocers keep GMOs out of the food supply?

SPINS collects retail grocery sales data (like Nielson ratings) from thousands of grocers. What would be most helpful would be a database listing of at-risk ingredients in products sold by UNFI and other main distributors. Currently each store has to go product by product and section by section. Finding replacements for at-risk products is difficult and time consuming

Q. What would you like to tell other grocers thinking about taking products with GMO ingredients off their shelves?

I would tell them that our GMO policies have created a loyal customer base. Also, it€™s important to be clear with store staff about why non-GMO policies are being adopted, so staff can communicate more knowledgeably with customers.

It€™s also important to communicate a clear policy to your customers. We notify our customers when we plan to discontinue at-risk brands. Retailing involves a delicate balance between wanting to do what is right and best for industry and providing customers with what they want. If you educate your consumers, help them understand your policies and decisions, they will support you.

On Mission and Values . . .

Q. What makes your store special in the competitive natural foods marketplace?

Our focus on local, organic producers is key to cultivating customer loyalty and staying competitive.

Q. Describe your store€™s mission and values.

Doing the right thing, regardless of the impact on our bottom line. We€™ve found that if we take care of our employees, they will take care of our customers.

Q. How does your store express these values through your purchasing policies?

We have a strong internal policy about using organic ingredients in our deli whenever possible, even though those ingredients are more expensive. We€™re also committed to helping manufacturers switch to organic ingredients. And we won€™t carry products with at-risk ingredients.

Q. What are your store's goals?

We want to grow the company in an organic way, not in a way that hurts our employees. We want employees and customers to always feel that Jimbo's . . . Naturally! is meeting their needs.

Q. What actions can OCA take on behalf of your store and customers?

OCA provides a very valuable service in educating consumers about GMOs and the importance of GMO labeling and pushing for more organics. I appreciate OCA€™s passion on these two issues, these are the two issues Jimbo is most passionate about.

Personally speaking . . .

Q. What do you find most enjoyable and gratifying about the retail grocery business?

In the early days, it was working with farmers and bringing in the best produce possible. But as the company has grown, I€™ve been less able to be personally involved in this aspect of the business. Now, I find it satisfying to create a positive and happy work experience for employees. I also really enjoy hearing from customers, especially those who say they will always need to live close enough to a Jimbo's store to do their grocery buying there!

Q. How did you get interested in natural foods retailing, and what keeps you in the business?

I first became interested in the early 1970s when I worked for a food co-op. Now, I€™m hooked having a positive impact on employees and customers, and on continually improving the company and building our local organic business so we can support local producers.

We€™ve supported local and organic produce growers for over 25 years. We use a "Local and Organic" label for products grown on a farm in San Diego County. Once harvested, the produce is usually delivered directly to the Jimbo's stores, to maximize freshness and quality, and minimize the carbon foot print. 

Q. What else would you like us to know about your store?

Nothing, really. Just keep telling stories about non-GMO grocers to continue the critical work of educating retailers and the general public about the value of organics and the threat of GMOs.

While it certainly makes me proud that our stores have gotten many accolades over the years and now especially in light of our stance with GMO's, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the others who were in the forefront of this issue way before I was. Specifically Mark Squires from Good Earth Organic and Natural Foods and Bob Gerner from the Natural Grocer Company deserve a great deal of credit for being pioneers on this issue! They are the real heros!

Patrick Kerrigan is retail education coordinator for the Organic Consumers Association.

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