History of the Natural and Organic Foods Movement (1942-2020)

William Shurtleff, Akiko AoyagiISBN: 978-1-948436-15-1

Publication Date: 2020 April 9

Number of References in Bibliography: 3071

Earliest Reference: 1890

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Brief Chronology/Timeline of Natural and Organic Foods

1890 – A periodical titled Natural Food starts to be published in London. It ceases in 1896.

1900-1945 – During this time a number of writers deeply interested in good health and vegetarianism used the terms “natural food” or “natural foods” in their writings. These include Otto Carqué and Mildred Lager in Los Angeles. We have included selected works in this book.

An influential column titled “Care of the Body” ran in the Los Angeles Times from 1899 to 1939. It was edited by Harry Ellington Brook from 1908 to 1924, then by Philip M. Lovell (N.D. =Naturopathic Doctor) from 1924 to 1939. Like their employer, Harry Chandler, both believed in the “healing power of nature” and the importance of a good diet and plenty of exercise (Akasha).

1942 MayOrganic Farming and Gardening, a magazine edited by Jerome I. Rodale, starts to be published by Rodale Press in Emmaus, Pennsylvania. Note that the initial emphasis was more on farming than on gardening. In Oct. 1942 it was renamed Organic Gardening and Farming. These are the single most important periodicals in launching and developing the organic foods movement and industry in the United States, and eventually the Western world.

1946 May 3 – The Soil Association is founded in the United Kingdom by Lady Eve Balfour, Jorian Jenks and Friend Sykes.

1946 May 18 – Paul and Betty Keene purchase Walnut Acres, 104 rocky acres plus some dilapidated buildings, near Penns Creek, Pennsylvania. In 1988 Paul recalled:

“Finally, penniless except for two hundred dollars, a team of horses, an old rusting horse plow and harrow, second-hand furniture, an ancient car, and two small daughters, we were able to get a long term loan [$5,000] from government sources to purchase our very, very own farm of one hundred acres. Here our feet trod a portion of the earth leased for our lifetimes from the universe, to have and to hold precious and beloved until death do us part.”

“There was no furnace for central heating, no water heater except the kitchen range, no bathroom, no clothes-or-dish washers, no telephone, no refrigerator no freezer, no air conditioner, no T.V…”

1946 Dec. – Walnut Acres runs its first ad – in Organic Gardening magazine. In the classified ads section under “Organically-grown products” the only entry states: “Organically-Produced Foodstuffs. Our prime concern is the health of our soil, animals and produce. We use no sprays or chemical fertilizers. Several items now available. Your inquiry invited. Paul Keene. Walnut Acres. Penns Creek, Pa.” (p. 63).

1954 AprilNatural Food and Farming, the magazine of the second U.S. natural foods movement, starts to be published by Joe D. Nichols, M.D., in Atlanta, Texas.

1954 – Paul Keene of Walnut Acres helps to found the Pennsylvania chapter of the Natural Food Associates, based in Atlanta, Texas.

1956 April – Walnut Acres runs a 1/6 page ad in Natural Food and Farming – a sign of growing prosperity.

1961 Oct. – An excellent feature (5-page) article, “The Story of Walnut Acres,” by Ethyl DeLoach, is published in Natural Food and Farming. At this time, Walnut Acres has 20 employees and seven mills. All of the grain sold is raised on the farm. Only one crop is harvested from any particular field every two years. More than 10,000 customers order Walnut Acres' food by mail order.

1961The Natural Foods Cookbook, by Beatrice Trum Hunter, is published by Simon and Schuster (New York), with an introduction by Dr. Clive M. McCay (Prof. of Nutrition, Cornell University) and his wife, Jeanette. It is the first book of natural foods recipes.

1962 March – Chico-San in Chico, California, is officially incorporated as a manufacturer and importer (from Japan) of macrobiotic foods – such as Lima Tamari Soy Sauce, Black Soybeans, Azuki Beans and Barley Miso (first imported in 1962). Chico-San has other companies distribute their products.

1965 April – Fred Rohe (pronounced Rohé) borrows $5,000 and buys a health food store, Sunset Health Foods, at 1319 Ninth Ave, in San Francisco. But instead of stocking it with the usual health foods fare, he added fresh produce, animal products, baked goods, etc. During the first year business was slow, but then young people discovered him.

“His business doubled each year until 1970. Business was so good that he annexed a shop across the street and used it for a granary.”

In order to have uniform standards, Rohe organized a dozen retailers, growers and restaurateurs into a group named Organic Merchants. The group now (late 1970) has more than 50 members and ranges to Alaska and Hawaii (San Francisco Examiner. 1970. Dec. 25. p. 25).

1965 – Howard Rower starts the Infinity Food Co. in New York City as a distributor and importer of macrobiotic and natural foods.

1966 Jan. 13 – Erewhon opens as a small (10- by 20-foot) macrobiotic and natural foods retail store at 303-B Newbury Street (below street level) in Boston. Aveline and Michio Kushi are the founders, but Aveline is the sole owner. Evan Root is the first retail store manager. This is a key date in the origin of the natural foods industry and movement in America. Erewhon is the first store of its kind in America and it soon serves as a model for many other similar natural food stores across the nation.

1966 – Muso Shokuhin in Osaka, Japan is founded by Mr. Shuko Okada (Kotzsh 1984). Note: In 1982 Teizo Okada said that Muso was started in 1959.

1967 Aug. – Paul Hawken takes over the management of Erewhon (one small retail store) from Evan Root. He changes the name to Erewhon Trading Co. (from simply “Erewhon”) and starts to expand the business. In May 1968 Hawken incorporates Erewhon Trading Company.

1967 – The first Trader Joe’s store is started in Pasadena, California, by Joe Coulombe (pronounced COO-lomb). His store has a superb selection of wine and other alcoholic beverages. His philosophy is limited selection, high turnover.

1968 June – Hawken establishes his first supplier of organically grown grains, Ted Whitmer, a wheat farmer in Montana. By 1973 Erewhon had established and contracted with 57 farms in 35 states to provide the company directly with organically-grown foods. In Aug. 1968 Erewhon starts to import foods from Japan, initially from Muso Shokuhin, later from Mr. Kazama of Mitoku – which he founded in about 1969.

1968 Nov. – On Thanksgiving Day, Erewhon moves up and across the street to a much bigger and nicer location at 342 Newbury St. in Boston. Paul had hired Bruce Macdonald, a carpenter, to remodel this store. The company now has 6 employees: Paul Hawken, Roger Hillyard, Bruce Macdonald, Bill Tara, Jim Docker, and Jean Allison. One day later, Bill Tara leaves to start a macrobiotic East West Center in Chicago.

1969 March – Paul Hawken and Evan Root leave for Japan. Bruce Macdonald takes over as general manager of Erewhon. Paul stays in Japan for 9 months, arranging for individual packaging of products that were formerly imported in bulk, and finding new items for Erewhon to import. He visits suppliers, works with Mitoku and Muso, and studies Japanese language and culture.

1969 spring – Erewhon starts wholesaling foods, under the direction of Bruce Macdonald. Their first wholesale product is natural sesame oil.

1969 – Jim Baker opens The Source restaurant at 8301 Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood. It is his first solo and first vegetarian restaurant. It serves only natural foods and “organic” is written on the calligraphed menu.

1970 Jan. 1 – Erewhon's earliest existing catalogue seen (wholesale and retail) lists 7 pages of natural food products - most of them imported from Japan. By March 1970 Erewhon lists 96 products in its catalog.

1970 Oct. 8 – Erewhon Trading Co. Inc. opens in Los Angeles at 8003 Beverly Blvd. by signing a lease for a retail and wholesale grocery store (Tom DeSilva; Roger Hillyard).

1970 Dec. 25 – An article in the San Francisco Examiner (p. 25) titled “Natural Food Supermarket a Success,” begins: “Palo Alto – If there is any doubt that an organic food revolution is beginning it can be dispelled first by the appearance of the world’s only natural foods supermarket in nearby Palo Alto [near Stanford University] and second, by the success of the man who opened it.”

The article is about Fred Rohe, age 33, who is president and chairman of the board of New Age Natural Foods – also the name of the supermarket. He has a separate company that distributes organic produce.

1970 – Lifestream Natural Foods is founded in Vancouver, B.C., Canada by Arran and Ratana Stephens. It slowly evolves from a retail company to a distributor. It is later followed by Nature’s Path, Inc.

1970 is often said to be the year that natural foods “took off,” as sales and availability greatly increased.

1971 fall – Fred Rohe and Paul Hawken get together to write several leaflets describing why natural food store do not carry certain products: Titles of these include: “Lowdown on Edible Oils,” “The Oil Story,” “The Sugar Story,” “The NOT list,” etc.

1971 Jan.East West Journal starts to be published in Boston, Massachusetts. It is one of the earliest and most important magazines of the U.S. macrobiotic and natural foods movement that started in the 1960s.

1971 Feb. – Westbrae Natural Foods, founded in late 1970 as a natural foods distributor, opens for business in Berkeley, California, as a natural foods retail store. Bob Gerner is the head.

1971 Feb. – Essene Traditional Foods begins operation as a macrobiotic natural foods distributor in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (East West Journal).

1971 May – Tree of Life opens as a natural foods retail store in St. Augustine, Florida, founded by Irwin Carasso. In Feb. 1972 they start distributing natural foods and soon become the largest U.S. distributor.

1971 Sept. – Diet for a Small Planet, by Frances Moore Lappé, is published by Ballantine Books. A landmark book, it plays a major role in the rise of interest in meatless diets.

1971 Aug. 23 – Laurelbrook Foods begins operation as a macrobiotic natural foods distributor in Forest Hill, Maryland – founded by Rod and Margie Coates. They kept a post office box in nearby Bel Air.

1971 fall – Eden Foods in Ann Arbor, Michigan, begins distributing macrobiotic natural foods. In June 1971 they had begun wholesaling these foods out of the back of their retail store.

1971. Shadowfax begins operation as a natural food distributor, founded by Charlie Smail.

1972 Jan. – Janus begins operation as a macrobiotic natural foods distributor in Seattle, Washington. It is founded by George Gearhart and Blake Rankin.

1972 Nov. 21-24 – Meeting of natural foods distributors held at Pajaro Dunes, Watsonville, California. This was the third and most important meeting held by this group. The goal was to establish a natural foods trade association. A steering committee was appointed and issued a report. 14 companies were in attendance including Mr. Kazama of Mitoku, in Japan.

Mitoku is Japan’s natural foods pioneer (East West Journal, Jan. 1986, p. 18, 20-25).

1973 – Rainbow Grocery is started in Denver, Colorado by Mark Retzloff and David Rickard; it is a food co-op and natural food storefront. Rainbow quickly becomes a small distributor.

1974 March 7-8 – A meeting of natural foods distributors is held at the Janus conference room near Seattle, Washington. The meeting begins with a brief period of meditation. This meeting is a follow-up to the Dec. 1973 meeting in Toronto, Canada. Those in attendance are: Boyd Foster (Arrowhead Mills), Mike Potter (Eden), Bill Garrison (Erewhon / Boston), Loren Specter and Tom DeSilva (Erewhon / Los Angeles), Michael Pate (Erewhon / Toronto), Tom Swan (Food for Life), Rod & Margy Coates (Laurelbrook), Charlie Smail (Shadowfax), Irwin Carasso] (Tree of Life), Roger Hillyard (The Well), Frank Calpeno (Ceres), George Gearhart (Janus), Tim Hartman (Janus), Blake Rankin (Janus).

George Gearhart is selected chairman. Each company presented a brief report about its current status (unpublished manuscript).

1975 May 1-5 – Meeting of 11 natural foods distributors held at 62 Buckminster Road, Brookline, Massachusetts, the residence of Michio and Aveline Kushi – teachers of macrobiotics. The group decides to form a new organization. At this meeting the goals of an association are discussed and the name Natural Food Distributors Association is first decided.

Note: This association was never founded because the potential members were unwilling to provide the $25,000 collective funding deemed necessary.

1975 – Anthony and Susan Harnett buy an existing store named Bread & Circus in Brookline, Massachusetts for $30,000 and transform it into their first natural food retail store - without changing the name. By July 1976 the company is a chain with six stores. Note: It is unclear exactly when the first store opened (Whole Foods. 1990. Aug, p. 36+).

1976 – Michael Funk begins selling organic produce out of the back of his Volkswagen van. Soon after, he creates Mountain People's Warehouse in Auburn, CA, vowing “To Boldly Go Where No Distributor Has Gone Before.” It grew to become the largest full line natural foods distributor in the Western U.S. (www.UNFI.com/our-history).

1977 Feb. – Mrs. Gooch’s has the grand opening of her first one-stop natural-foods supermarket in Los Angeles (Los Angeles Times. Jan. 30, pp. 6). This store was “one-stop” because unlike most other natural food stores it carried meat.

She was a former kindergarten teacher who went on to build a successful chain of natural food supermarkets in Southern California. Gooch's rules – no sugar, white flour, chocolate, or coffee – were so stringent that any product she approved of became known as “Goochable,” and set a standard for the entire natural foods industry.

1977 Nov. – Between 1968 and 1973 sales of natural foods in the USA multiplied tenfold, from $60 million to almost $600 million (East West Journal, p. 39)

1978 Jan.Whole Foods: The Natural Foods Business Journal is founded in Berkeley, California. Steven Haines is publisher.

1978 – John Mackey and Renee Lawson borrow $45,000 from family and friends to open a small vegetarian natural foods store called SaferWay in Austin, Texas (the name being a spoof of Safeway) (Whole Foods Market website).

1979 Feb.Natural Foods Merchandiser begins publication. It is founded by Doug & Karen Greene in New Hope, Pennsylvania. This colorful, large-format magazine (11 by 15 inches) plays an increasingly important role in the growth of the natural food industry (NFM. Sept. 1995, p. 6).

1979 Aug. – Organic Merchants (OM) holds a meeting high (at 8,000 feet) on Mt. Shasta in Northern California, Fred Rohe, owner of New Age Natural Foods in San Francisco, calls the meeting to order. Sixty people, sitting on the ground, some in yoga postures, are gathered in a circle. 35 of them are organic food merchants mostly from California, and as far away as Portland, Oregon, and Los Angeles.

Fred Rohe says: “Let us have a few minutes of silence in gratitude for each other's presence here in the presence of this lovely mountain on this beautiful planet of ours.”

1980 Sept. 20 – John Mackey and Renee Lawson partner with Craig Weller and Mark Skiles to merge SaferWay with their Clarksville Natural Grocery, resulting in the opening of the original Whole Foods Market in Austin, Texas. At 10,500 square feet and a staff of 19, this store was quite large in comparison to the standard health [sic, natural] food store of the time (Whole Foods website).

1981 – The first Natural Products Expo is held at Anaheim, California, by New Hope Communications; there are 234 booths and 3,000 attendees (NFM. Sept. 1995, p. 6).

1982 April – Tree of Life, the largest natural food wholesale company in the southeastern USA is sold to a Jacksonville, Florida, businessman (Natural Foods Merchandiser, May)

1984 – Whole Foods expands inside Texas, first to nearby Houston and then to Dallas; that year it has 600 employees.

1984 – The largest natural food distributors in the USA are (with annual sales in millions of dollars):

1. Rainbow Distributing (Denver, Colorado) $13.

2. Arrowhead Mills (Hereford, Texas) $12.

3. Eden Foods (Clinton, Michigan) $10.

4. Rock Island Foods (Ignacio, California) $10.

5. Westbrae Natural Foods (Emeryville, California) $9.

6. Pacific Rim (Seattle, Washington) $7.

7. Cornucopia Natural Foods (Coventry, Rhode Island) $7.

1985 Dec. – Tree of Life (St. Augustine, Florida) is purchased for $15 million by Netherlands-based Royal Wessanen NV Co. [Koninklijke Wessanen nv, founded in 1765] (Whole Foods, Feb., p. 14).

1987 Feb. – Tree of Life buys Balanced Foods (formerly America’s largest health foods distributor, founded in 1939 by Sam Reiser), to become a nationwide natural foods distributor (Whole Foods, p. 14).

1987 – Wild Oats is founded by Michael Gilliland and his wife, Elizabeth Cook, with the purchase of the Crystal Market vegetarian natural foods store in Boulder, Colorado. In 1992, Crystal Market was re-named Wild Oats Vegetarian Market, and in the ensuing years the company began opening and acquiring other, small natural foods stores.

1988 – The Whole Foods chain buys the Whole Food Company in New Orleans for its first expansion outside of Texas. From now on, much of Whole Foods growth would be through acquisitions and mergers.

1989Appetite for Change: How the Counterculture Took on the Food Industry, 1966-1988, by Warren J. Belasco, is published by Pantheon Books (New York). Colorful, well written and well documented, it is the first book to analyze the burgeoning new natural food and organic industries.

1990 Aug. – An article titled “The Making of Bread & Circus Wholefoods Supermarkets,” by Daniel McSweeney appears in Whole Foods magazine (p. 36-38, 40-42). It is the best history seen of Bread & Circus.

1991 Oct. – Whole Foods acquires Bread & Circus (Boston / New England) for $26.7 million ($20 million in cash, $6.7 million in shares).

1992 Jan. 23 - Whole Foods goes public (IPO) at a price of $2.125 per share. The price of the shares rises after the IPO.

1993 Sept. – Whole Foods Markets acquires Mrs. Gooch’s chain of natural foods supermarket (Los Angeles area) for $2.97 million (shares only).

1994 –The Dietary Supplements Health and Education Act (DSHEA) is passed by Congress.

1995-1997 – According to Jim Morano, a transformation of the natural food industry took place during these years. There had been three ingredients that it was forbidden to use or sell (by common unwritten consensus) in natural foods prior to about 1995; sugar (especially white sugar), meat, and highly refined products such as white bread, white rice, white flour, white sugar, etc.

The crucial event in the transition came when white sugar was renamed “evaporated cane juice” (by Bruce Kirk, who was working with Florida Crystals) and allowed into a growing number of natural food products. The era of real food had changed into the era of the illusion of real food.

Jim was well positioned to witness this transition. He was selling natural brown rice syrup, which he had developed and which was sticky and tan. Evaporated cane juice (which Jim calls “minimally refined sugar” and which is only 1% less refined than pure white sugar) gradually took away much of his market and hurt his business.

The "standards" set by the natural food stores represent the “last line of defense” for product quality to the consumer (See Jim Morano. 2009 Feb. 22. Interview).

1996 Sept. – Whole Foods Market acquires the privately-owned Fresh Fields chain of natural food stores (Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Chicago, New Jersey) for $134.5 million.

1996 – United Natural Foods Inc. (UNFI), the parent company of Mountain People's Warehouse Inc. (founded in 1976; now an Auburn, California, distributor of natural foods and products), hopes to raise $37 million in an initial public offering (IPO). The founder and president of Mountain People's Warehouse, Michael Funk, is now UNFI’s president and vice chairman of the board.

1996 – Soymilk (White Wave’s Silk) moves to the refrigerated case.

1997 – Whole Foods Markets’ revenue passes $1 billion per year, with 70 stores in 16 states.

1999 – UNFI contracts with Whole Foods Market, the largest natural food chain, to be their sole distributor (Ted Nordquist 2020).

2000 Dec. 20 – The USDA is now the main organic certifier. The process took 2 years – but issues remain.

2006 – UNFI (United Natural Foods, Inc.) has now passed Tree of Life / Royal Wessanen to become America's largest distributor of natural foods (James Silver).

2007Organic Farming, An International History, edited by William Lockeretz, is published in England. An excellent book.

2007 – Whole Foods Market merges with the natural food chain Wild Oats (Boulder, Colorado).

2010 early – The first products bearing the Non-GMO Project Verified seal (a butterfly) on their labeling hit the marketplace. As of Oct. 2010 nearly 900 food products have been verified Non-GMO (not genetically engineered).

2010 Oct. – This month is designated as Non-GMO Month, celebrating consumers’ right to choose foods that do not contain genetically modified organisms. Oct. 10 (10.10.10) is designated as Non-GMO day (The Organic & Non-GMO Report, Oct. p. 4).

2013 – Whole Foods Market is said to become the first chain to label all foods produced by genetic engineering.

2017 Aug. 28 – Whole Foods Market is acquired by Amazon.com for $13.7 billion.

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