My colleague Jody Villecco and I recently spent a few days on the backroads of New England, meeting the technical folks from two of our oldest supplier partners: Tom’s of Maine and Seventh Generation. Jody, I, and our team are the official “geeks” of Whole Foods Market; we spend most of our work lives researching products and their ingredients, buried in technical food science and nutrition reports, and generally geeking out about our products as we establish standards for what we sell in our stores. Fortunately for us, there are similar technical teams working at many of the companies whose products we sell, and the time we spend talking shop with them is educational, valuable to our work, and fun. Our first stop on our New England tour was Southern Maine. After a visit to our great store in Portland, and a taste of the best blueberry cobbler in history, we spent the better part of day with very talented product development team at Tom’s of Maine. I don’t think you could have gathered a roomful of people with more combined knowledge of natural toothpaste, deodorant and soap anywhere in the world. On the agenda were quite a few items: talking about our new Premium Body Care Standards and how they would apply to oral care products, controversial ingredients like SLS and fluoride, and lots of good general discussion about the various ingredients that make up a good toothpaste or deodorant, and what’s effective and what’s not. These folks are committed to truly changing the perception that natural deodorant and toothpastes don’t work as well as their conventional counterparts, and Tom’s is one of the many talented companies on a path to show that natural products can work even better. Natural cleaning products are also still fighting the perception that they don’t work well, and the average person believes that natural cleaning products aren’t capable of cleaning their home. Seventh Generation is out to shatter that misperception, and has been hard at work for decades creating product that are natural and actually work. Our team at WFM is currently in the process of studying cleaning products and their ingredients, to understand how they’re made, how they work well, and craft a standard to define safe, natural cleaning products for our stores. We rely on the knowledge, experience and technical expertise of our suppliers in this process, and we spent the day with Seventh Generation at their offices on Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vermont to talk shop for a day, and learn everything we could about how they create safe, natural cleaning and paper products. I was especially impressed by the good work they’ve done on understanding and sourcing natural fragrances for their products (watch for Jody’s Whole Story blog post on natural fragrances, coming up in the next few weeks). Be sure to check out Martin “Science Man” Wolf’s Q&A feature on their website. Martin’s vast experience, technical knowledge, and passion for natural products are incredible, and he’s definitely the go-to guy for natural cleaning questions. Getting to spend the day with Martin, along with other leaders from Seventh Generation, was a huge privilege that really expanded our understanding of what makes a good, natural and effective cleaning product. Outside of the vast amount we learned about oral care products and cleaning supplies, New England (my homeland) is home to some of the most amazing food in the universe, namely seafood and maine blueberries. The regular (cultivated) blueberries you can buy all over the country may be plump, sweet, flavorful and amazing, but even an average Maine blueberry can blow the most amazing non-Maine blueberry out of the water. Wild blueberries are native to Maine, and their smaller size packs in a more potent and less tart blueberry flavor that seems to capture the rocky, salty landscape of Maine. They’re not as sweet as cultivated berries, and I find myself eating entire baskets full at a time. Besides tasting awesome, studies suggest that the wild variety is higher in antioxidants than the cultivated variety. A quart of Maine blueberries, along with some Justin’s Nut Butter squeeze packs and a container of Dr. Krackers made for the perfect road trip powerfood on the 5 hour drive from Portland to Burlington, complete with a quick swing by Robert Frost’s old house in Franconia, NH and the most beautiful sunset I’ve seen in a long time. Returning to my New England roots for a few days was delicious, educational and beautiful!