Kroger Innovation Summit Seeks Next Big Ideas in Natural Foods

Queen City Sausage probably won’t help Kroger steal customers from Whole Foods, but Queen City Hemp just might.

Hence, the Findlay Market startup was among more than 40 vendors invited to a natural foods innovation summit Thursday at the 84.51 building Downtown. Kroger and its data-mining subsidiary are looking for every edge they can find against the Amazon-recharged Whole Foods chain.

Robert Ryan is happy to oblige with his newest product: A calorie-free seltzer water infused with cannabidiol, a chemical compound found in marijuana. It’s a non-psychoactive ingredient, meaning it won’t make you high. But it might help with migraines and arthritis.

“CBD is a natural anti-inflammatory and also an antioxidant and neuroprotectant,” said Ryan. “So, not only does it boost your immune system but it’s going to help you combat disease.”

Natural foods and organics already represent a $16 billion business for Kroger, a roughly 2,800-store grocery chain with $115 billion in 2016 revenue. Kroger is enjoying double-digit growth in the category, partly by embracing small regional brands like Queen City Hemp and helping them grow.

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