10 Questions with Emily Zambrana

Food and the Law Series: Emily Zambrana, Senior Principal Legal Counsel with Whole Foods Market

1. What do your day-to-day job responsibilities look like as legal counsel for Whole Foods?

I focus primarily on labeling issues for food, beverage, supplement, cosmetic, and other consumer products. I advise on almost everything a consumer can see on the product label, from the product name, nutrition information, and allergen labeling, to voluntary claims about ingredients, third-party certifications, production processes, and packaging.

2. What is one of the biggest issues you are seeing in the area of food law?

One of the issues I’m seeing right now relates to food packaging rather than food itself. Laws, regulations, and litigation growing out of concerns with environmental sustainability are surging right now and are creating an extremely complex regulatory landscape for food packaging and claims about packaging. Multiple different (and sometimes conflicting) state laws regulating issues such as recycled content in packaging and claims about packaging (like “recyclable” and “compostable”) have passed in the last few years; more are anticipated to pass in the future. The Federal Trade Commission is currently looking at updating the Green Guides, and consumer class actions challenging issues related to consumer product packaging continue to rise. Navigating the diversity of regulatory requirements and the uncertainty of future changes presents a significant challenge for many business segments.

3. What is your favorite thing to buy at Whole Foods? 

A few of my day-to-day snack favorites include our 365 Ginger Sparkling Water, 365 Wheat Square Crackers, 365 Mango Fruit Bites, and 365 Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups. My favorite special occasion items are our specialty cheeses and Berry Chantilly Cake. I also love swinging by the salad bar or hot bar for lunch when I can.

4. Are you a good cook? What's your favorite thing to make?

I wouldn’t call myself a “good” cook, but I do enjoy cooking and trying new recipes. One of my favorite dinners to make right now is a Curry Chicken & Broccoli Gnocchi dish.  

5. Why did you want to practice in this area of law? 

I grew up on my family’s blueberry farm in southwest Michigan, so I’ve always had a foot in the world of food and agriculture. Working on the farm as a teenager and college student, I developed a deep interest in agriculture and the food industry—and the many business and legal challenges that food producers, manufacturers, and retailers face. I went to law school knowing that I was interested in food and agribusiness law, and I was fortunate enough to get a summer associate position with Faegre, which has an incredibly strong food and agribusiness practice. From there, I discovered a passion for food labeling and advertising issues. I love working with the food industry, because food is fundamental and important to everyone but also presents great opportunity for innovation, creativity, and fun!  

6. What is your favorite part of your job? 

Even though my legal focus is specialized and relatively narrow, there are always new issues and challenges to address. I’m constantly learning, both from other legal practitioners and from other business segments in the food industry, such as operations, product development, and quality assurance. I also love seeing (and trying) all the creative and high-quality products being developed and coming to our shelves. 

7. What do you do to unwind/relax?  

I love to read for fun, mostly fiction and historical biographies. As an English major, I especially enjoy the classics. I just finished reading Villette by Charlotte Brontë. 

8. If you weren’t a lawyer, what would you be doing? 

I would be a librarian. Hopefully, I’d get to be the librarian who: (1) does story time with the kids, and (2) recommends and writes short reviews on my favorite books. 

9. What question do you get asked most when people find out where you work? 

Do you get a discount at Whole Foods? The answer is yes! 

10. Finish this sentence… “Everybody I know knows I love …” 

Books, wine, and chocolate!  

Emily Zambrana is an in-house regulatory counsel for Whole Foods Market. She advises the company on labeling and related regulatory issues for food, cosmetics, and other consumer products. Prior to joining Whole Foods, Emily worked at Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath, where she defended food and agribusiness companies in false advertising class actions and other product liability lawsuits, and advised food and beverage companies on product labeling and advertising issues. Prior to joining Faegre, Emily clerked on the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit for Judge Richard Suhrheinrich. Emily graduated from the University of Minnesota Law School and obtained her undergraduate degree in English from Hillsdale College.

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