With the cancellation of this year’s Natural Products Expo West, WGB reached out to scores of would-have-been exhibitors across multiple categories to get a bead on what the trends are now, as well as predictions regarding what lies ahead for the natural and organics industry in a post-coronavirus world.
We covered a number of those trends in The Show Mustn’t Go On feature in our May issue. Here we focus on five more hot topics in the natural and organic industry.
1. Pet Shop Buoys
Pet products buoyed the natural living category in 2019, according to New Hope Network’s annual State and Future of Natural and Organic report, which found that organic pet product sales were up 15.5% to $15 billion last year. The U.S. natural living category grew an estimated 6.1% to $22.1 billion in 2019.
V-dog, a vegan-owned and -operated family business based in San Francisco, would have been first-time exhibitors at Expo West. The company had planned to touch base with buyers on its new vegan product for dogs made with organic ingredients and showcase its vegan kibble dog food, organic Wiggle Biscuits and Breathbone chews.
“V-dog's growth has remained stable throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Lindsay Rubin, VP of V-dog. “Luckily V-dog is an e-commerce company first, so we are well-suited for the increasingly virtual world. We look forward to maintaining access to all V-dog products online with fast shipping. We also look forward to finding new and interesting ways to connect with our customers online and through social media as everything with COVID-19 continues to change and progress.”
Boulder Colo.-based I and Love and You is also on trend with its premium, holistic pet food and treats. It had planned to debut two new lines of dog food (Stir-Mix-a-Little and Ancient Grains); two new cat treats (Hair Meow’t Hearties and Meow and Zen Hearties; as well as two new SKUs for its signature Naked Essentials line for cats, including Indoor Health and Digestive Support.
2. Boomtown for Plant-Based
Recent data from Nielsen shows that sales of fresh meat alternatives were up 224.3% for the one-week period ending April 25, 2020, vs. the same week in the previous year, and up 269.5% for the latest eight weeks ending April 25. And this was before the current meat shortages.
Before the Butcher, which had planned to launch its new Uncut plant-based grounds, as well as feature its Uncut Italian grounds, breakfast grounds and taco grounds, is looking ahead and hopeful for a return to normalcy.
“Since much of our business is realized through foodservice, the impact [of COVID-19] was immediate and significant for us,” said Danny O’Malley, founder of Before the Butcher in San Diego. “We continue to service our retail accounts, but we felt an impact on the retail side as well.
“I think we are starting to settle in now that people have filled their shelves at home,” he continued. “Post-pandemic … consumers will continue to count on retailers to provide more than just the basics and will look for grocery stores to provide more and more heat-and-serve options. The consumer is open to making meals at home if they don’t have to do a lot of preparation.”
Before the Butcher hopes to introduce new heat-and-serve plant-based protein options before the end of 2020.
Plant-based milk and dairyalternatives are also on the rise, said Nielsen, which found that sales were up 33.8% for the one-week period ending April 25 vs. the same week the previous year, and up over 32% for the latest eight weeks ending April 25.
“We are truly in uncharted waters. and these new market conditions require companies to strategize and execute quickly around a suddenly different lifestyle,” said Keith Schuman, business unit lead for Vevan Foods, a Montfort, Wis.-based maker of dairy-free cheese developed by artisan dairy cheesemakers. “While consumers are spending more time at home, they are simultaneously working to maintain their healthy habits and looking for ways to enhance their favorite dishes or try new foods.”
In addition to its authentic cheese flavor, Vevan melts well, making it an easy choice for pizza, pasta and sandwiches. “Vevan tastes great in recipes, but it’s also great on its own,” said Schuman, who doesn’t see many plant-based options for eating occasions such as entertaining or snacking. “For the foreseeable future, Americans are likely to continue eating at home, but as social distancing guidelines are eased, we’re likely to see a big surge in socializing and entertaining."
In addition to its oat milk, sales of which have surged since COVID-19, Califia Farms of Los Angeles was set to feature its new plant-based butter made from cashews and red tiger nuts, a tuber used to make horchata. With the stay-at-home-induced baking frenzy sweeping the nation, the new product is well-timed. “It’s great in chocolate chip cookies,” says Greg Steltenpohl, co-founder and CEO of Califia.
3. Functional Beverages
Consumers are seeking functionality from their food and beverages, noted New Hope Network, organizers of Natural Products Expo West. Its State of the Industry report found that the U.S. market for functional food and beverages grew 5.3% to $71.4 billion in 2019, withMCT, melatonin, L-theanine, collagen, curcumin, prebiotics and hemp/CBD as the most sought-after ingredients.
Iconic's new Collagen Coffee speaks to the functional beverages trend, while its new Iconic Kids line of grass-fed-verified, ready-to-drink protein beverages made with zero grams of sugar and one full serving of organic greens is also on point.
“Iconic, like most other nutrition brands sitting on grocery store shelves, has seen an uptick in sales,” said Emily Stubler, Iconic director of marketing. “We are seeing new customers come to the brand as a result of being in store and stocking up on shelf-stable, nutritious products [they] can feel good about during quarantine.
“We hope that there is a continued emphasis on mental and physical health, nutrition and productivity coming out of this pandemic,” she added.
4. The ABCs of CBD
Sales of CBD, which makes New Hope’s functional ingredient hit list, continue to grow. And with consumers across the globe looking to better manage their mental health through a pandemic, CBD companies such as Green Roads in Deerfield Beach, Fla., hope to be a part of the solution.
“People are experiencing increased stresses and tensions in their lives, and they are increasingly looking at CBD as part of their response,” said Lee Sosin, chief marketing officer for Green Roads. “Interest in Green Roads among consumers has grown. Our new Softgels and Capsules have really taken off because it’s an easy and familiar form. People are also embracing our new indulgence line—bath bombs, essential oils [and] even chocolate. It helps them take a moment and away from the day’s stresses focus on themselves.”
But as the CBD category attracts new consumers, Sosin sees shopper confusion on the rise.
“One of the biggest issues facing CBD companies is consumer confusion,” Sosin observed. “People don’t know what to buy, what the numbers of milligrams mean, or how much to take. They don’t understand full spectrum vs. broad spectrum.”
To help make sense of it all, Green Roads has launched an entirely new system for its CBD oils that features clearly labeled and educational packaging. All of its oils are now labeled Mild, Moderate or Mighty to make it easier for consumers to make a purchase decision. It has extended that system to its new line of Sleep and Relax capsules and CBD soft gels. It plans to roll it out on its topicals as well.
5. Never-Ever and No
Wayne Farms in Oakwood, Ga., was planning to showcase products through two brand offerings aligned with consumer trends in animal products that are labeled “never ever” and “no,” adhere to verified humane animal care practices and are convenient.
Its Chef’s Craft never-ever and no chickens are raised on family farms and are never given antibiotics from hatch to market. There are no animal byproducts in the feed, and chickens are fed a vegetable- and grain-based diet. The products also contain no artificial ingredients, preservatives or gluten.
Chef’s Craft is also dialed into today’s consumer’s demand for convenience. It offers everything from portioned, frozen and ready-to-finish chicken to chef-inspired products such as sous vide-prepared Flame Grilled Chicken Breast Fillets; Grilled Chicken Breast Chunks; and Breaded Chicken Breast Chunk (made with gluten-free breading).
“It’s too early to tell how the pandemic will affect Americans’ eating habits in the long term. Like everyone else, we are experiencing the unfolding of an unprecedented time in our nation’s history. It’s hard to imagine there won’t be permanent changes, given the severity of the situation," said Megan Ernst, senior marketing manager for Wayne Farms.
“Given that fewer people are eating at restaurants and more eating at home, it’s conceivable that consumers will yearn for that restaurant experience, so the closer we can bring them to that in the home environment, the better,” she continued. “There’s [also] never been a more important time to stay healthy and strong and build healthy immune system. Wellness and lean, nutritious protein sources like chicken, will continue to complement a plant-forward diet—versus always being the center of plate.”