It’s not always easy to tell the quick sizzle of a fad from the steady burn of a trend. When NFM asked for expert predictions for 2010, a common thread emerged that had nothing to do with the flashy marketing of a new product line or a breakthrough ingredient. The theme: Consumers are increasingly conscious that their purchasing decisions affect their lives and the world around them, and they will be looking to a maturing natural products industry to satisfy their cravings for healthy, sustainable, safe and authentic products. How will consumers’ ripening concerns influence the way manufacturers and retailers do business at the storefront? As we enter the second decade of the 21st century, here’s a sneak peak at top trends that have captivated the industry.
The sluggish economy may have sent some consumers to megagrocers and discount stores in the past year, but that doesn’t mean they are turning their backs on organics. In fact, demand for organic food and nonfood items is still strong—sales grew 17.1 percent in 2008, according to the Organic Trade Association. Some industry experts predict the sector will sustain a healthy rate of growth, both in dollars and in mainstream popularity. “I believe a really big category of growth is ‘nonprecious organics’ that are economically and geographically accessible,” says Sylvia R. Tawse, owner of The Fresh Ideas Group, a natural products industry communications firm in Boulder, Colo.
“If organic products can reach a price point within 20 percent of conventional, then that’s a nonelitist and nonprecious pricing that removes at least one hurdle for many consumers,” Tawse says.
More affordable organics in stores like Costco and Safeway will continue to attract a broader audience to your store as well. Christine Bushway, executive director of the Greenfield, Mass.-based OTA, predicts core organics consumers will be increasingly concerned with environmental impact. “Concerns about their carbon footprint will lead shoppers to organic products grown with fewer carbon emissions.”
The ‘F’ word
H1N1 flu, also known as swine flu, will continue to highlight concerns about general immune health heading into 2010, predicts Mark Blumenthal, executive director of the Austin, Texas-based American Botanical Council. He expects elderberry—particularly new, more concentrated elderberry extracts—to be a star of the supplements aisle. “H1N1 is the one that everybody’s concerned about, but really they’re just trying to make sure they don’t get any kind of seasonal flu,” he says. “And even though no herb has been shown definitively in human trials to my knowledge to prevent or treat H1N1 specifically, there are some herbs that have been shown to be useful to overall immunity.”
But even suggesting dietary supplements for immunity is risky business these days, Blumenthal warns, with the Food and Drug Administration cracking down on health claims. “Rightfully, the FDA believes it to be in the public interest to reduce or eliminate some of these marketers that are out there scamming with phony Tamiflu and, in some cases, herbs that have very little basis for supporting the claims that are being made,” he says. “But we don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
The allergen age
Is the gluten-free bubble going to burst? Melissa Rosen, owner of Los Angeles-based Locali Conscious Convenience natural foods store, doesn’t think so. In fact, increased awareness of potential allergens is creating a strong market for a wide range of “-free” foods—from soy-free meat substitutes for those with a soy allergy to yeast-free bread for people concerned about yeast infections. “There are some people who are very specific: They don’t want gluten-free bread or they don’t want potato bread because they’re watching their carb intake. So we now offer a rice-paper wrap in our deli,” she says.
But with a growing list of ingredients marketed for what they don’t contain, how do you know when it’s worth ordering the latest “-free” product? “In the beginning, we made the mistake of ordering every gluten-free or specialty product requested,” Rosen says. “Now we keep a tracking sheet; we note if the request came from a regular customer, and we ask our other gluten-free customers if they’ve heard of the product or know others who are looking for it.”
Hand in hand with the allergen-free food boom is a more educated consumer, says Wyley Owens, who works in the marketing department for Barrington, N.H.-based distributor Associated Buyers. “Consumers are beginning to see past buzzwords and are looking for just good, natural, wholesome food,” Owens says. “‘Fat free,’ ‘cholesterol free’ and ‘low sodium’ will still get them to pick up the product, but the ingredient profile, nutrition facts and where the product is being produced are all going to factor into whether that product goes into their shopping cart or back on the shelf.”
Exotic peasant food
Cara Hopkins is an Austin, Texas-based freelance writer. Tim Shisler contributed reporting for this story.