GMO corn microscope ThinkStock/279photo

10 stories shaping the natural products industry

Moves by Big Food and government dominated natural products news in 2016. Here's a look at the stories shaping the industry this year and for the foreseeable future.

1. National GMO labeling

GMO labeling got its day on Capitol Hill (but not in the way many had hoped) as federal lawmakers sought to stop Vermont’s own law that was set to go into effect in July. Some hail that the nation now has labeling. Others say it is an end-run around state’s rights and a win for Big Food because the resulting "label" likely won’t appear as an easy-to-read, on-package solution. The law requires disclosure with a symbol or digital link with wording such as "scan here for more food information."

2. Local GMO control

While state GMO labeling laws took a hit in July, local growing bans received a boost in December when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that federal law does not prevent state or local governments regulating or banning commercial GM crops.

3. New Dietary Ingredients draft guidance

In August, the long awaited—or nearly forgotten—Draft NDI Guidance was published—five years after the first version was released in 2011 and 22 years after being mandated under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994. With the mandate, manufacturers of any new dietary ingredients (NDIs are defined as dietary ingredients not in market distribution pre-1996) are required to file the ingredient with—and receive approval from—the FDA before releasing them to the market. The latest draft clarified many points left uncertain in the 2011 version.

The jury appears to be out on the resulting document. The draft offers protections for branded ingredients but strict provisions regarding synthetic botanicals. Some say it is status quo, while others suggest it goes too far. Industry groups have opposed the document.

4. 365 by Whole Foods Market

The oft-cited face of the natural products industry got a new look in 2016 with the launch of 365 by Whole Foods Market. The supernatural retailer birthed the millennial-focused concept in response to sagging stock performance. Expect the true test of its strategy to take shape in 2017, as the chain plans to open at least 10 365 by Whole Foods locations.

5. The new Nutrition Facts

Michelle Obama unveiled the new Nutrition Facts panel in May. The new panel will feature larger type for calories and serving sizes, updated serving size and daily values, an added sugars line, changes in nutrients required and actual amounts shown, and a new footnote. Manufacturers must adopt the label by July 26, 2018. Companies with less than $10 million in sales have an additional year.

6. Defining "healthy"

With food packaging often boasting the word "healthy," the Food and Drug Administration is now looking to define the term. In September, the FDA issued temporary guidance on how it defines "healthy" as the agency pursues public input on a permanent definition.

7. Sugar taxes

Sugar is rising as the latest food villain. Added sugars will get their own line on the Nutrition Facts panel. And cities across the country are adopting taxes on sugary beverages. In the November election, four cities—Albany, New York; Oakland and San Francisco, California; and Boulder, Colorado—passed soda taxes. Preliminary research suggests Mexico’s 2013 soda tax has cut the country’s consumption of sugary beverages.

8. Cleaning up their acts

From better treatment of animals to cleaner food options to behavior improvements, conventional food brands and restaurants took steps to clean it up this year. Before the national labeling act became law, Campbell’s committed to voluntarily labeling GMOs. Major poultry producer Perdue Farms eliminated routine antibiotic use. McDonald’s and Panera Bread announced menu cleanups. Grocers and restaurants made commitments to cage-free eggs. Natural Grocers, which has always held higher food standards, went further with a free-range standard.

Meanwhile, we saw CPGs investing in the very companies that have been disrupting them. The year started with the big buy: General Mills purchasing Epic Provisions. And Tyson invested in Beyond Meat. Watch for our roundup of the mergers and acquisitions of the year.

9. Agri-chem mergers

Not long after Monsanto’s failure to secure its bid to purchase Syngenta, Bayer bid to buy Monsanto with a final $66 billion buyout agreement. Meanwhile, Dupont and Dow are in the final negotiations of their merger, and Syngenta found a new suitor in ChemChina. What is boils down to is that five of the big six seed companies (Syngenta, Bayer, BASF, DuPont, Monsanto and Dow Chemical) were in negotiations in 2016. If these mergers go through, three companies will own 69 percent of the world’s seeds.

10. Syn bio’s coming out

The CRISPR gene-editing tool got a major go-ahead in August when the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced it did not have the authority to regulate crops using the "clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats" technology. The non-browning mushroom uses the technique as does the tomato that promises to remain firm for 14 days after harvest. Some fear this is just the first wave of GMOs 2.0.

 

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