Monitor: Coronavirus crisis breeds natural products industry opportunity and responsibility

The global COVID-19 pandemic manifests in a new catastrophe every day, and each one is a chance for the natural products industry to show leadership.

Rick Polito, Editor-in-chief, Nutrition Business Journal

April 30, 2020

7 Min Read

Natural Products Industry Health Monitor, May 1, 2020


A global lockdown might make weeks feel like months and months weigh like centuries, but business allows little room for ennui. As distracting as the daily inundation of the negative can be, the time to look forward is always now. In this new weekly feature, Informa Health and Nutrition sister properties provide that right-now-right-here update. Look for the Industry Health Monitor each Friday to learn the major news that is affecting the natural products market immediately and the less obvious insights that could dictate where the market may struggle or thrive in the months to come.


Consider this: Ways to build leadership in pandemic

Crises of pandemic proportions can bring with them a sense of exponential misery, but while it may feel like an era for crisis fatigue, a challenge for the natural products industry is scrawled across every new aspect of castastrophe. This is the put-up or shut-up moment for brands, suppliers, manufacturers to step up to the demands of the disaster.

We talked about consumers looking for leadership in last week's Natural Products Industry Health Monitor. In fact, in recent New Hope Network NEXT Data and Insights research we also see how little trust consumers have in the federal government for information related to taking the necessary precautions to protect themselves from COVID-19.

It’s a shame, the ultimate guardians of our nation are not seen as strong leaders whom consumers can trust during this coronavirus pandemic. Only 19% of consumers trust the federal government and a quarter of all shoppers have no faith in government at all, while more than half do trust local and state governance bodies.

Now is the time to talk about how the natural products industry can display the kind of leadership that builds trust, converts consumers to natural and makes real change.

Trust is tenuous between consumers and the federal government, so what are the other levers brands and industry stakeholders can pull to demonstrate leadership? Perhaps the industry can build a sense of greater intimacy created with small, local, regional and community-focused methods, similar to the ethos of state and local governments.

Those act-local-think-global efforts are needed more than ever before. Hunger may well define the COVID-19 pandemic for many millions around the globe as the focus on disease and death wanes. Last week, the executive director of the World Food Program called the emergence of the coronavirus a “perfect storm” and said it could nearly double the number of people facing starvation, a rise from a troubling 135 million in 2019 to a horrifying 265 million this year. And yet, American farmers are plowing produce into the dirt and pouring milk down the drain. It’s time for natural products manufacturers to support farmers. One step could be to pay higher prices to make farm economics work, which could help farmers get more food to agencies that could in turn help feed those many millions.

The food system has many gaping holes exposed by the pandemic.

Consumers, our data show, trust Big Food companies to keep the food system running during a crisis. But could momentum build more for smaller national and local brands as more of the global supply chain closures send havoc across what are thought of as efficient supply networks?

The closure of meat processing plants is both leaving farmers with nowhere to sell their goods and leaving consumers to face higher prices as supplies dwindle. For the natural products industry, a disastrous lack of organic slaughterhouses could be the place where the big fixes start. Meat alternative brands and producers also should take this moment to highlight some of the arguments for reduced meat consumption that go beyond health and animal rights.

How the natural products industry returns to work is also going to matter. Plummeting emissions tells us the pause button has been pressed, but what happens when the economy sputters back to life? Natural products brands could adopt practices from the work-from-home era to create new models that keep cars off the road and review facility energy use needs as well. Are big offices a relic of the pre-COVID-19 age?

Let a new era begin. And may the natural products industry truly lead the way.


Natural Products Industry Health Monitor indexes


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Diversity matters. The J.E.D.I. Collaborative, an OSC² natural products industry collaborative promoting justice, equity, diversity and inclusion, has released the results of a survey that outlines some of the natural products industry's diversity challenges. J.E.D.I founder Sheryl O’Laughlin said the survey highlights the needs: “We need to include women, people of color, people with disabilities, the LGBTQ community, immigrants, indigenous communities and veterans, because again, these are pople that are the majority of the country. And in order to make sure we are supporting them and accomplishing our missions, as an industry, we need to make sure their voices are amplified and they’re included in decision making.”

Ethics matter. The pandemic has presented huge opportunities to the natural products industry, particularly dietary supplements, but it’s also an opportunity for shady upstart brands. This week the Federal Trade Commission warned 10 multi-level marketers of nutritional supplements, essential oils and other products, and demanded companies remove claims that their products can treat or prevent coronavirus. Supplement industry trade associations have applauded regulatory actions but it could also be time for brands to start reporting and calling out the most outrageous claims.

And research matters. The more responsible companies are looking past the current crisis the the crises to come. In an interview this week, Sabinsa President Shaheen Majeed said the spike in demand for immunity products should have the supplement industry thinking about how to research new ideas and new efficacy for the category. "There’s more to this and there’s probably more coming. So you might as well have a quality supply company, an R&D focused company, take a look at this and dig deeper.”

Enjoy this

Grocery stores have become a palace of pandemic peril: germs, empty shelves and the guilt of knowing that those people you always ignored are working the front lines to keep you fed. But for "Saturday Night Live," the bulk bins are still filled with comic fodder.


Methodology footnotes


Natural products consumer behavior indexes: New Hope Network NEXT Data and Insights survey of n~1,000 collected weekly since March 30, 2020, using a convenience sample directionally representative of U.S. consumers ages 18-65 weighted for age, region and gender. The 2017 survey data are based on responses of 1,000 people nationally representative of the U.S. adult population. Index tracks “top two box” responses. 


Natural products industry engagement index: New Hope Network NEXT Data and Insights tracks the core 50 trends defining and innovating the natural products industry. By filtering social and mass media listening through these top trends we are able to track weekly indexes of total mentions and Net sentiment of the hot topics representative of the industry from the beginning of March 2020 compared to average weekly scores of the last three months of 2019. This allows stakeholders a view into the pulse of the industry through online conversations.  

About the Author(s)

Rick Polito

Editor-in-chief, Nutrition Business Journal

As Nutrition Business Journal's editor-in-chief, Rick Polito writes about the trends, deals and developments in the natural nutrition industry, looking for the little companies coming up and the big money coming in. An award-winning journalist, Polito knows that facts and figures never give the complete context and that the story of this industry has always been about people.

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