Monitor: What about the workers?

In an outpouring of respect for nurses and other “essential workers,” are farm crews and food manufacturers being ignored?

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

May 14, 2020

7 Min Read

Natural Products Industry Health Monitor, May 15, 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: As industrialized food system falls on its face, the natural products industry can call out working conditions as another validation of values

Drive down the street in most American towns and you’ll see yard signs hailing the work of nurses, first responders and “essential workers.” Turn on the TV and the gushing corporate ads give such front-liners the respect they deserve.

The sentiment seems as genuine as it is ubiquitous.

It’s just not as inclusive as perhaps it should be.

Farmworkers, food manufacturing teams and, perhaps most notably, meatpacking crews are enduring some of the most risky front-line work in the nation—in tight quarters and in some cases environments that appear to foster the spread of viruses—but we are not seeing them on those signs or in those ads. Meatpacking plants in particular have become hotspots that are bringing the virus to rural communities with outbreaks that could change the political nature of the national response.

For the natural products industry, how we treat such workers could prove one more way to validate values that should be at the heart of the value proposition. Fair trade certification systems have called out the need to treat workers fairly and keep them safe—typically in third world economies—but certification and even awareness has been limited on the domestic front, even as natural products retailers shun conventional meat.

Now the quarantine and all that essential workers matter sentiment could be a catalyst for building that into reputational capital for the natural products industry right here at home.

In New Hope Network NEXT Data and Insights research, consumers are telling us it might be time.

In a May 4 survey of 500 consumers representative of the U.S. adult population, 47% of consumers are motivated to build a fairer and more compassionate world while only 15% are ready to go back to the way things were. At the same time, stress about the future could be crimping the “what’s next?” required of such aspirations. Among respondents, 37% are teetering, caught between a yearning to get motivated to change but can’t wait to just go back to how things were.

Natural products industry messages around working conditions could make a big difference in how those aspirations transform into purchase patterns.

Those “thank you essential workers” signs are turning out to be warmer and fuzzier than corporate policies. Grocers and chains like Starbucks were offering hazard pay and “hero bonuses” but such offerings are already disappearing. But not all corporations are created equal. Natural Grocers is extending pay increases through the end of May.

Meanwhile, government might get in on the act. Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos may be on his way to becoming the world’s first trillionaire, but he might also be on his way to be the world’s most hated one-percenter. Now attorneys general in 13 states are calling on Bezos and Amazon to strengthen worker protections for Amazon and Whole Foods Market employees. 

Could consumers muster concern for the human side, too?

Natural Products Industry Health Monitor indexes

Consumer behavior indexes measure consumer behaviors through weekly surveys that are compared to a 2017 benchmark before COVID-19 emerged to see how the novel coronavirus is changing consumers. With six weeks of tracking since the outbreak of COVID-19 in the United States, consumers have not abandoned their behaviors core to the natural products industry. Behaviors seeking environmentally and responsibly made products, high quality ingredients, nutrient density and transparency remain.

Natural products industry engagement index tracks social and mass media engagement of the top 50 trends defining the natural products industry. The index tracks weekly keyword engagement of these top trends that are compared to a Q4 2019 weekly average benchmark before COVID-19 emerged. This enables the reader to see how the novel coronavirus is changing consumer engagement with the top natural products industry trends tracked by New Hope Network. With two months of tracking since the outbreak of COVID-19 in the United States, engagement spikes and dips as we navigate this period of unrest but remains in alignment with 2019 stats.

The Nutrition Capital Network tracks financial activity in the natural products industry. After a brief pause as the scope of the COVID-19 crisis revealed itself, activity could be struggling to find its pre-pandemic equilibrium. The dietary supplement industry appears poised to record its biggest sales growth year ever, but investors could be waiting to see how tightened household budgets impact consumer interest in more expensive natural and organic food.


Listen to this: CEOs on the humanity of business

Workers benefits. How a company treats its workers is one way that Certified B Corporation companies manifest their values, but it may also be a way that they can prove their resilience. B corp status mandates a company think through its challenges in ways that build relationships with workers and suppliers that could help them survive challenges like the global COVID-19 crisis. Doing good in business, it turns out, is just good business. “A lot of these variables that go into being certified as a B Corp are things that make you more resilient as a business,” Daniel Kurzrock, CEO and co-founder, ReGrained told Food & Beverage Insider. “A big focus is on building a resilient organization that can last the long-term, so it stands to reason that when a super acute shock to the system like COVID-19 comes onto the scene, the businesses that have been thinking really holistically are potentially better suited to adapt and to respond.” 

Humanity in business. In a guest column for Natural Products Insider, Orgain founder Andrew Abraham says lessons from his medical training and experience as a doctor are a reminder that a company’s sense of purpose is especially important during times of crisis when “humanity” becomes an important commodity.

Enjoy this 

It’s been over a dozen years since the Dramatic Chipmunk shuffled off into the dustbin of viral history, but a new rodent has arrived to capture the culinary spirit of the quarantine era. Behold, the Pizza-Eating Groundhog. They say if he orders pepperoni, we have six more weeks of quarantine.

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.  


Natural products industry investment index: Nutrition Capital Network, part of Informa’s Health and Nutrition portfolio of brands, collects all investment transactions occurring in the natural products industry. Total number of investment transactions (mergers, acquisitions, financings) are tallied weekly and compared to a fourth quarter 2019 weekly average benchmark before COVID-19 emerged.

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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