Natural Foods Merchandiser

5 emerging business trends to watch

Publisher and editorial director of Nutrition Business Journal Patrick Rea picks top 5 emerging business trends, including social media, product traceability and transparency rule, Amazon-ification of the naturals industry, consumer-first economy and the supplements industry delivery on the "product promise"

Naturals retailers must challenge brand marketers and stay aware of new competitive threats. Here are the top trends on my radar this year and the best ways to stay ahead of the curve.

Social media gets organized. Two of the leading sources for health-product information that consumers consistently cite in surveys are friend and family recommendations. We’ve only just begun to see the power of social media, and time will tell whether it will help or hinder product sales. One factor to note is that today’s consumers are relatively unorganized around issues, topics and products. They may become a Facebook fan of a company or product, but the interactions aren’t always consistent or calculated. But faster than you think, the social web will turn consumer organizations into commanding players wielding new levels of power and influence, and redefine the historically linear relationships between brands and consumers.

Product traceability and transparency rule. Secrets don’t play well on the Internet—or in your stores. The modern investigative journalist is just a consumer with a Twitter account and a dogged interest (and often an inside connection) in a company. In the natural and organic food industries, transparency and traceability possess well-defined roles in brand marketing, but those roles are less clear in the supplements and personal care segments. Along with the elimination of “proprietary blends,” progressive nutrition-industry brands will add ingredient traceability programs to their marketing campaigns, and identify sources, so there are no more secrets.

Amazon-ification of the naturals industry

For a while, Wal-Mart occupied the role of a widely feared evil empire on the retailing horizon. Today, Wal-Mart remains powerful but less vile every day. Meanwhile,, though rarely seen as evil, is growing ever more powerful in the natural products industry. Amazon offers a very interesting e-tailing opportunity for many companies because it makes online shopping a no-brainer for customers. Just ask TastyBaby, Emergen-C, Clif Bar, Annie’s Homegrown, Bob’s Red Mill and Newman’s Own Organic—all of which sell successfully on Amazon. When Nutrition Business Journal covered Amazon in May 2009, the company’s top sellers in the nutrition and fitness category included protein-powder shakes, fish-oil supplements, nutrition and supplement drinks, and energy bars. To run a successful retail operation today, you need to know where and how the products you carry are being marketed elsewhere.

Consumer-first economy. Pay attention to the brands taking a consumer-first approach in their new product development. If the companies with brands in your store aren’t directly asking consumers for help with new product development and marketing, they are missing a honeypot of insights. Many industry thought leaders cite mind-shifting and product-adjusting consumer insights as business-strategy game changers. Don’t disappoint your customers by carrying products by manufacturers that assume they know what your consumers want or think. Look for brands that ask customers for input.

The supplements industry delivers on the “product promise.” Quite simply, supplements need to do more of what they say they will. But how close are we to actually delivering on this promise? Some experts say if the supplements industry were selling shoes, consumers would open the shoe box and find that the soles are peeling off, the laces are mismatched and the shoes are two different sizes. Do you believe that for the products on your shelves, what’s on the label is actually in the pill at the point of purchase and is absorbed efficiently and effectively into the body? Do you trust that the product is safe?

If not, the industry has a whole lot of work to do before it delivers on the “product promise.”

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