As the world emerges, haltingly from COVID-19, new challenges emerge. In this feature, New Hope Network provides an ongoing update on those challenges and the opportunities they hold. Look for the Industry Health Monitor every other 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.
That inertia is the enemy of progress seems hardly debatable, and nowhere is that more true than in the production of goods that are consumed; goods including foods, beverages and dietary supplements that represent all but a small sliver of the natural products industry.
But inertia is having a hard go of it in the pandemic era. The various supply chains that feed the natural products industry are tripping over stumbling blocks that include labor disruptions, the near collapse of shipping and, of course, the colossal disaster that is climate change.
With inertia sidelined, or at least questioned more loudly than it has been in years, could now be a time for progress? In so many matters of life, change comes only through crisis and it’s hard to imagine a taller stack of crises than the ones the industry faces now.
A broken supply chain is a supply chain that cries out for a fix.
One of those fixes might be to bring more of the supply chain home. Ingredients and finished products that are produced in the United States may not always be done with the best practices and workers’ rights in mind, as the death of workers in a candle factory during last week’s tornadoes makes clear, but there exists at least a better chance for a level of governance that is often missing in other countries. Headlines such as the one in The Washington Post last month proclaiming “Small children are climbing 60-foot trees to harvest your acai” are shocking, but all too familiar.
But if headlines like that are not enough, perhaps it's time to listen to the consumer. In research out of New Hope’s NEXT Data and Insights team, it becomes clear that consumers care about where and how their food is sourced, and that they are paying more when they know that sourcing is done responsibly. Research also reveals that demand for more consciously sourced goods is even stronger in younger consumers, consumers who represent a share of the market that grows each day.
None of this is to say that no natural products companies are sourcing responsibly. Indeed, many are leading the way with regenerative agriculture and wages that fairly include the workers in the success of the brand. But, frankly, such ethics are not universal and, in an industry where the margins can range quite high, more could be done to build a supply chain worthy of the natural products promise.
A chorus of voices has advocated for more ingredients to be produced domestically, and proof that such sourcing is possible is in no short supply. Acai saw explosive growth as the superfood of the moment, but there are superfoods that can be grown domestically, are being grown right now, that offer many of the same benefits. The aronia berry comes to mind. Agricultural researchers in Wyoming are studying how quinoa could be a good crop for American farmers. United Plant Savers has advocated for domestication of wildcrafted herbs and GAIA Herbs is working with small farmers, including minority farmers, to make that happen. Change of such scale is challenging, but it’s also doable. If ever there were a time to do it, that time is now.
Inertia may be the enemy of progress, but with inertia taking a beating, the time for change has arrived.