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.
The natural products industry can feel like a community cut off from the “real world.” When we talk about trends and values in a setting like Natural Products Expo West, we’re not just preaching to the choir, we’re eating, drinking and sharing dreams with the choir. That makes it difficult at times to see the industry through the consumers’ eyes when our own eyes are trained on the next product, the next trend.
Consumers are still working their way into the trends that feel like bedrock canon in the halls at Expo West. Take the list of trends that New Hope’s NEXT Data and Insights team offers as a guide to what vendors will be sharing at next month’s show, and then look at the results of a survey that same team deployed this week asking consumers to prioritize those trends.
What we see is that the industry insiders are, as expected, multiple steps ahead of consumers on the journey toward healthier and more responsible products. What we also see is a reminder that changing the consumer packaged goods universe is a long game.
The juxtaposition between trends we expect at Expo West and what consumers say they are looking for seems at first almost alarming. A trend New Hope describes as “Eat More Plants” is at the top in trends we expect to see on the trade show floor, but it ranks sixth among natural shoppers and seventh among non-natural shoppers when making purchase decisions. Products making “Multi-Stakeholder” better-for-the-planet/people claims is in the second tier for what we expect to see in the booths but near the bottom of priorities among shoppers.
But the alarm bell may be ringing too loudly in that contrast. When we look at what both natural and non-natural channel consumers say they value, the basic tenets of the long game the natural products industry has been playing for decades rise to the top.
“Nutrition Meets Convenience,” which can be described as healthier choices in packaged foods, is ranked by both groups at or near the top. “Clean Label” is second for natural shoppers and equal with nutrition meets convenience for non-natural channel shoppers.
This chart represents the top trends showing up at Natural Products Expo West 2022 based on a curated review of exhibitors highlighting the industry’s hottest trends. Click here to learn more.
It’s only when we get to values-based trends like “Sourcing Responsibly” and “Mission Driven” that we see big differences in natural and non-natural channel shoppers. This again can be taken as proof that the long game is a reality but also that the natural products industry is winning that long game. In every trend in the survey, natural shoppers seem merely to be ahead of non-natural shoppers and both groups are simply catching up with the industry.
Playing the long game requires patience. At some point, clean label foods and organic standards were likely fringe concepts to many. “Sugar Vilified” might have sounded like a foreign concept when Tony the Tiger was proclaiming Sugar Frosted Flakes to be “grrreat,’ but we can look at Gatorade as a brand that was founded on putting sugar into drinks as fuel for athletes and has now pivoted to showcase sugar-free products.
When viewed against such change, the survey results look far from alarming and may suggest the natural products industry isn’t cut off from real world. They’re simply leading the consumers who live there.