The macro forces driving natural products industry trends today and tomorrow

New Hope Network identifies the macro forces shaping the natural products industry now and with an eye to the future. Here's why these are the long-lasting trends in natural food and nutrition to watch.

Adrienne Smith, Content Director

February 7, 2020

7 Min Read
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As quickly as some trends can come and go, others put down roots and linger as they steer the natural products industry and support healthy lifestyles for longer time periods.

For those of us in the business of natural product trends prediction, the here-today-gone-tomorrow nature of trend spotting can be further complicated by the fact that the market often grows in seemingly contradictory ways. Plant-based eating is in vogue, for example, at the same time that products elevating ethically raised meats gain ground. Mocktails are all the rage thanks to a growing sober curious movement. Meanwhile, a bevy of organic and natural spirits are finding fans in the marketplace.

While the ability to see into the future and predict exactly what the next big trends will be would be a boon to manufacturers, brands and retailers alike, we at New Hope Network believe that to truly understand the nature of trends and the forces driving them, we must expand our field of vision to take a look at the "why" behind them or, in other words, the "macro forces" most relevant to shaping the future of natural products. These macro forces have their origins in three paradigm-shifting cultural forces we identify as "Holistic Health and Wellbeing," "Empowered Communities" and "Modern Life," and can be broken down into more nuanced trend patterns that help indicate how the industry is innovating with regard to each one.

Here are the macro forces our New Hope content and NEXT Data and Insights teams have identified for 2020 and beyond. Included, too, are a few examples to show how these forces manifest in the trends exemplified by real products on the market today.

Modern Conditions

The chaotic and stressful pace of 21st century living has ushered in new afflictions and challenges to our wellbeing. Consumers are learning how to cope with, prevent or cure modern ailments by seeking products that help them find energy when life demands it, as well as the rest they need to relax and recharge. Along with sleep, brands are trying to address concerns including brain health, eye health, digestive health, inflammation and immunity.

Brands that exemplify these trends: 

  • Four Sigmatic

  • Mellow Rooster

  • Garden of Life

Life of Vitality

The pressures of modern life weigh upon us as we grapple with life’s demands. Consumers seek healing and ailment-specific diets to help stave off and prevent disease, treat conditions and optimize how they feel today. Probiotics and prebiotics have emerged as fundamental to a healthy microbiome; food is increasingly seen as medicine; and the growing focus on the human endocannabinoid system have led to a proliferation of new products.

Products that exemplify these trends: 

  • Nutiva

  • RE Botanicals

  • Truth Bar

Earning Consumer Trust 

Challenger brands are responding to the consumer’s erosion of trust in opaque conventional food systems. New layers of transparency, traceability and verification are emerging, including a range of new food certifications. Brands are getting rid of unpopular ingredients and creating simple, clean ingredient lists as a means of rebuilding trust.

Brands that exemplify these trends: 

  • Zego Foods

  • Palmetto Harmony

  • Dr. Bronner’s

Material Optimization

The conversation around responsible packaging and life cycle analysis has become an imperative. Brands are adopting reduce, reuse, recycle principles in their business models resulting in sustainable solutions to get the most value from ingredients and materials.

Brands that exemplify these trends:

  • Alter Eco

  • Rebbl

  • Regrained

Ancient Wisdom 

Consumers are fed up with overprocessed foods and are relying on the intelligence of past cultures to inform dietary choices. Ingredients such as ancient grains, superfoods and heirloom produce are returning to the fore, as are traditional processing techniques including fermentation, sprouting, nixtamalization, dehydration and small batch and handmade production. Similarly, time-honored lifestyle practices like seasonal eating, Ayruveda and yoga proliferate in a desire to restore ancient wisdom and balance to modern life.

Brands that exemplify these trends:

  • Pure Indian Foods

  • Yolélé Foods

  • Kaibae

Coping with Chaos

Brands are finding new ways to cater to the time-starved consumer with new convenient formats, and in many instances with a healthy dose of functional and health-conscious ingredients. Snacks and convenience foods are bigger than ever, while convenience-focused brands are trying to bring nutrition back into the category.

Brands that exemplify these trends:

  • Peckish Foods

  • Crazy Richard's Wholly Rollies

  • Navitas Organics


Discovering Ailment Triggers 

Modern diets are responsible for many health issues and consumers are experiencing an array of afflictions, many of which stem from inflammation and caused by allergies or intolerances to things such as wheat, dairy, nightshades and other foods. Gluten-free and alternative flours, allergen-free foods, natural colors and flavors and contaminant-free processing all play a role in this macro trend, taking consumers down a path of discovery as they work to take control and identify triggers.

Products that exemplify these trends:

  • Cappello’s

  • Miyoko’s Creamery

  • 88 Acres

The World is Fat 

Healthy-living brands are responding with alternative solutions for fat and sugar—the two biggest culprits blamed for our growing waistlines. This vilification of sugar and veneration of healthy fat has become the rallying cry for popular low-carb lifestyles, while natural sweeteners and new flavor profiles are helping to redefine “sweet.”

Brands that exemplify these trends: 

  • Nubocha

  • Forager Project

  • Lil Gourmets

Agricultural Commitments

More and more brands are engaging in responsible farming that aims to improve environmental and social practices in supply systems. Organic certification remains the gold seal of product certification, while some brands are taking a whole systems approach that is helping to flip the discussion from sustainable agriculture to regenerative.

Brands that exemplify these trends: 

  • Badger

  • Nature’s Path

  • Gaia Herbs

Inventive Business Models

Responding to the call for greater purpose and business responsibility, the natural products industry is pioneering creative flows of capital, unique partnerships, alternative ownership models and sourcing practices that focus on collaboration and transparency. The rise of mission-driven commerce means paying attention to social and environmental impact, and conscious capitalism elevates the idea of “business for good.”

Brands that exemplify these trends: 

  • Wize Monkey

  • Farmer Focus

  • Organic Valley

Plant Wisdom

Social, environmental, animal welfare and health concerns have encouraged natural brands to meet consumer demand for alternative ways of replacing or reducing consumption of animal products with plants. Likewise, the call to eat more plants is manifesting in myriad ways. Plant-based superfoods, foods with “hidden” vegetables, as well as a new generation of alternative meat and dairy products—some of which combine meat and vegetables to reduce but not entirely omit meat consumption—are not only encouraging consumers to eat more plants, but also to eat less meat. 

Brands that exemplify these trends: 

  • Applegate Farms

  • Good Catch

  • JUST Egg

Experiential Experimentation

Novelty experiences, unique textures and formats, or new-to-the-U.S. flavors and ingredients, inspire adventure and amplify staple categories. Craft and artisanal products meet consumers’ craving for DIY experimentation by resurrecting food-crafting of yore.

Brands that exemplify these trends: 

  • Ocean’s Halo

  • Hoplark HopTea

  • Honey Mama’s

Protein Power

The growing popularity of low-carb, high-protein diets have fueled consumers’ desire for more protein, be it in the form of responsible meat and dairy products such as sustainably caught seafood or grass-fed beef, or rebooted or innovative plant proteins including pea, cashew and hemp. Clean, responsible and sustainable proteins rule, while innovations in flavor and texture, new technologies and the revamping of legacy proteins such as soy and seitan are vying for consumer attention.

Brands that exemplify these trends:

  • Tofurky

  • Safe Catch

  • Force of Nature

Energy Commitments

Waste becomes fuel. Packaging is reduced in size and weight to increase transportation efficiency. Renewable energy moves toward replacing fossil fuels, and brands are “insetting” sustainable activities directly into their supply chains to support biodiversity, conserve resources and fight climate change, among other goals.

Brands that exemplify these trends: 

  • Nutiva

  • Seal the Seasons

  • Noosa Yogurt

The Power of Science

People want science to be mindful, transparent and to prove and validate a product's intention and benefit. Technological advancements are helping find high-tech solutions to community health issues, as well as yielding new processes such as lab cultivated meats and meat alternatives. Brands are using scientific research to support their missions and earn consumer trust, as well as to develop personalized tools for nutrition and wellness.

Brands that exemplify these trends:

  • Beyond Meat

  • MyDNA Life

  • 02 Active Recovery

Social Impact Commitments

Brands are considering the health and wellbeing of partners and employees by looking to avenues of social empowerment. Employee care­—including fair wages—social sourcing in terms of direct and fair trade sourcing efforts, and improving food access to promote equity, diversity, inclusion and affordability, all serve to positively impact communities.

Brands that exemplify these trends: 

  • Patagonia Provisions

  • Real Food for Good

  • The Real Co.

Modern Pantry

From updating and challenging stale categories through innovative processes, ingredients or formats, to finding more purposeful and healthy ways to indulge, the modern pantry is evolving and growing to meet a myriad of needs. Storytelling also plays a big role, as brands seek to connect with consumers on different levels, as well as reach out to a diverse consumer audience and embrace and address the demographic changes that are shaping America.

Brands that exemplify these trends: 

  • A Dozen Cousins

  • Simple Mills

  • Cocokind

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About the Author(s)

Adrienne Smith

Content Director, New Hope Network

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