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One of the biggest challenges of natural products retail is staying on top of—or better yet, in front of—organic and natural food trends. Here, three industry veterans share the best ways to do that.

Melaina Juntti

March 21, 2019

6 Min Read

What’s hot, what’s new, what’s next? These are the questions independent natural products retailers are constantly asking as they strive to offer the very best product mix to their customers. And because the answers to these questions are ever-changing—as new trends emerge, others fade and still others mature and evolve—retailers must always keep a finger on the pulse.

Debra Stark, founder and CEO of Debra’s Natural Gourmet in Concord, Massachusetts
Three ways a retailer suggests staying on top of natural products industry trends

Debra Stark,
founder and CEO,
Debra’s Natural Gourmet in Concord, Massachusetts

Take cues from customers.

Truly, in the early years, we created the trends, but now our customers are so savvy, and they’re always asking us if we’ve heard about this or that. It’s fun to figure out what’s popular in their worlds, put our own spin on it and use it in our newsletter, on social media and in recipes in our kitchen and also yak about it in the store to build momentum. For example, customers started asking for psyllium a few years ago and we asked why. To bake bread, they replied. We went online and found lots of buzz about a recipe for “change your life bread.” I baked it at home and thought yuck, so I changed the ingredients but kept the psyllium, turned it into crisps and they became a hit—a full-blown trend!

Make the most of trade shows.

Wherever we go—whether it’s Expo East or West, a local farmers market, a cheese conference or the Fancy Food Show—we’re always looking for something that excites us, and we always come back beating the drum for special new products. When walking the show floor at Expo, we start at one end and go back and forth down every aisle. We don’t jump around or get lost—we walk the whole darn thing because we never know what we’re going to see. For instance, [at Expo East] in Baltimore last year, we met two young men from Singapore selling Trigona honey products from stingless bees, and we got their products in our store.

Customize current trends.

It seems like halvah and other sesame products are more of a trend than they’ve ever been. Within that, we’ve created a demand for whole-sesame-seed tahini, which has a darker color and more magnesium and calcium. Now that is our bestselling tahini! Also, DIY is a huge trend. Twice a year, I do a class in which we use ingredients like borage seed oil, hyaluronic acid and royal jelly to make one of the best face creams ever, and everyone goes home with a nice sample.


Bob Burke, owner and president of Natural Products Consulting in Andover, Massachusetts
Three trend-watching tips from a natural products consultant

Bob Burke,
owner and president,
Natural Products Consulting in Andover, Massachusetts

Go shopping.

I really enjoy walking different stores and seeing what’s out there. When I was in Santa Monica, California, for a recent event, I went into Whole Foods 365 for the first time and Erewhon [Market] for the first time in a while. Clearly, retailers should occasionally be doing this too—especially shopping competing stores, not only visiting other independents but also looking at what’s going on at Whole Foods Market and even the local supermarkets, which are probably carrying some of the best-selling natural products. But then as an independent, you may be in a better position to go deeper into the trends you see, whereas larger retailers can cover them only broadly.

Connect with local entrepreneurs.

Depending on where you live, there may be a natural products organization or community of entrepreneurs to connect with, which can help you identify trends. For example, Boulder has Naturally Boulder and the Bay Area has Naturally Bay Area, and both do pitch slams. Also check out food incubators and accelerators such as The Hatchery in Chicago, Illinois; CommonWealth Kitchen in Boston, Massachusetts; and Union Kitchen in Washington, D.C. Now, I’m not saying a retailer should take a field trip to these places, but if you have one in your community, having an ear to the ground would be helpful. Some even have relationships with retailers to help distribute their products.

Read show recaps.

Let’s face it, Natural Products Expo West can be really overwhelming, and it can be hard to take it all in. After each show, New Hope, SPINS, product development firms and many others do post-show recaps, which are very helpful for retailers. Even though you were present at the show and tried to cover as much ground as you could, seeing which patterns, trends and products are being called out repeatedly by these outlets really reinforces what is a trend versus a one-off.

Eric Pierce, vice president of business insights for New Hope Network’s NEXT Data and Insights team in Boulder, Colorado
A market research offers thee tips for keeping up with food trends

Eric Pierce,
vice president of business insights,
New Hope Network’s NEXT Data and Insights team in Boulder, Colorado

Visit often.

I would direct retailers to to read what we are talking about in terms of trends. Jenna Blumenfeld writes excellent articles about food and beverage trends. Nutrition Business Journal is a great resource for understanding the evolving nature of the nutrition space. Also, all of Natural Food Merchandiser’s articles are published on, where you’ll also find webinars, infographics, market data and sponsored content that speak to industry trends. 

Be a trendsetter.

As an independent retailer, you’re in a unique position to spot trends earlier than others might be, and others may look to you to identify what is new, hot and interesting. Before SPINS can produce data, many retailers must decide to put a product on their shelves. Similarly, while Natural Products Expo West is great for gauging trends because there are so many products in one place, many of these items have been in retail for a while. So, when deciding what to stock, know that it’s OK to mix in some novelty items with products that represent established trends. Even if an item doesn’t end up rising to the level of trend, it still creates an opportunity for shoppers to discover something new, which can be very valuable to your store.

Hit key presentations at Expo West and Expo East.

If you’re attending Natural Products Expo West or Expo East, go to The State of Natural and Organics sessions. Also look for the NEXT Data and Insights team’s annual presentation based on data analysis.

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About the Author(s)

Melaina Juntti

Melaina Juntti is a longtime freelance journalist, copy editor and marketing professional. With nearly two decades of experience in the natural products industry, she is a frequent contributor to Nutrition Business Journal, Natural Foods Merchandiser and Melaina is based in Madison, Wisconsin, and is passionate about hiking, camping, fishing and live music. 

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