It's a difficult thing to look into the future and discern what's going to fly off the shelves. But that prognostication may just be the secret ingredient in every successful store's ability to produce sales numbers that make others drool.
The Natural Foods Merchandiser polled a few budding soothsayers to see what the future holds—a retailer, a manufacturer and our science adviser. And, while your secret ingredient will most likely be discovered through observation of your customers' needs, our experts all agree on one thing that's not a secret: Getting back to basics is the way to go. And one way to get there is to focus on supplements' efficacy. Educating yourself and your staff is essential to creating healthy repeat customers.
Here's more of what our fortune-tellers had to say:
Cheryl Hughes, owner of The Whole Wheatery in Lancaster, Calif.
"Our still No. 1 category over all supplements is transitions, hot-flashes stuff," Hughes says. The store's next-best selling category is supps for cleansing and fiber—"diabetes and fiber, diet and fiber, syndrome X and fiber," she says. "People are learning and have finally woken up about cleansing." Hughes says the American diet continues to erode and consequently, more people are fiber-deficient. Also, she says the rise in diabetes and syndrome X means that products that address the needs of that growing segment of the population will grow in sales as well.
"The cleanse thing is big because people are realizing we live in a toxic world," she says, "and this is one thing people can do to take care of themselves."
Another supplement that Hughes thinks will come into its own is L-theanine. "I think there are two reasons for that," she says. "The research is going to prove it out that L-theanine is really good for children with [attention deficit disorder]. It's also a calming de-stressor." She adds that it's also good in weight reduction. "It's a sleeper; very few companies do it, but the more research comes out—it's a simple chewable amino acid and you don't have to swallow another thing," she says. "If you're dieting, it's very portable."
Newer antioxidant products such as açai and mangosteen will continue to maintain their sales strength and even grow, according to Hughes. "Protect cellular integrity, protect your internal environment from the external environment—that's one of our old champion causes," she says. Hughes says more new customers will continue to flood independent health foods stores, thanks to supernaturals such as Wild Oats Natural Marketplace and Whole Foods Market. "They did all the marketing for this industry," she says. As a bonus, she says, the supplements aisle is not their "powerhouse." But they do bring exposure and interest to consumers who will then need the kind of attention that independents can give. "You get the new customers, and they have to know about all the old standbys," she says.
Anthony Almada, founder of Laguna Niguel, Calif.-based Imaginutrition (and NFM's science adviser)
"Something of interest, I wouldn't say it's hot yet, but it is intriguing," Almada says, "is a carotenoid called fucoxanthin." Published animal studies by a group in Japan linked fucoxanthin with weight and fat loss. Fucoxanthin occurs in one type of edible seaweed, undaria, which is found off the coasts of Australia, New Zealand and Japan, according to Almada. "It has some immune-modifying effects. And it turns up the machinery in the fat tissue that makes the fat burn more calories," he says.
Also worth noting is another aspect of the seemingly miraculous fish oil, according to Almada. "There is some evidence that fish oil can actually have a weight loss-promoting effect," he says. A group at the University of Cambridge did a study in which women with metabolic syndrome-type symptoms were given either fish oil or placebo. "[Fish oil] actually showed good effects on blood lipids, good effects on inflammation, good effects on carbohydrate metabolism and insulin sensitivity, and actually could have effects on losing weight—specifically fat weight," he says.
So in addition to fish oil's long-term benefits, consumers can see weight-loss benefits in a month or so, he says.
Next, he points to a flavonoid-containing licorice fraction being studied by groups in Israel and Japan. "They looked at its effects in animals and recently, in a soon-to-be-published study, on fat loss in humans. That [12-week] study showed that this 'licorice flavonoid oil extract' indeed produced significant fat loss." He says the extract could potentially be added to foods.
Almada is, however, a firm believer that anything hot or trendy, or any supplement, for that matter, needs to remain grounded in science and reality. "Because our industry doesn't have something written in stone and doesn't focus on long-term vision, goals and objectives, what do we really want to do? Do we want to prop something up for the short term? Or do we really want to show the regulators and consumers and the medical community that we mean what we say and don't just feed off marketing machines that sell hype and hope."
Scott Bias, founder and president of Paradise Herbs in Fountain Valley, Calif.
Bias believes adaptogens are about to have their day. "The reason for that is the fast-paced lifestyle we live. In Chinese medicine that's the quickest way of becoming deficient in chi [life force] and essence and depleting the immune system."
He includes most of the well-known mushrooms, such as reishi and schizandra, as well as herbs whose popularity is growing: eleuthero, rhodiola, ashwagandha, astragalus and "all of the ginsengs." He also includes "anything that's similar in property to a ginseng-type product, like maca or suma." In fact, he calls maca another "phenomenal" herb that will gain better traction this year. "I would say it's the Peruvian ginseng," he says.
He adds that, like adaptogens, products that have multi-organ function, such as resveratrol, will really take off. "It's dynamite for the cardiovascular system, as well as having antioxidant properties. It's also been shown to inhibit the three stages of [non-metastasized] cancer," he says. Prevention, as the proverb goes, is better than a cure, Bias says. "That's really what our industry is founded on, but we need to get back to those roots too."
Bias adds that some of the new antioxidant ingredients, such as goji and açai, are going to continue their rise.
Of course, weight-loss and weight-management products will continue to be among the top items health consumers seek, according to Bias. In that vein, cha de bugre, a slimming and energy herb found in the forests of Brazil, should see a big boost this year. He says there is a small amount of research behind the ingredient: "There is a Japanese study showing that it has cardiovascular tonic properties. It's a circulatory stimulant, as well as it actually has interesting antiviral properties—it has a 99 percent inhibition on herpes virus."
Bias says another trend he'd like to see is awareness of how herbs and supplements can support specific lifestyles. "Everybody's an individual; everybody does different things," he says. "There can be individual lifestyle programs that the retailers really can help set. I would really like to see more education on a retailer level."Finally, he says, "Really stick to the staples. If you can make your customers feel better, they'll come back and shop at your store, and that helps the revenue of the entire industry."
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 1/p. 48, 50