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[email protected]: This brand wants to disrupt dairy with peas | Natural deodorant goes big-time

Thinkstock/vikif milk or milk alternative

A peas offering for the dairy aisle: Can this milk alternative rival the real deal?

Two Silicon Valley entrepreneurs—one a co-founder of Method and one a biochemical engineer who co-founded Amyris Biotechnologies—set out to develop an alternative to milk that stacks up on both taste and nutrition and requires fewer natural resources to produce. Their solution was a plant-based milk made from split yellow peas (plus a bunch of other ingredients including sunflower oil, algal oil, organic guar gum, natural flavors and more). That product, Ripple, was the first of its kind to hit the market back in 2015, boasting 8 grams of protein per cup and half the sugar of cow’s milk. It’s now available in some 10,000 stores across the country and, since then, brands including Silk and Bolthouse Farms have incorporated pea protein into alternative milk beverages. The founders say their pea protein ingredient, Ripptein, which they say doesn’t have the typical funky flavor of peas because of a patent-pending extraction process, could have applications far beyond milk. They're already working on recipes that incorporate the ingredient into nutritional shakes, cheese and ice cream alternatives. Read more at NPR…


Big beauty is buying into deodorant

Natural deodorants were, for a long time, a tough sell because of the perception that they weren’t effective. But recent M&A activity in the space—plus an increasing public awareness of potentially harmful ingredients like “fragrances” and aluminum— signifies that that perception is changing. Schmidt’s was acquired by Unilever in December, just a month after P&G bought Native. Those two companies use many of the same ingredients in their formulations—arrowroot powder, baking soda, coconut oil and shea butter—but have different business models and approaches. And Schmidt’s is now moving beyond armpits with a new line of soap and charcoal toothpaste. Read more at Racked…


USDA proposes changes to ‘National List’ for organic producers

The NOSB’s latest proposed changes to the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances are up for public comment through March 19. They include adding 16 substances to the National List, including activated charcoal, electrolytes, mineral oil and zinc sulfate, and prohibiting the use of the botanical pesticide Rotenone in the production of organic crops. Read more at Food Safety News…


Retailer prepared foods are increasingly a destination driver

Consumers are increasingly visiting retailers specifically for prepared foods, according to a new report from Technomic—in fact, 80 percent of consumers report buying prepared meals at least once a month. In the firm’s survey of more than 1,500 consumers, nearly three-fourths of them between the ages of 18 and 34 reported purchasing three or more prepared meals per month. Thus, retailers are increasingly competing with fast-food and sit-down restaurants. Price, décor and ambiance will be key factors for their success. Read more at Technomic…


Ohio State study: Women run faster when taking supplements

In a small study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, young women who took a supplement of minerals and nutrients (including iron, copper, zinc, carnitine and phosphatidylserine) ran faster, covered more distance on a bike and performed better in a test of stepping on and off a bench than those who did not take it. Read more at Akron Beacon Journal… 

Yai’s Thai founders make Asian flavors healthy, available to all eaters

Yai's Thai Yai's Thai founders Sarah Hughes and Leland Copenhagen

Yai’s Thai—a brand of Thai-flavored, natural condiments that are low sodium, grain free, soy free and vegan—might be considered an overnight success. After all, co-founders Leland Copenhagen and Sarah Hughes, both 27, agreed to start the business during a hike in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains in 2014, launched it in 2015 and saw their Thai salsas picked up by distributor UNFI in 2016, the same year they debuted their products at Natural Products Expo West. By the end of 2017, UNFI carried the brand in all its distribution centers nationwide.

“We’ve been fortunate that our product is really resonating with buyers and resonating with distributors,” said Copenhagen, whose mother and grandmother are from Thailand. The company now offers salsas, hot sauces and a relish.

The two, who are also a couple, discussed with New Hope Network how Copenhagen’s upbringing and their shared love of Thai food inspired them to disrupt the Asian food category with healthier choices.

Why did you choose to create and sell Thai condiments?

Leland Copenhagen: The Thai salsa actually stemmed from a recipe that my grandmother makes, Thai salmon salad. It’s served cold, and all the vegetables that we have in that salsa are in the Thai salmon salad. We kind of realized that salsa was the way to go.

Sarah Hughes: At the time, I was making a lot of pico de gallo at home. I was making that, and Leland was making the Thai salmon salad and we realized, we’re prepping the same ingredients right now. A lot of people don’t think of Thai food as having tomato bases, but there are these outlier recipes.

Our mission is to make healthy food taste good through Thai flavors. That really stems from our belief that food is such an important part of our lives. It’s one of the few things we do every single day, multiple times a day.

Neither of you studied food sciences or business in college, so what prompted you to start a natural food business?

LC: We’re entrepreneurs at heart. We wanted to start and build something together. We wanted to start something that would really resonate with people. Because food has been a really important part of our lives, it’s something we would always turn to.

SH: It’s important to both of us that our product to be a positive addition to people’s lives, not to be adding flavor and nothing else, nor weighing it down with junk. We didn’t want to exclude customers, so we thought about the diets people are following. We don’t use fish sauce to keep the products vegan.

LC: My mom didn’t cook with much sugar, kept things low sodium, partially for health reasons, partially because that’s not how Thai food is made. The unhealthy stuff isn’t necessary in Thai food.

How did you come to start Yai’s Thai?

SH: We were talking about it a lot. We both had our jobs, but we were wanting to start something. We essentially started with a handshake agreement on a hike one day: We stopped hiking and asked, “Are you serious?” “Yep, are you serious?” “Yep.” We shook on it, and we started Yai’s Thai. That was our commitment.

LC: We still had our full-time jobs. We worked out of a commercial kitchen from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. because that was the cheapest time we could get space. Sarah and I were developing recipes, and started to make it. We would get really excited after we’d been at the kitchen for six hours and made 10 cases of salsa: Wow, that was awesome, we have all this inventory! And then it’d be gone at the next farmers market [on South Pearl Street in Denver].

What were some of the early challenges of starting Yai’s Thai?

LC: In 2016, we were in three Whole Foods Market locations in Colorado. It has been mostly a grind, trying to find retailers to carry the product.

SH: At first, we were driving around and dropping off cases all over Colorado. One of our early goals was national distribution. It became clear that we needed to get going with distribution. We really made that a focus and tried to figure out how to overcome that hurdle: You can’t get distribution without retailers, and you can’t get retailers until you have distribution. It was a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation that we really focused on trying to overcome.

What’s next for Yai’s Thai?

LC: We have some planned launches in 2018. We want to get in some other categories.

SH: We’ve got a lot of new distribution happening these last couple of months. We want to make sure we focus on that growth with the products we have. We don’t want to move into other spaces too quickly.

What trends do you see coming in your category?

LC: We’re seeing a lot of shift toward ethnic flavors because of who the consumer is becoming. People are seeking out something more unique than traditional condiments. We’re seeing that shift to healthy offerings. Both in natural and conventional, people are looking at ingredient lists.

SH: The cleaning up of labels and ingredients is certainly happening across all categories; we’re seeing it just starting in the Asian foods. Even in natural, Asian products are still really high in sodium or still have a ton of sugar in there. We haven’t seen a lot of truly clean labels come across this category yet, so we’re excited.

LC: There’s all this great innovation happening in the food space, but it hasn’t really touched Asian at all. We’re trying to fill that void.

What does your Yai think of your company?

LC: Grandmother is excited to see what we’re doing. Anything that we’re passionate about, she enjoys. We do have Yai’s approval for our recipes. That whole side of my family has approved our recipes.

12 of our favorite supplements to stock in 2018

Innovation, quality and transparency make for the best supplements in today's market. Here are a dozen standout products introduced to the market in the last year, which should make them a staple for stores looking to stay on trend and with it all. 

The Analyst’s Take: Snacks are the hottest category in functional foods

Claire Morton

Functional salty snacks, chips and bars grew 11.6 percent in 2016, reaching $5.4 billion in annual sales. The category has the strongest growth projections in functional food and beverage, adding an estimated $4 billion in annual sales over the next five years. Functional food and beverage overall has had strong growth as consumers seek products with more bang for their buck. The snacks category is no exception. Consumers are eagerly seeking feel-good snack products with that added benefit.

Trending functional ingredients in this category in 2017 included hemp, turmeric, collagen and probiotic cultures. From bags of popcorn dusted with turmeric to chips made with fermented ingredients to protein bars with added probiotics, this category is seeing no shortage of interesting innovation.

See more in NBJ's 2017 Functional Food Data Guide.

[email protected]: Kimbal Musk's school garden initiative expands | Qualities of high-performing grocery retailers

DIY garden

K. Musk's nonprofit rebrands, continues to expand

Kimbal Musk is renaming and scaling up a nonprofit program that he launched back in 2011 to bring spaces where kids can learn about the science of growing fruits and vegetables to U.S. public schools. Under the new name Big Green, Musk’s team will bring so-called learning gardens to 100 schools in Detroit, plus additional schools in Colorado, Kentucky, California and Texas. It’s a multi-million dollar effort aimed at getting kids outside, connecting them to nature, educating them and giving them a chance to run their own small food operations. Read more at BizWest…


Trader Joe’s, Costco and Amazon top list of shoppers’ preferred grocers

Combining a survey of 11,000 U.S. households with retailers’ financial performance, data science company Dunnhumby named Trader Joe’s, Costco, Amazon H-E-B, Walmart, Wegmans, Aldi, Sam's Club, Sprouts Farmers Market and Whole Foods Market shoppers’ most preferred grocers. Dunnhumby's report notes that the top-ranking grocers shared a few effective strategies: a focus on price, quality, value and digital execution. Read more at The Shelby Report…


Albertsons’ private label organic brand reaches $1 billion in sales

O Organics may be emerging as a favorite private label grocery brand. Albertsons reported that it has generated $1 billion in sales of O Organics products and plans to introduce some 500 new SKUs this year. The brand already encompasses more than 1,000 SKUs including milk, meats, snacks and baby food. Albertsons, which owns Safeway, Jewel-Osco, Acme and meal kit company Plated, operates stores in 35 states. Read more at Organic Authority…


Mexico and Hungary tried junk food taxes—and they seem to be working

Researchers from New York University and Tufts suggest that a sugar tax—like the ones that have been implemented in Hungary, Mexico and eight U.S. municipalities and cities—could work in the U.S. In a review of scientific literature published in the American Journal of Public Health, the researchers make a case for an excise tax on junk food manufacturers—though their suggestions are unlikely to go anywhere with the current administration. Both Mexico and Hungary have seen a reduction in junk food purchases since the taxes were imposed. Read more at Vox…


Natural foods co-op celebrates expansion

Vermont’s Middlebury Co-op has been a pillar for local students and residents for more than four decades. It recently unveiled a renovation that added 4,000 square feet of space for more seating, prepared foods and better flow in the store. Read more at The Middlebury Campus…


Innovation is pushing the collagen market from boom to blockbuster

collagen innovation

For a long time, there was this idea that collagen was a useless protein source because it’s not a complete protein, namely because it lacks the amino acid tryptophan. But then again, with 30 percent of the protein in the body being collagen, maybe the body respects it more than we’ve previously imagined. That biological affinity may be the prime reason for the rapid growth of collagen in the market.

“Collagen is an incomplete protein, but it is complete for 30 percent of your body,” says Tonja Lipp, senior manager of business development of health and nutrition at collagen supplier Gelita USA, which markets the Verisol trademarked collagen for skin health.

“Back in the day, I was always told it was the worst protein,” said industry veteran Rob Maru, innovation specialist at finished product brand Reserveage, which uses Gelita’s Verisol branded ingredient. “Protein manufacturers used to use collagen protein as a filler in bars because it was cheaper than whey or egg.”

Collagen today is not just an inexpensive protein source. It also rings the bell for paleo diet aficionados in hot products like bone broth.

“Bone broth products are super popular right now,” says Lipp. “If you look at these bone broth powders, the biggest ingredient is collagen; you extract collagen out of bone.”

Collagen is found in skin, cartilage, tendons, bone and muscle tissue. One-fifth of total bone mass is collagen, and fully 95 percent of the organic bone matrix is collagen. It also comprises 75 percent of skin and 70 percent of cartilage. After age 30, collagen degrades at a rate of about 1 to 2 percent each year.

No cow has ever died for its collagen. It’s a classic waste-stream product, derived from the process of making gelatin, only hydrolyzed collagen treated with enzymes does not gel.

Collagen is the latest vanity play ingredient—2.5 grams a day has positive effects on facial skin hydration, elasticity and roughness (Sugihara, 2015). Other studies add wrinkle reduction as another benefit (Inoue, 2015). And it doesn’t seem to matter the source—cow, pigs or fish, it’s all good in the collagen world (Koizumi, 2017). 

Seen one, seen ’em all? 

“Not all collagen is the same, but collagen from all of these raw materials is beneficial,” says Katie Nelson, business development manager of Wellnex Collagen Peptides at Nitta Gelatin NA. “Is bovine going to act the same as pork or fish? Our scientists say yes. It comes down to consumer preference or brand preference.”

However, while on the surface it seems one collagen is as good as another, technology innovators can alter raw collagen to provide a range of health benefits. That’s because peptide fractions of collagen can make a significant difference, determining whether the collagen powder is a simple protein source or provides a skin-health benefit.

Collagen types 1 and 3 are derived from either fish, bovine or pork. A 2.5-gram dose gives skin-health benefits, while levels up around 10 grams give joint-health benefits. Type 2 collagen comes exclusively from chickens and is used at much lower doses for joint health applications.

The interesting aspect of collagen is that it works in a different way from most nutrients, wherein when consumed, the nutrient makes its way to the nearest deficiency and the body fills up. Then collagen provides the amino acid starting materials for new collagen creation. But collagen peptides pieces cut into smaller peptides in different sizes stimulate the body’s own collagen metabolism.

“Big collagen pieces can’t talk to the cell,” explains Lipp. “But if you have just the right size of the peptide, they fit well with cell receptors and can communicate to the cells. The message from the collagen peptide pieces is that there’s a lot of collagen breakdown in your body so you need to produce more collagen. So, the cell makes more connective tissue. You get different skin-stimulating effects depending on how you cut the collagen.”

The central questions for innovators in the collagen space is which enzymes to use to cut the large peptide proteins down to size and how long to use the enzymes.

“Given the complexity of collagen and the various types, sources, molecular size, composition, and manufacturing methods, it is important to avoid drawing comparisons or conclusions on their mechanisms of action based on simplistic variables,” says Suhail Ishaq, president of ingredient supplier BioCell Technology. Seven human clinical trials support the safety and efficacy of BioCell Collagen and it carries a Health Canada health claim about both joint pain associated with osteoarthritis and maintenance of healthy skin.

With the Verisol collagen ingredient, one study showed a 65 percent increase in collagen production and a 20 percent reduction in wrinkles in eight weeks (Proksch, 2014).

“The production process is not so much about the raw material source or collagen type,” says Lipp. “It’s how you cut the big collagen protein into smaller collagen peptide pieces.”

For Nitta Gelatin, one collagen ingredient has effects on pressure ulcers or bed sores. Nitta also uses two key dipeptides, proline-hydroxyproline and hydroxyproline-glycine, that demonstrates a significant difference in skin moisture retention and elasticity, thus showing a reduction in wrinkles. Another peptide benefits those with osteoarthritis, says Nelson.

No-taste option means food integration 

The other difference that can come with different supply sources of collagen is taste. This can influence product formats, which is increasingly important because collagen is breaking through capsule and tablet formulations and is going far afield in providing consumers with a range of intake options. Powders are foremost, but product developers are rolling out bars, beverages, even tea bags with the efficacious dose of 2.5 grams.  

“When you taste pure collagen powder and you have a high-quality collagen peptide,” says Lipp, “it’s a white powder you dissolve in water, you get a neutral taste but a little animal taste.” She says collagen is comprised of roughly 90 percent protein, 8 percent water, 2 percent ash.  It is only the tiny traces that give it its flavor.  

“If you mixed it into tea you wouldn’t notice,” says Lipp. “If you mix it in chocolate, it doesn’t matter. In pure water you might get a slight, slight note but it’s not unpleasant. But if you mix it in water with a slight cucumber taste and you want the cucumber flavor, that collagen has to be extremely neutral. It depends on the quality, it depends on the company. Sensory, solubility—how fast it dissolves—and taste can be influenced through collagen production at the facility, and that could cost more.” 

Reserveage is renowned for its longstanding work in innovating different delivery formats so consumers can get their nutrition without changing their daily lifestyle practices. Because collagen resists heat, it makes collagen effective for baking or in soup or tea, and Reserveage offers single-serving tea and bone broth products with collagen. “I started Reserveage with collagen,” says CEO Naomi Whittel. “In the U.S. we’re taking the skin off our chicken so we’re not getting the collagen we want. We wanted to make something so easy to take collagen.” 

NeoCell markets the No. 1 collagen SKU in the natural channel and is now moving aggressively into the cooking space, working with chef influencers and rolling out two collagen cookbooks.  

“We feel like food should taste good but should also do something more for you,” says Shannon Hirtzel, marketing manager at NeoCell. “We’re pioneering this new space of collagen and cooking, we’re infusing everything from pancakes at breakfast to chili on a cool night.” 

“There’s a lot of collagen that’s crude and not as hydrolyzed and processed like Verisol,” says Maru, “so you might get a collagen that’s cloudy with a funky odor.” Cheaper collagen doesn’t mix well and doesn’t taste good, he says. Paying five times the price for a premium ingredient makes sense for Reservage’s odorless, tasteless, colorless aim. “And then the science. I want more than one human study showing an age-related benefit—wrinkle depth, lines and wrinkles diminishing in appearance, hydration, better skin tone.”  

So, while the history of collagen is as an inexpensive protein source, it became a fad as bone broth.  But don’t count Maru among the champions of bone broth. “We won’t be talking about bone broth in a year or two,” he says. “By Expo West 2019 it will be a thing of the past. Whenever something is not rooted in science it will eventually fall apart. Whereas if it had real science we’d see bone broth selling into the future.”  

But collagen for anti-aging effects like skin health and joint health? Science says there is a there there. And with the innovations around new finished product development, we can expect to continue to see collagen selling well until we are all old and (not) wrinkled.

This article appears in the Innovation issue of Nutrition Business Journal. The full issue is available for purchase here.


Nutrition Business Journal: December 2017

To some, synthetic biology is the impending apocalypse—ingredients so bio-identical they are undetectable could flood the market and mislead consumers. To others, it’s responsible sourcing that bypasses ecosystem exploitation. Outside the supplement aisles, many see synthetic biology saving the planet, or at least the bovine part of the planet, in the form of meat and dairy products grown without animals.

How far does innovation go before it starts to look like pharma? And how do supplements remain an alternative to pharma when all those white lab coats are strutting on the catwalk? Explore this theme and more in NBJ's December 2017 Innovation Issue.

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Noosa founder's advice for entrepreneurs: Ask for what you want

In a world overwhelmed by Greek yogurt, Koel Thomae introduced Aussie-style yogurt to the United States. Watch her explain how she overcame challenges in the process.

Natural Foods Merchandiser

9 steps to set up a top-notch category management strategy

Thinkstock/LoveTheWind independent retail category management

Most independent natural products retailers, including many highly successful ones, do not have an effective category management strategy in place. Some fear it would require too much work to crunch the numbers, review inventory and refresh product mixes by category. Others just aren’t of the data-analyzing mindset. Whatever the hesitation, experts agree it’s time for independents big and small to get on board with category management, as it will create efficiencies and boost profitability long-term.

“Category management is a critical piece of an overall business strategy,” says Dean Nelsen, owner of Dean’s Natural Food Market, a four-store independent in New Jersey. “In this highly competitive, rapidly changing retail environment, if you don’t have a really good handle on managing inventory by category, it can have a dramatic impact on your cash flow.”

Not sure where to start? Here are nine nuggets of wisdom. 

Lean on distributors. We get a lot of help from our distributors. They create planograms based on our existing sales velocity, SPINS data and the items that are performing well for them. Then we approve those planograms before any item can hit our shelves. Our head buyer will say “this doesn’t meet our ingredient standards” or, “we have a few local products that fit in that slot, so we don’t need this item.”

Try a numbering system. We put numbers on shelf tags to represent each product’s sales velocity. This lets us identify bestsellers so we can be sure to always have plenty of those SKUs in stock. A top-selling item gets a number one, meaning it sells four cases a week. A number-two item sells three cases a week, and a number-three item sells one case a week. It’s fine to have multiple number-ones in a category. But if you have three number-one agaves, for example, then you don’t need to bring in another agave. We review these numbers every six months because sales velocity changes with the seasons and trends.

Examine pricing and margin. When you get into more detailed category management, you start looking at pricing. For example, if you have one agave for $5.99 and another for $7.99—same size, comparable quality—how do you justify the more expensive agave? Or, if you have four brands of canned beans, priced low to high, can you cut out the middle options? We did, which let us reduce inventory without impacting sales. Wholesale pricing is a factor as well. Let’s say you carry five biotin supplements. Two are $10, but one can work on 60 percent margin, the other on 40 percent. If these products are of equal quality in consumers’ eyes, stick with the biotin that’ll make you the extra margin.

—Dean Nelson, owner of Dean’s Natural Food Market in New Jersey

Dig into data. Consumers today can go so many places to meet their needs. Only those retailers who use data effectively to understand what’s important to their best, most loyal customers will retain those shoppers and grow their baskets and number of trips. Which products are most important? What am I missing? Which products have the most price sensitivity to my best customers? How are my customers buying gluten-free or vegan or sustainable products? Am I meeting their dietary needs?

Leverage SPINS. We can set up your category managers with automated reports that show them the information they need to make better decisions on assortment, price and promotion. We help ensure they are meeting customers’ needs—quickly—with little to no investment, in ways that fit into their already busy weeks. SPINS can also prioritize which categories are most important to look at, focusing resources and labor in the right places. Especially if you’re just starting to implement a strategy and process, you can’t do it all. You must triage categories so you can apply your resources to the areas that they’ll make the most impact.

Don’t chase low prices. So many retailers chase pricing against the competition when they may not need to. Data allowd us to identify by customer group which products are most important to be priced right, and SPINS can give you more effective tools to manage this. You don’t have to match the big discount retailers on every price—you need data to be more targeted, and then you can invest the margin in the best places. Second, utilizing attribute data can make a big difference—how someone who is vegan shops a store is very different than someone who is not.

—Brian Gillis, executive vice president of retail at SPINS in Chicago 

Create a calendar. The category review process is all driven by a review calendar, so creating one is the easiest first step. Take all of the categories in your store and plot them out on a calendar so that you’re looking at each category once or twice a year—you don’t need to be reviewing all of them all the time. Make sure you follow this calendar, even if you don’t do a complete analysis each time. The more you stick to a routine, the more time you’ll save because you’ll have confidence that your assortment is right.

Start broad, and hone as you go. Which factors you look at during each category review will depend on the type of retailer you are and how new you are to the process. Try not to get intimidated—wherever you need to start is OK. To start, you might simply look over the set and make sure the category is merchandised well—and maybe that’s all you have time for that round. Then the next time you can reference the data to make sure everything on the shelf is actually selling. From there, the review can get more in-depth, such as asking whether you have the best promotional strategy in that category.

Use intuition to your advantage. While major chains and large companies only have data to rely on, you can use data along with your intuition to make the best decisions for your store—decisions that reflect your mission and values. This is actually a big advantage that independents have over giant companies. You can use best practices of the big data sets, analyze the data and implement it. Through that, you get a great assortment of bestselling products, but you also have room to showcase your store’s unique offerings, whether specific dietary attributes or local values.

—Matt Ryan, retail services manager at the Independent Natural Food Retailers Association in St. Paul, Minnesota