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Articles from 2020 In December


The trends COVID-19 pushed into warp speed

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New Hope Network regularly tracks industry trends, but it's tough to forecast a pandemic and the ripple effects like those seen in 2020. We've identified six industry trends that COVID-19 catapulted into mainstream life at a faster rate than anyone could have predicted.

Learn how each trend is playing out, the test results that are validating them and the predictions for 2021 and beyond.

Brands going direct-to-consumer

Trend: Launching a new product or company in 2020 likely looked a lot different than originally anticipated for natural products brands. And with the rise in online shopping going into high gear as consumers looked to limit their time spent in stores even more, startups were forced to course-correct quickly in order to move forward with their launch plans. This often meant creating a direct-to-consumer platform as a way to enter the market.

Also realized was a surge of established brands introducing e-commerce websites to meet at-home demand as well as combat disruptions in the supply chain.

How it's spreading: The shuttering of foodservice outlets like offices and schools, decreased restaurant capacity and closures, as well as a decline in in-store shopping led many brands to switch up their business models and channel approaches. Wheyward Spirits built an e-commerce platform after the pandemic thwarted the startup's plan to serve its whey-based alcohol on-premise. Wünder's founders admit that running an online store wasn't part of the dairy brand's original five-year business plan but say the current circumstances led them to rethink their strategy. Among others, CBD brand Amari Botanicals and snack brand Avo Crazy both launched only online this year.

Furthermore, established brands, such as Rowdy Mermaid, Chloe's and Before the Butcher, that didn't yet have a direct-to-consumer channel set up moved quickly to implement online stores to supplement their retail and foodservice channels.

Lab results: In May, a New Hope Network NEXT Data and Insights survey identified a nearly 30% increase in U.S. consumers who regularly buy groceries online, compared to 20% in 2017. In November, 43% of online grocery shoppers said they plan to continue online grocery shopping the same amount as they did during stay-at-home.

Prognosis: As more shoppers embrace online shopping, this trend will continue beyond the pandemic. Consumers will come to expect to be able to shop when they want, how they want, and this includes ordering directly from the companies they've become loyal fans to. The next challenge brands will face will be to meet the ecological demands of those loyal fans by practicing sustainable shipping and packaging methods.

Plant-based innovation

Trend: Plant-based eating was already on the rise coming into 2020, with a market share that grew by 11.4% in 2019 to reach $5 billion, according to data from the Plant Based Food Association (PBFA) and SPINS. At the same time, the PBFA estimates that flexitarians now represent more than one-third of adults in this country—a trend undoubtedly on the rise because of consumers’ growing concerns about their own health, the environment and animal welfare.

This has led brands to innovate a new generation of meat and dairy “alts” ideated to capture consumers who want to eat fewer animal products, but don’t want to sacrifice on flavor, texture or function. Emerging products represent advances in research and development, as well as efforts to truly equate “plant-based” with “better-for-you.”

How it's spreading: One company embracing this strategy is Miyoko’s Creamery, which in 2020 launched a line of legume-based cheeses that taste and melt like real cheddar or pepper jack, and that were created to appeal to a wider, flexitarian consumer base. Another is Eat JUST, a brand whose mung bean-based omelets are extremely similar in taste and texture to eggs and emulate their functional and nutritional attributes.

Furthermore, investment in brands innovating in the plant-based space is on the rise, according to data from New Hope Network NEXT Data and Insights and Nutrition Capital Network.

Lab results: 

 

 

Prognosis: Whether innovation in this area is driving sales or sales are driving innovation, it is clear that plant-based food and beverages innovation will continue to grow. Watch for plant-based innovations that attempt to reduce processing and increase the nutritional attributes of meat and dairy alts, as well as those with functional ingredients and those that are on a mission to make healthy, animal-product alternatives more accessible, with the goal of creating a more equitable and plant-based food system for all.

Daily immune support amid the pandemonium

Trend: Immunity supplements always experience an uptick during the cold and flu season. Big-time health scares like specific flu epidemics invariably lead to booms. COVID-19? That’s taken wellness supplements to a whole ’nother level.

How it’s spreading: Many brands are slapping “immunity” on old supplement SKUs much like they were integrating CBD into lines in 2019. In other cases, old ingredients are being combined to create super powers—the Symbiotics Probiotic with Colostrum is emblematic here (bonus points for being a BIPOC-owned brand). Vitamins C, D and zinc are old reliable ingredients that have gained easy consumer favor—Nutritional Brands launched Zinc Up, an innovative spray the company quickly developed using ionic zinc that allows the mineral to readily bond with water, making the delivery format possible and for the body to readily absorb it. Barlean’s also has gone the nonpill format with a spray olive leaf extract. And nutrition legend Jeffrey Bland, PhD, started a new brand, Big Bold Health, featuring the concept of immune rejuvenation—you can build your immune system like you can muscles in a gym, featuring a newly discovered exotic ingredient, Himalayan Tartary Buckwheat.

Lab results: The year 2020 is proving to be the banner of all banner years. Nutrition Business Journal is tracking immunity supplements to grow at an eye-popping 51.2% over 2019 sales. The biggest winner of all is elderberry—the purple syrupy herb is being pegged by NBJ to grow at just north of 200% in 2020. But it’s not even just immune-centric supplements that are being snatched up—sales of multivitamins, the cornerstone of nutritional wellness, are up about 112% in 2020.

Prognosis: Even with approved vaccines signaling the light at the end of the tunnel, the idea of maintaining wellness is not lost on anybody. That spells a new, significantly elevated baseline for supplements in general and immune-support products specifically.

New ways of brand storytelling

Trend: In recent years, brands have been on a path of communicating through greater depth and value. By incorporating new and innovative ways of targeting and connecting with consumers, a brand demonstrates that it fully understands and meets its consumer’s needs by telling the stories behind the brand mission and product solutions. The pandemic has presented challenges in getting these messages across. Because they can't be in stores doing demos, founders have had to think of creative ways to connect with consumers and share their brand stories as well as the values that drive the brands.

How it's spreading: Virtual cooking demonstrations posted to social media or online conference platforms have exploded as one way to connect with consumers who are making most of their meals at home. Brands such as Gardein and Caulipower used the popular IGTV platform and enlisted celebrity help to create engaging online experiences for their followers—no tasting of the product required. This enabled the brands to connect with their core consumers in a more personal and long-lasting way.

Forager Project, among others, launched a campaign to help get out the vote for the 2020 U.S. election and used branding—from landing pages and social media channels to limited-edition packaging—to activate its target consumer base and cultivate a message about what the company stands for.

Lab results: Survey results from New Hope Network NEXT Data and Insights suggest that consumers are still keyed into these behaviors and continue to care about brands that uphold their values. Specifically, 30% of consumers who prioritize natural brands, products or ingredients say they are doing more research than normal to understand the political views of brands and retailers.

And values-based consumer behavior hasn't declined significantly, despite the pandemic, according to our tracking of consumer behavior throughout the year.

Prognosis: It's difficult to replace the sensory experience that product sampling provides (shoppers do consume most of these products after all), but 2020 has forced brands to think beyond traditional marketing messaging, providing an opportunity for greater depth in telling the story behind the products and the values of the people behind the companies. This level of transparency is what consumers want—and will demand—going forward.

Quest for Rest

Trend: It’s a strange paradox all right—we need energy yet we can’t sleep. Is the root cause anxiety and stress? Too much screen time for too long? Or just modern life as we know it?

How it’s spreading: Getting better sleep is not just about sleeping pills. So Good So You has a sleep shot that contains chill herbs California poppy and lavender, plus probiotics to settle your tummy for a good night’s rest. Along the same lines, H2rOse rose water is a pint’s worth of rose water tonic with some bonus saffron—who’s not wild about saffron? Hemp CBD is capitalizing on the COVID-19 freakout with the selling point of cannabidiol including thwarting anxiety and stress and helping with sleep. Winged Women’s Wellness goes one better by combining hemp CBD with melatonin, 5-HTP, GABA and L-theanine. And it’s all in a gummy.

Lab results: After a few flat years, melatonin has suddenly roared back to life, with 2019 sales growth pegged at 14%, and another 17% in 2020, according to Nutrition Business Journal data. Melatonin makes up about half of all healthy sleep supplement ingredients in market share, followed by hemp CBD at 13% and combination herbs at 11%.

Top sleep supplement ingredients

Prognosis: There’s a chance that the new year will bring about a new political administration with the promise of eliminating the daily damage report, plus the COVID-19 vaccines could also bring about blessed relief. But if we only go back to the way we were, we weren’t exactly Rip Van Winkles in 2015, either.

Plant-based ethics/Responsible animal protein

Trend: Though seemingly on opposite ends of the spectrum, these trends go hand in hand in many regards—each in its own way a reaction to people’s growing concern about injustices in the conventional dairy and meat industries. Plant-based ethics speaks to the ugly side effects of the livestock industry as a driver for consumers to consume more plants and avoid animal-based foods entirely.

At the same time, the push for more responsible animal proteins is a reflection of similar concerns and an awareness about the egregious side effects of the meat, seafood and dairy industries on our social and environmental conscience. This awareness is driving consumers to seek out meat and dairy products that have been produced in more humane, sustainable and responsible ways.

In addition to people’s overarching concerns about health and the environment, both of these trends speak to core questions of injustice. On the one hand, the pandemic has finally helped thrust the inhumane treatment of animals onto the national psyche like never before, while COVID-19 outbreaks in meatpacking plants have shone the light on the exploitation of meat production workers, a large percentage of whom are immigrants.

How it's spreading: Brands are creating more sustainably and responsibly sourced plant-based alternatives to animal products. Ripple Foods embraces the idea that even the smallest actions can have lasting impact. The brand uses pea protein in its alternative to real-dairy milk—making the conscious choice to source from a crop that has a smaller environmental impact than, for example, almonds. It also sources its peas in places with abundant water so as not to require irrigation. Brands that engage in direct trade and fair wage programs that support workers and communities are also supporting the push toward greater equity in our food systems.

The move away from conventional animal products has also helped drive demand for more responsibly sourced and sustainably produced meat and dairy products. Vital Farms lists the farm where the eggs were produced on the end of each carton and the company sources only from pasture-raised hens from small family farms. Additionally, the products are all Certified Humane and the brand embraces environmentally conscious agricultural practices. For their part, both Thousand Hills and Grass Run Farms’ cattle consume forage diets their entire lives and are 100% pasture raised.

Lab results: According to New Hope Network’s NEXT Data and Insights survey results, 46% of consumers find the 100% grass-fed certification important when shopping for meat products. In addition, 39% find USDA Certified Organic important while 34% find Certified Humane important.

Prognosis: Though many consumers still don’t seem to be giving up their meat entirely, they are in a discovery period of adding plant-based alternatives and seeking more sustainable and ethical meat and dairy options. Transparency around sourcing standards will continue to expand in both categories, and flexitarian consumers will be wooed by the increasing number of products that offer convincing plant-based alternatives at competitive prices. Although plant-based milk and meat products will continue to boom, plant-based butters, eggs and seafood will continue to grow as important plant-based categories.

[email protected]: Stimulus aid bill stalls out | Employers no longer required to give paid sick time

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Here's what Trump's attempt to upend the stimulus deal means

President Trump is threatening the long-sought economic relief package passed by Congress Monday night. Though the President didn’t explicitly threaten to veto the bill, he posted a surprise video on Twitter Tuesday night cataloging his complaints about the bill, including that it included too-low direct payments to millions of Americans. CNN has the latest.

Employers will no longer be required to give paid leave to workers with COVID-19

The $900 billion relief package would extend tax credits for employers offering paid leave to workers with COVID-19 or those taking care of someone with the virus. But starting on Jan. 1 employers would no longer be required to offer it. Despite Democrats' efforts to extend the requirement that was set in March, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked the extension, fearing that renewing the mandate would position the paid leave policy for permanency. Health experts are expressing concern that the lack of paid sick leave—which has shown to be an effective public health measure—puts communities at greater risk of spreading the virus. Get the details at Huffington Post.

Big Ag and labor groups alike want food and farm workers at the front of the vaccination line

The first two groups to receive the Pfizer vaccine will be frontline health workers and those living and working in nursing homes, with Moderna's vaccine taking a similar course. Depending on supply and distribution for those in this first phase, the vaccination of the nation’s essential workers could be several weeks to months away. What remains unclear is if farm and food works will be included in the essential worker population. The Counter takes a look.

Why apple detectives are tracking down lost varieties

At least 17,000 named varieties of apples were once grown in the U.S. after early colonists brought apples to America; today, there are just 5,000. The Lost Apple Project aims to fix that. The nonprofit organization has found 23 lost or nearly extinct apple varieties. But the group can't do it alone. Modern Farmer has the scoop.

Earth Fare grocery store’s likely Fairfax replacement? A golf superstore

Earth Fare closed its 20,000-square-foot Kamp Washington store in January 2020 after only two years. Construction plans for the space indicate that a PGA Tour Superstore will take over the space along with an adjacent one. The Washington Business Journal has the full story.

[email protected]: Are food and farmworkers next in line for the COVID-19 vaccine? | More stimulus deal ramifications for the food industry

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Should food and farmworkers be next in line for the COVID-19 vaccine?

For months the frontline workers keeping the U.S. food system flowing have pressed on despite rising COVID-19 cases and a stark lack of financial compensation for their at-risk status. For this and other reasons, many groups believe these employees deserve to be first (after healthcare professionals, of course) to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. But states are also receiving 20% to 40% fewer doses of the vaccine than what was initially anticipated, meaning inoculation could come to late for many of these essential workers. Civil Eats has the full story.

Here’s what the long-awaited stimulus agreement means for the food industry

In addition to reviving the Paycheck Protection Program, the latest stimulus agreement includes a 15% increase in SNAP benefits for six months and an estimated $13 billion will be going toward other nutrition programs. The Department of Agriculture was also authorized to spend money on protective measures for farmworkers and establish better safety standards for people working in food processing. It also allocates funding toward small-scale growers and processors that largely lost out to giant corporations in the first stimulus agreement. The Counter reports.

FDA orders Whole Foods to improve allergen warnings on products

Federal health officials this week sent a warning letter to Whole Foods CEO John Mackey after discovering that undeclared allergens were the leading cause for dozens of the retailer's recalled products. From October 2019 to November 2020 alone the company issued 32 recalls for this reason. FDA officials stated that a failure to correct these violations will result in seizures or injunctions. Head to Fox News to learn more.

Lawsuit would overturn EPA approval of dicamba

The Center for Biological Diversity and three other groups are filing a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency for damaging millions of acres of farmland. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced an extended approval of the herbicide a week before the presidential election on account of new safeguards in the form of a pH-buffering agent. The lawsuit states that EPA did not consult with environmental agencies before coming to this conclusion. Read the rest at Successful Farming.

Green and tonic: Gin in paper bottles is the new eco-tipple

The world's first commercial gin in a paper bottle will debut on shelves in early 2021, with many more spirits to follow. British company Frugalpak wanted to create an alternative to the carbon-intensive glass model ubiquitous to the alcohol industry. Frugalpak's model is five times lighter than its glass counterpart and has a carbon footprint up to six times lower than it as well. Take a peek at the design at The Guardian.

KeHE honors purpose-driven brands with 5 new CAREtrade partners

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KeHE is proud to introduce its new 2021 class of CAREtrade partners. 

The program, founded in 2017 by passionate employees, identifies and promotes brands that advance a higher purpose than commercial success. CAREtrade aligns with KeHE's core mission and dedication, to serve to make lives better. As identified in KeHE's 2021 trends to watch, consumers are leaning into purposeful purchases with Fair Trade certification and claims growing five percent over the last year. Through the support of the program, past CAREtrade suppliers have grown their KeHE sales by 25%. 

Robert Bradley, president and co-founder of Ramona Family Naturals and KeHE customer shared, "For us, CAREtrade joins the power of capitalism and community to fight these plagues [like human trafficking or violent crimes] ... These companies are doing the hard work and you can support them by simply purchasing their great products; items you use daily." 

Scott Silverman, vice president of business development and CAREtrade committee leader shared, "While the program has enabled these brands to reach more retailers and sales than before, that is only a fraction of their success. The program ultimately enables multiple parts of the food marketplace work towards a common goal of doing good. Through CAREtrade, we connected brands to other partners to drive their mission of serving their communities and those in need."

For example, Small Axe Peppers, one of five new CAREtrade partners, connects community gardens with ethically conscious customers through their hot sauce. The company donates seeds to over 100 community gardens across America, including gardens run by KeHE Cares partners, each with a unique social mission that reflects the surrounding neighborhood. 

Join KeHE in welcoming the new CAREtrade partners for 2021: 

  • Chickapea, dedicated to feeding healthy meals to children in need, donates three cents from every package of chickpea or lentil pasta sold. A portion of the profits also goes towards community education on sustainable agriculture. 
  • KiZE, meaning continuous improvement or change for the better in Japanese, has a mission to help others become their best-self through food, service and charity. Through their mission, they focused on feeding and building self-sustaining communities in Haiti, along with its focus on underserved youth in the Oklahoma City area. The brand's nut butter-based bars reflect their mission, comprised of simple, high-quality and real food ingredients. 
  • Small Axe Peppers, donates pepper seeds to organizations, then throughout the growing season, community gardeners sell the peppers back to Small Axe at a premium to produce the brand's hot sauce. In turn, creating a sustainable revenue stream for vital community development work. 
  • Teeccino, an alternative brand of premier herbal coffees and teas, utilizes botanicals from developing countries to create a new source of income to empower women in rural communities. The company also supports nutrition education programs through cooperative organizations to better utilize available food resources and improve health across communities involved in the supply chain. 
  • Ziba Foods' mission is to help re-establish Afghanistan's position as a world-renowned producer of the highest quality dried fruits and nuts while building a credible global supply chain. Through their traceability and farmer-direct advance pay, the company can fairly compensate farmers while supporting their mission. Over 80% of the company's workforce consists of women, with the brand offering marginalized women year-round and full-time employment. 

The five CAREtrade partners will join Beyond Good, Naya Natural Foods, Project 7, Rumi and Equal Exchange; these brands were inducted in the 2020 class and are continuing in the program for a second year.

Bhakti, This Bar Saves Lives, NuttZo, World Centric and The Soulfull Project, the 2019 class, graduated from the program after two successful year in CAREtrade. 

Source: KeHE

Unboxed: 21 supplements to stock for 2021

The ground has shifted mightily in the supplements aisle in the last year. Supplements sales are way up, and immunity supplements are off the charts. In fact, immune-support supplements may be turning out to be the next multivitamin—the foundation of health.

Click through to read about 21 supplements that will fly off shelves in 2021. They’re immunity-forward, but half of them cover other conditions. 

6 natural product retail trends to win in 2021 and beyond

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Talk of natural product retail trends? Is there really such a thing after a pandemic rollercoaster year of rushes and slowness, of safety and health concerns along with some customer bravado, of stocking and supply issue after issue, and of cashflow worries to boot?

What retailer has had a moment to breathe? Not a one.

Not much seems to be changing as we enter 2020. Yet, while that might appear true, the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the future of retail faster than ever into the now. Meeting needs for today and planning for the future remain musts, even during these challenging times.

Here’s a guide to help navigate the natural product retail trends that matter today and post-pandemic.

1. Put a laser focus on convenience.

Any retailer who has heard me speak knows I tout convenience regularly. Those that hadn’t prepared for making shopping as easy as possible for time-starved customers pivoted quickly to make it convenient for shoppers concerned about safety. Over night health food shoppers sought the same services conventional grocers have been practicing (note, I didn’t say perfecting): buy online pick up in store (BOPIS), curbside pickup, delivery.

These omnichannel retailer services alone do not comprise convenience. Retailers must review every step a shopper takes, from planning menus to thinking about shopping to grabbing a cart in the store and maneuvering it through the aisles to checkout and then getting home and unpacking her bags or boxes. How is your natural products store helping along the way? Know your shoppers’ problems and be the one to solve them.

2. Make eating at home easy.

Well before the pandemic one health food store owner I know who prides herself on her prepared foods mentioned finding success in the most boring of offerings. A customer asked if the deli staff could just roast and cut him a handful of chickens and boil a couple of dozen eggs every few days. The young man sought a convenient (there’s that word again) way to meet his high-protein diet without having to meal prep himself. Soon, he sent his friends.

Many food retail customers might be like that young man needing a little help in the kitchen now that the sourdough baking fad has faded and the reality of cooking three meals a day at home and prepping snacks for sometimes the whole family has set in.

The tables have tipped back to eating at home. Before shutdowns changed dining out and safety concerns drove consumers to stay home, consumers spent a majority of their food dollars eating away from home.

USDAfood spending breakdown chart

This massive shift has changed what’s selling in the center store. How have you adjusted what you stock, how you merchandise it and the services you offer?

Customers need meal solutions across the store. Think meal kits, meal components, precut veggies, marinated meats and ready-to-grill kabobs. What more and different is possible with prepared foods?

Make cooking at home convenient (there’s that word again and again) for shoppers. Two additional macro forces sure to influence home cooking: the minimalism/simplicity movement and frugality. Minimalism has taken hold in fashion and décor. It’s coming to the kitchen as meal prep fatigue sets in, too. And already some data show shoppers turning to value-priced products. This could continue until the economy recovers and school meals again fill some children’s plates once a day.

3. Curate selection for simplicity and differentiation.

What you stock and how you sell it makes you stand out from other food sellers. Curating the in-store selection to serve your niche will be more important than ever in a future that has customers turning to online purchasing for their everyday commodities (that could be from your store, too, mind you) and conventional grocery stores continue to integrate natural brands into their shelves and build natural wellness into their HABA areas.

What’s your store’s purpose? And how does it come to life in product selection, promotion, education and more?

Do you curate for health and well-being? Is your store the place for local goods? Do you cater to healthy gourmands? Do you provide an experience for delight and discovery? Perhaps you offer minimal staples and design the store for special occasion shoppers and those seeking some retail therapy.

Put your focus forward. Retail differentiation is more challenging—but more important—than ever.

Curate and tell your story well to make your natural store’s focus known and obvious. I recently walked a store whose staff and a couple of signs told me of its commitment to local. However, seeing this in the aisles was nearly impossible, and I was looking for it.

Curation and storytelling go hand in hand with mission. Mission-based brands receive so much attention in the natural products industry. Yet those brand stories and store sameness gloss over retailer missions. If mission matters to you, make sure a curated product selection, in-store displays, social media, advertising, community service and so much more clearly celebrate that story.

More and more consumers want to support responsible businesses, and that matters at retail, too.  Make the store mission known.

4. Link locale and local movements.

Celebrating local food and farmers has grown from seemingly quaint to commonplace. Yet lessons learned and loss of connection experienced during COVID-19 could renew the great importance of local.

First, a few lessons learned. Long and winding supply chains left some food retailers in a lurch as stockpiling shoppers shifted just-in-time stocking algorithms and often put small retailers behind bigger ones for priority distribution service. Oversized meat processing plants placed workers and meat supply in danger. Divided foodservice and retail food systems left milk, eggs, produce and more dumped. An economy flipped on its head overnight left local businesses behind and the governments and nonprofits they support to struggle from lacking donations and tax dollars.

Local food fills more than a great plate, it feeds the local economy and area residents. Many in business have understood this but consumers haven’t always connected to the whole story. Now is the time to make the message clear, act on it and share it—all in a big way.

Such efforts are part of building local connections, something so many have lost in a year of isolation. Health food stores have long been known for being centers of community, rebuilding those centers in a larger way in a post-pandemic world serves both foot traffic and greater social purpose.

When the coloring book craze swept the country, one natural products retailer found its open coloring night in its café to be the most attended events it offered all year. Imagine the community connection your customers yearn for and find a way to help fill it—when it’s safe, of course.

5. Put health at the heart of it.

A longtime retailer once asked me: Remember when this was the health food industry? I do. And even in the flurry of fads and buzz of social media that sometimes attracts all the attention, health is at the heart of the natural products industry. And it deserves a bigger spotlight as the nation needs stronger foundational health and a focus on wellness.

Interest has grown in recent years. It’s an imperative now.  

As the COVID-19 pandemic wore on in 2020, the number of consumers who say they are buying better-for-you products has grown. Early in the year 27% reported such purchasing; in November, 35% percent said they were, according to a New Hope Network NEXT Data and Insights poll. The number focused on natural and organic products also took a large leap from 23% to 31%. Supplement sales are following, too, with an estimated yearly growth rate of 12.1%, according to Nutrition Business Journal.

Health might be central to your natural products store—your mission, story and curated selection building on it. Or it might just be a component, with some health classes and nutritional service offerings. Either way, being of service to customers on their journey to health will help differentiate your store from the conventionals that focus more on the better for you than the best for you.

Consumers seek trusted sources of information, why shouldn’t health food retailers fill that need along with the products to serve it? Once upon a time such stores were the only place to turn. Now social media platforms a plenty provide information. Retailers shouldn’t fear the platforms but use them and be there live and in person as a trusted resource.

6. Adopt a data mindset.

To know your customer and really knowing your customers is a distinction to adopt, if you haven’t already. Natural food retailers connect well with regular shoppers. They talk to them in the aisle and chat up what's current at checkout. Juice bar staff might know a dozen regulars orders from memory. Anecdotes tell the tale of service. Diving into data tells the real story.

Sales data, movement reports, marketing response rates, customer demographics, everything you can pull out of your customer relationship management software … collect the data and, most importantly, use it.

Too many in natural products retailing haven’t even made it to the first step of collecting important information about their customers and their inventory.

Using data does not take the humanity out of natural products retailing. That’s the service so many tout as their winning trait. Instead, it helps retailers understand the people they serve so much better so that they can improve what they offer customers, gain more customers (serve more health to more people) and improve the bottom line.

[email protected]: Small businesses snag $284B plus PPP tax breaks in new stimulus deal | Global food industry drives habitat loss

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COVID-19 relief bill adds PPP tax breaks the Treasury opposed

The new stimulus agreement will provide small businesses with more than $284 billion in forgivable loans under the Payment Protection Program, which lapsed over the summer. Small businesses that took a PPP loan earlier in 2020 and have seen their revenues fall by 25% will be able to obtain a second loan. Congress will also allow PPP borrowers to take tax deductions for covered business expenses. CNBC reports.

Global food industry on course to drive rapid habitat loss

According to a new report, almost 90% of land animals are likely to lose some of their habitat by 2050 should current food and farming trends continue apace. The lead authors stated that policymakers will have to decide which method (e.g., eating less meat, reducing food waste, increasing crop yields) will have the biggest benefit for a given region, but global coordination and rapid action are musts. Head to The Guardian for more details.

Restaurants are critical to cultured meat's evolution

The era of cultured meat is almost upon us, and restaurants will play a key role in helping both consumers and regulators accept this sustainable and largely cruelty-free form of animal protein. These startups need to partner with venues that have a vested interest in building a better food system and can keep the prices of cultured meat dishes on par with conventional animal meat protein. The Spoon has the scoop.

The rise of the charcuterie-free charcuterie board

You might think that charcuterie boards, often implemented at large gatherings, would have taken a back seat in 2020 to other food trends. You'd be wrong, however. Cheese board purveyors adapted early on through smaller, individualized formats. But notably these boards have also expanded far beyond their cheese and meat roots—plant-based versions have unsurprisingly risen in popularity. Get the skinny at Vice ...

How COVID-19 upended the design of fast-food restaurants

With drive-thru and online ordering as the new normal, fast-food chains are unveiling prototypes for new locations that reduce or eliminate indoor dining space and focus on digital. Chipotle, for instance, recently opened a first-of-its-kind restaurant that has customers order ahead through an app and has no dining space at all. Because it's so much smaller than the traditional model, the design can fit cheaply in urban areas where real estate is more expensive. Learn more at CNN ...

Leadership and stewardship: Fred Linder steps down from New Hope Network presidency

Fred Linder

New Hope Network President Fred Linder knows that he led a linchpin to the natural products industry for “a generation” and he is excited to talk about passing the company on to “a new generation” as he steps away from the job at the end of the month. What is less easy to talk about for a man accustomed to avoiding the spotlight is that his time at the helm was bracketed by two generation-defining events.

Linder was transitioning into the role of New Hope’s president in September 2001 when terrorists flew jetliners through the World Trade Center towers. Less than a month before Natural Products Expo East was scheduled to open, with the airlines grounded and the nation in shock, he decided that the show would go on. Nearly 20 years later, Linder is leaving the role months after being forced to decide that Natural Products Expo West could not.

But while he can see that 9/11 and the COVID-19 pandemic may stand as bookends to his time in the job, he does not allow them to define his tenure. It’s what happened in the middle, and the team he built to make it happen, that matters, he says. “I am overwhelmingly proud of what’s been accomplished,” Linder says, “and I’ve done none of it by myself, at all.”

People who’ve watched Linder through both crises and also witnessed those in-between years say that it is the choices Linder made when the industry wasn’t hanging on his verdict that likely matter most in the long run. Those decisions are Linder’s real legacy, they say.

 New Hope’s founder, Doug Greene, kept his eyes focused more closely than most on those decisions—“Every founder worries,” he says—and Greene is quick to say that Linder’s day-to-day leadership put him at ease from the beginning. “I think people are going to remember that he was one of those rare gems who always had a holistic view of the industry,” Greene says. “That’s hard to find in a senior executive manager. Most of them can only focus on particular parts of the business.”

Like many others, Greene reflected that Linder does not put himself “out front” as the face of New Hope, but Greene also appreciated that Linder wasn’t afraid to stand up for his company and his people. “A lot of former founders are not so happy with who is running their creations these days. I was always extremely happy,” says Greene who describes Linder as “family” and also thanks him for “keeping the family that is New Hope together.”

That idea of family was important to Linder’s management style, Greene says, explaining that Linder was adept at building a team and then looking to that team to help make decisions. “He was facilitating decisions rather than making them from his own point of view.”

Cultivation and culture

Linder wouldn’t argue with Greene’s appraisal. His goal, he says, was always “to be the dumbest person in the room but fill that room with people who are really good at what they’re doing.”

Creating a community was more important than creating a hierarchy, Linder says. New Hope has a mission at its core, he points out and that mission, bringing more health to more people, simultaneously creates community and cannot be accomplished without it.

Culture and community, both inside New Hope offices and sprawling across the acres of show floor at Natural Products Expo East and West, are what industry leaders are calling Linder’s greatest accomplishment. Former Whole Foods Market Co-CEO Walter Robb says many might not appreciate just how difficult it is to keep a company’s culture on track during such massive growth. Both culture and community became integral to the expo experience and something felt across the natural products industry. “You had a growing industry and you had a growing feeling of community and belonging and that’s not an easy thing to do,” Robb says.

People who haven’t made building genuine spirit part of their leadership may not understand how difficult, and how rare, that is, Robb says. “You’ve got to work at it, you’ve got to commit to doing the things that make people feel good about being part of it. You have to make it real.”

Robb is far from alone in that estimation. Industry consultant Tim Avila has watched Linder make New Hope’s mission “real” for years. With the industry growing and big money rolling in, Linder was able to keep the company grounded throughout. “How do you even hang onto the steering wheel?” Avila asks. “I think Fred should get a huge amount of credit for keeping New Hope on track from a vision standpoint and from a transparency standpoint.”

Avila calls that ability “an impossible challenge.” “It’s a masterpiece in my view,” he says.

Personalized nutrition pioneer Jeff Bland attributes Linder’s success in that culture equation to “a very interesting style of management, which is not written down in any management textbook or taught at Harvard Business School.” That management style focused not just on challenging his staff to do their best but trusting that they would challenge him in turn. “These are people who probably did some of the great work of their lives in that environment,” Bland says.

That’s what keeps a culture alive, Bland notes. “He preserved the old; he celebrated the legacy; but then quietly and diligently grew it up to the next level of success.”

Quotes by Mark Blumenthal

American Botanical Council founder Mark Blumenthal calls Linder’s role and his results a matter of “stewardship.” “He was a steward in the highest sense of the term. Stewardship involves a certain sense of care. You add water. You make sure there is sunlight and nutrients. And you basically set it up to grow,” Blumenthal says. “He inherited a garden and it flourished under his stewardship.”

Sandy Gooch, who helped build the model for natural food stores with Mrs. Gooch’s Natural Food Market, describes the secret to Linder’s success, and New Hope’s success in turn, as not so much a style as a viewpoint, one that was wide in scope. “Fred thought about the past, present and future and related that to everything he would be dealing with,” says Gooch, who recalls a yearly expo dinner with Linder that would include discussion of “the industry, life, history, the future, people, goals, fill in the blank.” She points to a slogan that she had printed on shopping bags, newsletters and placards at her store: “Caring today about tomorrow.”

“Fred exemplifies that statement,” she says. “He always talked about the values of various companies and the ethics of what he was doing.” That’s what keeps a company’s culture intact, its spirit intact, she says. “All you had to do was talk with him to know that that spirit was there.”

Colleagues and connections

Leading a large company at the epicenter of a giant industry doesn’t always leave room for personal connection. Days from leaving New Hope, Linder talks eagerly about a chance to slow down from the 24/7 onslaught of decision and distraction and reconnect with friends. He tells the story of a high school friend who came by for a recent socially distant chat around the firepit. Linder’s wife, Julie, asked him before the visit what his friend had been up to and he confessed that he wasn’t sure. “I manage to stay really close to my kids and my family. After that, there’s a pretty sharp drop off and I am looking to reconnect with people at a different level,” Linder says.

People who knew him through his New Hope role say they didn’t sense the distance Linder describes.

Tom Aarts remembers a conversation about a personal matter during which, he says, Linder “nailed me between the eyes with tough love.” Another conversation, both very direct and very caring, challenged him on a professional matter. It was a message Aarts says he’s seen Linder share with others, “Want to get to the next level, here’s what you’ve got to do.”

“He defends his people,” Aarts says. “He’s a man of principle.”

United Natural Products Alliance President Loren Israelsen recalls a time when he was in France and very ill but still talking about flying back to the U.S. for Expo West. “He was checking on me regularly and he said, ‘you absolutely will not do that.’ He said, ‘don’t be an idiot.’”

When Israelsen was considering selling the building that houses UNPA’s offices, he called Linder again. “He told me, ‘you know what to do,’ and he was right.”

Those kinds of personal connections and often direct advice are coming back to Linder now. With his last day at New Hope approaching, Linder says he is getting notes from colleagues and clients and many end with the same advice: take time to breathe. Some people retire from long stints in demanding jobs and don’t know what to do next. Linder has “nothing” highlighted in his day planner.

Israelsen’s advice was simple. “I said Fred, the first thing you do is nothing, for 30 days you don’t do anything.”

Greene was equally emphatic, “I told him, ‘take time for Fred.'”

“He could use some downtime to create the new Fred Linder,” Greene says.

The bookends

Another piece of advice Green gave Linder, many years before Linder’s retirement was announced, was that the biggest and hardest decisions were the ones that would fall in his lap. The easier decisions at a lower elevation on the organizational chart. When it’s tough, it goes to the top. “Mostly you get fastballs,” Greene says.

They don’t get faster than March 2, 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic was just lurching into the public consciousness in early March. On March 2, fewer than 100 cases and zero deaths had been reported in the U.S. Linder was faced with the final decision on whether Expo West would open on March 3.

The learning curve wasn’t steep. It was vertical and largely unknowable. Little was known about how the coronavirus spread. “Community spread” was still a theory, “social distancing” barely a concept. And from every side, New Hope was being queried and questioned. Small companies wanted the show. Large companies were pulling out. And New Hope was at the center.

With Linder at the center of New Hope.

“We were trying out a way to thread the needle at 100 mph,” Linder says, recalling that the decision only became obvious in hindsight. “'Sleepless nights’ is an understatement. It wasn’t even a question of trying to sleep.”

Robb was on the phone with Linder during the decision-making process. He says everybody in the industry owes some measure of gratitude and nobody can really understand how difficult the situation was for Linder. “Until you’ve sat in the hot seat and you have that level of responsibility, it’s very hard to explain what it feels like when all that weight is on your shoulders,” Robb says. “Part of being the leader is having to make those decisions and part of being a good leader is making those decisions in a way that is true to your values.”

Quote by Robert Craven

In the end, values were very important, Linder says. The decision was in keeping with the “north star” mission that has guided Linder and New Hope. “Bringing more health to more people” can’t happen in the long term without keeping people healthy and safe in the short term.

“By the time we got to the eleventh hour, there was no way we were going to feel comfortable about keeping colleagues and customers safe if we went on with expo,” Linder says. “It didn’t even matter that a lot of clients had canceled.”

Commercial concerns faded quickly, Linder says, when held up against health and safety. “It wasn’t even close.”

The decision in 2001 was simpler, “more cut and dried,” Linder says. “I made the decision on 9/11,” he recalls. “I told people, ‘I don’t care if I’m the only one who shows up; I’m going.’”

The show went on. People showed up with purpose, with resolve.  

Robert Craven sees the 2020 and 2001 decisions from different perspectives through the same lens, a lens that includes Linder in its focus.

The 2001 Expo East was a “family” gathering, Craven says. “We needed to come together, as a family, as a tribe,” Craven says. It became a place where vulnerability and strength could be shared. Expo West in 2020 was a different situation, but one that still reveals the familial/tribal nature of the natural products industry, Craven says. “In 2001, we needed to grieve. In 2020, we needed a dad.”

“A lot of the kids weren’t very happy with dad at that moment,” Craven says. “But looking back, absolutely dad made the right call for the family.”

Looking back, looking forward

For Linder, the calls he made in 2001 and 2020 won’t define his tenure, but at the same time, he is quick to say that both events heralded new eras. That makes the last month of 2020 a good time to hand the reins to the team he built. “It’s awkward timing because of the pandemic,” he says. “But that doesn’t mean it’s bad timing.”

The New Hope team, to be led by Carlotta Mast, is ready to build something new in the new era that will follow the pandemic, he says. And Linder is ready to watch her lead it. That the last several years took him away from day-to-day operations while he worked through the acquisition by Informa, the integration with SupplySide and Informa’s acquisition of UBM. That made it necessary for him to delegate more decisions to a team that would learn in the process, he says. “Part of my job has been to replace myself a little bit every day.”

While nobody is saying it will be easy to “replace” Linder, the “new generation” has learned a lot from him. “Fred and his leadership style have prepared us to take New Hope into a new era, one that will be informed by our past but built to serve the changing needs and expanding vision of our community,” says Mast, who has served as New Hope’s head of content since 2012.

That new era also will include new challenges. Some of them will undoubtedly be as unpredictable as 9/11 and COVID-19. Others will be more clear, but no less challenging. Linder points to justice, equity, diversity and access as an important mission that is getting more attention and will require more effort. “As we set out to bring more health to more people, we became more and more exclusive and elite,” Linder says. “We are just beginning to address that. It’s a wide-open front that has to happen.”

It’s no small task, but Linder has no small amount of confidence in New Hope to tackle it.

“It’s time to get out of the way and let the next team run the business for the next generation,” he says.

Quote by Carlotta Mast