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Articles from 2017 In March


Direct to China

Thinkstock NBJ-MLM Direct to China

Business people in China have a shared mantra, of sorts. Guanxi, which roughly translates to “relationships,” signifies the common practice of doing business with people you know and building a network of mutually beneficial relationships.

Based on the principles of guanxi and the fact that China is the world’s most populous country, it seems to be the ideal place for the ultra-personal, face-to-face aspect of direct sales. But the government there has a long, rocky and ever-changing relationship with the concept.

After years of communist rule, China opened up its market to trade in the 1990s, and MLMs like Amway and Avon moved right in to set up shop. Unfortunately, so did companies that were decidedly more like pyramid schemes than MLMs. The country wasn’t ready for any it. Regulators couldn’t successfully enforce the rules, and suspicion spoiled the party before it could really get started. In April 1998, China’s State Council announced a blanket ban on all direct selling. Pyramid schemes were deemed illegal, but so were non-pyramid MLMs. The official notice charged that direct marketing “led to the spreading of heretical beliefs, ganging up, superstition and hooliganism, which seriously deviate from the requirements of building of spiritual civilization and seriously affect social stability in China.”

But nothing sits still in China’s regulatory swirl.

The ban was modified slightly two months later, allowing Amway, Avon and other established companies the chance to remain in the country if they opened retail outlets. They continued operating quite successfully in China during the ban and Amway China’s 1999 sales volume was reportedly double that of 1998.

Still, an estimated 30 million direct marketers had just four months to cease operations indefinitely. Devastating news of impending unemployment led to protests throughout the country. Meanwhile, China was busy lobbying for membership in the World Trade Organization, the group responsible for regulating and negotiating international trade among 164 member countries. Potential members must meet a number of requirements in order to join, and in China’s case, the negotiations took 15 years. China officially became a WTO member on December 11, 2001, and one of the economic concessions they had to make was lifting their 1998 ban on direct sales.

It took China a few more years to sort it all out, and in 2005, the Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) released two-part legislation titled “Regulation of Direct Sales and Regulation on Prohibition of Chuanxiao [Pryamid Schemes].” The new rules allowed for companies to apply for a Direct Sales License from the Chinese government, but only for the purpose of conducting single-level direct marketing—meaning MLMs and pyramid schemes were still expressly forbidden.

The 2005 regulations laid out strict rules for direct selling, outlined in 55 separate Articles. For instance, “door-to-door salesmen” must be Chinese citizens, and they can’t be under 18, a teacher or other public servant, or an active member of the military. Payments to a salesman cannot exceed 30 percent of the sales price of products sold directly by that salesman, including commission, bonuses and awards. Payments to salesmen can never be based on how many other salesmen they recruit. Salesmen are required to carry an official selling certificate with them at all times and wear a nametag. Company trainings must be free to salesmen and they must be recorded and taught by full-time company employees. Since products sold by direct sellers in China must be made in China, direct-sales companies must open new factories to manufacture their products. And, only certain categories of products can be sold. The list was modified in 2016 and includes only cosmetics, cleaning products (for personal hygiene or household), health food products, health care equipment, small kitchen implements and household electronic appliances.

Shifting winds

By 2015, 73 Direct Sales Licenses had been issued to domestic and international companies, and that number more than doubled in 2016 alone, with about 80 more licenses being issued. (This number includes existing license-holders being issued licenses for sales in additional provinces.) U.S.-based health/supplement and personal-care companies with licenses include Amway, Avon, Shaklee, Herbalife, Nu Skin, USANA and Morinda.

The direct-selling market in China is a highly regulated one, difficult to navigate, and each U.S.-based company has a different story to tell about how they’ve charted their own unique course. Here are a few highlights:


In 2006, Amway (“An Li” in Chinese) was one of the first companies to receive a Direct Sales License in China, due in part to the fact that they had opened retail stores to continue selling their products in the wake of the 1998 ban. Amway recently reported 2016 sales of $8.8 billion overall, landing it in the number-one spot on Direct Selling News’ Global 100 rankings, but said they “experienced softening marketing conditions in China.” China, however, was still the biggest market for Amway in 2016, with the United States a close second.


Herbalife, ranked number three on DSN’s Global 100, received its Direct Sales License in 2007. In February of this year, Herbalife chairman and CEO Michael O. Johnson announced that “2016 was a dynamic and record-breaking year,” with an overall increase of approximately 5 percent over 2015 (up 7 percent in China). However, the company—which has seen its share of pyramid accusations back home in the United States—chooses to take a somewhat cautious view of its operations in China, acknowledging that any forward-looking statements in its report could be adversely affected by a number of factors, including “uncertainties relating to interpretation and enforcement of legislation in China governing direct selling; our inability to obtain the necessary licenses to expand our direct selling business in China; [and] adverse changes in the Chinese economy.” Herbalife declined to comment on this story directly.

Nu Skin

Nu Skin received its license for direct selling in China in 2006. In 2014, after a long investigation, the Chinese government accused Nu Skin of overstating the effectiveness of its products, selling products that were not registered and holding “brainwashing gatherings,” and it fined the company $540,000. Also in 2014, the SEC opened its own investigation into Nu Skin’s operations in China, specifically regarding a donation that Nu Skin made to an unnamed charity that the SEC alleged was an attempt to bribe a high-ranking Chinese Communist party official. In late 2016, Nu Skin settled with the SEC for $765,688. A company press release in February of this year reported a 2 percent decrease in year-over-year revenue for 2016, but showed a 3 percent increase in Greater China. (Sales in the Americas decreased 16 percent in 2016.) Although Nu Skin officials declined to offer comments for this story, president and CEO Truman Hunt said in the February press release that “Revenue in the fourth quarter of 2016 was also negatively impacted by $7 million of deferred revenue, primarily from a stronger-than-anticipated response to a promotion of ageLOC Me cartridges in China, where orders outstripped our supply.”


Although doTERRA does not yet have a Direct Sales License in China, the company operates retail stores in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Chengdu, according to Micheal Carson, vice president of doTERRA China. “We continue to work closely with relevant officials on our direct selling application in China,” Carson says. “When this status changes, we will publicly announce.”

Nature’s Sunshine

On March 7, 2017, Nature’s Sunshine reported fourth-quarter 2016 sales of $84 million, up 4.9 percent from fourth-quarter 2015. However, the company explained that the results were skewed because of the lack of a Direct Sales License in China, which they had expected to receive sometime in 2016, but were still waiting for at press time. “Fourth quarter financial results were negatively impacted by items related to delay and uncertainty surrounding receipt of a direct selling license in China,” commented chairman and CEO Gregory L. Probert when the report was released. “While our 2016 financial results have been constrained by the infrastructure built in anticipation of a future market opportunity, we remain steadfast in our belief that the investments are prudent given the potential opportunity that lies ahead of us should the regulatory process in China be completed.”

Worth the work

Despite the issues that many companies have faced, direct sales in China are a popular and essential part of the country’s consumer culture. In a June 2016 recap of global direct sales for the year 2015, the World Federation of Direct Selling Associations reported that although the United States had retained its number-one spot—with an annual sales volume of $36.1 billion in direct sales—China was close on its heels with $35.5 billion. And, since China’s market growth rate in 2015 was four times that of the United States, the World Federation of Direct Selling Associations and other industry experts predict that China is likely to take over the top spot when 2016 numbers are released by June 1 of this year.

Even with strict regulations, daunting hoops to jump through and an application process that can take years, it seems that U.S.-based direct-selling companies see China as a mutually beneficial guanxi worth fostering.

In Session

Cellular agriculture could revolutionize animal-free dairy

Cellular Ag 2


  • In-depth look into producing whey and casein proteins through fermentation techniques
  • How the natural food industry can embrace technology to advance sustainability.

This session—Cellular Ag, Good Food's Friend or Foe?—was recorded at Esca Bona 2016. Click download below to access the presentation slides. 


[email protected]: Danone sells Stonyfield to close on WhiteWave | Panera posts sugar content on beverages

A variety of Whitewave products

Danone to sell Stonyfield brand to win U.S. OK for WhiteWave

With the sale of Stonyfield — and thus, the approval of the U.S. Department of Justice—Danone can close on its purchase of White Wave. The new brand, which sells several popular soy- and plant-based dairy products, will allow Paris, France-based Danone to offer “a full spectrum of better-for-you” choices, CEO Emmanuel Faber said. Read more at Bloomberg…


Soda or bear claw? Panera to post added sugar in drinks it sells

Panera Bread found and CEO Ron Shaich wants his company’s customers to know how much sugar they are drinking. One of the company’s chocolate chip cookies has less sugar than a 20-ounce serving of Pepsi, he says. So the company will be the first, apparently, to label its beverages with the amount of added sugar. Read more in The New York Times …


Why Trump's antitrust pick is great news for pesticide companies

Makan Delrahim, President Donald Trump’s choice to lead the Department of Justice’s antitrust division, has spent nearly 30 years working for large corporations and government agencies that oversee merger policy. Delrahim’s appointment likely would make the executives at Dow and DuPont, and Bayer and Monsanto very happy. Read more in Mother Jones …


A land trust asks farmers to change their ways

A nonprofit, the Sustainable Iowa Land Trust is helping young and new farmers purchase property in the state, which has the second-highest land values in the country. The trust, founded in 2014, requires landowners to work toward sustainable certification such as USDA Organic or Certified Naturally Grown. Read more in Civil Eats …  


Republican skeptics call climate change hearing that massively backfires

U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith—known for his skepticism of climate change and disregard of the scientists who support the theory—was likely surprised when a climate science policy writer called for a carbon tax to support climate-related research. Read more at the Independent …

Natural Products Expo

Climate Day inspires at Expo West

Brian Beasley EWCD_Banner

At Natural Products Expo East 2016, Climate Collaborative founders Lara Jackle Dickinson of OSC2 and Katherine DiMatteo of the Sustainable Food Trade Association presented their concept in a panel discussion (along with three supporting brands). The 75-minute session filled most of the 80 seats in the far hallway of the Baltimore convention center as the panel shared their idea: to feed the craving for coordinated industry action to address global warming.  

“I was recognizing in OSC2 meetings that we just kept talking about climate and supply chain issues,” says Dickinson. And not just conceptually. Specific issues that were affecting businesses—like drought, crop shortfalls and other unpredictable supply chain issues—were coming up.  

The idea emerged: “We’ve led on organics and animal welfare and fair trade and non-GMO and so many things,” says Dickinson. “Why couldn’t we do it for climate?”

Brian Beasley

Over the next six months, the Climate Collaborative, with the support of New Hope Network, and Carlotta Mast in particular, grew into Natural Products Expo West’s “Climate Day.”

The event was a full day—nearly 12 hours—of education and inspiration that consisted of six panels, four short sponsor films, individual speakers and more. Highlights included a beautiful and stirring teaser of the forthcoming film, Kiss the Ground, directed by Josh Tickell and Rebecca Harrell Tickell, and a keynote address by Paul Hawken. Hawken presented final data from his Project Drawdown, codifying the top solutions to global warming in order to achieve drawdown, or “that point in time when greenhouse gasses peak and begin to decline on a year to year basis."

Some 600 attendees filled the seats over the day with another 1,500 live-streaming remotely. 


“The time is right for businesses to step up and do what they can to mitigate and reverse climate change,” says DiMatteo. The Climate Collaborative was formed to mobilize businesses to fight climate change by taking action and making commitments, she says. “We don’t have to wait for government, we shouldn’t hope for the best that somebody else is going to do this.”

DiMatteo reiterates the education and inspiration drivers, but is very clear to include action and recognition, too. Companies are asked to go public with their commitments within nine areas, choosing anywhere from one to all nine, and making specific, tangible goals within them. The nine commitment areas are:

• Agriculture
• Energy efficiency
• Food waste
• Forests
• Packaging
• Policy
• Renewable energy
• Short lived climate pollutants
• Transportation

These nine, which can be seen in much greater detail here, are based on decades of carbon footprinting and life-cycle assessment research, says Dickinson. “They are basically the commitment areas that are most relevant to natural foods businesses.”

The structure for this came from Climate Collaborative’s survey of industry leaders. The majority of those polled agreed that we have five years or less to act, says Dickinson, “and the vast majority agreed that we can and must do more.” But the query also revealed barriers. First, that climate action was often not a business priority. Second, that companies weren’t sure what would be the most important actions to take.

The commitment areas exist to demonstrate actionable items, raise awareness and recognition, and, says Dickinson, “create a clear path to action so it becomes more tangible and meaningful for companies.”

“Showing people a polar bear stranded on an ice floe doesn’t connect people,” she continues. “It doesn’t tell businesses what we can do about it.”


In addition to the full day Wednesday, Expo West's climate track included educational workshops on Friday and Saturday, covering packaging, agriculture, renewable energy and plant-based diets. Education and inspiration flowed freely throughout the sessions, and Wednesday afternoon of Climate Day, companies made verbal commitments to what actions they would make over the coming year.

As an inflatable wireless mic bounced around the room, company representatives from Natural Habitats, 18 Rabbits, Califia Farms, Annie's, Big Tree Farms and many others stood and made commitments. Dr. Bronner’s committed to eight of the nine areas. AlterEco and Nature’s Path hit all nine. Some 15 companies made verbal commitments on site and nearly three dozen companies are listed on the Collaborative’s action page—which is where any company can go at any time to join the crusade. Several companies made cash contributions to support Climate Collaborative, along with their commitments.

Any company (large or small) and any commitment (one or nine) received great applause.

Dickinson appreciates them all. “If small companies start building climate programs into the supply chain from the start we have a huge advantage in terms of our food system as they grow,” she says. “And so we want them just as much as the fantastic bigger companies. And what’s been really gratifying is that some of the really established companies have been sponsors to make this possible.”

To be part of the Collaborative requires no membership. Just commitment. “The goal of this is to make absolutely no barriers to entry for any company,” says Dickinson.

The future of Climate Day

“I think it was a tremendous success,” says Katherine DiMatteo. “It was a great launch for the Climate Collaborative and we look forward to having the event again next year and reporting back on the success and commitments and actions that were taken during the year by the companies.”

Recognition will also show in the form of awards. Brands who register for the Climate Collaborative are eligible based on level of progress and impact. Judges are being selected now, and awards will be issued at future events.

As the Climate Collaborative brings the collective force of the natural products industry to global warming, Climate Day gives voice to the effort. And it appears to just be getting started. Will there be another climate day? “Yes!” says Dickinson, calling it a fantastic success. “It’s a no-brainer. This is the start of a great tradition for our industry.” 

Brian Beasley

From the stage

“We want to reverse global warming, that’s the most important goal for humanity. Everything else is subordinate to this.” – Paul Hawken, Project Drawdown

“It’s hard to think of a more hopeful or horrifying time.” - Joel Makower, GreenBiz Group  

“Our entire industry is dependent on a stable and dependable climate.” - Sheila Ongie, National Co+op Grocers (NCG)

“I love all of the optimism. When it comes down to it, we need to move on this before consumers demand it. We can’t wait for consumers to say ‘this is what we need.’” - Jessica Rolph, Happy Family

“What a brand like ours certainly has the power to do is help our guests understand … what are the tradeoffs as you look for these better-for-you, better-for-the-planet options?” - Jennifer Silberman, Target

“Do what you say you’re going to do, and then get better at saying what you’re doing. Historically, we have failed to give consumers tangible actions with big impact. We’ve relegated the consumer to simple conservation activities or presented unrealistic, impractical actions. The opportunity now is to give consumers realistic and measurable actions they can take.” - Eric Pierce, New Hope Network

“We have to see ourselves as educating institutions.” - Gary Hirshberg, Stonyfield Farm

“We need to support farmers that want to make the transition [to organics], by buying their product, but also by investing in research.” - Tracy Misiewicz, The Organic Center

“We seem to be addicted to drama. Maybe climate change is part of that. There’s no reason we can’t all be net sequestering carbon.” - Chris Mann, Guayaki Sustainable Rainforest Products

“I’d like to see every major food company come to the show. They used to see activists as nuisances, now they see them as foretellers of the future.” - Seth Goldman, Honest Tea

“I hope next year this room is packed and highlighting success stories!” - Corinne Shindelar, Independent Natural Food Retailers Association

“Is there a business case? What’s the business case for double glazing the planet? What’s the business case for a drop in biodiversity? The cost of the solutions is now less than the alternative, than doing nothing." - Paul Hawken, Project Drawdown

Natural products people news: A new CEO at The Honest Co., Sabra appoints CFO

Veteran CPG leader, innovator and global brand builder Nick Vlahos took over as the chief executive officer at The Honest Co. as the company shifts to an omni-channel strategy. He has worked with Burt's Bees, Brita and Green Works, and succeeds Brian Lee in the CEO position. 

BI recently announced the promotion of Julie Bates, a customer service representative for seven years, to West Coast Regional Sales Manager. Responsibilities of this position include supporting and expanding BI's strong position with West Coast customers, as well as growing the company's customer base within the region.

Global financial leader Paula Fitzgerald was appointed chief financial officer of Sabra Dipping Company. She will oversee financial operations as Sabra drives growth to meet compelling consumer interest in hummus and wholesome plant based dips and spreads. Fitzgerald joins Sabra with nearly 10 years of experience at PepsiCo, which jointly owns Sabra with The Strauss Group. 

On International Women’s Day, Firmenich announced that Dr. Bérangère Magarinos-Ruchat, vice president sustainability partnerships, was recognized by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s Leading Women Awards. WBCSD launched this inaugural award to distinguish the 10 most outstanding women leaders advancing the United Nations sustainable development goals within WBCSD member companies.

Hippeas organic chickpea puffs announced the appointment of CPG veteran Joe Serventi as general manager. Prior to joining HIPPEAS, Serventi served as the executive vice president of corporate development at barkTHINS, where he built out the larger organization and infrastructure while establishing the disruptive snack brand in the competitive marketplace. Hippeas has also invested in expanding its sales force nationwide with the additions of Josh Francis as vice president of sales and Luke Ledyard as director of sales. 

What FoodBytes! does for natural entrepreneurs

FoodBytes! Taali founder on FoodBytes! stage

Updated on July 24, 2020.

In this series New Hope Network covers the ins and outs of accelerators and incubators across the United States that provide mentorship, funds and resources to help grow natural businesses. FoodBytes! isn't a traditional accelerator or incubator. Anne Greven, head of food and ag innovation at Rabobank, shares how the evolving platform continues to drive industry collaboration to feed the world's growing population sustainably.

What: Rabobank’s FoodBytes!, an innovation platform for startups, large food and ag companies and investors that includes FoodBytes Pitch and FoodBytes Pilot.
When: FoodBytes! Pitch runs October to December annually; FoodBytes! Pilot 6- to 9-month engagements take place year-round.
Notable alumni: Miyoko’s Creamery, Know Brainer, Vive Organics.

When are FoodBytes! applications open, and when is the application deadline? 

Applications for FoodBytes! Pitch 2021 are now closed. 

FoodBytes! Pilot is open year-round to corporate partners.

What is the difference between the FoodBytes! Pitch and FoodBytes! Pilot programs?

FoodBytes! Pitch is a startup discovery program offering one-on-one connections with corporate leaders and investors, mentorship, a livestreamed pitch competition and lifetime access to the FoodBytes! alumni network for ongoing connections and support from Rabobank. The platform selects 45 startups annually, including 15 startups in each of three verticals: sustainable consumer food, food tech and agtech. After three weeks of digital programming, the judges select 15 finalists to participate in a pitch competition and award three winners a $10K cash prize to help them scale their businesses and impact in solving food system challenges.

FoodBytes! Pilot is a corporate innovation program where Rabobank serves as a "matchmaker" by pairing corporate partners with startups for customized pilot collaborations based on the organization’s unique goals and challenges. These collaborations can result in win-win outcomes, such as product co-development, commercial partnerships, licensing agreements, new customer relationships and investment. 

What types of companies does FoodBytes! assist? 

FoodBytes! Pitch is open to pioneering startups (typically seed and Series A stage) whose products and technologies address major food system challenges. FoodBytes! Pitch encourages applications from entrepreneurs who are positively impacting people, profit and the planet.

What’s your mission in doing this work? 

Rabobank’s FoodBytes! food and ag innovation platform exists for one reason: to build a powerful engine for ongoing collaboration and innovation between food and agriculture change agents who want to feed the world sustainably. As a leading global food and agriculture bank working across the entire food value chain, Rabobank’s global mission—"Growing a Better World Together"—is to help turn today’s promising ideas to advance sustainable food and agriculture into tomorrow’s impactful solutions. Rabobank believes innovation is key to a thriving food and ag industry equipped to feed a population expected to hit over 9 billion by 2050 while addressing urgent environmental challenges. 

What top attributes is FoodBytes! looking for in applicants? 

Rabobank encourages FoodBytes! Pitch applications from entrepreneurs whose technologies and products address critical food system challenges, including food loss/waste, on-farm automation, animal health tech, shortened supply chains, accessible food e-commerce and functional ingredients. 

FoodBytes! selection criteria includes: positive impact on people, profit and planet; strength and diversity of founding team; business model with potential to address major industry challenges; collaborative mindset; and proven path to commercialization.

What is one game-changing piece of advice you have for entrepreneurs? 

Don’t underestimate the power of collaboration to create real change and lasting business success. Many entrepreneurs are very focused on relationships with investors. Be proactive and open-minded about the potential for corporate collaborations and peer-to-peer connections to deliver resources, insights, partnership and scale opportunities that you can’t get from funding alone. Our major food system challenges simply aren’t going to be solved by individual organizations working in silos. 

What is your favorite project to have come out of your accelerator? 

It’s hard to pick just one, as FoodBytes! has facilitated 58 total pilots since 2016. That said, the collaboration between global product development company Griffith Foods and upcycled food startup ReGrained demonstrates the power of partnership to drive impact. After being matched through FoodBytes!, ReGrained completed its first commercial-scale R&D pilot with Griffith to explore potential uses for spent grain as a superfood ingredient. That engagement ultimately led to Griffith backing ReGrained’s $2.5 million funding round to fuel the company’s ability to build a business-to-business ingredients business—selling its upcycled brewers grains to large food companies—in addition to its existing consumer product line. 

[email protected]: Hampton Creek says SEC, DOJ buyback inquiries complete | Instagram propels healthy living brands

Gettyimages Hampton Creek Just Mayo

Mayo maker says it is no longer being probed by SEC, DOJ

Both agencies have closed their investigations into Hampton Creek, according to an internal memo circulated by CEO Josh Tetrick. The inquiry was related to reports that the plant-based food company enlisted contractors to purchase jars of its Just Mayo to create artificial demand, and then expensed those buyback costs in several categories. Neither agency found wrongdoing, Tetrick wrote. Read more at CNN Tech...


#eatclean: How Instagram is fueling the healthy-living brand boom

The notion of wellness as something that is achieved from actions and choices made throughout each day, has been the inspiration for many of today's Instagram influencers, who use the social media platform as an outlet to share recipes, workouts and products that they love. Look no further than the Whole 30 program as an example—its Instagram features weekly takeovers from members of the Whole 30 community who share their recipes and advice, and its founder has credited Instagram with helping propel the brand forward. Read more at DigiDay...


EPA decides not to ban a pesticide, despite its own evidence of risk

During the Obama administration, the Environmental Protection Agency determined that the pesticide chlorpyrifos could pose risks to consumers. But the new administration's EPA says there's too much uncertainty about the risks of chlorpyrifos to pull it from the market—at least for now. Some are interpreting the move as a signal that toxic chemicals will face less restrictive regulation under the new administration. Read more at NPR...


Why phosphate additives will be the next taboo ingredient

They help make baked goods rise and act as emulsifiers in processed cheese and canned soup. They're also added to poultry, meat and seafood to help the protein bind more water. And the FDA says they're safe for use in food. But some scientists are concerned that the prevalence of phosphate additives in packaged food has led to Americans consuming more phosphorus than recommended. In studies, overconsumption of phosphorus has been linked to higher mortality in people with chronic kidney disease, higher risk of cardiovascular disease and negative impacts on bone health. Read more at The Washington Post...


Chow hall makeover: Corps pushes healthy food at the School of Infantry

The newly created for fitness division of the Marine Corps, and its dietitian, aims to help Marines get healthier food during training by removing desserts or the snack lines out of chow halls. Read more at Marine Corps Times...

In Session

How Habit is serving personalized nutrition

Nutrition Just Got Personal

"We believe you deserve an owner's manual for your body and it should be written in a language you actually speak." 

—Neil Grimmer, Habit

Part 1: Wisdom of the ages 


  • The history of food and diet trends. 
  • Learn Grimmer's story of being overworked and out of shape and the discoveries that lead him to create Habit. 


Part 2: Habit, the science of you


  • The Habit path: from testing 60 biomarkers to personalized food recommendations.
  • How personalized nutrition can change lives and feed potential.


Part 3: Your biology is not your destiny 


  • How biometrics change as people age and their bodies change.
  • Habit meal delivery service brings high levels of customization to the table. 


This session—Nutrition Just Got Personal, The New Era of Health & Well-being—was recorded at Natural Products Expo West 2017. Click download below to access the presentation slides.

Natural Products Expo

Millennials shaping the future of naturals

millennials making a difference in the food industry

A new generation of entrepreneurs is quickly becoming a driving force in natural foods. Here’s a closer look at a few of the millennials who are innovators in the industry.

Nik Ingersoll, cofounder and CMO of Barnana

Ingersoll was born and raised in the farmlands of western Nebraska. Always a hard worker, he held down a job of some sort since age 13. Immediately after graduating high school, he packed up his stuff and drove out to California to go to college. As an undergraduate, he became a cofounder of Barnana, officially launching the brand in 2012. Barnana’s mission is to end food waste on organic banana farms by upcycling bananas that would otherwise get tossed, instead using them to create tasty snacks. When you aim for success doing a little bit of good in the world, says Ingersoll, "as long as you have fun, build something awesome and create delicious things, that’s all you really need."

Rip Pruisken, cofounder and co-CEO of Rip Van Wafels

Pruisken, an Amsterdam native, began making stroopwafels in his dorm room at Brown University simply because he couldn’t find his favorite Dutch waffle snack in America. He began to sell them on campus, and his fellow students couldn’t get enough of the tasty treats. He teamed up with classmate Marco De Leon, and the business partners moved out to San Francisco to set up Rip Van Wafels Inc. in 2013. Pruisken explains an emphasis on three principles when creating products—taste (which he defines as texture and flavor), health (using simple, real ingredients) and design (focusing on convenience while maintaining an elevated eating experience). He promises to remain true to those principles as the company ventures into new flavors and new eating occasions.

Lizzi Ackerman, cofounder and CMO of Birch Benders
Matt La Casse, cofounder and CEO of Birch Benders

"I woke up one morning wanting pancakes and didn’t want to go through the hassle of making pancakes," and out of that need, Birch Benders was born, La Casse says. Ackerman goes on to explain that there weren’t any just-add-water natural ingredient pancake mixes on the market at that time. So she and then-boyfriend La Casse set out to create a convenient pancake mix out of simple, natural ingredients that was delicious and affordable. They incorporated Birch Benders in 2011. It is a natural and organic brand featuring vegan, paleo, gluten-free, high-protein and more traditional (like buttermilk) pancake mix versions. A lot of time and care goes into the creation of their pancake mixes, as Ackerman recounts their multiple double-blind taste tests to find the best flours to use. Then she explains they replicated those double-blind taste tests for every single other ingredient in their mixes. La Casse and Ackerman, married in 2015, go on to express that they look to make Birch Benders "the number one pancake brand in the country" as it expands into new product categories. "Super exciting ideas that are not what you expect, but still very much a part of our brand," beams Ackerman.

Natasha Case, cofounder and CEO of Coolhaus

The concept of Coolhaus, Case explains, started out as a "passionate hobby." Case was a UCLA grad student when she developed the desire to make architecture more fun and accessible by applying it to the food industry. Then while working in architecture at Walt Disney, she developed the "wacky idea" of making cookie and ice cream treats named after architects. Her partner Freya Estreller really saw the business potential in the idea, so they launched Coolhaus in 2009 out of a food truck at the world-famous Coachella Valley Music Festival. From one truck peddling a snickerdoodle and strawberry ice cream concoction called the Frank Behry, Coolhaus has grown to feature two scoop shops in Los Angeles, a national food truck fleet and a wholesale distribution division placing their ice cream bars, pints and sandwiches in over 4,500 stores. “We really see Coolhaus as a culture and as a lifestyle brand," says Case, who hints at expanding into other categories and "surprising people."

Brian Rudolph, cofounder of Banza

Rudolph relates loving pasta as a kid: "It was one of the only things I ate." Growing into adulthood, he wanted to eat healthier, and he realized the pastas available weren’t fitting the bill. So he spent many nights in his home kitchen, perfecting his recipe for a better, healthier pasta. He developed a pasta made out of chickpeas that has double the protein, four times the fiber and nearly half the net carbohydrates of traditional options. It’s also vegan, non-GMO and gluten-free. He teamed up with his older brother Scott and cofounded Banza. The company came into the national spotlight on the CNBC reality show "Restaurant Startup" in the summer of 2014. Just a couple years after the show aired, Banza is now on grocery shelves in more than 3,300 stores across the United States. Rudolph sees Banza becoming the new standard for pasta given the nutritional advantages it has over its predecessors.

Power of Meat study shows promise for independent stores

Shopper ground beef meat

The most recent Power of Meat consumer trends report from the Food Marketing Institute and the North American Meat Institute found that, overall, price relief is driving a willingness to experiment and purchase premium products at the meat counter. Even better for independent natural food retailers stocking such items is that trends are in their favor.

This 12th iteration of the study stressed that retailers who thoughtfully curate their meat case will experience the most success in 2017, specifically in the following areas:

Targeted merchandising: Though older generations place value on the price per pound and the way a product looks, Millennial shoppers want to know the total package price and also some preparation tips, from how long it takes to how easy it is to prepare. They also prefer a fixed price over different packages offering varying amounts and prices. Across the board, ready-to-prepare meal kits in the meat department lured shoppers.

Clean labels: According to the report, organic, antibiotic- and hormone-free, grass-fed, and other clean label meats have experienced double-digit growth, in addition to those that display a better treatment of both animals and the environment. Going forward, transparency is king, especially now that—for the first time in 12 years—shoppers who bought natural/organic options (48 percent) outnumbered those who have not (41 percent).

Artisan appeal: Even larger stores can win over shoppers looking for the local butcher experience, says the report, if they invest in staff who can answer expert-level questions and act as a "personal concierge" for shoppers.

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