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Articles from 2020 In May

Forget CBD, hemp is good nutrition

Getty Images Hemp seeds with jar and spoon

For all the firepower that the 2018 Farm Bill provided for the fortunes of hemp production in America, its huge benefit was in public perception that the trendy ingredient du jour—CBD—was legit.

But the real, seminal event that brought hemp into public consciousness happened in 2004 when the Hemp Industries Association successfully won in court against the Drug Enforcement Agency, which allowed hemp in stores as a bona fide nutritional food.

That led to the emergence of the hemp nut category—shelled hemp seeds, otherwise known as hemp hearts. And the word got out that hemp nuts were not just borderline subversive—derived as they are from the notorious OG Cannabis sativa plant, nee marijuana, sans buzz—but also nutritious.

“Hemp has layers of nutrition in it,” says Chad Rosen, founder and CEO of Victory Hemp Foods, a supplier of hemp to food formulators. “Hemp is such an amazing plant, whether it’s the 21 amino acids including all eight essential amino acids, or its highly digestible protein, oils for heart health, insoluble fiber that limits the amount of glucose in the blood stream to help with weight management or the gamma-linolenic acid used to reduce inflammation. Hemp has so much benefit to human health and nutrition.”

Victory Hemp Foods supplies both organic and nonorganic hemp to food formulators. The company’s audacious goals include buying a million acres of U.S.-grown hemp seed by 2030—which is about four times the amount of total hemp grown in the U.S. today.

The company’s V-70 hemp protein is a neutrally flavored, near-white colored, flowable powder from hemp seed expands the palette of potential foods because the notoriously earthy hemp flavor is removed. Its shelled hemp seeds contain 50% more protein than almonds, twice the protein of chia seeds and, unlike soy, is non-allergenic. Its cold-pressed hemp seed oil is a hip alternative to olive oil.

Regulatory give and take

When the last farm bill was signed, that very same day the Food and Drug Administration put out two major announcements. The main one that everyone talked about was the agency’s opinion that CBD was still illegal, that the FDA had not yet determined that it was safe to consume. The secondary announcement that seemed to amount to little more than an asterisk to its drug-warrior stance was its evaluation that three hemp components were actually generally recognized as safe (GRAS) and good to go as foods.

These were hulled hemp seed, hemp seed protein powder and hemp seed oil.

“Although hemp is from the same species as cannabis (marijuana), the seeds themselves do not naturally contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis,” said the FDA in its announcement. “Consumption of these hemp seed-derived ingredients is not capable of making consumers “high.””

The FDA noted that some of the intended uses for these ingredients include adding them as a source of protein, carbohydrates, oil and other nutrients to beverages like juices, smoothies, protein drinks, plant-based alternatives to dairy products, as well as soups, dips, spreads, sauces, dressings, plant-based alternatives to meat products, desserts, baked goods, cereals, snacks and nutrition bars.

“These GRAS conclusions do not affect the FDA’s position on the addition of CBD and THC to food,” noted the FDA. It considers these two cannabinoids verboten in foods.

That has not affected leading-edge companies from formulating foods with at least CBD in it. And indeed, the state of Virginia in April passed a law allowing CBD to be used in food. It joined a handful of other states that have also allowed CBD in foods. The FDA’s position applies only to foods sold in interstate commerce, so a small-stakes company could grow, formulate and sell hemp into hemp foods all within the boundaries of its state. And like all things hemp, the FDA is only lightly regulating the sector, which has not prevented bold first operators to jump into the fray.

Food innovators, unite!

“As we learn,” says Rosen, “we ask ourselves, what can we do to increase the amount of applications where hemp ingredients are used in manufactured foods? It’s got to taste good. It’s all about presenting these ingredients in a format that consumers will say, ‘this tastes good,’ as well as having good nutrients for their body and health.”

Rosen cites iron and magnesium as two key ingredients that give a healthy halo to hemp. Iron carries oxygen to cells, while magnesium has a slew of health-promoting activities, including helping with sleep.

And then there is—let’s face it—the promise of CBD, which is used in supplement products, topical creams, balms and lotions, as well as in foods in certain jurisdictions.

“Saying products can help you with sleep is the ultimate selling point for athletes because sleep is the best thing you can do to your body,” says Rachael Rapinoe, the former professional soccer player and co-founder of Mendi, a hemp CBD company. “Training and working out are stressful on the body. If you can mitigate that stress and get the body back to a calm state without putting NSAIDs into your body, that’s the ultimate goal, that’s what athletes are looking for. CBD is a great teammate.”

Hemp remains a provocative plant, used both to make people well and also to keep people well. Its uneven regulatory position at the federal level continues to keep large players from getting into the business, yet the entire history of the plant has been built on small-scale entrepreneurs who just know there are health benefits aplenty to be had.

Consumers at natural food retailers are pretty hip to that trick as well. As hemp infrastructure matures, expect to see hemp-healthy foods continue to proliferate, bringing the promise of the plant to even more people.

[email protected]: The next big threat to the food supply | General Mills glyphosate case dismissed

Getty Images Farmer wearing a face mask

Every single worker has Covid at a U.S. farm on harvest eve

The latest threat to the food supply brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic is with the farms, just as the U.S. heads into the peak of the summer produce season. Farming practices are not conducive to social distancing, requiring seasonal employees to crowd together on busses and live in cramped dormitories. A spike in virus cases among workers, which we're already starting to see, may mean produce shortages and higher prices. Read more at Bloomberg...


Big win for General Mills as Eleventh Circuit affirms dismissal of contaminated Cheerios class action

A proposed class action against General Mills for failing to disclose that Cheerios and Honey Nut Cheerios contain trace amounts of glyphosate has been dismissed for failing to allege a sufficient injury. The complaint sought, among other things, an injunction requiring General Mills to change the company’s allegedly deceptive practices. Read more at JD Supra...


Cook-it-yourself? Restaurants see future for meal kits postpandemic

In addition to offering delivery or takeout, many restaurants with closed dining rooms have been driving short-term sales with an idea to accommodate customers who want to prepare menu items in their own homes. DIY Meal kids allow restaurants to generate sales without bringing their entire kitchen staff off furlough. These kits also solve the problem of meals getting roughed-up in transit, and cost less than the ready-to-eat equivalents. Read more at Wall Street Journal...


High unemployment rates will continue to drive budget-conscious consumers to Dollar General, Dollar Tree & Family Dollar

Analysts forecast that the dire unemployment situation that is causing U.S. consumers to tighten their budgets will be good news for dollar stores. The low prices are appealing, but so is the smaller store footprint that provides a less-stressful experience for customers looking to avoid crowded aisles. Proximity is key too: Dollar General has 16,000 stores that are located within five miles of more than 75% of the U.S. population. Read more at MarketWatch...

Los Angeles union, joined by 'Pandemic Pig,' demands meatpacking plant closure

The local chapter of the United Food and Commercial Workers union has called for an immediate closure of the Smithfield-owned Farmer John plant in Los Angeles where at least 153 employees—over 10% of the workforce—have contracted COVID-19. The chapter president said the current measures to control the outbreak by Smithfield, the world's largest pork processer, have not worked. Read more at Reuters...

Top 15 U.S. retailers scored on plant-based offerings in a first-ever report

Good Food Institute

The inaugural Good Food Retail Report released May 28, 2020, by nonprofit The Good Food Institute (GFI) is the first ever to rate the top 15 U.S. retailers (“top retailers”) on product assortment, merchandising and marketing of plant-based meat, eggs, and dairy (“plant-based foods”). The report shows that Whole Foods and Kroger-owned King Soopers are leading the way in capitalizing on the booming plant-based trend. It also recognizes Giant Food and Wegmans for strong plant-based performance. Plant-based foods are a growth engine in retail, with sales growing more than five times faster than total food sales.

COVID-19 lockdowns have resulted in a huge surge in demand for plant-based foods. Some top retailers are doubling down on their own plant-based product lines in 2020 as mainstream consumer demand continues to increase. Kroger will launch at least four new plant-based product types in the second and third quarters, and Target aims to more than double its store-brand plant-based assortment in 2020.

Whole Foods and King Soopers have the best overall plant-based assortments of the top retailers, with 360 and 410 plant-based products on shelves, respectively; ample store-brand collections; and a wide variety of plant-protein products in prepared food settings. King Soopers and Whole Foods both offer 50% more plant-based options than most other top retailers, whose plant-based selections average 270 products.

King Soopers boasts at least 38 store-brand plant-based meat and dairy products, which is the best assortment of the top retailers. On average, the top retailers offer just 15 plant-based store-brand products, presenting significant opportunities to expand store-brand product development across categories to capitalize on the mainstreaming of flexitarianism.

Kroger Senior Vice President of Merchandising Joe Grieshaber: “Kroger anticipates interest in plant-based products to continue to grow in 2020, with the category being one of the key drivers of our natural and organic sales.”

Whole Foods has the best plant-based in-store foodservice offerings and provides plant-based meat in three times as many prepared food settings as other top retailers, thereby increasing customer access to convenient plant-based foods and meals.

Whole Foods Market Senior Vice President of Global Culinary Procurement and Operations Jeff Turnas: “Whole Foods Market has long been a champion of plant-based eating. We feature a wide variety of alternative protein options across our store, including high-quality, chef-inspired vegan and vegetarian options in our prepared foods department, which includes our Chef’s Case, salad bar, hot bar and a variety of convenient grab-and-go items.”

Whole Foods Market Vice President of Grocery Dan Epley: “We’ve seen significant increases across our plant-based offerings since the early stages of COVID-19. Our teams continue to work hard to maintain our leadership across these market segments during these unprecedented times.”

Wegmans is the top performer in terms of absolute number of products on shelf, with 530 products available, including twice as many plant-based meat products and four times as many plant-based cheese products as most other top retailers. The development of additional store-brand products and expanded plant-based offerings in prepared food settings would raise Wegmans even further through the ranks as a plant-based leader in 2020.

The top retailers are making great strides in merchandising, with 91% shelving plant-based products alongside their conventional counterparts in at least two categories and 65% offering at least one plant-based meat product in the meat aisle. Giant Food does the best plant-based merchandising, shelving multiple plant-based products alongside their animal-based counterparts in 10 out of 11 product categories.

Despite this progress, the report identifies opportunities for retailers to further integrate plant-based foods with their conventional counterparts across all categories and to adopt inclusive “plant-based” or “plant-protein” language in signage to appeal to all customers.

GFI Executive Director Bruce Friedrich: “Top U.S. retailers are ensuring that all Americans have access to delicious and affordable plant-based meat, eggs and dairy. We are reaching a clear tipping point, and no retailer wants to lose out to competitors with better plant-based strategies.”

GFI Associate Director of Corporate Engagement Caroline Bushnell: “Traditional meat eaters and flexitarians are embracing plant-based products, which means it is critical for retailers to employ plant-based strategies that attract the mainstream consumer. Plant-based eating is no longer niche. Retailers are leaving money on the table when they isolate plant-based sets in hard-to-find sections or use exclusive category language, like ‘vegetarian.’”

With analysts predicting that the plant-based market will grow 28% per year to $85 billion in 2030, plant-based is one of the biggest trends in food. As the Good Food Retail Report demonstrates, the plant-based trend is in full effect at the country’s largest grocery chains. 

The Good Food Retail Report evaluates the top 15 U.S. food retailers according to product assortment, merchandising and marketing of plant-based meat, eggs and dairy.1 GFI collected the data through in-store audits (March 1, 2019–October 31, 2019) and online content (available January 1, 2019–January 31, 2020). GFI shared individual results with each retailer, offering the opportunity to update the analysis. Ratings are included for 23 chains owned by the top 15 U.S. food retailers with 100+ locations each. Parent companies are not evaluated in aggregate.
1The super 50. (2018). Progressive Grocer. Retrieved from

Source: The Good Food Institute

Brands build buzz with virtual experiences

Getty Images Cooking video

Whoever would have thought that attending a cooking class and not being able to savor the flavors and aromas of the final products would become a thing? But here we are. Over the past several months since the COVID-19 pandemic forced most Americans into their homes, ideas about personal interaction and entertainment have changed drastically. Though some might say the bar has been lowered, more positive thinkers can celebrate the fact that boredom at home has not only opened our minds to new possibilities, but also spawned a wealth of creativity. This has been particularly true for the many natural products brands that have been turning to virtual marketing strategies to reach out and interact with customers where they live, spreading brand awareness and helping chase the quarantine blues away.

Virtual cooking demonstrations—the majority of them posted on social media or online conferencing platforms—have emerged as a versatile tool for brands to interact with consumers that have been cooking most of their meals at home. They are also very relevant given that people have been unable—or, as the economy starts to open up around the country, unwilling—to browse supermarket shelves for new products and ideas, indulge in in-store demos or dine out.

Participants, not spectators

But while many brands have latched onto the cooking show concept, the ones that are doing it particularly well are those that have figured out how to offer consumers a little something extra. This might hinge on the service they’re providing, the emotional connection the content provokes or the interaction it inspires among viewers.

Cynthia Samanian, the founder and CEO of experiential marketing consultancy Hidden Rhythm, says this is one of the keys to standing out in a market that is now bursting with virtual experiences and online events. Not only do brands need to think about how they can actually solve a problem for a target consumer, she says, but they should also think about their audience as participants, rather than mere spectators. To truly engage people, she adds, “brands should think about the experience beyond the time that they’re actually live, from the minute they promote it to their final email. The whole lifecycle of the experience isn’t just that time that people log on and watch the class.”

Target carefully

Samanian, who offers a six-week course for brands that want to produce online experiences and has published a free guide to this effect, says that it’s also vital for brands to hone in on their niche: “Any time that you’re in a crowded space, it serves you so much better to narrow your market and become hyper-focused on who your target customer is. That way you can serve them right and deliver an experience that speaks exactly to their needs and wants, rather than just putting a product out there and hoping that anyone who sees it is going to be interested.”

Miyoko’s Creamery, whose founder Miyoko Schinner has been hosting near-daily cooking shows in her home kitchen on Instagram TV, or IGTV, is a great example of how a brand can use these types of demonstrations to serve its core community, in this case vegans. Above and beyond that, Schinner’s lengthy videos are casual, personal and wonderfully relatable. She struggles with finding certain ingredients, talks tearfully about the loss of a beloved pet and gets props for putting on a dress. It’s not just a good recipe, it’s entertainment.


A post shared by Miyoko's (@miyokoscreamery) on May 18, 2020 at 5:06pm PDT

Eat JUST Inc. has also been extremely diligent about serving its customers during this time with more than two dozen cooking demonstrations posted on IGTV as part of the “JUST At Home” series. Hosted by different members of the company’s in-house product development team in their home kitchens, the videos typically average about three minutes in length and have raked in nearly 300,000 total views since debuting in late March. Straightforward and pleasant, the videos feature a huge range of appetizing recipes using the company’s plant-based egg substitutes. They also introduce consumers to the people behind these innovative products.


A post shared by @eatjust on May 8, 2020 at 9:31am PDT


Cooking with the stars

Other brands have opted to engage with customers through celebrity or chef-run demonstrations. Here, again, IGTV is a favorite tool and one that allows viewers to weigh in on the cooking process. Comedian Whitney Cummings did an almost 40-minute spot for Caulipower as part of the company’s interactive “Caulipower n’ Chill,” content series. Not only did she take viewers’ suggestions for pizza toppings, she answered their questions while waiting for the pizza to cook. This four-part series had more than 70,000 live views and the company gave away 10,000 pizzas to participating viewers.

For its part, plant-based meat-alternative company Gardein enlisted the help of Amy Sedaris and Lance Bass to help launch its new Ultimate Plant-Based Burger, capitalizing on the stars’ more than one-million combined Instagram followers. Each entertainer prepared the new burger on their own IGTV channel and fans voted for their favorite dish directly on Gardein’s Instagram account.

As brands roll out more and more online experiences, the important thing to keep in mind now, says Samanian, is what the next iteration of these online actions will look like as the country starts to open up. “At the beginning, everyone was just putting everything out there, but [the current level of online presence] is not sustainable in the long run.” Even so, Samanian insists that this online experience has unlocked a new and cheaper channel for brands to continue to develop in the future. It has also leveled the playing field for smaller brands to compete with larger ones and reach a broader audience of people across the country and around the world. The challenge moving forward, she says, will be to continue to find creative ways to stand out.

InstagramAmy Sedaris Gardein Burger

Natural Foods Merchandiser

Checkout: How Lisa Sedlar plans to bring healthy convenience for all

Angela DeCenzo Lisa Sedlar, founder of Green Zebra Grocery, plans to bring healthy convenience for all

Lisa Sedlar wants to take out 7-Eleven. Her four Green Zebra Grocery locations throughout Portland, Oregon, have brought “healthy convenience” to underserved urban neighborhoods, replacing traditional convenience-store fare. Think kombucha Slurpees instead of sugar-bomb iced drinks; plant-centric grab-n-go lunches instead of lukewarm greasy hamburgers; and a vegan nacho bar instead of stale chips topped with neon-orange cheese sauce from a dispenser.

A trained chef, Sedlar dreamed up Green Zebra about 15 years ago while working for Pharmaca in Boulder, Colorado. Then, after a stint as president and CEO of Portland, Oregon-based New Seasons Market, the time finally felt right to go for it. Sedlar opened the first Green Zebra in 2013, and just as she predicted, consumers loved being able to get high-quality natural, organic and local food on the fly. Now she’s intent on expanding to more neighborhoods in more cities, giving millions of urbanites the convenient, healthy options they crave.

Lisa Sedlar, founder of Green Zebra Grocery, plans to bring healthy convenience for all

Natural Foods Merchandiser: What gave you the idea to create Green Zebra?

Lisa Sedlar: Two things: One, while living in Boulder, one of the healthiest cities in the nation, I saw people doing epic bike rides during their lunch breaks. Sometimes after these heroic athletic feats, they were short on time so they’d run into a convenience store and grab a Big Gulp and week-old sandwich for lunch. I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if the convenience store were healthy? I sat on this idea for eight years while running New Seasons.

Then as we were coming out of the recession, I noticed that all the big stores were going small: Target was experimenting with its city stores; Walmart was flirting heavily with a small model. Realizing someone was going to steal my idea, I decided to cash in all my chips and go broke on this concept.

Today, convenience is a top priority for many natural grocers, but seven years ago, the idea was pretty revolutionary, right?

LS: It totally was. We created an entirely new channel. Since then, a few people have jumped on the bandwagon, but we were the first to do healthy convenience. We like to say we’re redefining what it means to be a convenience store in America.

How have you chosen neighborhoods to enter?

LS: My idea was to democratize healthy food and make it not just for people in certain ZIP codes, so that’s what really drives all of our location decisions: bringing natural, organic and local foods to neighborhoods that previously didn’t have access. Our first store is in the Kenton neighborhood in north Portland, a working neighborhood with a cultural creative vibe. This was a big meatpacking and meat-processing neighborhood back in the day, and we got a significant loan because it was a transitional area. I love this neighborhood because it reminds me of the best parts of living in the Midwest, in that people are working with their heads, hearts and hands every day.

What kinds of shoppers does Green Zebra attract? Mainly people who live or work nearby?

LS: Definitely. We are built around the “20-minute neighborhood” idea, where all goods and services are available within a 20-minute walk or bike ride. We’re not skewed toward one demographic or another because we are based so much on convenience. Many people shop by meal—they buy three or four things, then come back tomorrow—so we’re not a shop-the-center-of-the-store trip at all.

Are you changing people’s shopping habits, in that they’re hitting Green Zebra multiple times a week versus a supermarket on Saturday?

LS: We are totally changing people’s shopping habits. Many do some of each for sure, but for a big-store trip, you have to drive there, find a parking spot, navigate 40,000 square feet of groceries, go through a long checkout process, get back to your car and drive home. All in, that takes at least an hour. To shop with us, it’s more like 10 minutes. Also, people often tell us “I can’t afford to shop in your stores all the time; however, I have so much less waste when I shop by meal, so it turns out to be the more cost-effective way to shop.”

Lisa Sedlar, founder of Green Zebra Grocery, plans to bring healthy convenience for all

What are your most popular offerings?

LS: When thinking about healthy convenience, we looked at the reasons people go to convenience stores and how we could “healthy up” their trips. In the morning, it’s coffee, and if you think about convenience store coffee, it’s like, no thank you! We partner with local roasters, have baristas in our stores and offer a variety of dairy and plant-based milk beverages.

At lunchtime, traffic shifts to grab-and-go heavily because people don’t have a lot of time. Our salad bar used to be our No. 1 seller, but in this new age of being hyperaware of food safety, in abundance of caution, we closed it down and moved into more packaged salads. We are getting really creative and having so much fun with them. Our chef also created a cool sandwich menu that offers high quality and puts new and exciting twists on flavors that capture people’s imagination.

You have an awesome beer and wine program too, right?

LS: The evening trip is based around beer and wine. Some of our stores do 18% on beer and wine, so I get so excited that we’re stealing trips from other convenience stores. We focus almost exclusively on beer and wine from Oregon because it’s “beertopia” here, so why get products from anywhere else? As for wine, we’re very into regenerative agriculture in general, so natural, raw and biodynamic wines are big focus for us.

Does the new location offer anything different?

LS: A few years ago, I invented the kombucha zlushie, and we took it to the next level at this store. We offer four flavors each day, such as matcha, CBD soda, creamsicle. It’s so much fun to dig into these flavors and surprise people’s palates. We also created a vegan nacho bar, because again, we want to make the guilty pleasures people buy at convenience stores healthier. We have local Heidi Ho vegan cheese, kimchi and other toppings to experiment with.

Where is all this food prepared?

LS: Each store has a small kitchen that makes and packages all the food for that store. Someday we may consider a small commissary kitchen attached to a store, but right now, this way is easy to manage. Plus, it offers the freshest product.

Have many staff members been with you for years?

LS: Oh yeah. Our original core team is still in place. I like to say we’ve been through war together. You think, how hard can it be to do a small-format neighborhood grocery? But until you’ve had to invent everything from scratch, you can’t appreciate how hard it really is. We are a values-based company and talk about our values in our daily work. For example, we practice open-book financials and talk about how to meet our shared goals together. Staff members are obviously the soul of our business, so we hire to our values, and the first quality we look for is friendliness. We can teach the other stuff, but if someone is not naturally friendly, we can’t teach them that.

Also, we’re trying to create really good retail jobs that enable people to live fairly well. Our average wage is $15.84 per hour and we offer affordable health care to all full- and part-time staff, their partners and dependents.

Green Zebra’s founder, Lisa Sedlar, intends to give millions of urbanites the convenient, healthy options they crave

How does Green Zebra partner with nonprofits?

LS: It’s a pleasure and honor to be part of the community every day, which small local stores can do better than big chains. We’ve partnered with 125 nonprofits, but I’ve especially enjoyed working with the student food pantry at Portland State University. Before opening that store, I wasn’t aware that the number-one reason students drop out is because they have to choose between paying tuition and eating. I didn’t imagine that particular pantry would be so heavily utilized, but every day when it opens, the line is about 100 students long. All we have to do is walk across the street and give them a box of food, so I feel fortunate to provide that service to help students stay in school.

You plan to open more Green Zebra locations?

LS: We’re looking to open a fifth store perhaps by the end of the year. It sounds unusual to try to open stores in these uncertain times, but there is such demand for small-footprint stores in the dense walking and biking neighborhoods. My goal is to have 100 stores on the West Coast—I’d like to knock out 7-Eleven.

Monitor: Shoppers find confidence, and new products, in natural retail aisles


Natural Products Industry Health Monitor, May 29, 2020
A global lockdown might make weeks feel like months and months weigh like centuries, but business allows little room for ennui. As distracting as the daily inundation of the negative can be, the time to look forward is always now. In this new weekly feature, Informa Health and Nutrition sister properties provide that right-now-right-here update. Look for the Industry Health Monitor each Friday to learn the major news that is affecting the natural products market immediately and the less obvious insights that could dictate where the market may struggle or thrive in the months to come.

Today's consumer: A trust in natural

It’s hard to call it a “reopening” when grocery stores and most natural products retailers never fully closed during coronavirus shutdowns, but consumers did change shopping habits. As time marches on, they are becoming more comfortable with the brick-and-mortar experience. That’s likely good news across the food and beverage spectrum. And research by New Hope Network NEXT Data and Insights suggests there are particularly encouraging signs for natural products brands.

In short, natural channel shoppers are showing signs of relaxing but not fully engaging in the store experience, yet. They are feeling more comfortable about going to the grocery store, making more frequent trips and opting to buy new products, but only a small percentage of consumers are spending more time in the grocery store per trip.

Sixty-six percent of all shoppers indicate they have purchased one or more new brands or products primarily driven by the enjoyment of trying new things (38%) and affordability (17%).

New Hope Network NEXT Data and Insights surveyed consumers on Tuesday, May 26, as social distancing restrictions started lifting around the nation to get a pulse of consumer readiness for grocery retail experiences. 

About a third of consumers say a natural chain or a local/independent natural store are a type of grocery store they typically visit to shop. And two-thirds of those shoppers are feeling more comfortable in those stores.


Consider this: Less browsing forces branding innovation

Grocers and natural retailers have probably already noticed an uptick in foot traffic as restrictions ease, and the research backs up that observation. That doesn’t, however, mean they are spending more time in the store. While 66% of consumers say they are shopping at least once a week and frequency of trips overall has increased for 40% of consumers, only 14% say they spend more time in the store during a shopping trip.

While shoppers are shopping more often, how they approach the experience could be particularly telling for newer brands. While 58% say they are open to trying new products if they are curious, a full 70% say they enter the store with a list and stick to it or make an effort to minimize time in store.

This does not suggest that opportunities are ripe for demos or sampling, even if such practices were not already curtailed by local restrictions or store policies. Brands may have to get creative about introducing consumers to new products, possibly putting more emphasis on creating brand-consumer connections online or working with the influencer community. Shelf appeal and in-store-display strategies may be more important than ever, if retailers have the time to focus on them.

Learn more about the state of the consumer mindset and strategies to market within those contraints in this Food & Beverage podcast interview with NEXT Data and Insights Vice President Eric Pierce.

Shoppers may increasingly see brick-and-mortar stores as safe or at least safer spaces, but an e-commerce strategy is more crucial and essential for brands than ever. That doesn’t mean it’s a channel to be approached without caution; this webinar with thought leaders at Blueprint Partners and TIG provides some basic ecommerce starting points for natural products industry brands. Explore more online sales strategies here.


Know this: Retail pivots begin

While the grocery industry struggles to prepare for a new normal without knowing what that new normal will look like, the Sprouts Farmers Market chain is forging ahead with new store openings built around luring shoppers they define as “health enthusiasts and experience and innovation seekers,” said Sprouts CEO Jack Sinclair during in a virtual investors conference. That means smaller stores but also stores with greater emphasis on local brands and incubator-like support for new brands. Of course, it also means highlighting a safe-space status.

“Not that we didn’t focus on being clean and taking care of our employees and our customers [before], but more than ever, that’s just going to be a regular course of business going forward,” Sprouts' CFO Denise Paulonis added.

Brands might need to stop thinking about “a new normal” and start strategizing for “a new better.” “Everyone is talking about what's going to be the new norm. I like to think about it from the perspective of: What's going to be the new better? says Corinne Shindelar, president emeritus of the Independent Natural Food Retailers Association.


Natural Products Industry Health Monitor indexes

Consumer behavior indexes measure consumer behaviors through weekly surveys that are compared to a 2017 benchmark before COVID-19 emerged to see how the novel coronavirus is changing consumers. With almost two months of tracking since the outbreak of COVID-19 in the United States, consumers have not abandoned their behaviors seeking environmentally and responsibly made products, high-quality ingredients, nutrient density and transparency.

Natural products industry engagement index tracks social and mass media engagement of the top 50 trends defining the natural products industry. The index tracks weekly keyword engagement of these top trends that are compared to a Q4 2019 weekly average benchmark before COVID-19 emerged. With two months of tracking since the outbreak of COVID-19 in the United States, engagement spikes and dips as we navigate this period of unrest but consumer engagement within these topics is growing. 

Nutrition Capital Network tracks financial activity in the natural products industry. Investment activity experienced a significant lull in March, but has found traction again with new investments occurring on par with 2019 activity through April and May. Notable recent transactions in the investment activity space include financings for food delivery services in Europe and China. Imperfect Foods, a U.S. company delivering “ugly produce” also got funding. Investors put money in Big Sky Health, a producer of apps for tracking intermittent fasting programs, alcohol consumption, and a meditation app—all integral in helping consumers wrest control of their health through a discombobulating pandemic.  


Enjoy this:

Mask requirements vary by jurisdiction, and store, but some requirements never change.

clothes meme


Methodology footnotes
Natural products consumer behavior indexes: New Hope Network NEXT Data and Insights survey of n~1,000 collected weekly since March 30, 2020, using a convenience sample directionally representative of U.S. consumers ages 18-65 weighted for age, region and gender. The 2017 survey data are based on responses of 1,000 people nationally representative of the U.S. adult population. Index tracks “top two box” responses. 
Natural products industry engagement index: New Hope Network NEXT Data and Insights tracks the core 50 trends defining and innovating the natural products industry. By filtering social and mass media listening through these top trends we are able to track weekly indexes of total mentions and Net sentiment of the hot topics representative of the industry from the beginning of March 2020 compared to average weekly scores of the last three months of 2019. This allows stakeholders a view into the pulse of the industry through online conversations.  
Natural products industry investment index: Nutrition Capital Network, part of Informa’s Health and Nutrition portfolio of brands, collects all investment transactions occurring in the natural products industry. Total number of investment transactions (mergers, acquisitions, financings) are tallied weekly and compared to a fourth quarter 2019 weekly average benchmark before COVID-19 emerged.

Unboxed: 7 hand sanitizers for on-the-go hygiene

Natural brands have risen to the unprecedented demand for sanitizing agents in a big way. And that spells good news for consumers sensitive to the drying, harsh chemicals present in most conventional options on the market. 

For the week ending May 9, 2020, Nielsen data shows that hand sanitizer had the highest year-over-year category growth by a landslide—553.2%, to be exact. 

And with retail shelves being replenished at a faster rate, shoppers can now take their pick when it comes to choosing hand sanitizer that is healthier for themselves, their families and the environment. Click through the gallery to learn more about seven SKUs that fit the bill.

[email protected]: FDA rolls back ingredient, calorie labeling regulations | USDA food box program flaws

Getty Images FDA nutrition labels

FDA rolls back ingredient and calorie labeling regulations, citing supply chain disruptions

Allergy awareness advocates are worried after Food and Drug Administration officials announced that manufacturers could begin making "minor" substitutions and omissions (that aren't one of "the big eight" allergens) in finished food products without having to revise ingredient labels. The move is an attempt to help mitigate shortages and supply chain disruptions due to COVID-19. While manufacturers are encouraged to disclose these substitutions online or through signage in grocery stores, it isn't mandatory to do so. Read more at The Counter… 


USDA food box program beset by delays

The Agriculture Department's new $3 billion "Farmers to Families Food Box Program" is struggling to get off the ground, largely because the multimillion dollar contracts involved were given to a select few small firms that had barely any experience with food distribution. Critics, including leading lawmakers and food banks, are calling for an investigation into why these firms were selected above experienced contractors as families across America continue to go hungry. Read more at Politico


Bayer-Monsanto moving to settle thousands of Roundup cancer lawsuits

With tens of thousands of cancer-related lawsuits pending against Bayer-owned Monsanto, the parent company is looking for a way to minimize damages as much as possible. Its solution seems to be a huge number of settlements, although Bayer has yet to confirm this and will continue to appeal the cases that have already gone to court. Bayer also has no plans to discontinue the alleged cancer-causing product, glyphosate-based Roundup. Read more at Modern Farmer


A coronavirus chain reaction: Less driving means less fizz for sodas

Consumers might have to start paying extra for their beer, seltzer and soda this summer as the source of 40% of all carbon dioxide shuts down due to lack of demand for ethanol. Although driving activity has steadily increased this month, it hasn't been enough for ethanol companies to resume their pre-COVID rate of production. Read more at The Wall Street Journal


To avoid dumping milk, dairy farmers find new market at Vermont food banks

Dairy Farmers of America, the nation’s largest dairy cooperative; three processors, Green Mountain Creamery, HP Hood, and Ploughgate Creamery; and several nonprofits have come together in New England to get food to hungry families and support struggling farmers. Vermont's dairy industry accounts for 70% of its agricultural sales, in addition to boosting the state's tourism, which is why it is now bringing in private money to mobilize stakeholders to make this happen. Read more at Civil Eats