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Articles from 2019 In July

Former FDA commissioner plays his hand on CBD regulation

CBD formula

When Scott Gottlieb stepped down from his post as Food and Drug Administration commissioner in April, one of the biggest supplement industry disappointments was the loss of a government voice calling for a pathway for CBD to become a legal dietary supplement.

Gottlieb’s July 30 CBD op-ed piece in the Washington Post suggests such beliefs may have been a “be careful what you wish for” moment.

Many supplement industry executives watching the market in its current state would likely have trouble disagreeing with the headline, “The CBD craze is getting out of hand. The FDA needs to act.” But Gottlieb, now an investor in what the byline disclaimer describes as “biopharmaceutical companies,” offers a more questionable set of ideas in the body of the piece.

He starts with some simple statements. The former commissioner makes the true but widely disregarded observation that “much of the product is illegal under current law,” and offers the clarification that the 2018 farm bill legalized growing and selling hemp but did not greenlight putting CBD into food. He reminds readers that the “one legally available purified form of CBD” remains Epidiolex, a pharmaceutical drug the FDA approved last year.

None of that is new and much of it was probably said by Gottlieb more than once during his FDA tenure. Back then, he promised “a path” to legal CBD outside the pharmaceutical realm. What’s more clear now is what path he might have mapped out. And it’s not likely anybody in the supplement industry would be eager to go skipping down it.

While Gottlieb does propose that the FDA “can approve the sale of some CBD products immediately,” it doesn’t sound like that when you read further. The mechanism of which he speaks is new dietary ingredient notification; and Gottlieb makes it clear that one NDI would not cover the wide market. He suggests Congress pass legislation allowing the FDA to skip establishing regulation that all players could use and instead it would “rely on petitions filed by individual, prospective producers.”

Given that such petitions would have to include toxicity studies, the NDI route gets very expensive, very quickly. One could say that such a requirement will shake out the less responsible players—and the industry needs some of that—but if it pares down the industry to a very few players, we’re not sure what that does besides make the pharmaceutical companies Gottlieb is consulting for very happy.

Laced through his piece are hints that betray a pharma-first agenda. He suggests the framework be “expressly unique to CBD” to ward off “supplement makers seeking a back door to add other drugs to foods.” Does “other drugs” mean Gottlieb is calling CBD a drug?

It looks that way. He also writes, “Any path to allow CBD to be added to food products needs to preserve the incentive to study the compound in rigorous clinical trials to prove its therapeutic potential as a medicine.” “Preserve the incentive” sounds a lot like preserving CBD as a drug. Blessed with FDA’s drug-approval status, GW Pharmaceuticals could likely start suing CBD supplement makers now. If additional pharma players with patents and approved drugs come into the market, that likelihood and the firepower behind it only increases.

To be sure, not all of what Gottlieb offers sounds like a deliberate ploy to boost pharma’s fortunes. But many of his recommendations already apply to dietary supplements. When he suggests such criteria as “good manufacturing requirements, demonstrating traceability, adhering to safe levels for the purity and potency,” it should be noted that all of that could and should be enforced on all products covered under FDA’s mandate.

His other suggestion, that CBD be added to supplements and food “only in very low concentrations” is more interesting. It’s something that’s being discussed and even expected in the supplement industry. What “very low concentrations” turn out to be, of course, could be a problem. Concentrations on the market now are so much lower than the Epidiolex prescription form that the risk of the FDA imposing something of market-killing severity seems low.

Still, Gottlieb’s earlier mention of liver toxicity is worth mentioning here. The toxicity issue comes up around the prescription strength dosage, 100s of milligrams compared to the 15-20 in most CBD products. And yet, Gottlieb warns, “if you eat CBD in your breakfast, lunch and dinner, you could get a toxic dose.”

Put simply, you’d have to be a big eater.

Against all that, any nostalgia for Gottlieb’s hand at the tiller to guide the future of CBD in foods and supplements seems naïve now. To be clear, the market needs clarity. It’s disappointing that so many companies are not waiting for that clarity to come. We’ve called it a “wait and see” strategy without the “wait” part. Some of them are being careful and conscientious, but many are not.

So far, the FDA has seemed willing to kick the can down the road. CBD is largely being treated as any other supplement can be expected to be treated. Don’t make any outrageous claims and don’t skimp on GMPs and the FDA is likely to reach for lower hanging fruit.

Such enforcement might be ill-defined, but if it were consistent, that would be what the CBD market needs. Indeed, it’s what the whole supplement industry needs. But Gottlieb seems to be talking about special rules for CBD that could hold the market back in the wrong ways.

And that’s a path few in the supplement industry are likely eager to tread.

[email protected]: Impossible’s ‘blood’ OK’d | Activists at risk | Social media fundraising

Impossible Foods

Alternative meat battle headed to grocery stores

The FDA approved on Wednesday the not-so-secret ingredient that gives Impossible Burgers their “blood,” the color additive soy leghemoglobin. The decision should allow Impossible Foods—already facing a burger shortage as its popularity soars—to hawk its meatless burgers at supermarkets. Read more at The New Food Economy …


Wearing your health on your wrist

German scientists have created a tattoo fluid that changes color as one’s metabolism changes. With the help of an app, the tattoo’s color can help patients with diabetes or kidney disease better keep track of their conditions. Read more at Fast Company …


Fighting for the environment can be deadly

Around the world, 164 environmental activists were murdered last year, according to the nonprofit Global Witness. Mining is the deadliest sector, but agribusiness was connected with 21 deaths. Indigenous people in Latin America and South Asia are most at-risk, the nonprofit reports. Read more at Civil Eats


Flies can transfer E. coli from feedlots to produce fields

Leafy greens grown near feedlots could be contaminated with E. coli, thanks to pesky pest flies. In a study that will be published in the Journal of Food Protection, researchers report that field up to 180 meters (590.5 feet, or almost the length of two professional football fields) are at risk. Read more at Food Safety News


Asking friends and family for startup cash on social media

Many entrepreneurs turn to friends and family members for financial support as they start their businesses. While social media might be a convenient way to reach out, there’s a right way and a wrong way to it—and the wrong likely will generate only hard feelings. Read more at The Wall Street Journal

Natural Products Expo

What do the attendee badge colors mean at Natural Products Expo?

Natural Products Expo attendee badge

Are you going to Natural Products Expo this time around? Know who's coming before the show and who you're talking to once you're there. Here's how we color code them.

Dig in deeper to the different business categories and learn how we define manufacturer, distributor and others. Interested in chatting with press while you're at the show? Familiarize yourself with the new press categories.

Expo attendees (1).png

Natural Products Expo

Why upcycled food is the future of clean label

Renewal Mill

Have you ever considered eating soybean pulp? Probably not. But, Claire Schlemme of Renewal Mill is on a mission to bring this (okara) and other upcycled byproduct ingredients to the mass market.

Schlemme, a former organic juice company founder, is now CEO of Renewal Mill, a food waste reprocessing venture that upcycles fibrous byproducts from food manufacturing into high value end-use goods. It is estimated 30-40% of food in the U.S. food supply goes to waste, and Renewal Mill is tackling this huge issue from a unique and delicious angle.

We caught up with the industry pioneer to discuss the importance of upcycling food byproducts, how sustainability plays a role in the company and what drives her to continue this work.

Claire Schlemme HeadshotWhy is Renewal Mill focused on upcycled byproducts?

Claire Schlemme: After coming face-to-face with food waste when I co-founded Boston's first organic juice company, I was searching for a solution at the intersection of sustainability, food and affordable nutrition. After realizing the scale at which byproducts are produced during food manufacturing, it was clear that byproducts are a perfect raw material for creating new ingredients and food.

With more than 6 billion pounds of fibrous food waste generated each year in the U.S. alone, the opportunity is massive to keep nutrition in the food system. Upcycling is an important part of the solution and we created Renewal Mill to build this new category of food.

How did you first discover okara, and what makes this ingredient stand out?

CS: I discovered okara after talking to Minh Tsai, the CEO of Hodo Foods, the third largest tofu manufacturer in the U.S. Okara was very analogous to the pulp that I was familiar with from my juice venture. Okara is the soybean pulp leftover after "juicing" soybeans to produce soy milk. Okara flour is an extremely versatile ingredient that can add flavor and nutrition to a wide array of products, from crackers to pasta to beverages. Because of its light color and neutral flavor, it's remarkably easy to use. As such, it's a perfect first ingredient for our portfolio of upcycled ingredients to show just how functional this class of ingredients can be.

Sustainability is a core focus of Renewal Mill. How does this translate to your supply chain?

CS: Renewal Mill's mission is to reduce food waste so the company is fundamentally built on the concept of sustainability. It's important to us that we infuse this ethos into all of our decision making. We are committed to a plant-based branded product line and carefully consider the sourcing of the additional ingredients we use. For example, our cookies contain palm oil, which we purchase from a Latin American producer who was the first in the world to receive the most rigorous sustainability certification. Beyond our supply chain, we wrap earth-friendly choices into the everyday workings of our business—from composting at the office to offsetting our work travel.

What drives you to do this work?

CS: I've always been passionate about food and the environment. As a child, I enjoyed them as separate things—cooking shows in my kitchen and building forts in redwood trees. After surviving cancer in my early twenties, I became aware of how intrinsically linked the two are and set about using food to support a healthy environment.

The fact that our food system is remarkably inefficient adds another dimension—that of affordability and access. There are win-win-win opportunities where we can use food that would otherwise go to waste as a source of affordable nutrition. It is this interplay of food, sustainability and nutrition that drives me to find a unique solution that addresses multiple challenges.

What's next for Renewal Mill?

CS: So much! This year we're focused on securing and growing our okara production to meet demand. Simultaneously, we are working with new byproducts to assess viability and market fit and ultimately identify our second commercially available ingredient. And finally, we're expanding distribution of our branded product line to bring okara to new markets and help us spread the word about this amazing new ingredient.

What advice would you give other natural product entrepreneurs who are curious about using upcycled ingredients?

CS: Give them a try! The benefits of upcycled ingredients are many and are perfectly aligned with growing consumer demands for better nutrition, increased transparency and cleaner labels. They tend to be nutrient dense, can help solve functional obstacles and have lower carbon footprints than traditional ingredients. They are often cost competitive since they are sourced from low-cost or no-cost inputs.

Upcycled ingredients are fantastic hero ingredients that can differentiate end products and provide interesting stories for food marketers. Upcycled food is trending and we see this as a perfect moment for both food producers and consumers to do good through the more efficient use of food.

Don’t miss your chance to see Claire Schlemme and nine other semifinalists share their brand stories at the Natural Products Expo East Pitch Slam on Sept. 11, 2019!

Natural Products Expo East LogoThink you’re ready to hit the big stage? Apply by Friday, Aug. 2.
What:Natural Products Expo East Pitch Slam (open to all badges)
When: 5-6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019
Where: Hilton Key Ballroom

Natural Products Expo

Revealed: The Expo East 2019 Pitch Slam judges

Expo East Pitch Slam

Want to snag more than $40,000 in New Hope Network services, including a free booth at Natural Products Expo East 2020? You could, if you’re crowned Expo East 2019 Pitch Slam winner. But, the application closes THIS Friday, Aug. 2, at 5 p.m. MDT, so apply today!

Not familiar with Pitch Slam? Held every year at Natural Products Expo East and Expo West, this special competition provides the opportunity to elevate mission-driven and innovative companies, connecting brands with the exposure and resources needed to take it to the next level.

Missed the 411 on the slection process? Read all about it here.

Once the 10 semifinalists are ready to hit the stage in Baltimore on Sept. 11, 2019, each brand will have three minutes to give its best pitch to these five Pitch Slam Expert Panel members, plus a large audience of retailers, investors, peers and more. The Expert Panel judges pitches based on innovation, uniqueness, value proposition of product, product branding, packaging, presentation and market viability. The five standout brands advance to the Pitch Slam Finals the following night.

So who’s who on the Pitch Slam Expert Panel? Check them out below.

Kelly Landrieu HeadshotKelly Landrieu: Global Coordinator - Local Brands, Whole Foods Market

"I’m thrilled to join the judging panel for the Expo East Pitch Slam competition! Emerging brands and the innovations they bring to the table drive the industry forward, expand opportunity and excite consumers. Hearing directly from the entrepreneurs behind these brands gives us an incredible opportunity to learn about their brand stories and journeys to market in a deeper way."

Lauren JupiterLauren Jupiter: Managing Partner, Accel Foods

"With the incredible influx of talent and innovation in the packaged food and beverage space, Pitch Slam provides a wonderful opportunity to connect with entrepreneurs to better understand their unique products and go-to-market strategies. I look forward to participating as a judge and helping to evaluate how these talented founders plan to scale their businesses."

Esther Park: CEO, Esther ParkCienega Capital

"I’m looking forward to seeing and hearing about exciting businesses pushing the envelope to create a regenerative food system!"

Chelsea Williams: Founder, That's ChelseaChelsea Williams

"I'm excited to participate in this groundbreaking opportunity as the first influencer to serve as a judge on the Pitch Slam Expert Panel. As someone who works directly with both brands and consumers, I hope to bring a fresh perspective that will bridge the gap between the two groups."

Blake MitchellBlake Mitchell: Principal, Interact Boulder

"I'm excited to help usher in the next group of entrepreneurs that are shaping the natural foods industry."

Want to experience the 10 standout brands' pitches in real time? Join us at the Pitch Slam Semi-Finals at Natural Products Expo East.

Natural Products Expo EastWhat: Pitch Slam Semi-Finals
When: 5-6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019
Where: Hilton, Key Ballroom

BeyondSKU accelerator recruiting entrepreneurs in New York metro area

BeyondSKU logo

SKU, a successful Austin-based CPG accelerator dedicated to natural brands, is taking its show on the road with BeyondSKU. Launched in 2011 with the help of two CPG veterans, Scott Jensen (of Rhythm Superfoods and Stubb’s BBQ) and Clayton Christopher (of Deep Eddy Vodka and Sweet Leaf Tea), SKU is now partnering with consulting agency BeyondBrands to bring its curriculum to the New York metro area.

The accelerator—working in "tracks"—matches industry experts with companies that are ready to take their idea to the next level. Because it’s an intense program consisting of 14 weeks of meeting with a group of mentors on a weekly basis, it has been difficult for brands to temporarily relocate to Austin. SKU's board members wanted to spread out further and it was a natural extension for BeyondBrands, based in New York, to get involved.

“What we're so excited about at BeyondBrands is that we're partnering with the No. 1 accelerator group in America right now dedicated to natural channel—not tech, not other things—natural channel brands,” said BeyondSKU executive director and BeyondBrands co-founder Eric Schnell.

Up to seven companies will be selected for the first New York track, which will include seed cash up to $20,000, mentorship and education, direct networking, connections to professional services and access to investors. Typical of accelerator programs, in exchange for these resources BeyondSKU will receive an equity stake in each participating company.

“The variety of what I call ‘disciplinary experts’ that we draw into the mentor pool makes it highly effective,” said Christopher, Chairman at SKU. “I wish I had this when I was a young entrepreneur. I would have owned a lot more of my company and the money would have gone a lot further.”

Companies with revenue up to $3 million are encouraged to apply. Accepted brands must be in the New York City area or willing to relocate for the duration of the program, which starts in September and runs for 12 weeks. The deadline to apply is Aug. 10, 2019, and applications can be submitted at

Selection factors include a fully developed product and plan, a well-rounded founding team, innovative market entry points, large revenue potential, an ability to scale quickly and a great pitch.

SKU Austin’s roster includes Epic Provisions, sold to General Mills in 2016, and Siete Family Foods, which recently raised $90 million in funding. To date, the accelerator has run seven tracks, and graduated 37 companies, 94% of which are still in business today.

BeyondSKU inaugural class will be announced mid-August.

[email protected]: Magic mushrooms meet coffee and tea | Beyond Meat's Q2 growth


Magic mushroom coffee and tea coming to a pot near you?

Strava Craft Coffee recently announced its plans to begin selling coffee beans and tea products infused with psilocybin from magic mushrooms. The company hopes that psilocybin will follow the same trajectory that cannabis has, and that there will be a more favorable regulatory environment nationwide for the mind-altering compound by 2020. Read more at Westword …

Beyond Meat’s Q2 earnings highlight stunning growth and investor jitters

Beyond Meat’s second-quarter earnings totaled over $67.3 million, which beat industry expectations and underscores the fact that the hype for alt meat isn’t dying down anytime soon. The company has obtained several celebrity investors in addition to tech money, and through its marketing strategy has been successful at removing the stigma that plant-based meat alternatives are “premium products." Read more at New Food Economy …

The future of food is biofortified, says plant breeding pioneer

Biofortification of the crop supply may just be the simplest way to give consumers improved nutrition outcomes at a fixed cost. Former HarvestPlus CEO Howarth Bouis spearheaded the biofortification movement—he says it’s “sort of like putting fluoride in the water system”—and expounds upon the challenges that remain in terms of scaling this nutrition intervention in this Q&A. Read more at Devex …

NakedPoppy launches curated beauty marketplace for wellness junkies

A new natural cosmetics startup with an emphasis on personalization and transparency launched today with $4 million in venture capital backing from top investors. NakedPoppy hopes to make buying clean makeup easier for consumers and joins the ranks of other emerging and popular direct-to-consumer beauty brands and startups that put ease-of-access first. Read more at TechCrunch …

The natural cure for burnout is profound and utter awe

As many in the natural industry know, burnout is becoming a more and more prevalent issue that negatively affects consumers’ overall health and wellbeing. One reason for this? A deprivation of awe in adults’ lives, or ways to find perspective amid hectic schedules and acute stress. Read more at Forge …

Learn ways to solve burnout through the power of connection at Natural Products Business School at Expo East.


How to differentiate your brand through a customer-centric approach


The single biggest marketing challenge today may well be brand differentiation. Now more than ever it can be difficult to differentiate your products from your competitors’ in the eyes of the consumer. And can you blame them? One look at any major retailer's shelves or a quick search on Amazon and you will see a virtual sea of products that all seem to have similar attributes, features and benefits. How does a brand separate itself and develop true brand recognition and loyalty when there are so many products that apparently offer the same thing? This is why effective marketing has become so difficult; the customer is overwhelmed with choices and confused by the apparent lack of differences between products. A YOU-centric marketing approach meets this challenge.

At Think Media, we know that almost every market is crowded–and breaking through the noise is tough. That is why we use a YOU-centric, or your customer-centric, approach. A YOU-centric approach helps you gain brand recognition by making your brand feel personal. It makes your customers feel important, special and valued. It creates lasting relationships by putting your customer’s needs, wants, aspirations, motives and inspiration first. It makes your customer see themselves in your brand which truly separates your brand from your rivals.

So, how do you do it? Well, how do you gain someone’s attention? You gain a person’s attention by making your communication about them. You ask about them. You listen to them. You understand them. You very simply make it all about them because that is what they value. They value themselves. When you make your marketing about them, you value them and that is how you gain their attention and loyalty.

What's funny is that the idea of offering value to your customers is rarely if ever thought of in terms of marketing (and I don’t mean value regarding the price point). Instead, valuing the customer is relegated to the customer service department or the product design and innovation departments. It isn’t a concentration of the marketing team because marketers don’t provide value, right? Marketing sells the features and benefits. Wrong! Or at least, wrong if you want to be effective in today’s ever-evolving, congested market.

Cutting-edge brands understand that when the customer feels valued in the way that you market to them, the customer will take notice and the rewards will come in sales. Very few brands do this, but the ones that do understand the benefit of making your customers feel special. Take Nike as an example of a company that is excelling at YOU-centric marketing. Recently, I purchase some sportswear for my children from their website. I received the email confirmation and all the other information necessary information immediately after the order was placed. Then, when the order shipped, I received a shipment email confirmation that felt specifically crafted to personally address me and my needs. The email, while simple, gave the impression that the brand both valued and understood me (especially the part about returning the items dirty if needed since my kids never seem to shy away from dirt or mud).



That is how you win customers: By making it all about them. By making it YOU-centric (your customer centric). In today’s landscape, something new, unique and special is required. Something YOU-centric.

Shahla Hebets is the founder of Think Media Consulting, a digital marketing consultancy firm. Think Media creates smart, relevant, and authentic digital marketing, social media and ecommerce strategies that drive revenue for health and wellness brands.

Unboxed: 7 chickpea products that pack a versatile punch

There are many reasons why the Mediterranean Diet is considered the healthiest in the world (so much so that UNESCO has included it on its “Intangible Cultural Heritage” list), and here to take a bow for the part it plays is the humble chickpea.

With their creamy texture and delicate, nutty taste, chickpeas have found glory in our own diets through the evolution of hummus into a virtual household staple. Meanwhile, brands are catching on to the versatility of these small, round legumes—also known as garbanzo beans—as well as their potential health benefits for consumers.  

Though chickpeas might appear unassuming, they pack a nutritional punch as a good source of protein, dietary fiber, resistant starch, vitamins and minerals (particularly calcium, folate, magnesium and potassium), as well as polyunsaturated fatty acids.

And when served up in savory or (increasingly) sweet creations, chickpeas are as tasty as great, on-the-go snacks, as they are as the anchor to a satisfying meal or morphed into a decadent sweet (dessert hummus, anyone?). So, whether puffed, fried, roasted or puréed; turned into pasta or cookies, or transformed into flour or bakery products; more and more brands are jumping on the chickpea bandwagon.