Unboxed: 9 health- and hive-supporting honey products

At quick glance honey is honey. But just like wine, honey has many nuances. Although on average 1 tablespoon of honey contains approximately 17 grams of sugar—fructose, glucose, maltose and sucrose—it is considered better for you than refined sugar. In fact, studies have shown regular honey consumption to result in 11-19% lower blood triglyceride levels (a risk factor for heart disease) compared to regular sugar consumption.

It is also thought to help lower blood pressure and improve cholesterol by lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol and increasing HDL or “good” cholesterol. This is in large part because it is rich in antioxidants and bioactive plant compounds. Darker varieties of honey, are thought to have higher health benefits and higher amounts of these compounds than lighter honey. Raw and unfiltered honey contains beneficial pollen and propolis, which helps maintain a clean and healthy environment in the beehive and helps bees fight against infections

While small-batch and artisan honey producers are increasingly bringing tasty and innovative honey products to market, they are also excellent advocates for the plight of bees. More than most people realize, the food chain depends heavily on bees to pollinate crops. When buying honey, look for companies that support healthy bee initiatives.  

5@5: Tyson implements robot butchers | Why urban agriculture helps fight racism

Getty Images urban agriculture rooftop community garden

Tyson turns to robot butchers, spurred by coronavirus outbreaks

The $213 billion U.S. meat industry has been hit hard by the effects of COVID-19, leading to shortages and price hikes nationwide. While many meat processors have worked for years trying to automate portions of the process, Tyson Foods is getting close to making coronavirus-spreading bottlenecks in its plants a thing of the past with new robot technology. Dean Banks, president of Tyson's board of directors, said the technology is likely to revolutionize the business. Read more at The Wall Street Journal


How urban agriculture can fight racism in the food system

Urban agriculture gives marginalized communities the ability to attain more economic and financial power by giving them control over their food systems. A new fund based in New York State called The Black Farmer Fund is a model for others to follow; it came about because of a stark lack of support from USDA and will give new Black farmers the resources to purchase seeds and land. Read more at Civil Eats


Burger King is teaming up with a trendy craft brewer to make its own nonalcoholic beer in Denmark and Sweden

Although alcohol sales have been up throughout the pandemic, the sober-curious movement is apparently still going strong in Denmark and Sweden. Burger King introduced a nonalcoholic craft beer in late June to menus in both countries that is specially "made to pair well with burgers." Read more at Business Insider


New Bayer-engineered seed is resistant to five different types of pesticide

Bayer has petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture to approve its new genetically engineered corn seed that is resistant to glyphosate, glufosinate, dicamba, 2,4-D and quizalofop. But experts warn that weeds are quickly outpacing such technological developments, and Bayer's latest seed will only create more pesticide-resistant weeds. To combat this farmers are encouraged to use pesticides alongside other methods such as using combines to destroy weed seeds. Read more at The Counter


The secondhand refrigerators feeding New Yorkers

A group of New York City-based chefs and activists have have started a network of community fridges filled with a variety of supermarket-worthy foods. However, these efforts are not meant to be read as charity; instead, the refrigerators and their contents are something for communities to own and be empowered by. Read more at The Cut

Introducing a new special edition of the NEXTY Awards


The natural products industry won’t be able to connect through in-person events in 2020, but that doesn’t mean that product innovation and mission-driven business is on pause. New Hope Network has witnessed countless examples of the industry using business as a force for good throughout 2020 and it is time to celebrate!

The NEXTY Awards is a program which exists to spark widespread recognition for brands and products that inspire a sustainable future for people and planet. Although the NEXTY Awards have typically run in conjunction with Natural Products Expos East and Expo West, in a new, special edition of the NEXTY Awards, finalists and winners will be celebrated through New Hope Network’s Spark Change initiative.  

Spark Change is a digital events, content and networking series based on the powerful concept of Innovation for Good, offering unique experiences and content that will connect and inspire the natural products marketplace. This cohesive campaign highlights New Hope Network’s various engagement tools and deep industry expertise in order to support the growth of the industry. 

In this special edition of the NEXTY Awards, any CPG brand in the natural products industry can nominate its products for a reduced nomination cost of $95 per nomination. Together, these new changes make the NEXTY Awards more accessible than ever, providing the opportunity for recognition and accolade across the entire natural products industry.

Not only are the awards now more inclusive than ever, finalists and winners will benefit from an array of benefits and heightened industry awareness through the Spark Change platform. Based on three pillars, Spark Change highlights networking, education and product discovery. In Spark Change’s Product Discovery Zone used by retailers, influencers, investors and more, all NEXTY finalists and winners will be highlighted with special designation throughout 2020. Best of all, finalists will be specially announced in Spark Change’s highly anticipated kickoff event on Wednesday, Aug. 26 and winners will be announced in the Spark Change closing ceremony Nov. 9-10.

Amid these exciting changes, the NEXTY Awards judging process remains the same. Nominating brands are required to send product samples to the New Hope Network office for preliminary and final judging rounds. The expert judging teams are made up of New Hope’s editorial, standards, NEXT Data and Insights teams as well as invited industry expert judges for the final judging. All products across the 23 categories are judged on the NEXTY criteria of innovation, inspiration and integrity.

The NEXTY Awards provides an easy, accessible way for brands to gain widespread industry recognition and accolade. Brands interested in the NEXTY Awards can nominate now.

NEXTY Awards information

New study: Where to successfully merchandise plant-based meat

Kroger and Plant Based Foods Association plant-based meat set at Kroger
Kroger tests merchandising plant-based meats in the meat department. The Plant Based Foods Association released the results of the tests.

Settling an ongoing debate, merchandising plant-based meat products in the meat department does in fact help meat alternatives sell better, according to a recent study by the Plant Based Foods Association and Kroger.

Between December 2019 and February 2020, 60 Kroger grocery stores placed refrigerated plant-based meat substitutes in a 3-foot set within the animal meat department. In the Midwest region, where flexitarian diet consumers are emerging, plant-based meat sales climbed 32% during the test period. That demonstrates significant opportunity for growth of the plant-based sector even in the nation's heartland.  

Through interviews, the test also found that shoppers found the convenience factor appealing—that the products were easier to find and purchase. Consumers were also "impressed" by the abundance of options.

Sales increased in the Denver area as well—despite already having a sizable plant-based consumer population—by 13%. The average increase compared to control stores was 23%.

More specifically, the Midwest test set attracted 32% more new shoppers over control stores—and also saw a 33% increase in shoppers purchasing a wider variety of plant-based meats, and a 34% jump in shoppers increasing their number of purchase occasions. (In Denver, those figures were 14%, 16% and 14%, respectively.)

"As plant-based meat sales continue to grow, with sales increasing even more rapidly compared to prepandemic levels, this research becomes even more compelling for retailers to locate plant-based meats in the meat section if they want to maximize sales by reaching more consumers," said Michele Simon, executive director of the Plant Based Foods Association.

The test included plant-based burgers and sausages as well as deli slices, roasts, seitan and jackfruit. While it was conducted before COVID-19 took a firm hold in the U.S., recent data show that interest in plant-based foods generally has remained strong—outpacing total food sales, according to a separate Plant Based Foods Association study.

"This test provides one more proof point that plant-based meats have moved from niche to mainstream," said Sean Brislin, merchandising director at Kroger, the country's largest grocery retailer. "Kroger continues to experience double-digit growth in the plant-based category, and this test demonstrates the viability of shifting product placements to reach even more customers."

J.E.D.I Collaborative announces majority funding achieved

JEDI Collaborative logo

While having lunch with a group of sustainability leaders at a rooftop restaurant at Natural Products Expo West 2018, one woman boldly asked no one in particular, “Can we just talk about why it feels like a white country club here?'"

That afternoon, while walking the boisterous Anaheim Convention Center halls, I started seeing us in a new way. Why have we been largely white and male in terms of our leadership for most of the history of our industry? Do our consumers need to be white and of a higher socioeconomic background? And we at OSC2 wondered what that meant in the context of our work to increase the capacity for a thriving, biodiverse, environmentally and socially just industry. 

We started working on a plan. An ambitious plan. And people along the way asked us, “Can’t you simplify this to one thing? This project is really broad.” And, “Where is the hook? Just focus on board diversity.” Or, “Just focus on diversity of panels.”   

Well here is the hook. As my co-founder, Sheryl O’loughlin, shared at the launch of the Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion (J.E.D.I) Collaborative, “Biodiversity is essential to a thriving ecosystem and Humans are a part of biodiversity.” Our food system, our agriculture, our companies and each of us are less than we have the potential to be because we are not helping all people to feel that they belong in our industry, because the products are not for more than a small segment of the population, our leadership, board team and entrepreneurial talent don’t reflect the country, and not everyone in our supply chains is treated justly and equally. We are an industry that cares about environmental justice but that must go hand in hand with social justice and we are missing that part of it. 

We need to make our healthy products more accessible, affordable and culturally and ethnically appropriate for more communities. This is systemic and must be addressed as a system, not just an human resource plan.  

Natural products industry lacks diversity according to benchmarking study

We know that diverse and inclusive leadership is key because these decision makers are the ones that will unlock the change in terms of the product, marketing, supply chain, sales and financial systems. We have a ways to go as an industry. According to the Natural and Organic Industry Benchmarking Survey conducted in late 2019 by J.E.D.I Collaborative and New Hope Network, only 2% of leadership positions within our industry companies and on company boards are occupied by black professionals. The situation isn’t better for Latinx professionals, who hold 2% of company board positions and 6% of company leadership roles within the U.S. natural products industry. Women are also underrepresented in important areas. Women represent only 23% of board seats for companies with more than 50 employees.  

We launched J.E.D.I Collaborative to industry leadership

We launched J.E.D.I Collaborative on April 29, 2020 with the vision of an industry that centers at its core justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. And because this project addresses a deep and systemic challenge, we are meeting it with a systems-level solution. We invite companies to make a range of commitments in three areas: Culture, Consumer and Communities.

At this J.E.D.I Leadership launch we had three goals: (see Launch video)

  • 100 companies making commitments on the J.E.D.I website. 
  • 15 new early adopters piloting the work actively with us.
  • Raise funds to expand the project to bring it to the forefront of the natural products industry as a resource and platform for action. 

We now have 50 companies committed and 11 new early adopters. Once again, our industry has shown its potential to step up, evolve, grow and lead the way for other industries. Since we know how to get fresh, healthy, sustainable food to market, our movement to J.E.D.I can change the whole food and healthy products ecosystem.  

New J.E.D.I donors step up to partner on this industry collaborative

Perhaps the most encouraging part of the support for J.E.D.I is the composition of our donors. These are individuals and companies across our value chain who have stepped up not just with funding, but with a personal and professional belief in the vital need for this collaboration. They are investing time, knowledge and resources that go beyond donations. 

J.E.D.I wouldn’t be where we are today without Nutiva, our founding donor that helped us gain momentum with a $100,000 three-year commitment in 2019. Nutiva then took its support further when founder John Roulac announced a $50K matching grant at our launch event. What really struck us was John’s “J.E.D.I Why” for this generous donation. He said, “I would not have received the same help and the same breaks to grow Nutiva  if I was not a white male. It’s time to pay it forward with the next generation of J.E.D.I Leaders.”

In response to that incredible matching donation, we received:

KeHE shared, “At KeHE, we believe the community of good food is a catalyst to create an inclusive, equitable, more just world. We know first-hand the diversity of voices and ideas build stronger companies and a more robust economy.”

This was in addition to ongoing commitments and donations from our partners since inception: Pepsico WomenMade, Sensiba San Filippo, Presence Marketing, New Hope Network, Davis Wright Tremaine, Once Upon a Farm, Force Brands, Dr. Bronner’s and Numi Tea. 

We want to acknowledge that nearly all of these donations came in prior to the civil rights movement our nation is experiencing sparked by the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.  

To fully launch J.E.D.I Collaborative to the industry and fund this work through June 2021, we are seeking an additional $70,000 and an additional $300,000 over 3 years. We have accelerated some of our work as a result of the recent racialized trauma our nation has experienced and expanded our budget to do this. We are asking folks to consider three-year donor commitments so we can all get to work together on this, rather than spending our time fundraising. We are currently working with people with marginalized identities impacted by this work to take the learnings from our leadership launch to prepare for our full launch in 2021. The funding helps enable us to make sure that this launch is fully supported.

How you can get involved with J.E.D.I

People have started to become more conscious of the systemic bias that has been part of our society for hundreds of years. Not only of the police brutality and daily inequities Black American’s face, but also of the injustice as part of our food system. People in our industry are beginning to ask how they can act. Here’s how: We invite companies and individuals to do three things this week:

  1.  Make J.E.D.I Commitments—we have developed them with a team of experts and it is free to engage. https://jedicollaborative.com/make-commitment/
  2. Help us close the $80,000 funding gap by making your donation to J.E.D.I. We welcome micro-donations. https://jedicollaborative.com/make-donation/
  3. Become a J.E.D.I Early Adopter. (small minimum investment required subsidized by OSC2 and J.E.D.I team).

Many people have asked, “What else can I do?” Beyond the above, there is much we can do together to help in ways that the Black community is saying they need our support.  Carlotta Mast, our third J.E.D.I co-founder, shared in her call to natural products industry leaders eight ways to actively engage.

We believe that the natural foods industry must take bold steps to create an inclusive, equitable, more just world. J.E.D.I Collaborative, an OSC2 natural products industry collaborative, exists to support this work and enable these changes. I am excited to see what the next level of growth for this industry looks like. 

Must read

Market Overview 2020: Natural retail market size and stats

Neonbrand/Unsplash produce signage at natural retail store

How big is the natural retail market?

With overall natural retail sales hitting $166 billion in 2019, this pie chart shows just where natural and organic sales occur and they grew.

Natural Foods MerchandiserNatural retail market size 2019 pie chart

How did natural and organics sales grow in the natural channel in 2019?

Beverage and condiment sales led category growth rates in the natural channel, with organic meat, fish and poultry experiencing the greatest growth rate.

Natural Foods Merchandisermarket overview 2019 category performance chart

How did supplements sell at natural in 2019?

Herbs and botanicals continued to shine, growing at a 3.6% clip in 2019.

Natural Foods Merchandisermarket overview supplement sales chart

Natural Foods Merchandiser's natural retail store definitions

Natural products stores
These stores make 60% or more of their revenue from food. They are typically the largest stores in the market and offer a wide array of products from supplements and body care to groceries, to cold and frozen, to produce. Many stores in this category also have large pet product sections and household sections. Foodservice (bakery and deli departments) are common, as well.

Health food stores
These stores receive more than 20% of their sales from food and more than 50% of their sales from food and supplements combined. Normally they are smaller than natural products stores; and while they have grocery, cold and frozen sections, in addition to supplements and body care, the sections are probably smaller. If they have produce, it is more likely to be a modest offering.

Supplement stores
As this title indicates, these stores focus on supplements, with at least 60% of their sales from supplements and less than 20% of sales from food. Their dominant product offering is supplements, usually with some body care and possibly a small grocery (drinks and snacks) offering. They are also the smallest stores in terms of retail space.

How did food sales grow in the natural channel in 2019?

Here's how natural products retailers said 2019 food sales compared with 2018. Most experienced slight natural and organic sales growth.


Natural Foods Merchandisertotal food sales growth


How much did supplement sales grow for natural products retailers in 2019?

Here's how natural products retailers said 2019 supplement sales compared with 2018. Most experienced slight natural and organic sales growth.

Natural Foods Merchandisertotal supplement sales growth

How did natural and organic personal care sales fare in 2019?

A majority of natural channel retailers reported their personal care product sales were flat from 2018 to 2019, according to the 2020 Natural Foods Merchandiser Market Overview Survey.

Natural Foods Merchandisertotal personal care growth

What's the average profit margin for a natural food store?

Almost half of natural products retailers reported their net profit margin for 2019 at less than 5%.

Natural Foods Merchandisermarket overview net profit margin pie

How is natural retail expected to grow in 2020?

Natural products retailers predict their 2020 sales will remain about the same (40.8%) with 35.4% expecting slightly stronger growth.

Natural Foods Merchandisermarket overview 2020 forecast revenue

How much does the average health food store sell each year?

Find sales benchmarking data across natural products retailers below. Traditional health food stores averaged $1.6 million in sales in 2019.

Natural Foods Merchandiseraverage sales by store type

What did growth and competition look like for natural products retailers in 2019?

Natural retail competition continues to grow, with 20% of retailers saying a competitor opened a store in their region.

Natural Foods Merchandisermarket overview growth and competition

What is the average sales per square foot at natural channel retail?

Below find several important natural retail benchmarks of note.

Natural Foods Merchandisernatural retail business statistics chart

How many natural products retail outlets are there?

The Natural Foods Merchandiser magazine "universe of stores" chart breaks down the number of stores by kind of natural product retail outlet.

Natural Foods Merchandisernatural retail store counts chart

How do natural products sales break down by region?

The below chart shows natural and organic product sales by U.S. Census region.

Natural Foods Merchandiserregional independent growth

Natural Foods Merchandiser Market Overview methodology

The 2020 edition of Natural Foods Merchandiser’s Market Overview represents the 40th year the magazine has presented statistics on store operations and the state of the natural products industry. From $1.9 billion in 1980 to $166 billion in 2019, the natural products industry has grown into a multichannel force that has changed food and nutrition.

Just as the numbers vary each year, so does the methodology for collecting, compiling, analyzing and presenting the data. This issue marks the 22nd year NFM has collaborated with Nutrition Business Journal, a New Hope Network sister publication and Informa property, to produce the data.

The inclusion of NBJ data allows for a more complete and robust perspective of the natural products retail industry. The sales contributions of natural and organic foods, dietary supplements and other natural products through such diverse channels as food, drug and mass retailers; multilevel marketing; health care practitioners; mail order; and the internet are also included in the $166 billion natural products industry figure depicted by the pie chart at the top.

Read all of the Natural Foods Merchandiser Market Overview coverage:

The primary vehicle for collecting data for the Market Overview is NFM’s annual natural retail store survey. This survey was distributed to a representative segment of the natural products retail industry, including, but not limited to, natural products stores, health food stores and supplements stores. We asked approximately 45 questions pertaining to store operations. More than 200 respondents from various independent retailers reported the results of their calendar year 2019 operations. While pleased with the results, ultimately the number of respondents completing the survey this year was lower than normal because of the diversion of retailer resources to COVID responses.

Most of the operations data pertains to independent and small-chain retailers divided into three categories by sales mix and eight subcategories by size. This data subset represents 9,639 independent and chain stores.

The $60 billion natural products retail channel is broken down into product category and region, and includes eight store categories plus the biggest chains—Whole Foods Market, GNC, Vitamin Shoppe, Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage—and other specialty retailers (specialty/gourmet shops, personal care stores, health clubs, co-ops, herb shops, mall stands, etc.).

Although most of the operating statistics are averaged or aggregated from the responses, estimating total product sales for the entire industry is challenging. Total product category sales and organic sales figures were derived from statistical analysis of survey results in each of the eight natural products retailer categories.

Accurate and complete sales breakdowns were reported by survey respondents. Aggregate sales figures and the percentage of organic were then compiled in each product category; the resulting proportions were applied to the total sales in each category.

For product breakdowns and organic sales information, data from large-chain respondents were incorporated into their appropriate store category. To complete industry sales subtotals from smaller natural product retailers, product sales in all of these store categories were added up. Organic figures were also compared and reconciled against findings from the Organic Trade Association’s 2019 Organic Industry Survey data, also compiled by New Hope Network in the first quarter of 2020.

Data on mass-market sales and other sales channels are derived from several sources. In addition to the NFM survey, retail and consumer sales data is also compiled from NBJ, U.S. government sources, SPINS, IRI (a Chicago-based market research firm), public company financial data, surveys published by other trade publications, and other sources. Data for the mass market and non-retail channels are based on NBJ market estimates.

Not all of the results of the NFM Market Overview survey of 2019 performance and sales are directly comparable with 2018 results printed in the July/August 2019 issue of NFM, as certain adjustments have been made based on the latest available information.

Natural Foods Merchandiser

Market Overview 2020: Business investments and shifting landscapes steadied independent natural retail in 2019

Jackson Whole Grocer and Cafe Jackson Whole Grocer aerial
Jackson Whole Grocer and Cafe in Jackson, Wyoming, made 2019 investments that had it prepared to meet 2020 curbside pickup demands.

You could call it the calm before the storm.

After a tumultuous decade characterized by fierce competition and narrowing margins, independents rose to the challenge and settled into a healthy rhythm in 2019, holding on to modest year-over-year sales gains and winning back customers from struggling soon-to-be shuttered chains.

“If there is one word I would use to describe 2019, it would be ‘stable,’” says C.E. Pugh, CEO of the St. Paul Minnesota-based trade group National Co+Op Grocers. “Folks had begun to adapt to all the changes, expand and grow.”

Little did independent retailers know that their investments in store upgrades and expansions, online platforms and employee benefits would also help them weather the unimaginable pandemic in 2020.

“I have absolutely no regrets,” says Paku Misra, co-owner of Sunflower Market, which completed a glistening 9,000-square-foot addition to its 40-year-old Woodstock, New York, store in September (with plenty of space for what we now know as social distancing). “If we hadn’t done that expansion, we would be really struggling to provide what our customers need right now.”Competition easing up, e-commerce on the horizon

Overall, according to Natural Foods Merchandiser’s latest Natural Retail Market Overview Survey, 2019 looked a lot like 2018. Sales of natural products across all channels hit $166 billion, up about 5% from 2018. Conventional stores held 44% of market share, while natural retailers held 36%—a balance largely unchanged from the previous year. But a few subtle shifts were on the horizon. E-commerce sales increased a whopping 20%, as large online retailers like Amazon and Walmart doubled down on internet sales, nudging some forward-thinking independents to dabble in it, too.

“We started doing e-commerce (curbside and in-store pickup) about two years ago—thank goodness,” says Jeff Rice, owner of Jackson Whole Grocer and Café in Jackson, Wyoming. It was slow to catch on, he says, noting it accounted for only about 1% of his business last year. Now it’s up to 15%. “I feel bad for all these retailers trying to spin up a new system in real time because of COVID.”

Read all of the Natural Foods Merchandiser Market Overview coverage:

Large chains and specialty stores struggled in 2019, with year-over-year sales gains barely breaking 1%, while independents overall saw sales increase by 3%. That mediocre showing for the so-called “supernaturals” foreshadowed announcements in January and February of 2020 that natural chains Lucky’s and Earth Fare were filing for Chapter 11 and closing dozens of stores across the country.

While no one wants to see a competitor go under, those imminent closures—and the sagging performance of such stores—were already benefitting independents like Rice’s Whole Grocer in 2019. Six years ago, he moved out of his 14,000-square-foot natural foods store in the ski town of Jackson Hole to expand into a 40,000-square-foot one a half mile away—complete with an in-house bakery, juice and coffee bars, a café and a modern vibe. To his chagrin, Lucky’s moved in to his old space, piling more competition on to that from Albertson’s and Smith’s, which had expanded their natural sets too.

For a time, the double-digit sales increases Rice had once enjoyed went away.

But in 2019, as the quality of his neighbors’ offerings began to deteriorate, his foot traffic picked up again, pushing year-over-year sales increases to 12%. Once Lucky’s closed in 2020, that increase doubled to 25%.

He’s not alone.

Just over 81% of retailers surveyed by Natural Foods Merchandiser said no new competitors had opened in their neighborhoods in 2019 or thus far in 2020, while 24% saw a competitor close.

“Marketing 101 tells you that new competitors slice up the pie into smaller pieces, and fewer competitors give some of those slices back,” says Jay Jacobowitz, president of Brattleboro, Vermont-based consulting firm Retail Insights. “It’s still an uphill climb. You have to fight for every dollar. But the independents that have continued to reinvest in their stores and stay current are doing very well.”

The power of association

Retailers also are learning that there is strength in numbers and are joining trade organizations in droves.

“If there is a secret sauce to success here, it is the network,” says Pugh, whose National Co-op Grocers (NCG) now includes 147 co-ops operating 200 stores in 38 states. They share ideas via Listserv, visit one another’s stores and use group buying to level the playing field on pricing against larger chains.

For instance, NCG recently worked with distributor UNFI to get a good price on its controlled brand, Field Day, giving its members access to a value priced private label to put on their shelves.

“We facilitate a hive mind and leverage combined purchasing power to save people money,” Pugh says.

The Independent Natural Food Retailers Association (INFRA) also exerts its group buying power. In June 2019, INFRA—which represents 385 store locations in 40 states and the District of Columbia—entered into a new, nationwide, seven-year primary supply agreement with natural foods distributor KeHE Distributors.

“It gave us better pricing and better access to products that our members can pass on to consumers,” says Pat Sheridan, interim president and CEO of INFRA.

Meanwhile SENPA, a nonprofit trade group boasting 300 independent retailers in the South and beyond, puts on two trade shows to unveil new products and provides an array of educational programs and network offerings for its members.

“Back in the ’90s if you had another health food store coming in, that was your competition,” says Debra Short, executive director of SENPA. “Now the independents support each other.”

Investing in people and progress

Only 1% of natural products retailers surveyed by NFM added a new location in 2019, while 3% closed a location.

Among the locations that closed, one of 20-year-old Mustard Seed Market’s locations in Solon, Ohio.

“When my family opened the Solon store, we had high expectations,” says CEO Gabe Nabors, announcing the Oct. 30 closure on Instagram. “It was the largest natural foods grocery store east of the Mississippi, and the natural foods industry was having double-digit growth. Unfortunately, the store did not develop as we had hoped and today with the increased competition both in brick-and-mortar stores as well as online, our time has come.”

Most retailers soldiered on last year, making massive investments to support employees and customers.

At Jackson Whole Grocer and Café, which boasts 140 employees, Rice ramped up wages an average 16% to reduce employee turnover at a time when unemployment was extremely low and quality workers were hard to find in the ski resort town. He also recruited a new director of culinary operations from San Francisco to take in-house foodservice and bakery to the next level and worked hard to continue building a culture that employees wanted to be a part of.

“When COVID hit, our employees stuck around,” he says. “They are committed to what we do and who we are, and I am really proud of them.”


Sunflower Market’s Misra also made major investments in 2019. Founded in 1978 in Woodstock, New York, by his father-in-law Bob Whitcomb, the store was a cramped but beloved community landmark that needed a facelift.

Misra and his co-owners (all family) bumped it up from about 5,000 square feet to 14,000 square feet, still breaking even despite the need to close portions of the store throughout the year. When they opened the doors in the fall, the response was phenomenal, he says.

“We knew right away it was a good move,” he says. “People were calling their friends from the aisles and saying, ‘You gotta come check this out.’”

Not everything went according to plan.

The owners installed a kitchen and planned to open a hot bar, a cold bar and indoor café. But because of the labor shortage of 2019, they couldn’t find enough people to staff it. That proved serendipitous because foodservice offerings were the first to suffer or get shut down when COVID-19 hit.

Now, with restaurants nationwide struggling because of the pandemic, Misra is rethinking his café.

“The trend before was that you had to get into the foodservice game to get people to come into your stores, but now I hear a lot of retailers saying they are going to shut down their cafes and just leave that to the restaurants.”

Instead, what was to be a seating area has been transformed into a discount section. Because of the pandemic, the store’s additional square footage has become invaluable.

“In our other store, it would have been unimaginable to social distance,” he says. “This addition was the best thing we ever did.”

While the landscape for independent retailers, as with every business, looks quite different now than it did in 2019, INFRA’s Sheridan says he remains optimistic.

Often smaller and more agile, independents were among the fastest stores in the nation to get personal protective gear for employees and social distancing measures in place for customers—moves that not only secured the faith of existing customers but drew in new ones. With people cooking at home more and health top-of-mind more than ever, natural retailers are poised to play an even more important role, he says.

“Despite all of the negative impacts and challenges that this pandemic has brought, it also brings with it opportunities,” he says. “My outlook for independents is quite positive.”

Monitor: Business lessons as second lockdown looms


Natural Products Industry Health Monitor, July 10, 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 feature, Informa Health and Nutrition sister properties provide that right-now-right-here update. Look for the Industry Health Monitor every other 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.


In April 2020, a month during which some would say Americans' COVID-19-related anxiety reached its peak, the daily number of new cases in the United States peaked at 39,000. Yet on July 8, well into a nationwide “reopening" of many businesses, the number of new cases approached 62,000.

Forget the dreaded second wave of illnesses, COVID-19 case counts suggest we could still be building toward a crest for the first. On July 9, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci was quoted in The Washington Post declaring that states with major outbreaks should “seriously look at shutting down.”

It might not be a second wave, but it’s starting to look like a second shutdown.

Consider this: There is no 'business as usual' anymore

What climbing case counts and the threat of new lockdowns means for brands and retailers is unclear. Many of the procedures, from plexiglass shields protecting cashiers and hand sanitizer stations to must-wear-masks mandates, are already in practice. Shoppers are likely not going to approach the doors to their local natural grocer with the same degree of trepidation they did in March or April. The science of transmission is better understood, and grocery shopping lags comfortably short of club hopping and attending church.

But if a second lockdown rolls out, smaller health food stores may not be immune to shutdown orders, and specialty supplement stores are in a particularly precarious position. Many smaller stores, which make up the bulk of the natural retail world, shut doors and had to do their best to take phone orders, online purchases and offer curbside delivery. Many still operate with the front doors closed to customers because their tiny footprints that make social distancing all but impossible.

For consumers, some of the panic seems to have subsided and in its place we see signs that healthy habits are increasingly ingrained. Consumer research from New Hope Network’s NEXT Data and Insights team shows an increase in consumer affinity for natural products between surveys from mid-April and early June. Consumers were asked what was going to be most important over the next three months, and "buying organic certified products” showed a marked gain in priority. In April 14% of consumers called organic important, and in June that percentage rose to 21%.

Most of the other responses showed little change, but the emphasis on saving money and planning budgets has clearly dropped. Juxtaposed against the steady priority placed on healthy eating and taking supplements, the data suggests consumers are willing to spend money where it counts when it comes to healthy nutrition.

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. Behaviors seeking environmentally and responsibly made products, high-quality ingredients, nutrient densitytransparency and natural products are scoring a few points higher than 2017 index benchmark scoresBehaviors specific to nutritional quality is 7 points higher than 2017 figures. It’s not surprising that consumers are prioritizing nutrient density, high quality ingredients and transparency into how food was grown, processed and made. These are becoming attributes scrutinized to impact health outcomes as consumers protect themselves from COVID-19. 

Natural products industry engagement index tracks social and mass media engagement of the top 50 trends defining and shaping 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 four months of tracking since the outbreak of COVID-19 in the United States, engagement in these trends remain a few points above 2019 benchmark scores. 

Nutrition Capital Network tracks financial activity in the natural products industry. Investment activity lulled for week of June 7 to June 13 as investors took a breather. But activity climbed back up through July 4.  

Listen to this: Natural retail chains not waiting for “normal”

Super summer. In an IdeaXchange piece for newhope.com, Steven Hoffman notes that natural retail chains are forging ahead with expansion plans. Natural Grocers opened new stores in May and June. Sprouts is planning for 20 new stores. And Missouri’s conventional Schnuck’s chain opened a natural food concept store in June. A second lockdown period doesn’t seem to be discouraging news for retailers. Hoffman writes: “Several natural food retailers we talked to anticipate they will not see much of a traditional 'summer slump' in sales this season.

Open and undaunted. It’s hard to imagine a more challenging time to open a store than during a pandemic, but Turnip Truck Natural Market founder John Dyke doesn’t have to imagine a harder time. He lived it. Dyke’s Nashville-based chain managed to not only keep a damaged store open after a tornado ripped through the area on March 3, but the team also opened a new store on March 27 despite much of the equipment for the new location having been destroyed by the hurricane. Dyke says customers are showing up with a new perspective on health that aligns with Turnip Truck’s mission: “Whenever we come out of this, even though we’ve had to pay a big price, I think people will take their health a little more seriously and start enjoying food at a different level.

Enjoy This

It can be debated whether families stuck indoors together during quarantine were experiencing “quality time” or “quantity time,” but seeing the humor in the situation is essential either way. We enjoyed these pandemic-specific takes on some classic children’s books.

Dr. Seuss parody


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.

5@5: Perfect Day raises $300M | Minority meat plant workers hit hardest by COVID-19


Perfect Day raises $300 million to make animal-free dairy

Perfect Day, a company that produces animal-free dairy proteins through fermentation, has expanded its Series C round to $300 million. In addition to creating its own proprietary products, Perfect Day plans on selling its disruptive animal-free protein ingredient to established enterprises to incorporate in place of milk protein. Read more at Fortune


Almost 90% of US meat plant workers with virus are minorities

Of the roughly 16,200 COVID-19 cases at U.S. meat plants that disclosed race and ethnicity, a whopping 87% involved minority workers. Advocates for these workers have warned for months that meatpacking plants aren't implementing enough safety measures to keep their employees safe. Read more at Bloomberg


New necklace tracks eating patterns to help scientists understand, address bad habits

NeckSense is a sensory necklace designed to help users fight bad eating habits and understand where they come from. For example, the necklace tracks the wearer's heart rate, which can help him or her determine if they are actually hungry or just stress eating. Read more at Chicago Sun-Times


Are SKUs poised to recover post-pandemic?

COVID-19 threw a wrench into the food supply chain, pushing product suppliers and retailers to question once again how many different products actually need to be on grocery shelves. But this time around it's the product supplier that is deciding when and how to reduce SKUs to best meet the needs of shoppers. Read more at FMI


UK supermarkets promise to never sell chlorinated chicken in blow to a Brexit trade deal with Trump

While the Trump administration insists American agricultural goods must be included in all free trade agreements between the U.S. and U.K., the U.K.'s strict food standards will likely prevent imports of hormone-injected beef or chlorinated chicken from the U.S. U.K.-based retailers say that shoppers in the country overwhelmingly don't want them to lower their standards by putting such products on grocery store shelves. Read more at Business Insider

New study details COVID-19 risk factors—including nutrition

Getty Images immunity supplements covid19

A massive study of 17 million British residents, from data collected by the United Kingdom’s National Health Service, identified key factors that can lead to worse outcomes from COVID-19.

Some of these factors are beyond the reach of any individual to change. For instance, patients older than age 80 were 20 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than those in their 50s—and hundreds of times more likely to die than those in their 30s or younger.

Gender also plays a role—men are more likely to die than women.

Poverty and race also figured into negative health outcomes; in particular, Black and South Asian people were found to be at a higher risk.

In terms of race, data from the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention revealed that Black and Latinx people are infected with the coronavirus at a rate three times higher than whites.

Based on the infection rate per 10,000 people, the most heavily affected are Latinx people, at 73 cases per 10,000. Blacks are 63 cases per 10,000. Whites are only 11 cases per 10,000.

Socioeconomic status may have something to do with that. The CDC data was teased out by the New York Times, which had to sue the CDC with a Freedom of Information Act request to get the data. It showed 43% of Black and Latinx workers are employed in jobs that cannot be done remotely, while the same holds true for only 25% of whites.

But the British researchers, whose study published July 8 in the prestigious journal Nature was made up of 40% of the British population, identified risk factors that could be changed.

The four primary medical conditions included obesity, diabetes, severe asthma and compromised immune function.

Asthma is a pre-existing condition, but obesity, diabetes and immune health are changeable.

Diabetes and obesity are diet-related, but immune function in particular might be as simple as taking dietary supplements.

A number of nutritional ingredients have already been determined to decrease the duration and severity of upper respiratory tract infections.

Vitamin D

The sunshine vitamin probably stands as the best-studied nutrient as it relates to both immune function and specifically COVID-19 outcomes. A vitamin D deficiency is associated with increased risk of infections in general. The official recommendation is to have blood levels of 20 ng/dl, but that’s based strictly on the vitamin’s effect on bone health. Most integrative physicians will counsel to have levels at least 40 ng/dl, if not north of 60.

One meta-analysis found best outcomes with URTIs among those who supplemented with blood levels to start at a woeful 10 ng/dl or less—truly deficient.

Vitamin D has actually been shown to benefit for a wide range of health states, including immune function. A Harvard School of Public Health review summarized evidence suggesting optimal vitamin D blood levels in relation to bone mineral density, lower-extremity function, dental health as well as the risk of falls, fractures, and colorectal cancer. Benefits begin at 30 ng/ml, preferably between 36-40 ng/ml. Researchers concluded that at least 1,000 IU/day would bring 30 ng/ml to half of the population.

A study published in May 2020 on vitamin D’s effect on immune function said clinical conclusions on exactly how much vitamin D to take and how frequent was still elusive, but did say that deficiencies are clearly bad and regular intake—versus monthly or biannually as some seniors take intravenously—is preferred.

When talking about prevention—supplements cannot claim to prevent, treat or cure any disease, mind you—a study published in May found that patients in Chicago who had blood levels below 20 ng/ml or who did not take supplements were 77% more likely to test positive for COVID-19.

A similar study in Israel found people with vitamin D levels below 30 ng/ml were 45% more likely to test positive and 95% more likely to be hospitalized.

A study of 780 COVID-19 patients in Indonesia found almost 99% of patients who died had vitamin D levels lower than 20 ng/ml. Significantly, of patients with vitamin D levels higher than 30 ng/ml, only 4% died.

So, how much should retailers recommend for shoppers to take?

A study published in April 2020 concluded vitamin D can reduce the risk of respiratory tract infections. Significantly, vitamin D has been found to lower viral replication rates and reduce the concentrations of pro-inflammatory cytokines that injures the lining of the lungs—which is what the COVID respirators are all about. These Belgium researchers recommended 10,000 IU/day vitamin D to rapidly raise vitamin D concentrations in the blood, followed by maintenance doses of 5,000 IU/day. The end goal is to raise blood levels to between 40-60 ng/dl. “For treatment of people who become infected with COVID-19, higher vitamin D3 doses might be useful.”

Another study, published June 7, 2020, recommended people achieve a minimum blood level of 30 ng/ml. The study noted a significant reduction in infections happened with daily vitamin D doses between 800-2,000 IU.

Much more attention should be paid to the importance of vitamin D status for the development and course of the disease,” wrote researchers. “With respect to COVID-19, a recommendation for primary prevention of vitamin deficiency seems meaningful.”


The sleep-inducing supplement ingredient is also seen as a possible natural adjunct for COVID-19 patients along with vitamin D. In a study published May 15, 2020, researchers noted that death comes via an inflammatory reaction at the lung level. 

Researchers noted vitamin D and melatonin could attenuate the severity of this “pulmonary complication” that leads to so many COVID-19 deaths.

The two nutrients down-regulate the inflammatory response related to the bodily system that regulates blood pressure and fluid balance in the body, called the renin-angiotensin system.

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is one of the co-existing conditions that has consistently been reported to be more common among critical COVID-19 patients.

Zinc deficiency has also been associated with increased infection risk.

Essential nutrients—and nutrition

A study published in May 2020 investigated the role of nutritional status in affecting COVID-19 patient outcomes. While the researchers noted that no known evidence-based strategy exists to prevent COVID-19, “it is clear that nutritional status plays a significant role in patient outcomes.”

To maintain a healthy immune system,” the researchers wrote, “special attention must be given to maintaining a healthy diet, lifestyle, exercise regime and minimal stress as much as safely possible at this difficult time.”

Elderly populations in particular, besides being a significant target of COVID-19 deaths, often have nutritional deficiencies of calcium, vitamins C and D, folate and zinc.

Certainly, there is considerable evidence that the food and nutrients we consume affect how our immune system functions,” wrote researchers. “Maintaining a body weight and composition in line with recommendations for stature and gender is prudent.”

The researchers noted the benefit of the anti-inflammatory Mediterranean Diet, the perils of the highly processed Western diet, and the benefits of fish and fish oils, probiotics, fiber and healthy fruits and vegetables.

Maintaining a healthy diet is vital in this COVID-19 age, especially for vulnerable populations—the elderly, minority groups and those with underlying health conditions like obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular conditions and compromised immune function.

This group with underlying health conditions represents a fairly sizeable chunk of Americans.

Which is to say, natural food retailers should continue preaching to customers the same advice about living with vitality, and probably with a particular emphasis on maintaining healthy immune function. Healthy organic foods and appropriate supplementation are the real “game changers” in this COVID age.

Editor's note: A previous edition of this story mentioned hydroxychloroquinine—a controversial drug that is not sold in natural foods outlets. That section has been deleted.