The natural food products movement has been growing — right into space on mainstream store shelves and in mainstream consumers' kitchens.
And, according to research presented Thursday by New Hope Network at their Natural Products Expo East conference in Baltimore, the stories behind those products are getting a place in consumers' hearts. Products with missions behind them are the top trend that can be successful with the mainstream consumer, according to the analysis.
"This makes me feel good about humanity," said Eric Pierce, director of business insights at New Hope Network. "…These products work to stand out in the marketplace by standing for something."
New Hope Network identified seven other trends in natural products that are likely to do well with consumers. The trends come from ongoing monthly research, where about 1,000 consumers are told about the concept behind several products. They are asked if they think others would buy the product, and whether they would buy the product.
The responses are coded on a 100% scale and then plotted on a quadrant. The concepts that Pierce shared at the conference were those that had the highest market prediction — whether others will buy it — and purchase intent. The average market prediction is 69, while a good purchase intent is 14 or higher.
With more than 2,000 vendors showing products at the Baltimore show, Pierce said that the opportunities in the natural food space are plentiful, but a study like this can help light the way to the best paths for manufacturers, investors, innovators and retailers to find success.
"The problem sometimes in this industry is prioritizing opportunities," he said.
The products which have a deep core mission got some of the highest scores in the analysis. While consumers are not given actual brand and product names during the research, Pierce said they are inspired by real products and presented slides of the products that did the best.
He said that Marley Coffee EKOCups, which are recyclable pods for a K-cup machine, epitomize the successful mission-based product. The product not only has non-polluting cups — which Keurig-style machines have been vilified for — but they also do a lot of giving back.
Also scoring high were products from the Sunshine Nut Company, which donates 90% of its profits to the communities where the nuts are sourced, and Endangered Species Chocolate, which donates 10% of its profits to conservation.
Prebiotics and probiotics
The buzz over gut bacteria and how it contributes to a person's overall health is everywhere. Consumers want to buy products that will give them that healthy bacteria and improve other aspects of their life.
Pierce said he was amazed by the high scores for some products. Rainbow Light probiotic gummies scored a 93 for market prediction and a 22 for purchase intent.
"Consider that only about half of consumers take supplements on a regular basis," he said.
Also scoring high were Jica Chips, which naturally contain prebiotic inulin, and Flavor Plus Probiotic meat seasoning.
Pierce said that manufacturers and retailers may think that locally sourced food is from the immediate area where the consumer is. However, he said, consumers think about this term differently. Local doesn't necessarily mean close by. It can also mean that source items come from a producer that is close to the manufacturing plant. He said it is possible for a company to embrace this trend and scale to wider distribution.
"It's to be able to hold on to that story of local that's probably important to your business," he said.
Community Seafood with small sourced and sustainable fishing, Radical Salad's live lettuce plants, and Fat Toad Farm's caramel sauce made with goat milk from nearby all performed well in the analysis.
While Pierce said he didn't think more people were necessarily going to start embracing the paleo diet, talk about the basic tenets of that diet — with few, minimally processed ingredients — have impacted consumer choices.
"What I am saying is the values of paleo are resonating with mainstream consumers," Pierce said.
Paleo products that scored well include Cappello's almond flour pasta, which got a market prediction of 94. Hu Chocolate, which is not emulsified with soy and does not contain refined sugars also did well, as did meat snack Three Jerks Jerky.
This trend, Pierce said, shows that people are trying to get more plants into their diets. They might not know how to do it, or they might have children who reject vegetables they can see.
The top scorer, which Pierce said won the new product pitch contest at Natural Products Expo West, was Veggie Fries. They received a purchase intent score of 30.
"Almost a third of U.S. consumers are saying they like the idea of vegetables blending into fries," he said.
Also scoring well were Chobani Tots Greek yogurt packs with fruit and vegetables already blended in, and Made Good Granola Mini Snack Poppers, which have enough dried greens in the mix to take the place of a serving of vegetables.
As baby boomers get older, Pierce said they are interested in the types of products that contain ingredients that could help keep them sharp.
The better performing products had a variety of good-for-you ingredients, like Steaz Organic Energy drinks with green tea extract, and Hemp 2 O, a hemp water with omega-3s and fatty acids.
Restore, a gut health mineral supplement, was also featured in Pierce's presentation. He said the product had an impressive market prediction score considering that it has a complex function: It improves the gut, which in turn is supposed to improve mental clarity.
"One downfall to our industry is that we put our products into packages," Pierce said. "…The reality is, I think, we have this huge amount of guilt."
Compostable packaging helps reduce the waste from packaged goods, which consumers agree is important.
Pierce highlighted two products doing well in this space. Revive Body Cloths are compostable wipes with essential oils, and Bearded Brothers makes a snack bar with a compostable wrapper.
He also talked about a new concept called Loliware, which is a compostable and edible cup made from seaweed and organic sweetener. Loliware also won a New Hope Network pitch contest. It had a market prediction score of 24, which Pierce said is impressive for a product that is so new and so disruptive.
Grassfed meat and dairy
Products made from this completely sustainable form of livestock farming are everywhere, and fit into many of the top consumer trends. When Pierce talked about products that did well in its analysis, Organic Prairie's 100% grassfed ground beef had a near-perfect market prediction score of 99.
"Supply is holding this segment back, not demand," Pierce said.
Also scoring well was yogurt from Maple Hill Creamery, which is made from the milk of grassfed cows, and Epic Bar's Bison Bacon Bar.