Natural Industry Growth Accelerates

The state of the natural and organic products industry is strong, according to the latest market research presented in a keynote seminar at Natural Products Expo West in March and compiled by Nutrition Business Journal (NBJ), SPINS and others. Reporting on figures that show a tripling of consumer sales from $97 billion in 2007 to more than $300 billion in 2023, New Hope Network’s SVP Carlotta Mast had this to say:

“The big picture is that we are really becoming a force as an industry. We are no longer niche. We are very mainstream, and we have a lot of power and influence … so, our industry continues to grow. It grows through recessions, it grows through COVID, it grows through challenges and all headwinds.” And … “that growth is accelerating,” she noted.
“Between 2007 and 2012 … we added $40 billion in consumer sales. That growth doubled to $80 billion added between 2018 and 2023. And we’re anticipating continued accelerated growth for our industry as consumers increasingly of all generations demand healthier, better for you, more sustainable, more regenerative, natural, organic, and conscious products,” Mast commented.

Despite the roller coaster ride for many in the industry through the pandemic years of 2020 – 2023, Mast projected that sales growth will pick up again in 2024 to about 5.1%. From a category perspective, natural, organic, and functional foods and beverages make up the largest share of the industry, followed by dietary supplements and then natural living, which includes beauty and pet care, personal care products and household products, according to NBJ data.

While e-commerce sales spiked during Covid, making it one of the industry’s fastest growing channels, Mast said, “It’s important to note, despite all of this growth with e-commerce, that brick and mortar retail is still by far the dominant driver of sales for our industry. And e-commerce only makes up about 8% of total sales while the mass market channels are really where the vast majority are rung up. And this is why we’re seeing many non-shelf brands now focus on migrating to the right retail shelf. So, they’re moving from ‘D to C’ to retail.”

Natural and Organic Sales Are Outpacing All Other Products

“So, not only do we have this tailwind of natural products growth … but natural products are also outpacing the sales of all other products,” Kathryn Peters, Director of Industry Relations for SPINS, reported at the Expo West seminar. “Natural products have continued to accelerate, but let’s think about what was happening around mid-2022. Difficult financial market prices were going up like crazy. We saw mainstream products sales boosted literally by the inflation, by the price increases. We also saw consumers having to make some tough trade-offs. Some were having to shift to conventional brands or private label. We even saw a lot of industry outsiders … about a year ago that were saying, ‘Did natural hit its peak?’. But guess what? We talked about the optimism even with what was going on at that time, and we said this is a resilient industry. We have the agency to continue to change and make the difference.”
Peters also noted that sales of organic products have outpaced market growth. “Back during some of the tough inflationary times, the prices were going up, people were worried about what was going to happen to organics. I’m thrilled to say … organics are outpacing non-organic across the store … both in dollars and units.” In categories such as soda – “ones that traditionally might not be thought of as heavy organic,” Peters noted that sales of organic soda are outperforming their conventional counterparts.

“Organics are just growing everywhere and it’s because shoppers trust organic. In fact, if you look at sentiment since 2019, organic and non-GMO have the strongest consumer mindset and comfort and trust. And we particularly see not only are all shoppers starting to trust and look for organics, the younger shoppers … really trust this seal,” said Peters, referring to the growing purchasing power of Gen Z consumers.

Regarding food prices, “While there’s certainly some bright spots on the horizon, we know consumers are still really frustrated about high prices. It’s all over, even TV now, we heard it in the state of union … it’s become a political topic as well. Consumers are frustrated and that’s putting a lot of pressure on brands and retailers,” Peters said.

“Prices aren’t going up much more, but they’re still higher. And then you see dollars on promotion going up because we’re giving a shot in the arm with promotion rather than everyday price, and we see discounts are higher. That’s a tough environment to operate in. And, so we see it’s going to take some time for these pressures to really release … we’re going to continue to see throughout 2024 a lot of focus on promotion and how do we get in a place that we can improve price perception and, honestly, a lot of stress between retailers and brands on how to make that work effectively,” Peters said.

Market Maturity Puts Focus on Profitability

According to Nick McCoy, Managing Partner of Whipstitch Capital, as the natural and organic products industry matures, brands and investors are looking more closely at profitability and not just growth.
“This industry has basically grown from … a very nascent niche industry to something that is now actually a mainstream thing. We have a fully blown financial system. Brands are much bigger … We started 10, 15 years ago, companies with $10 million in revenue were getting bought by big strategics (i.e., larger companies), and they were getting bought in competitive processes. Well, the number of companies has ballooned and as innovation has grown and become essentially part of the grocery store, now it’s about $100 million in food and beverage,” he pointed out.

“As we mature, just like every other mature industry out there, profit is what drives value and it’s more and more important for us. What are the key enablers? Increasing integration of supply chain, asset light or heavy, omnichannel to increase the brand headroom, marketing efficiency using data. Data has gotten so strong and it’s really great for both internal marketing, for investors, everything,” McCoy said.

“Conscious products have become mainstream. They used to be a section in the grocery store and now they are the grocery store. We have three successful business models that you can do. You can get bought off of EBITDA with profitability. You can grow and still get bought off of a multiple of revenue for fast-growing revenue companies. And now there’s also attractiveness of multi-brand companies getting bought off EBITDA. And we have some of the best rising tides that are essentially tailwinds. We have sustainability, we have wellness, social responsibility and appeal to a multicultural customer base. And we have the consumer voting dollars to drive these tailwinds to help grow our brands to make the world a better place.”

McCoy added that independent brands are driving growth. M&A is accelerating, he said, “especially as interest rates come down and confidence goes up and this unit volume decline stabilizes. And with restaurant volume up, we’re going to win both ways. If we get a little bit of a recession, people go to leave restaurants and they cook more at home. If we have a buoying economy, we’re going to return to normal just as a normal course when you look at the line historically. So, the fundamentals are very, very strong looking forward to 2030.”

Health Span vs. Life Span

Pointing to books about health and longevity and documentaries such as Netflix’s Secrets of the Blue Zones, both McCoy and Peters agree that a growing consumer awareness of “health span” over “life span” is one of the trends that will to continue to drive sales in natural and organic products.

“The definition between health span and life span is essentially health span is the number of years you live where you’re not inhibited by some kind of chronic disease. And the gap is about nine years between that and actual lifespan,” McCoy explained. “And people are doing things, changing their diets and everything … it’s food, it’s wellness, it’s community, it’s exercise. People are more and more conscious about not just how long am I living, but how long am I living well?” he said.

Added Peters, “There’s just this revolution of how we’re learning about health and then making actionable changes in our lives to improve this long game idea. This impacts our industry because consumers say the food, the beverages, the supplements that we ingest play an outsized role into the incorporation of wellness in our lives.”

Watch the State of the Natural and Organic Industry full video presentation here.

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Steven Hoffman is Managing Director of Compass Natural, providing public relations, brand marketing, social media, and strategic business development services to natural, organic, sustainable and hemp/CBD products businesses. Compass Natural serves in PR and programming for NoCo Hemp Expo and Southern Hemp Expo, and Hoffman serves as Editor of the weekly Let’s Talk Hemp Newsletter, published by We are for Better Alternatives. Contact steve@compassnaturalmarketing.com.