The natural foods industry has grown into a highly developed marketplace since its early days when idealistic entrepreneurs combed the mountainsides, picking herbs for now iconic brands, such as Sleepy Time and Red Zinger tea.
Last week, the Boulder Source caught up with Bill Capsalis, president of Naturally Boulder, recognized expert in the LOHAS (lifestyle of health and sustainability) industry, and 30-year marketing and business professional. He shared his views on current and future trends for natural products and the industry.
Boulder Source: How long have you been involved with Naturally Boulder?
BC: Naturally Boulder is in its eleventh year and I’ve been involved for 10 years. I began volunteering on the education committee during the organization’s first year, then served on the Board of Directors for the last five years and have chaired the Board for the last year and a half.
Boulder Source: Can you talk about how the natural marketplace and Naturally Boulder have changed?
BC: It’s changed, and radically so. It’s getting bigger all the time, which is what we wanted to happen. In Boulder, we’ve had about a 50-year tradition of natural foods. When Naturally Boulder started, it was the right time to do events and educational programs because it was starting to be a really good place to run a brand. There were a lot of support people that knew the industry and we had some signature brands that were started here. So, the expertise was in town. Naturally Boulder provided a way for those types of people to interact with each other.
Today, people are faster and smarter and better at launching food brands. There’s a lot more knowledge and a bigger market with double digit growth in the organics category, so it’s still a good time to start a natural food brand.
Boulder Source: Do you think the natural marketplace is over saturated?
BC: It is certainly a crowded space, but there’s always room for interesting, innovative and new products it seems. There are close to 8,000 natural/organic grocery stores right now, but there are close to 50,000 conventional grocery stores, so there’s a lot of room for improving the food supply. That’s why I think a lot of people are creating new brands because they see the opportunity there.
A lot of our members brands start small, they start at the Farmer’s Market, produce in local kitchens, and source ingredients locally. Then they try to get into local stores and so there’s this natural evolution. It’s kind of formulaic almost. It’s a tough business, though, regardless of whether you have a really good product or not, or whether people really want your product.
Boulder Source: What are some of the industry trends that you are watching?
BC: There were four categories I noticed at Expo West in March. There seem to be a lot more gut health products, like pickled products. People seem to be having a lot of gut issues and they’re realizing it’s not just gluten free. Of course, gluten free continues to be a strong trend. Ancient grains and combinations of ancient grains are turning up in all kinds of foods – like chia, which is showing up in drinks and candy bars and chips. There’s definitely something to the Paleo diets, but I’m a vegan. New Hope has coined a phrase ‘Pegan’ which is where paleo and vegan meet. Lastly, I think brain health seems to be on the radar. One keynote speaker at Expo West wrote the “Grain Brain,” which talks about the research that shows how eating grains may affect your brain in a negative way.
Boulder Source: Do you see these sorts of eating trends expanding more and more into the mainstream?
BC: I hope so, for all of our sakes. The best thing working in our favor right now is the large food corporations are recognizing that they have a problem. And, they’ve got their scientist working on it, but the best thing that could happen is for them to adopt more nimble innovation strategies for their products. I firmly believe that the millennial generation is impacting significantly how food options will be presented to us in the future. The millennials don’t buy legacy brands. They grew up in households where they were influenced by different brands, different sorts of healthy products, and they’re looking for those, and more and better of them. They think of Sprouts as a grocery store or Vitamin Cottage, not a King Soopers or Safeway. But, Kroger is doing a great job and bringing in a lot of organic products. Costco sold more organic products than Whole Foods did in the second quarter.
Boulder Source: What’s the vision for the future of Naturally Boulder?
BC: Now in our eleventh year, we just added our 1000th individual member and have 125 sponsoring companies. We expect to continue developing and delivering educational content, creating productive collisions and celebrating the food ecosystem in Boulder through our networking and community-wide events. As a trade association, the one thing on our horizon might be a little more advocacy for food and food systems, but we don’t have a set plan yet.
Boulder Source: Anything else you would like to add?
I’ve mentioned the term, food ecosystem. If you look around Boulder and the resources that are available to entrepreneurs, they are pretty extensive. More people are moving to Boulder to run their food brand because there’s a community, a support mechanism, and a collaborative mentality that people will share what they know. It’s a utopian type vision for being entrepreneurial and innovative in the food space that, on some level, I think we’re just touching the surface of locally. I think we’ll see more of that in the future, which is a positive directional trend for Boulder, Boulder County and the state of Colorado.