CBD has a huge following, and the pace of growth shows no signs of slowing: CBD, hemp, phytocannabinoids, endocannabinoids, full-spectrum extract, CBD isolate—as the hemp plant gets more popular, the debate over what forms are best, how to best label it, how to sell it and how to handle legal issues gets bigger. The Natural Products Hemp & CBD Summit, as we as several educational sessions focused on hemp and CBD, detailing everything from the regulatory landscape to what retailers can say to customers who want more information. WholeFoods will provide insights on the varying opinions and provide updates on legality as we continue to report on the news coming out of Expo in the coming days, and we’ll have in-depth coverage in our June issue. But one thing is certain right now: CBD is everywhere. CV Sciences, Sunsoil, Green Roads and Bluebird Botanicals are now joined by Ancient Nutrition and Barlean’s with CBD products. Andalou Naturals has a whole HABA line with hemp stem cells. Botanical Rush’s skincare products contain full-spectrum extract. And there are many more already on shelves–or on the way.
Jordan Rubin, product innovator and one of the founders of Ancient Nutrition, talked to WholeFoods about the benefits of clean, organic product: “Hemp is classified as a bioaccumulator—it’s sticky to the touch, almost resinous, a sponge-like plant that attracts elements in the environment. And the extract is all fat-soluble, which means that any toxins will be stored in fats, which are hard for the body to get rid of. So when you’re spraying hemp with pesticides or herbicides, they’ll stay there.” He noted that Ancient Nutrition has been doing product research for upwards of 4 years, resulting in their 17-product line.
CBD is booming, and it’s confusing. Mark Blumenthal, executive director of the American Botanical Center, said at Expo West: “If you deal with CBD and don’t have a lawyer, get one.” There have been crackdowns across the country, and the laws and lack thereof are so confusing that articles are required just for a basic rundown. That didn’t stop anyone at Expo, though: There’s a chamomile CBD tea from Green Roads, a variety of gummies from CV Sciences, a dark chocolate bar from Hnina Inc., a wide range of balms and deodorants and lotions and pet supplements. Hemp was in honey, crackers, protein powders, granola, soap, truffles, and salt. Expo-goers were overjoyed to have the variety, with crowds accumulating around the booths of anyone advertising any form of it, and attendees turned away from over-crowded educational sessions that literally packed people into every corner of the rooms and left others waiting in lines outside, hoping one person would leave so one new person could gain entrance.
Popularity spurs innovation: Besides CBD, this year’s trends ran the gamut from supplement to food and back again. Magnesium is huge: Bluebonnet was showing off their powder, Enviromedica had a topical spray, Honestly pHresh had a deodorant, Trace Minerals had a tablet, White Egret had a lotion. And magnesium seems to work well in combinations, too: magnesium-charcoal deodorants are sold by Schmidt’s and Primal Paste; Quantum Health sells a magnesium, CoQ10, and riboflavin blend; and it was in a variety of sleep assistance supplements.
Prebiotics and probiotics are still ubiquitous. And while pills and capsules are standard, they’re expanding, both in terms of product and science. Country Life’s Gut Connection line features prebiotics and allows users to mix-and-match formulas to best meet individual needs. Natural Factors showcased Relief Biotic, is a multi-strain formula featuring 7 billion colony forming units of probiotics, including Lactobacillus, Bacillus, and Enterococcus to relieve some symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Hyalogic sells a beauty boost powder with probiotics; NextFoods sells a probiotic drink; Probulin sells probiotic day and night creams. Yogurt and kombucha are still major, and they’re expanding, too. The Coconut Collaborative is about to add extra probiotics to their coconut-based yogurt. Uncle Matt’s Organic sells kombucha in every flavor imaginable—and they debuted probiotic popsicles at Expo West, too. Humm Kombucha, KeVita, and Brew Dr. Kombucha are still major players, but they’ve got to contend with companies like Evolution Fresh, B-Tea Beverage, and 221 B.C. Kombucha. Expo’s Product Directory lists 31 exhibitors and 137 products, for kombucha alone. Just the one drink, with all its flavors, has nearly as many products as some entire categories.
Collagen is stepping up to the plate. Life Extension has gummies with a therapeutic dosing of collagen. Vital Proteins showed up to Expo with a collagen creamer, making it easier to work collagen into a daily routine. Vermont Village has a beauty boost functional vinegar collagen drink. Neocell and Natrol are sticking up for themselves, though, with clinically tested collagen powders that are standing up to competition. Ancient Nutrition has a multi-type collagen powder—“It’s like a multi-vitamin, but for collagen,” Rubin says, “Why take just one or two types when you can take five?”—and they’re not alone in upping the value of their collagen supplement: Nordic Naturals combined it with vitamin C, Bulletproof made their collagen into a cookie dough protein bar, and Wild Friends Foods has collagen nut butters.
It was hard to take a step without tripping over a coconut product. With a whopping 221 exhibitors and 4212 products, according to the Expo product directory, it’s safe to say that this non-allergenic, lactose-free ingredient is here to stay, and might also take up half your store. Coconut milk caramels? Sure, just ask Cocomels. Coconut Peanut Butter Bars can be bought from Perfect Snacks. Coconut water? Coconut milk? There isn’t enough space to list all the brands selling coconut drinks. Alaffia Sustainable Skin Care sells a coconut deodorant. Coconut Bliss sells coconut ice cream. Coconut Collaborative sells coconut yogurt, and their frozen dessert won a Nexty award. The Real Coconut Products Co. sells Himalayan Pink Salt Coconut Flour Tortilla Chips. And, of course, it’s in every HABA product imaginable. Coconut delivers health benefits, and is sustainable, too. Darcey Howard, director of marketing for Coconut Bliss, told WholeFoods that the fronds, the husks, and the shells can all be put to use, making it a waste-free product.
Jerky might be a surprise to some, but the scene at Expo suggests it’s up-and-coming. Solely sells banana jerky and pineapple jerky. HealthVerve Food Manufacturing sells jerky flavored with bourbon and flavored with garlic-parmesan. Fishpeople has a whole line of wild Alaskan salmon jerky. Turkey, beef, pork, buffalo, mushrooms, bison, veggies, coconut, lamb—if it can be made into jerky, it was there, and if it can’t be made into jerky, it was there anyway.
Positivity is a crowd-pleaser: This doesn’t just mean smiling when it’s raining: This means the way you talk about products, about pricing. Leilani Münter, ex-racecar driver and current vegan and activist, said in a panel that people are happy to see positive representations of veganism and plant-based foods. Talking about how bad meat is for the environment, how bad processed foods are for the body, how horrible the meat industry is—all of that makes people want to turn away, want to ignore you. Talking about how great plant-based foods can taste, how great they make people feel, how much energy they give you, and how great they are for the environment? That’s something that’ll bring customers back, again, and again, and again.
This can be done with pricing, too. Rubin says that he doesn’t see Ancient Nutrition’s products as expensive—he sees them as premium. “Our products have a great value,” he said. “Our hemp is organic, all of our ingredients are clinically studied, and most of our products do more than one thing—our collagen helps the full skeletal system, gut health, skin, hair, nails, joints, ligaments, connective tissues; our gut health products contain both pre- and probiotics, while supporting a healthy immune system and nutrient absorption. The ticket price might be higher, but customers are getting a better value than they would for a cheaper product.” This can be a tactic for dealing with loss of customers to Amazon, too: remind your customers that they’re paying for your knowledge, for the human connection, and that, however great an experience they’ve had with Amazon in the past, that when they pick up your product and buy it, it’s what they’re going to get. There won’t be shipping mistakes or off-brand products turning up at their doorstep. Your products are guaranteed authentic.
Authenticity garners loyalty: Be authentic, honest, open—even about struggles. Howard told WholeFoods that, not long ago, Whole Foods Market switched distributors—and the new distributor decided to discontinue Coconut Bliss due to “low brand loyalty.” Instead of covering that up, or trying to PR it out of existence, Howard and her coworkers decided to prove the distributor wrong. They went on Twitter, shared their story, asked for help—and got upwards of 50,000 comments and impressions online in 48 hours. Kate Geagan, Author of Go Green Get Lean and the blog Kate Geagan Nutrition, said in a panel at Expo: “Even when things aren’t perfect, open and honest transparency is good. People love that story of those who have overcome and transformed, and in the long run, people will trust you more.” Catherine McCord, founder of Weelicious, said in the same panel: “That human touch cannot be ignored, particularly in digital times.” Organic Valley noted that their social media is full of videos from their farmers, and that their hotline for customer questions is often staffed by their farmers—it brings them off that untouchable company pedestal and makes them real. Let your customers connect to you, your employees, and your store on a personal level. Rejoice in your successes, and invite them to celebrate with you; be open about your struggles, and invite them to stand with you.
Activism will change the world: Stand up! Speak up! Vote! There were signs everywhere reminding people to vote with their dollar (like from Danone, below)—remind your customers that buying from Amazon or big-name stores is voting for a world without small stores, without human connection in the buyer experience, without educated employees. Buying healthy, natural, organic, non-GMO products from a small, family-owned store is voting for a world with healthy, natural, organic, non-GMO products and small, family-owned stores.
Beyond that, though—vote. Really. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) was Friday’s keynote speaker, and she was there for the industry. “Food and farm policy affects everyone,” she said. “This is a pivotal moment in our food law and the health of our planet.” She spoke about the Farm Bill, which she has been fighting for for years: to get fruit and vegetable provisions into the bill, to ensure that her opponents couldn’t write in 90 pages of environmental rollbacks, to make the funding for organic programs permanent and mandatory. She also noted that, to deal with a food desert in her state, she worked with Whole Foods Market to ensure that she solved the problem with fresh, natural, organic foods. She also said this: “We had 49 members, in the senate. We needed 60 votes to pass a bill. You work together where you can, but where you can’t, you have to stand up. When the Republicans tried to convince us to back down, I said, ‘you look at me, you see 49 votes. Without me, you don’t get that bill passed.’” Even when you feel like you are in the minority—a minority can still be loud.
Laura Batcha, CEO and executive director of the Organic Trade Association (OTA), said in a presentation that California has a proposal to fund organic food in schools; she also mentioned the lawsuit that the OTA is bringing against the USDA, regarding the USDA’s withdrawal of a rule regarding organic livestock and poultry practices, which allowed to go forward by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Policies and judges are affected by governments on the local, state, and federal levels. Vote for people who care about access to fresh food. Vote for people who care about the planet. The Industry may move faster than the government, but the government can be an ally the Industry cannot afford to ignore.
And never feel that you can afford to ignore the bigger picture. To quote Erin Brockovich, Thursday’s keynote speaker: “Superman’s not coming. It will be up to us to rise up—up to each and every one of us. We are all on the same page. We all care about the health and welfare of ourselves, our families, our communities.” Brockovich said that it is desperately necessary to raise awareness, information, and community, and to make all of it accessible. “Water, safe food, and clear air are for all humans, everyone, no matter what,” Brockovich said to a cheering crowd. “Leverage your community. You might be one person, but by leveraging your friends, your family, your community, you can become 100, 500, 1,000, 50,000. That’s how we get change.” And given the state of the climate, given the state of water in this country (Brockovich referenced her Community Healthbook, wherein people can report problems with their water), given the lack of sustainable and regenerative agriculture—change is necessary. So, to quote Brockovich one last time: “Stop waiting for a hero. Become that hero.” Stand up. Speak up. Insist on change, and make it happen.