At the State of Natural & Organic event held during this year’s Natural Products Expo East – the 34th iteration of the popular show and the largest ever, according to its organizers – I was struck by one remark in particular.
Following a discussion of the burgeoning natural/organic/functional products industry, which grew 6.5% to surpass $219 billion in sales in 2018, while the food and beverage sector in particular increased 6.6% to $152 billion last year, a panel discussion ensued on the topic of what will define the industry going forward. One of the participants, Seth Goldman, co-founder and “TeaEO” emeritus of Honest Tea and executive chair of Beyond Meat, noted that he was focused particularly on “democratizing healthy products, which shouldn’t just be for healthy people” living on either coast, or only available in niche stores unknown to mainstream shoppers.
To that end, Goldman has steered his products into the unlikely embrace of the fast-food space: Honest Kids Appley Ever After Organic Juice Drink can be found at McDonald’s, while Beyond Meat offerings have been popping up on the menus of such chains as Carl’s Jr.’s, TGI Friday’s and Del Taco. The executive observed that these better-for-you offerings had been met with a “strong response” from consumers.
This issue is so important to Goldman that when the panel members were asked to sum up the most influential factor in the natural/organic/functional industry going forward in a single word, he chose “democratization.”
Later, when I caught up with Goldman at the Honest Tea booth on the show floor, where new products such as a cold-brew coffee line and a “more functional” turmeric pineapple tea variety, I asked him whether he’d received any pushback in the natural and organic community by entering the fast-food arena. According to Goldman, however, the reaction from the community has been overwhelmingly positive, viewed “as a triumph, a breakthrough moment” for the industry.
The idea is to meet consumers, including the youngest ones, where they are while maintaining product quality – the McDonald’s juice drink, for example “passes every standard” – and to do it at a price parity.
Goldman’s enthusiasm on the issue was contagious, and his plan to infiltrate what most people think of as one of the more unhealthy food venues may just be the remaking of it.
Meanwhile, he touted the continuing innovation of his famous food brands, with plans for Beyond Meat to go organic a “realistic” goal, and probiotic-infused beverages and expansion into Honest Food products actively under consideration. When will such items be available at retail? Goldman’s response delivered excitement and mystery in one brief phrase: “Stay tuned.”