As we know, innovation is not about finding a new miracle ingredient, putting a product in an eco-friendly container, or using a trendy typeface for your brand. Instead, innovation is about discovering the meanings behind consumer behavior, trends and translating them into opportunities that will help deliver true value to customers. A few decades ago, buying natural products was synonymous with being an activist. These product choices required a strong commitment to your values because they often meant making a sacrifice: in efficacy, desirability, etc. Natural products were expensive, they were hard to find and on top of that the products underperformed compared to their mass counterparts.
Today, so much has changed. Buying natural products does not require such tradeoffs. The sacrifice in regards to taste, quality or performance is no longer a barrier. Natural products often have the same benefits as mass products but with the additional value of being more purpose driven and, in many cases, better for you. Consumers can buy natural products that are great for them, their families, their communities and the world in general. The access to these natural products is now more democratic and that will only increase.
No doubt about it, the natural category is growing. Passionate entrepreneurs have uplifted the standards of natural products, bringing about greater quality, accessibility with fewer sacrifices for consumers. But the main growth comes from a profound shift in consumer behavior. Today we think differently about health, ethics and responsibility, and this is a key driver for growth in the category. As a consequence, natural is no longer exclusive for die-hard devotees of natural products.
Entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and big companies are all looking for opportunities to tap into this market. Ben & Jerry’s acquisition by Unilever was a huge milestone and indicator in the market back in 2000. The two dreamer activists expanded their reach and Unilever got an amazing brand to help support its brand vision “to making sustainable living commonplace”. Having great ideas and developing them require an entrepreneurial mindset, tons of energy and a particular culture that might be not as easy as implement in big corporations. For this reason, 17 years later after Ben & Jerry’s acquisition, many big companies are trying to extend their portfolio following this example while keeping the vision of the entrepreneurs and the DNA of the brand and helping them scale to become the new mass brands of tomorrow.
Technology is an additional driver for natural brands. It evolves each day and opens up new ways to deliver innovative solutions and directly connect with consumers. Making a brand live and engage with consumers is key for awareness, recognition and conversion. Many natural brands know this and they are not afraid of experimenting and refining their messaging as they learn. The power of this shift is well illustrated by the mammoth merger of Whole Foods and Amazon and their drive to help consumers order organic goods using Alexa.
Just this year, Danone bought WhiteWave with over a dozen natural brands. The resulting company DanoneWave is now investing through Danone Manifesto Ventures in companies like Michel et Augustin. General Mills’s 301 Inc. incubator is helping brands like Rhythm Superfoods, Beyond Meat or KiteHill to scale in a similar way, and Unilever hasn’t stopped investing in natural brands, as seen by their recent acquisition of Pukka Herbs.
As we head into 2018 the evidence suggests that natural offerings will have a louder voice and wider distribution than ever before, eliminating outdated barriers of performance, price and perception. As such, larger companies should be reviewing the value proposition of their mass market brands and identifying ways to support the natural movement, or develop new propositions to enter this category, otherwise fear demise. The signs are clear: the opportunity (in natural) is massive.
Authored by CBA East Coast Business Director, Esme Gonzalez
Image via HuffingtonPost
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