GROVARA GUIDE: How to Align Your Brand Innovations with Customer Priorities

You’ve heard it a million times — the customer is always right.

It’s easy to say for those who don’t run a business. But entrepreneurs, particularly those in service industries, know how vital the phrase is. The motto was born and gained popularity in the late 19th century as retailers boomed and the era of “buyer beware” gave way to a customer-centric approach.

Almost a century and a half later, customer priorities are still a roadmap to success, and connecting with them is the most direct way to stay on top of opportunities to gain market share.

As part of Natural Foods Expo East in September, the experts at The New Hope Network examined what’s next in product innovation. These priorities will also help American wellness brands demonstrate the potential of their products, refine product positioning and messaging, maximize return on innovation and stock relevant products. 

Here are the 10 areas fueling customer priorities in the wellness space, starting with the highest priorities and including examples of leading-edge companies:

Material Optimization / Waste Reduction

Packaging and waste dominate our landscape. A whopping 40% of all food in the U.S. goes uneaten, and all that food comes in some kind of package, which most likely isn’t easily recyclable and contributes to chemical exposure. Getting the most out of materials and reducing, reusing and recycling in innovative ways creates value for everyone.

Taja Coconut Water: Reduces waste by turning used coconut shells into compost.

World Centric: Reduces waste by turning wheat straw agricultural waste into compostable plates.

Sourcing Responsibly

When convenience and values win out, the sourcing of our product ingredients loses. That’s why inventive business models that emphasize responsible food sourcing as a business-critical function are best positioned to win new customers.  Want to see how your wellness brand stacks up? Check this Responsible Sourcing Tool geared toward food and beverage manufacturers.

Toogga: Sourcing responsibly by working with women’s cooperatives in the Sahel (North Africa).

Shenandoah Valley Organic: Sourcing responsibly by supporting small chicken farmers in response to factory farming abuses.

Regenerative Agriculture

If you haven’t heard much about this subject, just know it’s focused on soil health and productivity. Regenerative agriculture targets carbon in soil and above-ground biomass in an effort to reverse global trends of atmospheric accumulation, all the while increasing yields, resilience to climate dynamics, and better health outcomes for farming and ranching communities.

Thousand Hills Grass-Fed Beef: Innovating regenerative agriculture with holistic management grazing.

RE: Botanicals: First U.S.0-grown, USDA-certified organic hemp, a crop that is naturally a bio-accumulator and absorbs toxins from the soil.

Sugar Vilified

The world is fat and sugar is to blame, but the wellness industry is divided about how to handle the way forward.  While American labeling laws will change in the new year as they relate to sugar, there has been lots of experimentation from the industry, from low glycemic, food-based sweeteners to zero-calorie alternatives, and attempted shifts like redefining sweet, “fluffy bulk” technology, or making room for savory in flavor profiles.

Mavuno Harvest: Introduced a no-added sugar dried fruit, like its Dried Organic Jackfruit.

Minna: Rolled out botanical flavoring for its no-sugar, organic and lightly brewed sparkling stea.


While some verifications are viewed as less credible than others for a variety of reasons, reputable third-party endorsements are still key to winning consumers’ hearts and minds.  And just one certification isn’t enough.  It’s about appealing to as many niches as possible while maintaining flavor and price point.

Unbun: It’s bread for everybody! Keto, paleo, and gluten-free consumers rejoice in the variety and flavor available for them with Unbun.

Babo Botanicals: This company combines EWG verification for being chemical-free and transparent with B Corp status, creating trustworthy products for babies.

Customer Trust / Clean Label

While recent federal laws will change U.S. sweetener labeling, transparency and simplicity is dominating innovation in the sector. This means a minimalist approach when it comes to ingredients and packaging and an emphasis on ingredients / allergens. “Clean labels” translate to making a product using as few ingredients as possible and ensuring those ingredients are recognizable as wholesome items a customer would use at home. The Clean Label Project uses data and science to reveal the true contents of America’s best-selling consumer products.

Crazy Richards Wholly Rollies: Minimal and simple ingredients make up their popular protein snacks.

Humble Brands: The top of its all-natural deodorant labels scream “NOTHING BAD,” and they mean it (ingredients include cornstarch, fractionated coconut oil, beeswax, all-natural baking soda, and essential oils)

Health Microbiome

If you’ve been to a holistic health practitioner in the last decade or two you’ve probably heard about the gut-body connection, but gut health is mostly unacknowledged by conventional medicine. That is changing thanks to our understanding of microbiomes and individuals’ gut health, and the development of health products containing probiotics and other molecules that support cellular health. But beware, this area of innovation is ripe for snake oil salespeople, as well.

AquaBiome: This fish oil that addresses holistic health is the first of its kind to also target the gut microbiome.

Manuka Honey Plus: This energy seed butter combines health-conscious ingredients like ginger and honey with other wellness ingredients, including 1 billion 

Craft & Artisanal

We’ve been hearing these words ever since beer and restaurants began getting back to their roots. Whether it’s ancient practices or DIY experimentation, art and craftsmanship in creating products and innovations are still at the forefront for consumers. According to a story last year in Food Dive, the previous five years saw a 28% compounded annual growth rate in the craft and artisanal food and beverages market.

Bar None: These bottled mocktails feature all-natural flavors sweetened with innovative juice blends or cane sugar.

Kiss Naturals: Its all-natural, eco-friendly and upcyclable kits help users of all ages easily and responsibly produce six beauty products like lip balm or gloss and bath soap.

Allergens & Intolerance

Food insensitivities are pervasive, and they are driving others to voluntarily make dietary changes aligned with many afflictions like allergies and gastrointestinal issues. Nuts, gluten, and dairy can wreak havoc with consumers’ bodies, and even prove life-threatening, making this category an evergreen priority.

88 Acres: Who needs nut butters when you’ve got this company’s watermelon seed butter? Nut-free is more important to consumers than ever.

Cooggies: This company’s gluten- and grain-free baking mixes make it possible for many to enjoy baked goods that they normally would have to refuse.

Healing Diets

Diets that reduce triggers for health issues are in high-demand, whether they reduce suffering or ailments by current food choices or address more holistic issues. The ketogenic diet is the hottest example and is expected to drive much of the growth in this category.

Liviva: With plant-based pastas packed with protein, this company’s low-calorie and high-fiber products fit perfectly into a diabetic’s food plan.

Kiss My Keto: This brand is dedicated to the keto lifestyle, with products ranging from bone broth to chocolate to supplements.

(slide pictured above courtesy of The New Hope Network)