Leading figures from across the natural food industry – including retailers, brand-owners, chefs and food writers – gathered in Brighton this week to debate the future of the natural food sector.
At a special Food Roundtable, organized by Natural Products News, the group tackled the ambitious theme of ‘Rewriting the next decade of food’.
Debating the question ‘Where are we now?’, Simon Wright, of OF+ Consulting, said that the natural food sector faced an unanticipated challenge “because, basically, we won”. The “live issue of 30 years ago” – less pesticides, fewer additives, low meat consumption, more options for people with allergies and intolerances, getting rid of hydrogenated fats and artificial flavours – had largely been addressed or achieved, he said. This created a need for the natural food sector to find news ways to differentiate itself and its products.
Wright also commented on the huge rise in the amount of food writing in recent years, adding that “there’s a lot of noise and very little clarity based on sound science”. Chef and food writer himself, Jay Morjaria, was exasperated at the attention given to “the Instagram chefs and those who have done a two-day nutrition course”. He added: “We live in a delusional world and we need to come back to basics.”
“We live in a delusional world and we need to come back to basics”
Speaking about the recent explosion of food and dietary trends, Phil Haughton, founder of the Better Food Company, warned that the “foundation of the wholefood movement, going back to Cranks and Neal’s Yard, has got lost among free-from and other movements”. He had become “disillusioned” about the industry and the direction in which commerce had taken it, adding that “it would be great to have realignment around a belief or purpose, rather than the market”.
Fellow retailer Alan Martin agreed that getting too closely involved with short-lived trends was unwise. But he argued that picture had “always been fragmented,” and that “the only really authentic story is what you do in your store and how you present it to customers”.
“… the only really authentic story is what you do in your store and how you present it to customers”
Discussing the current retail landscape, Andrew Ragatz of Planet Organic, said that one of the big challenges for specialist retailers, especially those in major cities, was to meet modern consumer demands – for things like click and collect and home delivery – while maintaining “a community feel”.
A full report on the Food Roundtable will be appear in the April issue of Natural Products News. Look out too for our video coverage of the event.
The participants at the Roundtable were Alan Martin (Food For Thought, Bon Pom), Simon Wright (O&F Consulting), Phil Haughton (Better Food Company), Andrew Ragatz (Planet Organic), Jay Morjaria (Sutra Kitchen), Ben Lewis (Pulsin), Maria Dawson (Clearspring), Charlie Booth (Infinity Foods).