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Why Are Supplement Companies Underrepresented at Esca Bona?

Yadim Medore analyzes why supplement companies made up such a small portion of the participants at Esca Bona 2016. He investigates the divide between food and dietary supplements, and shares a list of supplement companies that are taking meaningful action to right the state of our food system.

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I love disruption. Not the annoying distraction of someone walking late into a lecture, but the deliberate, thoughtful disruption that completely upends an established (and probably broken) system. That kind of disruption is what Esca Bona is all about.

New Hope’s Esca Bona (literally, “Good Food”) conference in Austin, TX brought together a diverse and lively group of “food renegades:” young entrepreneurs, industry pioneers, CPG leadership, retailers, activists, suppliers, marketers, investors and everyone in between. For three glorious days we gathered to collaborate on the mission of changing the food system.

But now that a few months have passed, a single thought lingers for me: why was the dietary supplement industry so underrepresented?

Only a tiny percentage of the 250 overall participants were from supplement companies.

Surely we all share the common desire for a better food system, and no one understands more than the supplement sector that our food system has contributed to poor nutrition. The way Americans eat, how our food is grown, and how we source our food is why there is such a need for nutritional supplementation. In all of our research studies, whether it’s a consumer or practitioner study, the distrust of the food system always ranks high. By not participating in venues like Esca Bona, the supplement industry is essentially saying, “We like the food system the way it is because it creates more need for our products.”

I personally know this isn’t how leaders in the dietary supplement industry really feel. Many supplement companies care deeply about the state of our food system and take meaningful action to address it through their sourcing or growing practices, or how their brands participate with other organizations and initiatives. Here are some outstanding examples, including some of my own clients:

  • Standard Process maintains Wisconsin’s largest certified organic vegetable farm. It grows more than six million pounds of raw materials on its 600+ acres in Palmyra. These raw materials are juiced and concentrated into whole food supplements just one mile down the road from the farm.
  • Gaia Herbs manages more than 350 certified organic acres outside of Asheville, NC, where it grows over 30 different varieties of medicinal plants that are then extracted onsite. In addition, the company supports Cirenas, a non-profit in Costa Rica that empowers high school students to become active environmental stewards. Gaia is also working to expand the organic infrastructure by training the next generation of organic growers for their own supply chain. Furthermore, Gaia has a CSA that provides tens of thousands of pounds of fresh organic produce to its employees and a local community food bank.
  • Herb Pharm grows more than 60 medicinal herb crops on its 85-acre certified organic farm in Williams, OR. It is also designated as a United Plant Savers Botanical Sanctuary due to Herb Pharm’s research on the cultivation of wild medicinal plants that are at risk of extinction due to over-harvesting and habitat loss.
  • Megafood sources over a half million pounds of fresh produce each year for use in its supplements from sustainable growers, such as Uncle Matt’s, Stahlbush Island, and Lundberg Family Farms. It also supports organizations including WoollyPocket’s Woolly School Garden Program, Florida Organic Growers, Farm Aid, and Hawaiian Island Land Trust.
  • Reserveage Nutrition developed a sustainable partnership with the indigenous Kuna people in Panama to help in restoring the tribe’s natural cocoa production operations, and to preserve the cocoa farmers’ livelihood.
  • Natural Factors maintains over 1,000 acres of certified organic farmland in British Columbia, Canada, where it grows raw materials for its products. It runs the Plant A Seed & See What Grows Foundation, which supports outdoor learning experiences, school and community gardens, seed preservation, school breakfast programs, subsidized natural health products for the financially disadvantaged, and health education throughout Canada.
  • Country Life’s Realfood Organics was the first certified organic whole food supplement brand sold through natural food stores. The 40 fruits, vegetables, grains, sprouts and legumes that go into its whole food supplements are sourced from certified organic farms across the U.S.
  • Get Real Nutrition, a new brand recently launched by Garden of Life founder Jordan Rubin, sources organic botanicals from around the world with the intention of supporting indigenous farmers. They also are cultivating 350 acres on Jordan’s ranch in the Missouri Ozarks for Heal the Planet Farm, a regenerative permaculture educational center that is training the next generation of organic farmers.
  • Mercola.com has been a powerful supporter and funder of major GMO-labeling initiatives across the country. The company supports Food Democracy Now, Institute for Responsible Technology, Center for Nutrition Advocacy, The Cornucopia Institute, Caminos de Agua, the Organic & Natural Health Association, and many other advocacy and not-for-profit organizations.

Despite these amazing individual commitments, there is a noticeable lack of dialogue between the supplement sector and the food sector. This isn’t just noticeable at Esca Bona; the NBJ Summit has the inverse problem. It’s seen as the gathering of the supplement industry leadership and many food companies attend—but the “Nutrition” in NBJ refers to the whole food system, not just dietary supplements.

Both sectors of the natural products industry—food and dietary supplements—are intrinsically connected to the future of food, and we need to act that way. Let’s commit to more dialogue and cross-pollination.


Yadim Medore

Yadim Medore is the founder and CEO of Pure Branding, a brand development, research, and marketing agency for leading dietary supplement, functional food and personal care companies. With more than two decades in the natural products industry, Yadim is an industry expert who regularly speaks at National Products Expo East and West and Engredea. Learn more about Yadim and read his most recent insights at purebranding.com/yadim-medore.


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