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In his debut column for Natural Products Insider, William Hood & Company’s Greg Horn reflects on his career, answers “what makes the business of nutrition so exciting,” and highlights trends at the recently held Natural Products Expo East.
October 9, 2023
Ever since reading a tattered copy of “Sugar Blues” at age 15, I have been fascinated with the link between what we put into our body and how we feel, look and perform.
When I landed my first job in the nutrition industry in 1988, it was still a less than a $4 billion cottage industry with homemade labels, magazine and word-of-mouth marketing, still some handwritten signs at Expo West, an unclear regulatory framework, super fun people, nascent science, and what we would consider today to be rudimentary products.
I saw the potential and was smitten.
From humble beginnings, the nutrition business has grown into a professionalized consumer products category with increasingly strong clinical support generating more than $60 billion in consumer sales of products annually.
Throughout this remarkable growth and development, my fascination with health and nutrition has only grown deeper, nourished and enlivened by my good fortune to have had a center seat at some of the most interesting tables in the world as the business of nutrition has evolved.
As a brand and retail executive and CEO, I had the chance to lead three of the most innovative companies in the industry: GNC Live Well when we added $1.1 billion to profitable revenue between 1991 and 2002; European nutrition, medical foods and infant nutrition giant Numico at a time when we had 150 scientists conducting clinical research on nutrition and health; and Garden of Life during an intensive turnaround when we rebranded, reformulated and relaunched the company.
As an entrepreneur, in collaboration with amazing partners, I co-founded about a dozen innovative nutrition companies, including Celsius, Attune, Corazonas and Nutrition Capital Network. I also served as CEO of biotech startup Axcella Health in the early days of precision fermentation.
Leveraging this experience, for more than a decade I have provided strategic and financial advice to some of the largest multinational players in today’s nutrition business, and to some of the most innovative and exciting companies in the industry as they prepare for and then execute mergers and acquisitions. Each of these experiences has helped me develop a well-rounded perspective on the nutrition business, and I still learn something new every day.
In my view, the prospects for the nutrition business have never been better. This is the most fascinating time so far for the category, thanks to the growing body of clinical evidence supporting the link between specific nutrition interventions and good health, access to loads of venture and private equity capital to fund growth for innovative companies, advances in wearables and other non-invasive ways of measuring health markers in real-time, a wave of incredible and sophisticated new talent, better packaging, better formulations and better marketing.
What makes the business of nutrition so exciting? First and more importantly, it fills an important unmet need in society, bridging the emerging science of nutrition with branded products that enable action and positively impacting the health of millions.
Nutrition is an undisputed key to good health, and industry solutions can change lives for the better. Nutrition is an endlessly dynamic category, as new clinical findings inform new approaches to education, marketing, distribution, formulation and branding.
This dynamism in turn attracts talented and dynamic people, who drive innovation and new business approaches across the spectrum from the ingredients companies that do most of the primary research for validating claims to doctor-recommended practitioner products to mainstream fast-moving consumer items at retail and from startups to large multinational corporations.
My new column—"Greg Horn’s business of nutrition”—will be a regular presence on Natural Products Insider, with each article featuring a mixture of facts and informed opinions on topics like:
Business and consumer trends
The economic structure of the industry
Innovations with impact
Startups, entrepreneurship and venture formation
Scientific developments that matter
Mergers and acquisitions
Investment and access to capital
The nutrition economy
Let’s conclude this inaugural article with trends I observed at the recently held Natural Products Expo East. Although this was the final year for Expo East since the event is now retired, the trade show floor was vibrant and well attended. Here are some trends spotted at the show:
Changing channels: Consumer sales data tell two stories: One of trading down as squeezed consumers return to retail and bargain shop (the food/drugs/mass market channel is up 5.7%) and one of higher-efficacy channels (the practitioner channel is up 7.6%) gaining share with effective products that change health for the better.
Brainier than ever: Brain health products ranging from sleep and stress to mental focus, memory and cognitive health were even more prominent and targeted a broader swath of the population, from babies to aging Baby Boomers.
Mega mushrooms: Mushrooms were sprouting up everywhere, from foods to supplements and products that look a lot like psychedelics.
Super sports: Consumers of all fitness levels are heading back to the gym, and categories like protein, creatine and especially hydration are growing as these formerly niche categories jog rapidly to the mainstream.
Ladies first: Women’s health is all at once the darling of nutrition trends, with solutions for everything related to women’s health.
Gut check: Gut health remains a top trend, with better new tools like pre- and postbiotics and old favorites like insoluble fiber getting new marketing attention.
So much seaweed: As a highly nutritious and mostly untapped source of promising bioactives, marine vegetables are on the upswing, with food and supplement applications rising.
Bioavailability boom: Liposomals and other new delivery forms that enhance bioavailability of actives with known health benefits are the next frontier of nutrition product development, allowing marketers to differentiate and tell the benefit story all over again.
Bees: Products from the hive ranging from honey to propolis and skin care were found along almost every aisle.
Teas: The world’s second-oldest beverage had a bigger presence than ever at this year’s Expo East.
Nonalcoholic: While the bars were still full at the show, the aisles were loaded with nonalcoholic alternatives to spirits, wines and cocktails, with sufficient demand (apparently) to justify an entire section of the show floor.
Beverages with benefits: The current incarnation of beneficial beverages showed up with a dizzying array of ingredients from moringa to ginger and vitamin D—mostly selling on taste and promises that are more experiential than clinically proven.
This fall will also see the Council for Responsible Nutrition’s (CRN’s) annual meeting in Laguna Niguel, California; SupplySide West in Las Vegas; and Nutrition Capital Network’s event in San Francisco. We will share relevant insights from each in future articles. Thanks for reading.
Managing Director, William Hood & Co.
Greg Horn is a managing director and partner at William Hood & Company, an investment banking firm specializing in health and wellness through the consumer, food and retail sectors. He leads William Hood & Company’s Ingredients practice. Horn is also a co-founder of Nutrition Capital Network, where he currently serves as chairman of the selection committee. In 2003, he was named president and CEO of Specialty Nutrition Consulting Inc., a nutrition brand-building firm focused on commercializing innovative, IP-protected nutritional and health-promoting technologies.
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