Functional foods forum participant says the move toward organic is an unstoppable groundswell

By Hank Schultz contact

- Last updated on GMT

Metabrand has a 4,000-sq-ft facility in New Jersey where it helps clients iron out formulation issues.
Metabrand has a 4,000-sq-ft facility in New Jersey where it helps clients iron out formulation issues.

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Natural and organic is the future of functional food and food in general, according to MetaBrandCEO Eric Schnell.  Schnell is a panelist in an upcoming NutraIngredients-USA online forum title "Trends in Functional Foods" and set for June 30.

“To me, if you can’t forecast three to five years, that’s nice.  But when I’m forecasting I look 10 to 25 years down the road to try to predict where the industry should be.  Look back at the 10 years leading up organic certification and then the last 10 years with organic certification in place, and project that forward.  Look at Whole Foods, what happens if they go from 300 stores to 1,000 or more? I think that could mean in 25 years everything will be organic and non-GMO products will be the norm,”​ Schnell told NutraIngredients-USA.

Schnell is the founder of functional food firm Steaz Teas and is also CEO of MetaBrand, a full-service brand development and formulation firm.  Schnell’s goal for the firm is be a truly one-stop shop for natural products entrepreneurs who are seeking a streamlined launching platform for their products.  Between himself and his partners, Schnell said the group has had experience launching several hundred products, so they know every step of the road. They have assembled a team of more than 35 advisers.

“We can help them get ahead a lot faster and not make mistakes,”​ Schnell said.

 Schnell has also consulted with beverage and supplement companies, and brings relationships formed in his 15 years in the industry to MetaBrand.

Metabrand strategy

Schnell said Metabrand was founded on four pillars.

First, the company has assembled a cadre of formulation and manufacturing experts who can help and entrepreneur “take an ideal and make it real,”​ in Schnell’s words.  The company has invested to provide a 4,000 square-foot lab and concept formulation facility to hone initial formulations.  MetaBrand then has close relationships with trusted contract manufacturers to take brands to commercial scale.

The second pillar, Schnell said, is that MetaBrand functions as an ingredient supplier.  MetaBrand can offer entrepreneurs access to a supply chain of more than 2,500 ingredients. “There is almost nothing that we can’t source or produce,”​ Schnell said.

Third, the company offers a full-capability marketing department, including graphic designers and social media experts.  The company can help start-ups hone their message from initial concept, to logo and packaging development through to traditional and viral marketing campaigns.

The fourth pillar of the company, Schnell said, is the extensive advisory services that the group offers.  The consultancy has assembled of team of 35 advisers it can call upon for company growth strategies. The service includes market reports that rest on the foundation of data from market research firms SPINS, Nielsen and Symphony IRI, Schnell said.

Functional food wave

Schnell is one of the panelists on an upcoming free live forum titled “Trends in Functional Foods”​ ​ hosted by NutraIngredients-USA to be broadcast on June 30.  Schnell will be joined by attorney Jason Sapsin, marketing maven Jeff Hilton and science and regulatory consultants Risa Schulman, PhD and Kantha Shelke, PhD.

“What we do is mostly involved with functional food,”​ Schnell said. “If it doesn't have some kind of functionality or some sort of medicinal quality to it, it’s hard to find a niche in the marketplace. That seems to be the norm now for new product launches.”

“We have even seen a lot of bad-for-you type of products being reinvented with better, natural ingredients,” ​he said. “One of the things I’m particularly excited about is a new product that is reinventing the popcorn category, with ingredients like added protein, brewers yeast and nutritional yeast.”

Voting with their dollars

Schnell said one of the things driving the trend toward natural, organic and clean label is simple consumer preference.  While there will always be a place for bargain basement products, in the middle ground consumers vote with their dollars, he said.  With Steaz Teas, Schnell said he and his partners tapped into a big, hidden demand.

“What we've seen is that when a consumer makes that switch to a higher quality, organic product, they generally don’t go back. When we made our first natural sodas at Steaz Teas, people said to us, thank you for making a ‘good’ cola,”​ he said.

Schnell has seen the trend accelerate in his guise as a judge for an annual beverage competition sponsored by another publication.

“There hasn't been a beverage brand for the past four years that has made it into the finals that hasn't had clean, natural ingredients,” ​Schnell said. “The competition is sponsored by the Coca Cola Company, and every brand that makes it into the finals is almost the antithesis of what Coke is.”

For more information on the online forum or to register, click here​.

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