NOW Foods CEO: ‘Millennals have really embraced the natural products industry’
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
SPARKS, Nev. — With an education in food chemistry and decades of experience in the design and management of food manufacturing, NOW Foods CEO Jim Emme has been a longtime advocate for healthy eating.
Emme, who’s been with the Chicago area-based natural products company for 23 years, has seen natural foods, products and supplements slowly grow into the mainstream. More recently, though, the demand has surged.
In response, NOW Foods planted a manufacturing and distribution warehouse in Sparks in 2014. The company’s Northern Nevada facility — which includes 90,000 square feet of manufacturing and 75,000 square feet of distribution — services its West Coast costumers, as well as the Middle East and Pacific Rim.
All told, Emme said, the company has experienced a 40 percent to 50 percent jump in international revenue sales over the last year.
“The community has just been extremely supportive of our efforts,” Emme said of Northern Nevada. “It’s a pretty strategic location for us.”
With the obesity epidemic and other diet-related health conditions bringing increased attention to what one eats and drinks, the Northern Nevada Business View spoke with Emme about the growing awareness of health-conscious eating and how the business of selling supplements and natural health options is growing.
NNBV: WHY IS IT IMPORTANT FOR PEOPLE TO EMBRACE HEALTHIER EATING HABITS?
Emme: Well, our philosophy is that even though we’re in the natural products industry and our mission is to provide value in products and services that empower people to live healthier lives, we feel that that is all-encompassing. That, really, a healthier lifestyle is not just nutrition — it’s nutrition, it’s an exercise regimen along with getting enough sleep, hydrating enough, and the like.
NNBV: What is the current state of the natural food supplement industry across the nation and here in Northern Nevada?
Emme: It’s strong right now. The numbers we’ve seen are that overall in the natural products industry — which includes natural food supplements, natural personal care, and the beverage category like sports drinks meal replacement — it’s an average of about 8 percent growth. Northern Nevada, we’re seeing excellent strength there, particularly due to the great economic growth that we’ve been seeing. We believe that because of the success of the leadership in the communities and also the active engagement of business leaders and the community that the sky’s the limit for the marketplace there per capita.
NNBV: How much has the awareness about eating healthier grown over the last five to 10 years?
Emme: Well, we’ve certainly seen strong growth in the last five to 10 years as a company. The industry has as well. From the data that I’ve seen, really, it’s a generational change and the availability of information. We have seen double-digit growth for the majority of the last 10 years. As the population has aged, health goals are completely different and there tends to be more focus on basic supplementation.
But millennials have really embraced the natural products industry. We’re finding that the millennial population is very loyal once they find an influencer — a blogger, if you will — or an information source that they trust and rely. And certainly if they feel that that trust has been violated, their loyalty will disappear very, very quickly. I think it’s been good for our industry overall because it’s forced many companies to not push the envelope on claims of what their products will do. We’ve never been that way, culturally. Certainly it has contributed to a lot of growth.
And all early market indicators for Gen Z … are showing that the interest is even going to be that much stronger at an early age. That’s the great thing about it is that younger consumers are embracing natural products at an earlier age. I saw a study that was presented by a group out of Stanford a few months back. Their data was predicting that of the newborns in the last three years, 68 percent of the population could easily be centenarians, or reach 100 (years old). And the number could be higher.
NNBV: Where do you see things going from here when it comes to the nation and this region’s health-conscious eating habits?
Emme: I think the biggest things are breakthroughs in personalized nutrition. Now, genomics was a big piece of this — 23andMe offers not just ancestry testing, but also health testing to try to show correlations of certain genomes that could put one at risk for, say, heart disease or cancer or what have you. Probably the biggest use of that in the last five years has been for detecting one’s risk for breast cancer. I think there is a very strong future in that.
And how does that apply to Northern Nevada? Well, Northern Nevada is becoming a new breeding ground and nurturing area for small tech firms that are coming in. Some of the more exciting companies that are moving in are small innovation companies that are looking at, maybe not so much gathering the data, but creating software or creating apps in which there can be great meta analysis being done, especially with nutrition. So I say stay tuned. The Reno-Tahoe area is going to have probably some of the leading edge companies going into supporting any research that would come out of a major medical university. And with UNR being right there, they are at the forefront of a lot of these things.
Heather Ashbridge, who started with Nevada State Development Corporation in 2008, previously served in several roles with the organization, including assistant vice president and loan officer. She is based in NSDC’s Reno office.