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In celebration of Delicious Living's 30th anniversary, here's a glimpse of how the natural health movement has evolved over the past few decades—and what's ahead.
When Delicious Living’s inaugural issue rolled off the presses 30 years ago, Wendy’s “Where’s the Beef?” ads were luring people to fast-food joints in droves, Wonder Bread was the country’s best-selling loaf, and mainstream shoppers seeking “healthier” options were turning to preservative-laden Lean Cuisine dinners and aspartame-infused Sugar Free Jell-O.
Into this dubious food landscape stepped the nascent natural products industry, as small-scale food co-ops of the 1960s and ’70s gave way to sophisticated, full-service markets. Still, with just $2.7 billion food sales in 1985 (out of $290 billion overall) and a lingering reputation as “wheat-germ-crunching food faddists,” the natural foods lifestyle faced an uncertain future, says Joe Dobrow, author of Natural Prophets: From Health Foods to Whole Foods—How the Pioneers of the Industry Changed the Way We Eat and Reshaped American Businesses (Rodale, 2014). “It was still thought of as little more than an aging hippie sideshow to the serious business of feeding America,” he says.
Fast forward 30 years, and the cultural influence of the natural products movement cannot be overstated. Sales of natural and organic products topped $109 billion in 2013, according to Natural Foods Merchandiser, with food sales growing at a 10 percent to 12 percent clip annually, radically outpacing the sluggish 3.4 percent annual growth of conventional groceries. Eighty-one percent of U.S. families now buy organic items at least sometimes. Giant retailers, from 7-Eleven to Walmart, eye trendsetting natural foods stores for cues on what to stock next. And widespread concerns about genetically modified organisms (GMOs), allergens, pesticides, and artificial ingredients are shaping innovation in food, supplements, and personal care like never before.
“It has been a complete sea change,” says Dobrow. “This industry is now the shining beacon on the hill.”
How did we get here, and what’s next? In celebration of Delicious Living’s 30th year, here’s a look back and a glimpse forward.