The burning question on the natural industry’s mind now: How can we feed the world without destroying the planet? Expect natural foods makers to get increasingly creative as they work to answer that question.

“It is pretty obvious that our current food systems are completely unsustainable with regard to natural resource consumption,” says Pat Crowley, founder of Salt Lake City–based Chapul, which sells energy bars made from cricket flour. “You can raise high-protein crickets in a warehouse, in stacked bins, where you use far fewer land and water resources.” (Because you’re wondering: They taste kind of like sunflower seeds.) “The math is simple: If we shift even a small fraction of our protein consumption to environmentally friendly, healthy (and tasty!) insects, we can reduce the huge amount of water that irrigates the massive, mechanized farms that exist solely to feed cattle and pigs,” Crowley says.

Likewise, Hampton Creek, a San Francisco–based food technology company,  operates from a mission to create a more sustainable food system. Its scientist-studded team tested more than 1,550 plants from 40 countries to discover a particular yellow pea subspecies, the foundation of its flagship product: plant-based, egg-free, and non-GMO Just Mayo. “By producing plant-based egg substitutes sustainably and at lower prices than those offered by industrialized agriculture, Hampton Creek has the potential to reframe much of the debate around natural products that stalls with charges of elitism and lack of access,” says Marc Brush, editor in chief of Nutrition Business Journal.

Simpler and personalized

When it comes to supplements, Tim Avila, president of Systems Bioscience Inc., sees a trend toward cleaner offerings, free of the past’s mysterious preservatives and extraction methods, and a slight shift away from single-compound pills toward more synergistic whole-food materials like whole acai fruit pulp (shown in a recent study to stabilize blood sugar) and organic whole cranberry.

“Whole-food” supplements, made by companies like New Chapter, MegaFood, and Garden of Life, are already among the fastest growing supplement categories. This “back-to-basics” approach is also happening in personal care, where companies like Antho and S.W. Basics craft skin care products out of cocoa, almonds, and strawberries, as the entire industry strives to get endocrine-disrupting chemicals, like phthalates and parabens, out of its products. 

Big picture: Jim Kean, founder of the health technologies company WellnessFX, envisions a day in the not-too-distant future when people routinely send a blood or DNA (via saliva) sample to a lab and, with the guidance of an online practitioner, receive a personalized menu detailing what to eat and take to not only fend off illness but optimize wellness. Some supplement companies, including Thorne Research Inc. and Metagenics, are already partnering with diagnostic companies to move in this direction.