Green In Bloom

GREEN TEA every morning, yerba mate in the afternoon. Yoga every other day.

Weekly pickups from the vegetable co-op, and a monthly drop-off from my organic meat supplier.

Jeez, have I gone crunchy. I even spent the winter pondering a “cleanse” – and I didn’t feel weird about it at all.

It’s a big change from my Bud Light and Taco Bell days; to have known me then, you’d have never guessed where my diet and personal habits were headed. You probably wouldn’t have wanted to, either.

But habits change, both for me and for the rest of the country. And while I now happen to sit at the unique junction of a profession that constantly exposes me to new product marketing blitzes and a home in Cambridge, Mass., one of the home bases for the Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability (LOHAS) movement, it’s pretty obvious that even in the flyover states, America is fully on a natural products roll.

That’s the reason there weren’t too many people complaining about the turnout at the Natural Products Expo West show earlier this month. Despite an economic downturn, the brands looked strong, the mood was upbeat, the good vibes were everywhere, the Dudes were abiding. Of course they were – with Duane Reade, the ubiquitous Manhattan drug store (and source for cheap Budweiser) now a hub for natural soda and coconut water, and every supermarket extending its produce section to make way for more juices and smoothies, the greens seem to be weathering the storm.

And this change in lifestyle and eating habits has created many paths to success. One marketer I spoke with, Zico’s Marc Rampolla, suggested that by knitting together channels like yoga studios, athletic supply shops, college campuses and mom-and-pops, one could create a mainstream, $100 million brand (nine figures is the entry point to mainstream, apparently) without having a large grocery presence. Another, Adina’s Greg Steltenpohl, was launching a product line grounded in new age principles – but with the intent that its biggest area for growth will be outside the natural products nursery.

All of this is taking place at a time when the feeding trough for the whole LOHAS movement, Whole Foods, is suffering due to the economic downturn, while McDonald’s, of all places, is on the upswing. In a world where the greens are winning, how can that be happening?

Easy enough to figure out: McDonald’s has decided to surf the green wave. The salads and lighter offerings that the fast-food chain now offers isn’t the result of them suddenly deciding to set a trend and lead the pack. It’s the result of a smart company catching on to what has been happening for years.

As for Whole Foods, what’s happening there? With the green mainstream so well established, I wouldn’t bet against them in the long run. But in the short term, as Americans are heading for other channels as they try to pull off the neat trick of staying both healthy and solvent. And the products they seek to maintain their new lifestyles are going to be in those new channels, waiting for them. Just look at Sambazon.

The company’s acai-berry based products broke through in natural channels and helped launch search parties for hundreds of new superfruits. Now?

“I’m in 1,000 Wal-Marts,” Sambazon’s Jeremy Black told me at Expo West.

Not bad, Dude. I’d go there to pick up a smoothie or two, myself, but Target’s selling yoga mats for nine bucks apiece.