Tables lined with probiotic tortilla chips, plant protein shakes and high protein ice cream fill 84.51°’s Event Space. With each table an eager team of entrepreneurs waits ready, proud to showcase their unique natural food creations at Kroger’s recent Natural Foods Innovation Summit.

Kroger’s Natural Food team hosted the first annual summit to foster discussion about upcoming natural product trends and provide an outlet for vendors to showcase new products. The summit gave Kroger category managers an opportunity to mix with emerging brands that have meaningful innovation in the categories that are up for review.
“Our Brands, Simple Truth and Simple Truth Organic are leading natural and organic brands that can’t be found at our competitors.”says Jill McIntosh, vice president of Merchandising, Natural Foods at General Office. According to Jill,

“Kroger’s vision is to continue to be the customer’s destination of choice for natural and organic products.”

The products showcased at the summit are part of a growing trend that has captivated the food industry. In the past decade, sales of natural products have more than doubled, climbing to a projected $134 billion market in 2018. Natural Foods is one of Kroger’s fastest growing departments.
“Consumers are adopting a 360-degree holistic health approach to wellness,” says Alex Trott, senior client lead at 84.51°. “They are looking for on-the-go convenience without sacrificing health or sustainable practices.”
The numbers don’t lie. Kroger’s total sales of natural and organic products topped $16 billion last year with Simple Truth’s 1,400 products generating more than $2 billion in 2018. Alex and the team at 84.51° have been studying the natural food trend for years, sharing insights and customer data with the Kroger Natural Foods team.
Alex says Kroger is able to use this data to show customers what they want before they know they want it based off their past behaviors and preferences. These strategies have led to natural food products at Kroger recently being assimilated into the main store aisles, away from their former specialty aisles, because of growing demand by mainstream customers. The natural foods industry had sales of $61 billion in 2009, a number that has doubled to $127 billion in 2017.
“Natural foods by nature are local and sustainable with many starting in small home kitchens,” Alex says, “They are innovators in the field that we are paying close attention to.”
More than 40 home-grown brands from across the country attended Kroger’s first innovation summit. Many of the brands in attendance also directly support the company’s Zero Hunger | Zero Waste campaign to end hunger and waste in communities by 2025 and the We Are Local initiative. The summits are “another forum for us to bring ‘local’ to life,” Jill says.
Kroger plans on holding the innovation summits quarterly in 2018 at 84.51° in Cincinnati, with the next one set for Thursday, February 8.