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Ashwagandha, the Adaptogenic Herb, is Showing Up More and More on Supermarket Shelves

If you look at many food trend lists over the past few years, you have probably seen adaptogenic herbs mentioned. And for very good reason.

Adaptogens are herbs or compounds that help mitigate the effects of stress on the body while also assisting the immune system and generating an overall sense of well-being.

While many people like to predict what is going to be hot, these trend forecasts are often ahead of the curve and do not necessarily translate into what we see in grocery stores on a daily basis.

Known as one of the most revered ancient herbs in Ayurveda and referred to as the “Indian ginseng”, ashwagandha is really starting to take hold, and it has become quite noticeable how often brands are using it in their products.

Wanting to get more insight into this herb, particularly from a marketing standpoint, I spoke with Palo Hawken, founder of the super-hot brand REBBL and one of the earliest people to bring an organic ashwagandha drink to a wide audience.

When did you launch your ashwagandha chai into the market? Were you concerned that many people would not be familiar with this ingredient and would resist buying your drink?

We launched Ashwagandha Chai in June of 2014. I was quite concerned that ashwagandha, being a major part of the flavor name, would be a deterrent to trial. It was a risk for sure.

Why did you want to use this specific herb?

Ashwagandha was getting a lot of investment and attention from an Indian pharmaceutical company conducting high quality, double-blind, human clinical trials at the UCLA Medical Center. The results were fascinating and clearly demonstrated a range of benefits that scientifically corroborated 2,000+ years of traditional Ayurvedic wisdom.

Although the lore and respect this herb has had for centuries would have been enough to confidently develop a beverage around, the emerging supportive science really excited our small team.

Did you know that it would only be a matter of time before it became much more widely embraced by the marketplace?

I did not know for sure, but my thesis at the founding of REBBL was that the hero herbs that we had fallen in love with would one day be household words. The question that I could not answer for myself or my investors was exactly when that would start to happen.

I told them in early 2012 that it would take 5 years to either prove this thesis or prove that we were on the right track. Here we are exactly 5 years later, and it is the #1 beverage in our category.

We are still a long way from ashwagandha becoming a household word, but the speed at which that awareness is growing is spectacularly fast. I think of it generationally: the kids of today will be the adults of the future, for which ashwagandha will be a common word. That makes it a roughly 20-year project to achieve the kind of awareness that I feel is possible.

Where do you see ashwagandha going in the future? Do you see it becoming much more mainstream?

I see ashwagandha going much more mainstream in a broader array of supplement formulas and in functional foods (nutritional shake powders, etc.). I see it becoming a ubiquitous ingredient in any supplement that promises increased athletic performance or natural testosterone enhancement. It will also be a key ingredient in the ‘anti-energy’ category – the products that promise improved sleep and relaxation.

Thanks, Palo!

From my perspective, I see ashwagandha being used in many more drinks, teas and protein powders.

In terms of food, this is where there is a real opportunity because so few food companies are currently incorporating ashwagandha into their offerings. Energy bars, cereal, flax crackers, chia seed puddings, and granola (as Sakara Life is doing) are products where I can envision this herb being used.

The other thing I see happening is that companies who use adaptogens, such as ashwagandha, will start disclosing on the packaging or on their website that these ingredients have been tested for heavy metals. Brands that are proactive in doing this will have a competitive advantage.

Have a great day!

Max Goldberg, Founder

This Week's News Items

Weekly News Summaries

First Course
The Washington Post

Why Enforcement Remains a Challenge in the Global Supply Chain of Organic

By M. Jason Kuo

The Washington Post gives 5 key points as to why it is so challenging to enforce organic across the global supply chain.

Mother Jones

Trump's USDA is Looking Ominous for Organic

By Tom Philpott

Sonny Perdue's top picks for senior posts at the USDA have deep ties to Big Ag, which could prove disastrous for organic.


Mexico's Grupo Lala Appears to be Leading Bidder for Stonyfield

By Ben Dummett

Grupo Lala, a Mexican dairy conglomerate, is rumored to be ahead of China's Yili Industrial Group in a quest to own Stonyfield. A deal could be finalized before the end of the month.

The Oregonian

Oregon's Sherman County Agrees Not to Spray Herbicides on Organic Farm

By Grant Butler

After an outcry on social media, an organic farm is spared from having toxic chemicals sprayed on its farm. Very good news!

Second Course

State of Washington to Establish Organic Certification for Marijuana

By Bernie Woodall

Washington's governor has signed legislation paving the way for organic certification for marijuana. Given that the federal government owns the term "organic", navigating this will be a tricky legal endeavor.

The Guardian

Global Seed Vault in Norway Gets Flooded

By Damian Carrington

Soaring temperatures in the Arctic caused ice to melt, and the entrance to the "failsafe" Global Seed Vault was flooded. Fortunately, the seeds are all safe.

Food Navigator

Canadian Government Rejects GMO-Labeling Measure

By Elaine Watson

Big Chemical still holds tremendous influence in Canada, as politicians overwhelmingly rejected mandatory GMO-labeling by a measure of 216 to 67.

Third Course
LA Weekly

LOHAS Fresh Mart is the "Asian Whole Foods" in Los Angeles

By Clarissa Wei

With an emphasis on organic and specialty Asian products, LOHAS Fresh Mart is carving out a real niche for itself.

Chicago Tribune

Aldi to Spend $180M to Revamp Its Chicago Stores

By Greg Trotter

By 2020, Aldi will spend $180 million to upgrade and enlarge its Chicago stores to make way for more of its private-label, organic and natural products.

Food Business News

Grocery is a Bright Spot for Target

By Monica Watrous

With an emphasis on organic, natural and gluten-free, the grocery section for Target is becoming a real priority for the company.

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This Week's Quick Hits

Quick Hits

* Last week, a bi-partisan bill called the “Organic Agriculture Research Act of 2017” was introduced in Congress, with the goal of increasing organic research and extension programs from $20 million to $50 million per year.

* Click HERE to contact your representatives to support this bill.

* The Organic Trade Association will be hosting its annual Policy Conference tomorrow in Washington, D.C. Expected speakers are U.S. Representatives Tim Ryan, Jimmy Panetta and John Faso.

* I find it interesting and ironic that while 75% of Chinese mothers are feeding their babies organic infant formula, the government is embarking on a massive propaganda campaign to push its citizens into believing in GMOs, just as the Syngenta takeover is about to be finalized.

* On Living Maxwell, I wrote about the Harvard study which linked pesticide-laden fruits and vegetables with lower sperm count and abnormal sperm shape. If that doesn’t get men to eat organic, I don’t know what will.

* On Pressed Organic Juice Directory, I profiled Cocobeet, the fantastic pressed organic juice bar in Boston that is expanding to……Indonesia.

* Lastly, big shout-out to my friends at Foodstirs – co-founders Sarah Michelle Gellar, Galit Laibow and Greg Fleishman – for the great article in Forbes about how they are slaying the organic baking category!

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