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A Healthy Business For Products That Support Healthy Lifestyles

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White Leaf Provisions' co-founders Meghan and Keith Rowe were featured in an American Express Open Forum article about natural food companies carving out a unique spot in the marketplace.

When Meghan and Keith Rowe had their first child three years ago, they became aware of the lack of healthy, unadulterated foods in the U.S. Meghan traveled often for her job, and the couple struggled to find a baby formula they felt good about feeding their son when she was away. They began importing formula from Europe, but that was expensive.

"We wanted something more pure," says Meghan.

After talking to other parents with the same concerns, they started White Leaf Provisions an online market for products that are certified as Biodynamic—a holistic style of agriculture that goes beyond organic to take into account the health of the entire farm, from soil to crops to animals. Biodynamic agriculture is more common in Europe, but it represents just a tiny fraction of the farmland in the U.S., according to Biodynamic certification organization Demeter USA.

The Growth of Biodynamic Brands

Total Biodynamic acreage in the U.S. increased by 16 percent in 2016, from more than 18,700 to nearly 22,000 acres. And more than 25 national brands offer Biodynamic products, up from just a handful five years ago, says Elizabeth Candelario, managing director of Demeter USA.

The Rowes hope to help continue that upward trend. With White Leaf Provisions, they're creating a one-stop shop to make it easy for families like theirs to find Biodynamic products from a range of suppliers. They're also producing their own products. The first, an apple and pear sauce made from fruit grown on a Biodynamic farm in Oregon, will launch this year, followed by Biodynamic baby food.

They believe the market is ready for the concept. Organic product sales have been growing by double digits, surpassing $43 billion in 2016, according to the Organic Trade Association. "A lot of people are very familiar with organic and are looking for the next thing, the next level of purity," says Keith, who grew up in Ireland surrounded by organic farms. Organic products in the U.S. are held to the United States Department of Agriculture's guidelines of factors such as animal raising practices, pest control, use of additives and soil quality. "So Biodynamic fits right in."

A New Trend in Foods With Function

Consumer interest in health and wellness has soared in recent years as research advances our understanding of our bodies and what keeps them in tip-top shape. The global "wellness" industry, including healthy eating, nutrition and preventive medicine, was a $3.7 trillion market in 2015, according to the Global Wellness Institute and the research firm SRI International.

That's showing up in our digital footprints: In its 2016 Food Trends report, Google identified functional foods as a major search trend. Top search terms included turmeric, a root in the ginger family thought to aid everything from arthritis to Alzheimer's, and kefir, a vitamin and probiotic-rich yogurt alternative.

 Entrepreneurs are rushing to provide the next generation of healthy products, from the Rowes' Biodynamically grown produce to meat alternatives to meal kits that can make it easy for harried families to assemble healthy meals at home.

The Big Alternative: Plant-Based Protein

Meat alternatives, in particular, are shaping up to be a massive trend. One of the buzziest new products of the last year was a veggie burger that "bleeds" like meat, thanks to the addition of heme, an iron-rich molecule produced from fermented yeast. The burger, made by Impossible Foods, is featured on the menus of restaurants around the country. Others are creating meat alternatives based upon jackfruit, an Asian fruit that can grow up to 100 pounds and is being hailed as the latest miracle food. Worldwide sales of meat alternatives, such as tofu and textured proteins, are expected to close in on nearly $6 billion by 2022, according to one projection by market research firm MarketsAndMarkets published in 2016.

"We know now that a plant-based diet is the healthiest diet of all," believes Dr. Neal Barnard, the founder and president of Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a research and educational organization that promotes preventive medicine and good nutrition. Dr. Barnard claims that plant-based diets featuring vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans and excluding meat and dairy products have been shown to help people lose weight, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and potentially live longer, he says.

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