R&D / R&D Teams of the Year

2016 R&D Team of the Year: Nature's Path

Our medium-sized winner is a Canadian family-run cereal and cookie company that has quietly and surely become the largest organic cereal brand in North America.

By Lauren R. Hartman, Product Development Editor

With a focus on product innovation, Nature's Path (www.us.naturespath.com), Richmond, British Columbia, has a team of eight research & development food scientists who collaborate on creating new products while maintaining the success of current product lines.

The 31-year-old company understands that organic products are not only gaining awareness and sales in the U.S., the category is poised to grow exponentially as consumer demand is projected to grow 14 percent per year through 2018, according to Research and Markets.

With more than 400 employees, the company has three manufacturing facilities located in Sussex, Wis., Blaine, Wash., and Delta, British Columbia. Working across these facilities for first-production runs, line trials and line startups, the R& D team is fueled by the passion of Rupert Stephens, who was sustainably driven about his organic berry farm. Stephens taught his son and company founder Arran to care for the land, and to "always leave the Earth better than you found it." That means only organic and non-GMO ingredients go into Nature's Path cereals, granola bars, oatmeals, waffles, breads, bars and other products.

The research, development and innovation (RD&I) lab in Richmond is headed by Roy Tam, RD&I director. "Our RD&I team consists of eight talented and food-savvy experts from a variety of backgrounds, from food scientists to a medical doctor. We also enable all of our team members to contribute to our product development and innovation, because we know great ideas can start with anyone. However, we travel the world to source new ingredients and food trends."

As the first company to include flax and ancient grains in a flake cereal, Nature's Path and its RD&I team keep product developments "top secret" until they launch, Tam says. "So you'll have to stay tuned on what we're working on next. What I can say is it will be delicious."

The latest market entries include Qi’a Superfood cereal flakes and snack bars and three selections of Que Pasa tortilla chips. The Qi’a breakfast cereal line follows Qi’a Oatmeal, which was introduced last year. The cereal is organic, gluten-free and packed with chia, hemp and buckwheat.

Hemp has numerous health benefits, the company states, including anti-inflammatory properties, omega-6 and -3, essential fatty acids and can help lower blood pressure. Buckwheat has plenty of fiber, antioxidants, omega-3s and can help lower cholesterol. The R&D team loved chia seeds, which are loaded with fiber, protein, omega-3s and various micronutrients, so when it found a source of organic chia, the team knew this super seed had to be included.

"We're really excited about the new Qi'a Superflakes," Tam says. "It was a huge challenge to create a flake cereal that not only delivers on taste and nutrition, but is gluten-free, low-sugar, high in fiber, protein and iron and packed with omega-3s. It also has a vegan option, all without being fortified or relying on artificial flavors or synthetic sweeteners."

Another proud achievement, Qi'a Superfood bars, launched in 2015. After plenty of consumer research and more than 120 recipe iterations, the team is confident the bars are the best, most delicious and energizing they can be, Tam explains.

The company has experienced "incredible growth," allowing it to expand its Love Crunch granola line and the Que Pasa organic tortilla corn chips brand. Ground by volcanic lava stones, the chips have outpaced category growth by 3:1, the company notes, largely aided by the launch of the three new flavors: Black Bean, Purple Corn and Ancient Grains.

Tam points out that the team tries to innovate according to changing lifestyles and consumer demand, such as the current need for convenient, portable and millennial-centric products. "We focus on pushing the organic industry forward by keeping our fingers on the pulse of new trends and using superfood ingredients ... and, of course, they always have to be organic."