Natural Products Expo
GRP’s Grace Festa (left) chats with a representative from Richond-based Health Warrior.

The Greater Richmond Partnership recently traveled to Los Angeles for the Natural Products Expo to meet with business prospects and companies that are seeking a location on the East Coast. The Expo is the world’s largest natural, organic and healthy products event, hosting more than 3,500 exhibiting companies and 85,000 attendees. While there, we spotted a few interesting trends at the show:

Natural Products Expo
Grace Festa visits the San-J booth at the Natural Foods Expo. The company has a major facility in Henrico County.
  • Natural products are no longer a niche – they’re everywhere. While talking with vendors and food producers, it became evident that natural products are no longer just for foodie elites. As more consumers demand healthier and more natural options, traditionally conventional retailers are fully involved in the natural foods scene these days. In fact, Walmart is becoming a favored buyer because they pick up their orders directly from the processor’s factory instead of forcing small producers to find their own distribution routes.
  • The Paleo diet is as popular as ever and natural food companies are ready to meet the demand of cutting grains from their diets. Coconut and even cauliflower flours are being used for everything from pizza crusts to sugar-free cookies. Coconut and almond milk replaces dairy. Ready-to-cook Zoodles and cauliflower rice are replacing spaghetti and rice grain.
  • As consumers focus on more plant-based dietary options, producers are adding them to naturally-processed foods in unexpected ways. Feeling peckish? Grab a bag of chips made from beets or carrots. Want to indulge? Your chocolate cake may have been made with cauliflower. Thirsty? Chilled drinkable soups (think of it as a savory smoothie) are one of the newest trends to hit the market.
  • Demand for gluten-free products continues to grow and it seems that nearly all baked goods or processed foods that contain gluten now have a gluten-free equivalent on the market. But the easy availability of these products is only half the story. Tremendous improvements have been made to the flavor and texture of these products, thanks to new ingredients, new processes, and other innovations.

Most people wouldn’t associate the industry sectors of Food & Beverage and Biosciences, but in Richmond, Va., it’s a recipe (or formula!) that works.

Ever since Reynolds Wrap was pioneered here in 1947, food & beverage (and associated) companies have been flocking to Richmond. It’s now home to more than 50 food processing companies, including Sabra Dipping Company, the largest hummus manufacturing facility in the world.

The latest in this trend is the natural products market. These companies are taking crossing over from the kitchen to the laboratory:

  • Located at the Virginia Bio+Tech Park, RVA Yeast Labs is working to develop traditional and unique species and strains of brewing microbes. The company also captures and spreads wild yeasts, all of which they supply to brewers in the region.
  • We’re seeing exciting food science innovations, including by Nutriati which raised $8 million for further development of a chickpea-based protein additive. The mild-tasting powder can be used to add protein to cooking dishes.
  • Start-up company Spira is developing nutritional drinks made of spirulina blue-green algae.

Experts estimate the worldwide non-GMO foods market to increase 16.2 percent between 2017 and 2021, and these organic food makers are riding the upswing:

  • Locally-based Health Warrior is one company that saw the benefits of natural superfoods and jumped at the chance to develop a chia-based product that could change activity habits.
  • San-J International manufactures gluten-free, non-GMO Tamari soy sauce and other premium Asian-inspired food products.
  • Sabra Dipping now offers an organic line of their popular hummus dips. The company operates a Center of Excellence research and development facility in Chesterfield County.
  • Seeking a natural hair care product during her battle with psoriasis, Nadira Chase developed Adiva Naturals Skin and Hair Care Products.
  • Richmond is also home to Tokie’s, the producers of gluten-free baking mixes which can be found in Whole Foods.

On November 17th, Niagara Bottling Company held a grand opening ceremony for its new facility in Chesterfield County.

The company initially announced a 450,000-square-foot facility in Meadowville Technology Park and 76 new jobs in August 2016. However, the company opted to add additional space during construction, ballooning the square footage to 557,000 and a job total to 104.

The company moved into the state-of-the-art center in March and revved up for spring and summertime production — the company’s busy season. It took the company only 28 weeks from the purchase of the land to the first bottle coming off the production line.

Niagara Bottling Chesterfield VA
Niagara Bottling’s Founder & Chairman Andrew Peykoff Sr. cuts the ribbon at the new Chesterfield facility.

 

Niagara’s products include purified water as well as spring water. In the first time in Niagara’s 54-year history, the company purchased a local spring for production. Niagara water can be found in select local retailers using its brand name but also in single-serve private label bottled water for grocery, club store, convenience and wholesale sale.

Niagara Ribbon Cutting Chesterfield VA
GRP Board Chair Angela Kelly-Wiecek, GRP President & CEO Barry Matherly and Niagara’s Director of Economic Development & Government Relations Derieth Sutton.

 

Richmond, Va., was once well known as a ‘tobacco town’ with major cigarette operations throughout the region. Times have changed and so has the real estate that was once used for manufacturing, operations and warehousing.

With Philip Morris USA going through a reorganization a few new buildings and sites have come onto the market. The Philip Morris Operations Center opened in 1982 but has been empty since the firm moved employees to parent company Altria Group Inc.’s corporate headquarters in Henrico County.

The 463,786-square foot facility is less than a mile from Interstate 95, 15 miles from the Richmond International Airport, five miles from downtown Richmond, and located in an enterprise zone.

This building is a good location for businesses looking for turnkey entry and perimeter fencing for controlled access with space for administrative, lab, and manufacturing areas to work as one.

See the Operations Center listing

Philip Morris has also recently sold 62 acres on Commerce Road on the Richmond/Chesterfield line to international real estate developer Panattoni Development Company. Panattoni Development specializes in industrial and warehouse real estate.

The company plans to build two warehouses on the land in phases. Phase I has begun on a 462,000-square foot warehouse that will feature 36-foot ceilings and multiple trailer drops.

This is the first spec building Panattoni has built in the Richmond area and will be sought-after in this market. The building will be less than a mile from the Richmond Marine Terminal, which has experienced a 7.5 percent spike in cargo volume. The Terminal, operated by the Port of Virginia, recently purchased a new $2 million barge to allow more shipping in and out of different sized cargo.

The phase II building will be built with similar height and size, however, the twin buildings may be combined to make a 1 million-square-foot structure. The company hopes to have occupancy of the first warehouse building by summer of next year.

Learn more about the spec building

Developers have taken note of the real estate opportunities, too.

Fountainhead Properties, which focuses on urban revitalization projects, purchased 26 former Philip Morris tobacco storage warehouses in South Richmond in 2014 and are in the midst of renovating them into light manufacturing and creative spaces.

The 25-acre property — named Clopton Siteworks — contains more than 500,000 square feet of warehouse space in the Jefferson Davis neighborhood.

Eight of the 20,000-square-foot warehouses have been renovated so far for creative flex space.

Learn more about the spec building