As more and more consumers continue to demand healthier food options, business opportunities continue to expand for health food brands. One recent customer survey reported that over 88% of consumers stated that they would pay a premium price for food products with demonstrable health and wellness attributes. According to the Global Wellness Institute, the health and wellness industry “grew by 6.4% annually from 2015–2017, from a $3.7 trillion to a $4.2 trillion market, nearly twice as fast as global economic growth.” Some estimates find that the wellness industry as a whole represents over 5% of total global economic output. 

As competition grows within the industry, certification programs will become an increasingly imperative part of the puzzle for health food brands, retailers, and the end consumer. 

Benefits of certification for brands 

For health food brands, the ability to demonstrate third-party certification for your products is a proven strategy to connect with consumers who might not personally know your brand but are interested in certain dietary trends. For example, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) of the USDA reports that there was approximately $43 billion in U.S. retail sales of organic products in 2015. The widely recognized USDA organic label is an established marketing strategy that creates entrepreneurial opportunities for producers and processors that want to capitalize on consumer growth in the organic sector.

Similar entrepreneurial opportunities and prospects arise with other, more specific, and diet-oriented certification programs. The Paleo Foundation is the leading certification organization for Grain-Free, Paleo, and Keto Certification. While some dietary trends are short-lived, both the Keto and Paleo diets have established themselves as definite fixtures within the wellness industry. In 2018, the word “Keto” was the most ‘Googled’ food-related topic in the world, while some studies suggest that almost 3 million Americans were actively following the Paleo Diet in 2013. While a small startup brand might find it impossible to autonomously develop an active customer base or follow 3 million people, highlighting their Paleo certification offers a unique opportunity to connect with those customers. 

Furthermore, Paleo, Keto, or Grain-Free certification can help expand your brand awareness. As more consumers recognize and distinguish your business from the dozens of competitors on the market, opportunities for establishing a foothold in the market increase. Improving your brand awareness is also an essential part of the marketing funnel, and it serves as a vital foundation for customer acquisition. Simply put, if a customer does not recognize your brand or the products you offer, the probability of a sale is drastically reduced. Exhibiting Paleo, Keto, or Grain-Free certification provides a clear path for driving your brand’s growth.  

Benefits of certification for retailers 

For retailers, product certification can also play a major role in strengthening a loyal customer base. Both major food retailers and smaller, boutique food markets would do well to heed the well-documented consumer demand for healthier food alternatives. Amazon´s acquisition of Whole Food Markets for over $13 billion and reports that Walmart sees the expansion of organic food alternatives as one of their main catalysts for record food sales revenue confirms this as one of the main trends in the food industry. 

Furthermore, the Edelman 2018 Earned Brand Report clearly shows how consumers are pushing brands and retailers to move beyond their classic business interests to become advocates for a healthier and more sustainable society. The report revealed that almost two-thirds (64%) of consumers “buy on belief,” meaning that they actively “choose, switch, avoid or boycott a brand based on where it stands on…issues they care about.” 

For retailers, carrying a diversity of products with the Paleo, Keto, or Grain-Free certification offers inroads to a substantial sector of belief-driven buyers. 

Benefits of certifications for the customer

According to a recent article in Forbes Magazine, many consumers are worried about the diminished or relaxed consumer protections in the food industry. These consumers turn to independent, third-party certification agencies to ensure and validate the health and nutrition standards they demand for what they eat. Almost half of shoppers claim they distrust the mandatory food and nutrition labels, while millions of others never make an effort to read them. 

Certification programs serve as an essential, connecting element that brings together brands, retailers, and consumers around a unified set of responsible standards. As the Keto, Grain-Free, and Paleo diets continue to grow in popularity, The Paleo Foundation offers a comprehensive, independent, third-party certification system that can benefit the individual brand, retailers, and the end consumer.  

What is Paleo Certification?

Paleo certified

The Paleo Diet is a nutrition approach focused on natural, whole foods. The Mayo Clinic defines the Paleo diet as typically including “clean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds — foods that could be obtained by hunting and gathering in the past. A paleo diet limits foods that became common when farming emerged about 10,000 years ago. These foods include dairy products, legumes and grains.” 

Paleo Certification is the highest level of certification for Paleo-compliant products. While all products that achieve certification will contain Paleo-accepted ingredients, there is room for some 21st-century processing or packaging methods, allowing for shelf stability. 

Paleo Certification standards include: 

  • Complete absence of grains or pseudo-grains in ingredient lists (barley, rice, bulgur, kamut, oats, spelt, teff, wheat, wheat berries, triticale, corn, hominy, rye, and sorghum) as well as pseudograins (amaranth, quinoa, and buckwheat).
  • Absence of legumes in ingredient lists including beans, lentils, peas, peanuts, soy and soy derivatives, and tempeh.
  • Absence of dairy ingredients including cheeses, milk, milk derivatives, yogurts, cream, evaporated milk, and caseinates. (Ghee from grass-fed and pastured animals is allowed). 
  • Lack of food additives such as artificial coloring, preservatives, sweeteners, flavorings, or flavor enhancers. 

You can find a complete list of the allowed ingredients for Paleo certification here

What is Keto Certification?

The Keto Diet is a low-carb, high-fat diet that has grown extremely popular in recent years. In fact, a 2019 poll conducted by Dalhousie University found that 26% of Canadians had either completely adopted the Keto Diet, tried it, or considered trying it in the last 18 months. Though there are variations of Keto, one of the main goals of this diet is to strictly limit all carbohydrates to allow the body to enter a source of ketosis wherein your body burns fats as its primary source of fuel. The Keto diet has been shown to help people achieve their weight loss goals, and more than 20 studies have demonstrated other important health benefits

Keto certified

Keto Certification offered by the Paleo Foundation includes ingredients and foods that serve to mitigate the most well-known adverse effects of the Ketogenic Diet and increase its tolerability. According to the Paleo Foundation, individual tolerability of the ketogenic diet is the most important factor for diet acceptance and adherence. Therefore, improving palatability, availability, affordability, and convenience of compliant foods is crucial to preventing diet discontinuation.

For a specific product to achieve Keto Certification, there are strict standards related to carbohydrate content. Specifically, products must demonstrate the following levels of carbohydrates: 

Meals and Meal ReplacementsSnacksCondiments
Maximum of 10 grams of carbs per servingMaximum of 6 grams of carbs per servingMaximum of 2 grams of carbs per 0.5 ounce. 

Keto certification also has detailed standards for levels of prebiotic fiber. You can research a complete explanation of the standards, including full lists of allowed and disallowed ingredients here.  

What is the Grain-Free/Gluten-Free Certification? 

It is estimated that around 6% to 7%of the population, or approximately 20 million people, might suffer from gluten sensitivity in the United States. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) is much more common than Celiac disease. This condition leads to various gut problems that improve once gluten-containing foods are removed from the diet. This widespread condition has led millions of consumers to search for gluten-free foods. Similarly, around 27% of Americans say that they are actively trying to cut carbs in their diet, mostly by reducing grain consumption. 

Grain-Free Certified

The Grain-Free/Gluten-Free certification offered by the Paleo Foundation seeks to standardize the grain-free and gluten-free claims made by food brands. The certification process is designed around a two-round audit system that includes stringent and accredited lab testing to ensure that certified products have met both grain-free and gluten-free requirements.

Standards include a complete absence of grains or pseudo-grains and testing, which confirms less than 10ppm of gluten and gliadin competitive. You can find a complete list of the standards for Grain-Free certification here. 

Steps for becoming certified through the Paleo Foundation 

Food brands interested in achieving Paleo, Keto, or Grain-Free certification through The Paleo Foundation can begin by looking over the specific standards outlined above. If you feel that you´re ready, the certification process starts with a quick pre-approval process online that can be accessed here

Once you have completed the pre-approval process, the brand will need to fill out an online application detailing information about the company, the specific products being submitted for certification, a description of processing methods used, and UPC codes to be shared with retailers and industry analysts. You will also choose between a 1-year, 2-year, or 3-year licensing option. 

Upon completing the application, the verification process generally takes between 6 and 8 weeks, depending largely on suppliers’ responsiveness and ability to provide documentation to the auditing team. The auditing team will require a complete list of ingredients, suppliers, and supplier contact information to adequately audit and certify a product. 

Wian van Blommestein, co-founder and president of Ayoba Foods, says that “with the Paleo and Keto diet trends continuing to grow year over year, we see our certifications through the Paleo Foundation as a great catalyst for the growth of our brand. The certifications also add another level of transparency for our customers, which is very important to us.”

paleo foundation logo

The Paleo Foundation is a third-party certification organization that was founded in 2010, whose mission is to improve the tolerability of restrictive diets. 

Today, The Paleo Foundation has certified thousands of products under the Certified Paleo, Keto Certified, and Grain-Free certification programs, and is the leading Paleo, Keto, and Grain-Free certifying organization worldwide.

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