Business Is Booming: Natural Products Industry Thriving in Carlsbad

April 4, 2022

Starr Edwards’ business Bitchin’ Sauce started as an almond-based dip sold at local farmers markets. Today, the saucy and successful Carlsbad-based enterprise offers a variety of plant-based dips and sauces at major retailers nationwide.

“I’m constantly surprised and pinching myself and ultimately very grateful for how much it’s continued to grow,” said Edwards, founder and chairwoman of the family-owned and operated company. “The fact that people even like Bitchin’ Sauce makes me so happy.”

Bitchin’ Sauce offers a variety of plant-based dips and sauces at major retailers nationwide. (Courtesy of Bitchin’ Sauce)

Business is booming for Bitchin’ Sauce and other companies in the natural products industry in Carlsbad and across the country.

In fact, sales of natural and organic products are expected to surpass $300 billion by 2023 and $400 billion by 2030, Food Business News reported. That includes food and beverage, household, personal care and supplement products.

Total industry sales surged amid the pandemic as consumers prioritized health and wellness and demand for immunity-boosting products increased.

Plant-based food alone in the U.S. grew 6.2% in 2021 over a record year of growth in 2020, according to data released by the Plant Based Foods Association, The Good Food Institute and SPINS. This brought the total plant-based market value to an all-time high of $7.4 billion.

San Diego has experienced the pandemic-driven growth of the natural products industry, said Kierstin Rielly, executive director of Naturally San Diego, a community for the natural products industry in San Diego.

“I think COVID and all of the uncertainty that we’ve been living in has only accelerated that growth because people now want to be healthier,” Rielly said. “They want to have better immune systems. They’re paying attention to what’s in their food, what’s in their products.”

Founded in 2019, Naturally San Diego is the only collaborative community for natural consumer packaged goods (CPG) in San Diego. The nonprofit organization is an affiliate of Naturally Network, which is now in eight regions, including the founding group in Boulder, Colorado.

“We’ve seen an uptick in growth of new companies and new memberships, not only in San Diego, but across all affiliates throughout the country,” Rielly said.

Naturally San Diego aims to stimulate conscious growth, foster sustainable and responsible entrepreneurship, and develop business leaders while growing the San Diego natural and consumer products ecosystem.

Founder and president Ari Raz spearheaded the inception of the San Diego group, which pivoted to virtual community building at the start of the pandemic. Rielly was brought on as the organization’s first and only full-time employee in July 2021. Naturally San Diego soon after held its first in-person event in August 2021.

“We just grew organically and naturally through word of mouth,” Rielly said. “Through all of the weird, people needed this community more than ever.”

Naturally San Diego is the only collaborative community for natural consumer packaged goods in San Diego. (Credit: Marcy Browe)

Naturally San Diego provides educational and networking programs and events for its members that bring together entrepreneurs, investors, brands, retailers and industry experts.

Individual memberships are available for $65 per year and include discounts or free admission to the organization’s programs, founder series, fall and spring parties, and nationwide community access through Naturally Network. Members are also included in the Naturally San Diego online member and sponsor directory and have access to a members-only Slack channel.

“We’re a new community,” Rielly said. “We’re only a couple years old, and we are actively growing.”

Naturally San Diego has grown to 490 members representing 230 companies, including Carlsbad-based companies such as Edwards’ Bitchin’ Sauce.

“It’s providing this network for peers in the industry to connect and talk about issues that are relevant to everyone,” Edwards said about the organization.

Naturally San Diego hosts educational and networking programs and events. (Credit: Marcy Browe)

Bitchin’ Sauce was founded in 2010 when there were fewer resources for the growing natural products industry. Edwards said Naturally San Diego has been a helpful resource for entrepreneurs in the industry, especially those with budding businesses.

“It’s really cool to see how much the natural food scene in Carlsbad is blossoming and have a resource there for people just getting started,” Edwards said. “I wish that was there when we were getting started.”

Bitchin’ Sauce and other companies such as Prager Brothers started at farmers markets in Leucadia and San Marcos and later moved into the Carlsbad Gateway Center on El Camino Real, Edwards recalled.

“There were a lot of us that started at the farmers markets at the same time and then we all ended up in the same spot in Carlsbad,” Edwards said. “We have a lot of peers in the same complex. We’ve watched other companies grow up along with us.”

Edwards, who moved from Oregon to San Diego with her family when she was 15, said Bitchin’ Sauce came to Carlsbad because the city is business friendly. It was also her and her husband’s dream to work in the coastal community.

“The friendliness of the zoning allowed for people to do retail and wholesale at the same time. Having that business friendliness is helpful for budding businesses,” Edwards said.

“We are achieving our dream,” she added. “We’re close to the beach, we’re able to enjoy this great lifestyle, and we’re also able to work here.”

Bitchin’ Sauce is made in Carlsbad and available in nearly 7,500 stores nationwide, not just natural food stores, but large chains including Albertsons, Costco, Sprouts, Target, Vons, Walmart and Whole Foods Market.

Bitchin’ Sauce sold about 50,000 tubs of almond-based dip in its first year. The company expects to sell roughly 12 million tubs this year, Edwards said.

Bitchin’ Sauce products are available in nearly 7,500 stores nationwide. (Courtesy of Bitchin’ Sauce)

The Edwards family also owns Bitchin’ Beach Club at Carlsbad Lagoon, which offers services including yoga classes and equipment rentals. The site has hosted events for Naturally San Diego.

As for events, Naturally San Diego’s second annual Pitch Slam is scheduled April 7 at San Diego’s Liberty Station.

The event will give natural products entrepreneurs the stage to pitch their up-and-coming companies to a panel of experts and audience members. Five finalists will go head-to-head in the Shark Tank-style live showing of natural products brands.

Edwards encouraged entrepreneurs to get involved with Naturally San Diego, which is helping Carlsbad businesses like Bitchin’ Sauce grow.

“Take advantage of resources like Naturally San Diego,” Edwards said. “It’s been so helpful.”