The Natural Products Association (NPA) earlier this month hired John Spitaleri Shaw to fill its CEO position. Industry experts are eager to see how he shapes NPA's future, knowing that he doesn't have any direct natural products industry experience.
Shaw has held a number of top positions in Washington, D.C., including assistant secretary for environment, safety and health at the Department of Energy; senior vice president of government affairs at the Portland Cement Association; senate investigative counsel to Sen. Fred Thompson; and public policy attorney with the law firm of Patton Boggs.
In this interview with Natural Foods Merchandiser, Shaw shares his goals for the association.
Natural Foods Merchandiser: What attracted you to this industry and this position in particular?
John Shaw: First and foremost, I do my very best to lead a natural lifestyle. I practice Bikram Yoga, take dietary supplements and seek out functional foods, and also look to be able to enhance my daily dietary lifestyle through informed choices.
When this opportunity arose, based on my professional background and personal lifestyle choices, I thought that it was a synergistic opportunity. After meeting with the board, members came to the conclusion that is was the right fit all around based on my public policy background and legal expertise to come in and lead the Natural Products Association into the foreseeable future.
NFM: What do you bring to NPA?
JS: I am a long-term career public policy professional here in Washington, D.C., and the federal arena has given me many opportunities to grow as a professional. Now taking this role at the Natural Products Association, after serving as a trade association professional at the Portland Cement Association, I’m looking forward to applying my legal and policy experience to this very important industry.
NFM: What’s your 90-day plan?
JS: The first thing NPA staff and I had to do was continue our work with the FDA on the NDI situation, and as you saw, that resolved itself through the hard work of Sen. Harkin and Sen. Hatch, who worked with our friends at the FDA to ensure that it reconsiders its current guidance.
We’ll continue to work with the FDA and our friends on Capitol Hill to see what ultimately comes back from the FDA. We’re thinking the FDA is more than likely not going to take any action until after the election, but that’s pure speculation at this point.
In the next month, the opportunities that I am going to take are to meet as many of the NPA members as possible that I didn’t have an opportunity to meet or chat with at the MarketPlace in Nevada. And I’m going to take this first month or so to educate decision-makers as to my role at NPA and where we intend to go.
Part of that is concurrently working with NPA staff to develop a plan to increase our membership base. And that is going to be through a combination of not only traditional means but also aggressive use of social media. I’m available on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
We’re going to work with our members to develop appropriate communication tools that the Natural Products Association can enhance its members’ opportunities for immediate action on legislation or agency decisions that may affect their interests both on the retailer and supplier side.
NFM: What are your top three goals for NPA right now?
JS: In my role in working with the professional NPA staff as well as our outside consultants and members, the NPA and its membership are going to continue to advocate for the rights of consumers to have access to our products, and that our industry continues to maintain its rights to manufacture and sell those products.
On the advocacy side, the way to do that especially during an election year is through an aggressive public policy educational program. It is very important in an election year to be visible and to maintain a high profile to ensure that members of Congress or federal decision makers, when they have a question or concern, can reach out to someone and immediately get an answer so they can make an informed decision.
As the CEO of the Natural Products Association, I will be available to those folks when they have a question or concern and we will address it directly and we'll address it on behalf of the membership to ensure that their rights are protected.
As a long-term Washington, D.C., public policy professional, I am looking forward to taking my years of experience and applying it aggressively to convey with federal decision makers our members’ concerns.
Rising to the challenge
NFM: What challenges do we face right now in Washington?
JS: Right now we’re examining where to go next with the FDA NDI guidance. Even though the FDA is going to reissue that, we must work with the agency very closely to ensure that our membership rights are protected. That’s on the immediate horizon.
And there’s always [the issue that] we have members of Congress who sometimes, even though they may be well intentioned, introduce legislation that may adversely affect our membership interests, and we need to be ready to defend against that as well. The way to do that is to ensure that you are in constant contact with federal decision makers to ensure that they can make the best and most informed decision possible when they are crafting their legislative initiatives.
NFM: What about particular regions or states, what challenges are we facing beyond the Beltway?
JS: It is my intention to travel to all the regions to meet with the regional presidents of the NPA and speak with them specifically about their concerns and address them as best as the trade association can.
NFM: How do you see the NPA changing in coming years?
JS: I look at the NPA as one, expanding its membership base, and two, by looking at new industry sectors that we might be able to expand further into including cosmetics and even possibly pet foods.
We’ll be working with our members to see what the most appropriate actions are in that arena. In addition, there’s always the opportunity, again working with the members and working at the appropriate time, on seeking out retailer participation with the Natural Products Association.
It’s important that the members discuss it and that we come to a conclusion on how we should appropriately move forward. My role as CEO is to work with members, suppliers and retailers to come to a consensus and find common ground so we can move ahead on these important issues.
Not having the conversation is not productive, and it’s my hope that working with all of our members that we can come to a consensus on what best suits the trade association membership.
By addressing those issues, whether they be the proverbial elephant in the room or not, we will find ourselves a stronger trade association in the years to come rather than one that cannot make decisions and move ahead.
NFM: What does NPA need from its member retailers to work toward its goals?
JS: Every member of the NPA is a valued member. The retailers are men and women who hear on a daily basis from the point of sale consumer, and they’re going to know what sells, what doesn’t, where the trends are, what trends are falling off. They’re able to hear directly from the consumer about their concerns about products or being able to get access to those products, so the retailers are great sources of information for their trade association and to develop appropriate public policy views based on what they’re hearing from their customers.
In addition, the retailers provide a wonderful grassroots base. These point of sale folks are people that can get consumers to be called to action by informing them of any legislation or regulatory threats about their opportunities to obtain products that they wish to have to increase their personal lives in health and wellness. We will also work with our supply members as well for their access to grassroots opportunities.
NFM: In what other ways can retailers be supporting the industry?
JS: Retailers can start getting more actively involved in Internet advocacy by utilizing social media. Folks should start using LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, those kinds of outlets. I think that the retailer base that the NPA has will be able to become an even greater advocacy machine.
Right now we have a wonderful retailer base that is very active. I think that what retailers can do for the overall industry is to continue to examine the social media opportunities to see if they can enhance and even increase their grassroots presence on the national scale.
NFM: How do we bring everyone together for the same mission?
JS: Communication is key. We must have hard discussions and when we have the discussions, consensus is born. And that consensus can be we’re choosing to move ahead in a united front or choosing to pass on the issue because it is overly divisive. But having the conversation is key because if we don’t have the conversation, we’re diluting our opportunities to pursue our common interests.
NFM: What is your personal philosophy about maneuvering in Washington?
JS: First and foremost, your word is your most valued currency. You must always be completely up front with federal decision makers about the pros and the cons of any information you’re providing them in order to assist them in making an informed decision. You must always be a trusted source of information.
The Natural Products Association and its entire staff is dedicated to providing federal, state and local decision makers with the most up-to-date and current information that we’re able to provide them to assist them in making the best decisions possible.
John Shaw can be found on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. You can find the text of his opening remarks at Natural Products MarketPlace’s Annual Business Meeting on NPA's website.