In his two-year stint as president of the Natural Products Association, David Taylor has shepherded the association through a number of major changes, beginning with the name change from National Nutritional Foods Association to the Natural Products Association. As Taylor leaves office in July, the NPA looks ahead and appreciates the momentum Taylor has generated.
"David followed in the footsteps of some great former presidents, and worked hard to make sure a lot of accomplishments happened on his watch," says David Seckman, executive director of NPA. "There was the name change—the first new name in 35 years—the new mission statement, the first-ever vision statement, the purchase of a headquarters building in Washington, D.C., the opening of a branch office in China to expand international activity, and the passage of the adverse-events reporting bill last year, which NPA supported."
Taylor himself gives much of the credit for this string of accomplishments to the team surrounding him. "I couldn't be prouder of the people involved," he says. "I have the best board ever, the best staff, the best executive director, the best lobbyists and the best attorneys. It's my dream team."
A natural course
Taylor seemed destined for a career in the natural products industry from an early age. "My mom is what I'd call a health food freak from the start, so I grew up in a home devoid of alcohol, caffeine, tobacco and sugar—all the good stuff," Taylor says. As a child, this devotion to purity sometimes felt like an unfair burden. "My brother and I would sneak away to the grocery store, buy a box of ice cream sandwiches, and eat them all like we were cocaine addicts," Taylor says.
But by the age of 13, Taylor had his first job in the natural products industry, cleaning and doing odd jobs at a health food store in Tampa, Fla. "I got a really good dose of what it is to grow up in a natural foods store," he says. He's been in the industry ever since, and is currently the owner of Nature's Harvest Market in Tampa, a store he started more than 20 years ago.
Along the way, he's held a number of other positions, beginning with a job with Vitamin Health Services, one of the first mass-market health food chains, which leased space within larger retailers such as Sears. Fresh from college, he soon became a regional manager for the chain. After founding his own store, he became a regional NNFA board member, and in 1995 became president of the Southeast region.
All of these experiences prepared him for his current presidency. Though some of the accomplishments during his tenure were already in the planning stages, Taylor's skills helped build support for these changes across NPA's membership. "One of his qualities is that he's a great consensus builder," Seckman says. "He has a vision of where we need to go, and strong relationships with the whole continuum of the industry, from retailers large and small to suppliers and raw-ingredients producers."
The name change grew naturally out of the creation of a new mission statement for the organization, Taylor says. "We started with a discussion of who it is we represent, and the name change was a byproduct of that discussion." Taylor says the association realized that its former name was no longer indicative of its membership base, which comprised not only natural products retailers, but also manufacturers and suppliers for foods, supplements and personal-care items. "Today's environment for natural and organic foods has become so competitive that we believed we had to hone that natural products piece of the industry," he says. "If we didn't, somebody else would. If we didn't reach out, the conventional part of the food industry would grab [that constituency] instead, and we didn't feel particularly comfortable with that."
Once the board realized that a new name was in order, the right name was almost inevitable. In discussions on Capitol Hill with supporters such as Sens. Orrin Hatch and Tom Harkin, Taylor says, the legislators invariably referred to members of the association as 'natural products people,' never 'nutritional foods people.' Natural Products Association became the fourth name for an organization that began life in 1936 as the American Health Foods Association.
A similar inquiry into NPA's mission drove the decision to purchase a permanent home in Washington, D.C., though NPA had never owned its own building before. "We realized that if NPA had to be a player in D.C., if the association was going to continue to be meaningful to its constituents," Taylor says, "it made no sense to fly our executive director from California every time."
NPA found a 100-year-old brownstone off DuPont Circle, enabling its executive director to work more closely with congressional allies. "It only made sense to use David Seckman's skills and incredible political background when dealing with the Hill," Taylor says.
Though the organization is still best-known for its work on behalf of dietary supplements, it increasingly represents the food side of the industry from both a manufacturer and retailer perspective. "We knew that if we could establish ourselves on the Hill with supplements issues, then we could use that strength to help other organizations and other segments of the industry as well," Taylor says.
Taylor's consensus-building skills were never more evident than during discussions on whether members could support last year's adverse-events reporting law, signed into law in December 2006. Once it was determined that only serious adverse events would be reported and that retailers would be exempted from reporting directly to the Food and Drug Administration, Taylor was able to gather wide support from NPA members. "It was a big deal for us to take a position like that," Seckman says. "David's ability to create consensus and gather support was critical."
As Taylor prepared to leave the post of president, the NPA's membership—at 9,600 members—is larger than ever before, and its financial reserves are larger as well. Still, Taylor says: "Our board is absolutely not sitting still. They're continuing to work to ensure that we're the gatekeepers of what we've created."
Mitchell Clute is a Fort Collins, Colo.-based freelance writer.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 7/p.42