A time has come for business, and perhaps the natural products industry in particular, to step up. With governments marching into political paralysis, trapped in a cycle of ideology eclipsing positive action, the need has never been greater for companies to make decisions that are good for the people and the planet but also, ultimately, good for their bottom lines.
Business as a force for good? Yes. It’s possible, even profitable, for corporations to make the right decisions.
This could be obvious in energy production—Google the Bloomberg piece on how “capacity factor” dooms fossil fuel plants in favor of solar and wind—but it’s an obligation in natural products and nutrition.
Bringing more health to more people is the mission of the industries we cover. Supplements, natural and organic food, non-toxic personal and household care, all of these are better products for those customers better educated about what goes into those products. That education is more accessible than ever. You might be reading this on your smartphone, a device that’s in your pocket as you make purchase choices in a retailer’s aisle.
In that pixelated light, victory goes to the companies with those customers’ better interests in mind.
Which brings us to this year’s NBJ Awards. Perhaps more than ever before, we select the award winners based more on principle than profit. We seek to honor companies and individuals helping to lead the conversation on the good that companies can do. That can mean using business skills to turn an idea into a successful company. It can also mean tinkering with or creating a new business model that keeps the ideals matched to that idea.
We looked for some of that in every award we gave this year.
GT’s Kombucha built a category that delivers a beverage that is lower in calories than soda while offering the health benefits of fermented products.
Ganeden devised a way to put probiotics into more products that make better digestive health accessible, while focusing on the most healthful partners in that quest.
Ribus examined the not-on-the-label excipient components that go into supplements and used innovation and invention to offer clean label solutions.
CVS took a look at its identity as a health-oriented destination and took tobacco products out of the store, abandoning a revenue stream measured in the hundreds of millions. On top of that, they launched a $50 million anti-smoking initiative.
Mike Archbold’s departure as CEO of GNC may not have been his choice, but his choices there left a legacy of reform for the whole supplement industry. Archbold’s efforts to corral and coordinate trade groups and put transparency on the shelf at the leading supplement chain transformed how the industry should look at itself.
Natural Grocers stands out in the natural channel for educating consumers, with training requirements for every employee and engagement opportunities for every customer. The company was an obvious choice in an obvious retail channel, but Natural Grocers shares the education award with Hy-Vee, a Midwestern and very-much-mass chain that put a registered dietician in every store and offers health and nutrition education both online and in-person.
When people talk about ideas that could improve transparency in the supplement industry, they are often talking about things that Gaia Herbs is already doing. Lot numbers linked to origin and certificates of analysis, a gold-standard example of transparency, are accessible online. Vertical operations and outreach creating new opportunities for American farmers are the onshore stories, but responsible international sourcing is an essential element in the Gaia mission statement.
Nitric oxide does not have household-name familiarity for consumers, but HumanN is using and leading science to bring the ingredient into the mainstream. Such responsible science and category commitment are what the industry needs to see.
Personalized nutrition can be an overused word and a concept of questionable practicality. Habit uses real-time science, more tangible than DNA readouts, and a meal kit model to make personalized nutrition more approachable and accessible.
Palm oil is a healthful ingredient from an unhealthy supply chain. More ubiquitous than most realize, the oil has been connected to environmental destruction and worker exploitation. Natural Habitats changes that with a model that’s better for the environment and the producer communities. Teaching farmers to convert to organic/regenerative practices and then paying a premium for the product fosters economic development for impoverished and exploited communities on two continents.
OSC² turns business as a force for good into a collective effort for a community of companies. Some of these companies are small with limited opportunity for impact. As a community, they have a chance to make a difference. That difference was seen in Climate Day at Natural Products Expo West, where OSC²’s Climate Collaborative was an important partner to New Hope Network.
OSC² might be the best example of urgency-meets-action in this year’s selection of NBJ Awards. A good example of community, too. But all of the companies honored here are part of a community. A competitive community, perhaps, but still a group of companies leading change and sharing common goals. Working together could be the best way to achieve those common goals.
After all, it’s time for business to step up. Governments are plainly incapacitated and incapable. Enlightened and educated, consumers will protest with their pocketbooks (and smartphones) to separate the high-minded from high-profits.
The nutrition industry has always had the opportunity to lead. Now it has an obligation.
From Nutrition Business Journal's 2017 Awards issue. To learn about all the winners, get the full issue for free in the NBJ store.