Natural Foods Merchandiser

Q&A with Nathan Jones

“Us versus them” describes how many people in the naturals industry feel about conventional products. But not Nathan Jones, president of Orem, Utah-based Xlear. When Jones brought his xylitol nasal spray to market nine years ago, he headed straight for the heart of conventional medicine and hasn’t stopped since. His strategy has worked. Hundreds of conventional medical conventions later, xylitol has become such a common word among dentists and hygienists that Jones has been able to expand Xlear’s product line to include everything from toothpaste to gum. That’s translated into millions of xylitol-savvy consumers who put money not just into Jones’ pockets but also the pockets of natural products retailers. NFM asked this xylitol xpert to explain the logic behind his unique marketing approach.

Q: What made you decide to target mainstream health practitioners to raise awareness and demand of a natural product?

A: When we first started the company, we marketed our Xlear nasal spray to consumers only, and we ended up beating our heads on a brick wall because even though the product works great, we realized that the average consumer would either need to have someone they know or a doctor or health care provider tell them about it if they were going to use it. So we started going to medical conventions to raise awareness so that the doctors would have at least a basic understanding of what the product was, so that if their patients asked them, they’d be able to say, “Oh yeah, that’s good stuff to use,” if nothing else.

Q:What was the awareness level of xylitol among conventional health practitioners when you started?

A: When we introduced the Spry dental line about six years ago, you could go to a dental convention and talk about xylitol and hardly anybody knew what it was. If you went to a dental convention now and found a dentist or hygienist who didn’t know what it was, I would seriously find a new dentist as this one is not keeping up on the new science. Everyone knows what it is; it’s a buzzword in dentistry now. In fact, a number of state hygiene associations have now endorsed xylitol.

Q: How were you able to break down barriers and be taken seriously by mainstream health practitioners?

A: Research. We had the research to back it all up. If our industry wants to survive, we have to reach out as a group and start attending medical conventions and educating doctors so they know more about nutrition and understand its contributions to overall health. People are scared of what they don’t know. Your average doctor doesn’t know that much about nutrition, and they know less about the natural products industry.

Q: You've mentioned that you want to see other naturals manufacturers and suppliers connect with mainstream practitioners so they will recommend those products. What's the first step?

A: I think that we really have to approach the medical professionals the same way the drug companies do. We don’t have the big budgets, but we do have better and safer products than they do. I would really like to see a few companies in this industry that have enough confidence in the quality of their products and in the science backing them up to join us in our efforts to get physicians to understand the natural products industry. If we want to survive as an industry, we need to get the physicians on our side.

Q: Why haven’t more naturals manufacturers tried this approach?

A: It could be fear of the unknown; breaking new ground in marketing and industry is always a little frightening. It could be that they lack the confidence in the quality of their products. I don’t know why they haven’t gone this route. When I started this company in 2000, it seemed to me the natural thing to do. I believe in the quality of our products and am willing to let them be scrutinized by physicians and dentists. They have already been scrutinized by the [Food and Drug Administration] and I think we have enough clinicals and other research to back up the products’ efficacy.

So what you're saying is there's a quality issue that needs to be addressed before some caompanies should attend these shows

A: Yes. If the naturals industry is going to survive, they are going to have to do that. With all of the food-safety scares and tainted products, the government is going to require more and more regulation. I’m in favor of it—the more regulation means the more confidence you will get from doctors—but I still think that education has to happen. And I believe that regulation of quality is almost thoroughly on the head of the retailers. If the retailers are willing to sell a poor product to make a buck, then you will always find a manufacturer willing to make that poor product.

Q: How many dental conventions does Xlear exhibit at a year?

A: Between dental and medical conventions this year, between 20 and 25, and that doesn’t count any of the ones we are doing overseas.

Q: How has this approach benefited retailers?

A: There are more dentists sending their patients to natural products stores. This industry, if it wants to grow, needs to switch from the idea that we are a niche, to the belief that we as the natural products industry are the future mass market. If we as an industry truly believe that natural products are better, why are we not operating under the conviction that we want all consumers using our products? Or do you only just want a small niche of America to have access to your products? We’re trying to send more people to this industry so they can use quality natural products, stop using a lot of unnecessary drugs and lead a healthier life.

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