John Gay is the new executive director and CEO of the Natural Products Association (NPA), and it's an interesting time in the business for him to get his feet wet. Gay came to the NPA after a career in governmental affairs with the National Restaurant Association among other organizations.
FI: What attracted you to the opportunity to lead the NPA?
JG: I had been the head of government affairs for the National Restaurant Association and in government affairs prior to that. The search committee was looking for someone who could be not just the CEO but also the top advocate for the industry. So that was a good fit for me. Also because there are some issues that overlap with my experience
FI: Do have a favourite food made with organic ingredients? Do you take supplements?
JG: I don't have a favorite food. Maybe that's the training from being at the National Restaurant Association; you don't talk about favourite foods! It's like picking among your children. I take supplements, my wife takes supplements, my kids take supplements. Probably we're the more basic supplement-takers. … I'm learning more and more, though, in this industry about more and more things we perhaps might be taking.
I expect the bottles in my medicine cabinet will grow over time. I think you tend to take on some of the attributes of the association you're in. You learn more; you pay more attention. I know more about restaurants now than I did before, especially the back of the house.
FI: As an outsider what's your initial impression of the natural-supplements industry?
JG: It reminds me a lot of the restaurant industry in that there are a lot of small businesspeople in it as well as big business folks. It's a lot of family-owned businesses; second, third generation. I meet people who work in the store their parents founded and they're still in the industry. It's an entrepreneurial bent; a passion for serving their customers. In the restaurant industry when they are talking to each other they'll wink and say, "You've gotta be crazy to be in this business." I get that same sort of vibe in this business.
Fi: Is the lion's share of your time at the NPA taken up with lobbying and advocacy activities?
JG: Not for the first three months plus I've been here. My No. 1 task is to learn. It's been learning about the industry, about the issues, about the companies, about the personalities, about the history. That having been said, with this McCain bill popping up I think that my time will quickly shift to focusing a lot more on the advocacy.
FI: Let's turn to Senator McCain's proposed Dietary Supplement Safety Act then. What are you telling your members about the bill?
JG: It's the biggest challenge to the industry in years. It would radically change DSHEA, and not in a good way. We are telling our members that this will essentially put at risk all of their dietary-supplement products, because every dietary supplement will have to go through a new government review process in order to stay on the shelves.
One thing to note is that the bill is not very well written, and so it leaves some things up to interpretation as how on the hook people are. … You can look at the bill at first glance and tell that it's bad; it's taken us some time to go through it several times to find out how bad.
We at NPA lead the Coalition to Preserve DSHEA. Now that's a diverse group of folks; retailers and suppliers. Different people at first may have had different reactions to different provisions. It took a while to get everyone on the same page and pointed in the same direction.