Expo West 2015 happened five weeks after the New York attorney general announced an investigation into herbal supplements. A year later, supplement industry leaders share perspective.

Rick Polito, Editor-in-chief, Nutrition Business Journal

March 16, 2016

4 Min Read
Zeroing in on the Expo zeitgeist

A year ago, the chatter across the supplement aisles at Natural Products Expo West focused on one thing: the New York attorney general’s investigation into herbal supplements. It had been five weeks since the news broke, and the mood was far from light.

In a piece titled “An Expo state of mind,” we captured some of that mood,  and some of the thoughts on everybody’s mind.

A year later, Expo West took over Anaheim with a very different attitude. To capture pieces of that attitude, we asked some supplement industry attendees for their assessment.

Here is some of what we heard.

“Compared to this time a year ago, I felt a dramatic shift within the industry wanting to step up our game and take a leadership role in driving out the ‘bad players’ that are giving the rest of the industry a bad name. That said, we can’t see what’s coming around the corner, especially from the AGs. Without clarity on expectations, it’s hard to know how to step up.”

-Kyle Garner, Organic India USA


“I heard lots of interest and momentum for new self-regulatory efforts by the industry to help demonstrate accountability. I heard a number of companies expressing the sentiment that they are tired of being lumped together with less than exemplary members of industry and want to have opportunities to distinguish themselves. These new initiatives offer the opportunity for quality manufacturers to take back the industry.”

-Steve Mister, Council for Responsible Nutrition


“This is a pivotal moment in supplement history- an opportunity to evolve and "grow up". What remains to be seen is which companies and trade organizations will push things forward rather than tie things up. We need to ditch leaders within our industry who do not function with integrity or acceptable ethics.

"Succession planning and collaboration need focus; we need to nurture the next generation of leaders within the industry and pass down tribal knowledge. People or companies who can't evolve and scale need to step aside to make room for those who can. Everyone should be focusing not on problems, but should see all these things as opportunities. And then collaborate on solutions. Our entire industry needs to embrace a thematic goal: we are a big piece of the solution to the healthcare crisis. This dialogue works for media, government and industry alike. We all need to champion it together to make it a reality.” 

-Bethany Davis, FoodState

"The tone of AHPA’s Annual Member Meeting at Expo West was very upbeat, from Maryellen Molyneaux’ identifying the double-digit sales growth of herbs and botanicals as a “supplement bright spot” to Senator Tom Harkin’s prediction that we will “continue to win” as he reminded us of all of the legislative issues that “we won” over the last 20 years. And the many meetings of the AHPA board and committees convened last week exhibited this same optimism, as we identified the work that must be done today to ensure the quality of our products in a reasonable regulatory environment in order to best serve our customers and maintain consumer confidence."

-Michael McGuffin, American Herbal Products Association


“Expo West 2016 felt to me like an industry with a renewed, urgent resolve to be better and do better than we have in the past.  I saw innovative ingredients, technologies and products in established and new categories.  I also sensed a increased awareness of the need to be more authentic and transparent in sourcing and marketing what we sell.  Optimism was in the air.  One thing I can honestly say about this industry: we get knocked down but we always stand back up, dust ourselves off, and move forward.  I’m proud to be part of it.”

-Jeff Hilton, BrandHive


“There is still way too much focus on analytical testing being a problem.  Analytical testing is something that you do to confirm what you should already know through appropriate qualification of vendors and supply chain management.”

-Frank Jaksch, ChromaDex

“Though wrong, the NYAG's actions in Feb 2015 have changed the DS industry. The scramble to figure out DNA testing has led to a deeper look at quality and the global supply chain. While the words ‘thank you’ don't come to mind, the shift in the industry's direction is not unwelcome.”

-Loren Israelsen, United Natural Products Alliance


"I think the state of self-care in the US is alive and well, so regardless of outside forces,  such as the NYAG or misleading documentaries. Consumers will continue to invest what little discretionary income they have in these products. Our current issues are mere bumps along the road in our journey toward legitimacy and acceptance. The solution is traceability and at the very least transparency. Those who can’t compete on these terms shouldn’t be in this business – period."

-Rebecca Wright, Aker BioMarine

“In speaking with large brands and the trade organizations, there is a strong sense of urgency that something needs to be done to change the negative narrative. There are many ideas in the air. It is unclear how they will organized and orchestrated into a concerted and focused plan of action."

-Skye Lininger (CEO, Healthnotes)


About the Author(s)

Rick Polito

Editor-in-chief, Nutrition Business Journal

As Nutrition Business Journal's editor-in-chief, Rick Polito writes about the trends, deals and developments in the natural nutrition industry, looking for the little companies coming up and the big money coming in. An award-winning journalist, Polito knows that facts and figures never give the complete context and that the story of this industry has always been about people.

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