When most of us turn 70, we begin to show our age. Our joints are creakier, our hair is thinner and our energy decreases. But the National Nutritional Foods Association—which turns 70 this year—may be getting older, but it isn't slowing down. To the contrary, the association remains as vital as ever. Founded in 1936, when the naturals industry was in its infancy, NNFA has established itself as the longest-running nonprofit organization dedicated to serving and preserving the rights of natural products retailers and suppliers.
What's the main factor behind NNFA's longevity?
"I think it's because [the association] is a unique marriage between retailers, distributors and wholesale manufacturers," says David Seckman, NNFA chief executive officer and executive director. "It's the combination of all those people coming together that's made the group what it is today. There's no other group like it."
To look at NNFA's history is to look at the history of the natural products industry itself. NNFA began with a small group of natural food ingredients suppliers (then called the American Health Foods Association), whose main goal was to better inform consumers about the benefits of natural nutrition and the then-burgeoning natural products industry. The first AHFA members included a baker of whole-grain breads and vitamin and juice manufacturers.
In 1937, AHFA held its first convention in Chicago, which attracted 150 attendees, and changed its name to the Natural Health Foods Association, transitioning from a consumer group to a representative of all factions of the health foods business, including retailers, manufacturers and distributors.
Over the next seven decades, NNFA served as an advocate for the industry, proving instrumental in the passage of several important pieces of natural products-related legislation. Seckman points to the 1994 passage of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, which created a new framework for the regulation of dietary supplements for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, as one of NNFA's most important accomplishments. More recently, the NNFA has been involved in representing industry interests in the passing of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's national organic rule. It is also working to help establish federal Good Manufacturing Practices.
"Moving here to [the organization's current headquarters in] Washington, D.C., has been a big factor," Seckman says, noting that its proximity to the national political scene has helped NNFA's many advocacy efforts.
In 2003, the association launched its online Advocacy Action Center, which enables members to contact their lawmakers on various issues impacting the industry. To date, the center has generated hundreds of thousands of messages to members of Congress.
In 2004, NNFA's membership reached record numbers with more than 8,000 suppliers and retail stores. In 2005, the association held its most successful annual lobbying event, which was dubbed Natural Foods Day. More than 160 industry members from 37 states gathered on Capitol Hill to educate lawmakers about legislation affecting the natural products industry.
To celebrate its 70th anniversary and its members' many accomplishments over the years, NNFA will host a number of special events at its annual convention, to be held July 14 to 16 in Las Vegas. Historical memorabilia will be on display at the show, and the President's Reception and Anniversary Bash will be held on July 15 at 5:30 p.m. Please visit www.nnfa.org for more information.
Tyler Wilcox is a Longmont, Colo.-based freelance writer.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVII/number 7/p. 50