Executive Interviews: Q&A with Karl Riedel

It was a shock for the entire industry when Solgar’s Rand Skolnick passed away last July, leaving many to wonder what the future would hold for the company he had led. Bringing in Karl Riedel is as president in October was viewed as a brilliant move by the 62-year old dietary supplement company, and confirmed that the company would continue as an industry leader. Karl’s 29 years in the industry include his former position as president of Nature’s Life, as well as four terms on the Natural Products Association board and numerous committee leadership positions. A man of strong opinions and an enviable grasp of details, Karl’s perspective on the evolution of our industry and how we can influence its future is an interview I have hoped to do since this column began.

In your new role at Solgar, what would you say are the key challenges and opportunities you face?
Solgar has an established reputation for providing knowledgeable health-conscious consumers with the highest-quality beneficial dietary supplements. Leveraging this reputation to expand our global presence in today’s increasingly competitive business and more restrictive regulatory environments is key to meeting these market challenges. Our primary opportunities are with the thousands of independent natural health retailers, and millions of health-conscious consumers, who have yet to discover the valuable health benefits our products deliver.

Does the current economic environment concern you at all?
Commercial realities must always be factored into business decisions, but we have a high level of confidence that Solgar and our independent retailers, can and will continue to grow. Solgar provides natural health products that deliver health benefits – a value that will always find willing buyers regardless of market conditions – and our independent retailers have the focused commitment to effectively communicate that value.

What would you say are the biggest changes in our industry that you have seen over the years?
A) increasing consumer acceptance of the benefits of regular consumption of dietary supplements;
B) increasing regulatory oversight of our ever-expanding industry;

C) increasing specialization and sophistication of ingredient suppliers and

D) increasing expansion of available channels where consumers can purchase supplements.

Speaking specifically to how quality issues have evolved: Are we making progress?
We will soon discover if the oft-quoted phrase “a rising tide lifts all boats” will apply to our industry when the final dates in mid-2009 and mid-2010 mandate compliance with Dietary Supplements Good Manufacturing Practices. Suppliers will respond positively and be compliant or not. Either way our industry will hopefully have the long-sought level playing field. What does the industry needs to do to improve quality? Beyond Dietary Supplement GMPs, individual companies should work with their entire supply chain and trade associations to help develop enhanced standards for ingredients, processes, techniques and methods that deliver greater consumer benefit. The industry coalition working on SIDI (Standardized Information on Dietary Ingredients) is a great example.

What should the industry as a whole be doing better?
Scientifically validating the health benefits of our products with human clinical studies, and ethically educating consumers about those benefits. Independent researchers are best, but ingredient suppliers are, and should continue, to fund human clinical research. On a corrective note, we need to do a better job at self-policing the outliers that continue to give us a bad name: such as “Swine-Flu Treatments” or “male “enhancement” products that cannot deliver what they imply, or even worse, products that are, or contain, drugs and are illegally labeled, marketed and sold as dietary supplements.

What do you envision the market to be like in years to come?
The industry retains significant growth potential as we still only have a minority of consumers using our natural health products on a daily basis. and what are some ways for the industry to influence growth of its consumer base? Industry growth is contingent on greater public acceptance of our products, which is dependent on better validating our products health benefits – and getting our message out. Independent natural health retailers will remain the lynchpin of Solgar, and our industry, because they make the necessary commitment to selling natural health.

What has been your most satisfying moment of your time in industry and why?
Passage of the DSHEA in 1994, which for the first time gave us the legal right to ethically communicate product benefits to consumers, and the 1996 formation of IADSA to help expand the availability of health supplements internationally.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to deal with?
Insufficient time, money, and energy to accomplish all my goals.

You have been active in trade association leadership. What benefits does support of those groups bring to a company?
Being proactive in shaping industry standards delivers valuable insights and also offers a chance to give back to an industry that continues to nourish me. The most important benefit is the terrific advocacy work that these organizations do on behalf of our business and our industry – and therefore our end-use consumers.

Given a chance to speak to the industry as a whole, what would you want to say?
Be patient but persistent, stay focused on key issues and remain true to the business mission: quality natural health products that provide benefit – sold by committed independent natural health retailers.

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