In a few days, I will be on my way to Anaheim again. From the airport to the Expo floor, so much of it will seem the same as it did last year, and the year before. I will stay in the same hotel and wear the same sport coat. I will see a lot of the same people we see every year at Natural Products Expo West.
But I will land in a different California than the one we all visited last year.
A mega El Nino has brought rain, lots of it, to a state that a year ago was facing its fourth year of unprecedented drought. I expect many of the parched brown hillsides I saw from the plane last year to be sprouting in green. I will see snow in mountain valleys that were bare a year ago.
What I hope I won’t see is people watering their lawns.
It happens too often, that people let their guards down when a crisis passes, or even before it passes. The drought isn’t really over and I suspect many of the lessons of the drought are already being forgotten.
I mention all this because I wonder how many of the lessons the supplement industry is learning now might be forgotten if a skeptical media turns its attention to other industries, if sales start climbing and supplements shrug off the skeptics to shine again as an alternative to Big Pharma.
Will supplement companies let down their guard? Will they turn on the sprinklers and take long showers?
It would be a mistake.
Crisis is the pressure point in which we learn. From the New York attorney general’s herbal supplement investigation to assorted (and sordid) sports nutrition scandals and January’s “Frontline” special, supplements have hit a rough patch in public perception. The response has been, at times, encouraging. Support has grown for product registries and pushing GMP provisions up the supply chain. Third party certification is getting more attention and transparency is becoming more than a buzzword.
Even if the public forgets the scandals—and they will—adopting strong reforms is the step that keeps the next set of scandals and negative headlines from happening.
That’s what this issue—the NBJ’s first ever Dark Issue—is about. It’s not a time to react against the critics but instead to learn from the criticism. That’s the opportunity in disaster.
Californians need to keep the low-flow shower nozzles and xeriscaping. Supplement companies need to keep a magnifying glass on every link in the supply chain, and an eye on the less responsible competitors in the space.
For California, the drought is not over.
For supplements. It may never be.