He’s been called one of the hundred most influential people in the world, and has been honored by the New York Open Center for holistic learning for his “extraordinary contributions to public awareness of integrative and complementary medicine.” Now Andrew Weil, M.D., the celebrated founder of integrative medicine, will be a featured speaker at Natural Products Expo West. We recently caught up with Weil to get the low-down on his Expo West talk and his thoughts about the changing landscape of natural retail.
Expo West appearance
Andrew Weil, M.D.
Friday, March 7
11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Anaheim Marriott, Platinum Ballroom 6
Natural Foods Merchandiser: What will be your topic of conversation at Natural Products Expo West?
Andrew Weil, M.D.: The nature of food has changed. Many of us are eating foods that our great-grandparents wouldn’t recognize today. During my conversation at Expo West, I will discuss the importance of eating whole foods and why many of us, even those who try to eat healthy, should consider supplementing with certain nutrients that may be difficult to obtain through diet.
NFM: What responsibility do natural retailers have to help promote integrative medicine? How can and should they help their customers achieve natural wellness?
AW: Natural supermarkets cultivate trust from shoppers in search of health products and advice, and so assume significant responsibility for promoting integrative medicine in safe, credible ways. Markets should emphasize disease prevention and health promotion, primarily through educating about healthy diet and lifestyle habits and associated products.
NFM: What do you see as the most important issues currently facing the natural foods industry, and why?
AW: Quality control. Consumers are more and more wary of contamination, scams, false claims and hype. They want products with few and recognizable ingredients, as close as possible to foods they would make at home if they had time; and they need reassurance about safety and efficacy of dietary supplements.
NFM: Many natural retailers struggle with how they should deal with the issue of genetically modified foods. Are you concerned about GMOs from a public health standpoint?
AW: I have long been a proponent of labeling genetically modified foods; that is not to say that GMOs should be completely banned from stores. Simply put, people have the right to know which foods and supplements contain genetically modified ingredients. The issue of GMOs is complex and many questions have yet to be answered, including long-term safety, adequately. Until there is clarity around these issues, labeling GMO foods makes sense.
NFM: What foods, supplements and/or ingredients excite you?
AW: Healthy convenience foods are a big one—fewer people than ever have time to cook. I’m also excited about new and better vegetable protein products, as well as anti-inflammatory herbs and spices. Turmeric is one example of a culinary spice that has potent anti-inflammatory activity and other beneficial effects on health. Holy basil, a relative of the common culinary basil, not only reduces inflammation but can have positive effects on mood and stress.
NFM: From online shopping to digital information kiosks, technology is radically transforming how we purchase and consume food. How can natural retailers maintain their celebrated personal touch, while also integrating cutting-edge advancements?
AW: Technology can be used to great advantage but may also contribute to social isolation, which is incompatible with optimal health. As more shopping occurs online, retailers should engage and grow their communities with social events such as food tastings and educational seminars, as well as health and art fairs.