Editorial: An Exercise in Synergy

Although the pace of breaking industry news is not overwhelming right now, there's enough going on to suggest that industry participants are hard at work on brand strategy, reaching consumers with effective messages, streamlining their organizations and implementing that solution that will put them over the edge in differentiation. This is a period where eyes are focused on regulatory issues, with kava and ephedra in the spotlight. New GMP's for Natural Health Products in Canada are entering a three month comment period prior to a two year implementation period, and the industry in the US is gearing up for its first shows of 2002.

Highlighting the news over the past week are a couple of patent announcements, product licensing deals and new personnel appointments. The first two are significant because of the new market potential they indicate, and the third significant because change is inevitable. The industry and environment we operate in now will be different tomorrow.

There are pressures and stresses facing the industry from many directions, challenging us to operate outside the box, gather intelligence and use it effectively. Sometimes, the intelligence and model we need is totally outside our sector or current understanding. It's often difficult to accept this and we may operate with tunnel vision, cliques and a lack of open-mindedness.

Early next month, Nutritionals 2002 is being held in Anaheim, and a glance at the agenda and seminars tells the tale on key issues the industry needs to address during the year. From Codex to the FDA, from effective branding to emerging science, from product development to GMP, from reaching consumers with the right message to strengthening relationships with suppliers--these are the pertinent business issues to consider.

This agenda is meaningful because the participation comes from various groups who may in the past have been at cross purposes. It's extremely important that these groups ally on key and critical issues and show a united front, and even more importantly, not add any confusion. It's also meaningful, because it shows that one of the key elements that will be addressed as the industry develop and matures is education, hopefully to see tangible signs of progress in 2002.

When we say education, this doesn't mean solely educating the consumer on the merits of dietary supplements. It also means allocating resources to educate our own industry, raising baseline levels of understanding on issues such as organizing and managing research and clinical studies, analytical techniques and the difficulties and differences between testing raw materials and finished products. It also means communicating the benefits as well as the limitations of present systems designed to standardize, certify and authenticate or validate products and processes. It may in fact, be establishing definitions of such ambiguous terms as quality, GMP and analysis.

Communication is critical and events such as 'Nutritionals 2002' have an important role to play. On the flip side, the recipients of information (readers, attendees and viewers) need to learn. Documents, publications (print and on-line), releases and reports are appearing in increasing numbers with good information, all of which can be effectively used to raise the understanding of different perspectives of issues. All the way along our industry supply chain, from primary raw material producers to those putting products on store shelves, there is a responsibility to have a greater understanding of our products today than we had yesterday.

For those of us with information to share, while we need to protect our intellectual property and yes, our business, we have a responsibility to contribute to raising that baseline. I am sure many of us are now aware of the ongoing issue of potential kava adverse events being assessed by the FDA, with support from industry associations. While it could be argued that the industry is being unduly pressured and the regulatory authorities are being unduly critical in this and other instances, what cannot be argued is the initiative and responsibility that the industry must take to show that it is mature, worthy of support, organized and supported by an open and free flow of information.

While the industry itself may be facing unfair perception and criticism, so long as there remain individuals and companies in our industry able to operate outside FDA, FTC or other bodies, the the work isn't done, and we need to make sure our house is in order. Education plays a strong part here too, and I know that many industry experts have taken a role in communicating common labeling issues or clarifying terms such as GRAS. Yes, their ultimate objective is to garner business and clients, but establishing credibility by providing information to benefit the industry, raise baseline understanding and education is an excellent approach.

I think we would all benefit if there were more of this type of sharing and communication.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the NPIcenter Discussion Forum

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