Editorial: The most interesting of times

By Len Monheit

As I sat in the departure lounge waiting to leave Las Vegas after Natural Marketplace 2007, I couldn't help but observe that this is a great time to be active in the Natural Products industry. Whether the focus is organic, natural, functional food and beverage, or personal care, great deeds are being done, and doors are opening and closing at an accelerating pace. One can sense defining moments approaching, and for those that want to be active and impactful, to really make a difference, to engage in the process, this might be a once in a career-time opportunity.

Now why, the cynics ask, am I so enthusiastic about the current environment? (And I’m glad there are cynics around to ask this type of question.)

First, let me state that the ‘outcome’ of our current environment is far from certain – and so my enthusiasm is not from certainty, but really from opportunity. The wheels are really in motion for those that intend to influence outcomes and to build viable sustainable, growing categories – almost across the board. Will there be casualties? Most definitely. Should there be casualties? Quite probably. Is there a way to minimize casualties? Assuredly. Will these steps be taken? Probably not. Does that create new opportunities and business models? You bet.

Putting all these elements together it is clear that decisions are currently being made and programs being launched that will change our current landscape. And this is what brings me to Marketplace 2007.

We are seeing a new focus on ingredients and inputs, across numerous categories of consumer goods including supplements and foods. Incidentally, the Natural Products Association now finds itself in a position to, quite topically, announce a program in collaboration with USP to use USP facilities in Beijing to test and data warehouse results for ingredients coming out of China and destined for finished products in the supplement marketplace. (http://www.npicenter.com/anm/templates/newsATemp.aspx?articleid=19052&zoneid=2) The need for a program such as this is obvious and while not intended to totally resolve concerns over ingredients originating in China, the initiative really has no down side and can only improve quality assurance efforts.

In another announced move, the Natural Products Association also announced its intention to help define the term natural for personal care products. Outside the scope of the official organic rules, this category of products is increasingly more difficult to be defined and understood, and the opportunity to misinform and play on consumer confusion is presumably a key reason for the association’s involvement in this initiative. (http://www.npicenter.com/anm/templates/newsATemp.aspx?articleid=19053&zoneid=2)

And finally, (and perhaps most significantly), the Natural Products Foundation, an independent industry agency in planning and discussion mode for several years, appears at last to have its legs under it with the announcement of inaugural programs involving two new programs that will subject finished products to random testing and crack down on false advertising. Under the finished product testing program, roughly 15 of the most popular consumer products -- including vitamins and minerals, nutrition bars and sports beverages –- will be randomly purchased from retail stores each month, sent to independent labs for testing with the results peer reviewed by industry scientific experts. The Association’s Truth in Advertising Program seeks to enforce truth in advertising on three tracks: education about existing laws and regulations, a new industry pledge, and a hotline where anybody can report questionable claims. (http://www.npicenter.com/anm/templates/newsATemp.aspx?articleid=19051&zoneid=2) (More on these in the next few days in our blogs.) Let me focus for a few minutes on the former Foundation program. It’s quite obvious that this program seeks to address deficiencies in other current programs being used (and abused) in the marketplace. It is also being managed by a group uncontrovertibly committed to long term industry success, a key differentiating factor. Next, the transparency and peer review process ensure that an educational focus and objectivity is maintained, in both cases countering criticism of current programs. Finally, assurances have been provided that even if the offending, non-compliant products are association members (or program sponsors), they will receive the same treatment as other non-compliant products.

One can only wonder at the response of some competitive offerings in the marketplace in these ‘oh, so interesting’ times.

The above is only a snapshot of the past week’s events. I had the opportunity and pleasure to share dinner conversation earlier this week with a prominent neurologist and guest speaker at this year’s Newport Summit, Dr. David Perlmutter. Dr. Perlmutter noted the scope of the neurology specialty (10,000 plus strong), described his own in-clinic experiences with glutathione and Coenzyme Q10 with Parkinson’s patients and offered himself as a champion in industry’s efforts to build bridges across healthcare paradigms, specifically with the neurology community. (not downplaying the challenges involved in this).

We’re in a dynamic regulatory environment, the year’s impactful regulations are not done with us yet, and we are redefining our future every day and every week. As companies and individuals, we now have new opportunities to contribute and support those activities that not only resonate with core values but offer the most long term vision. Choose wisely my friends.

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