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Guest article

Resetting the stage for organic & natural industry in 2016

By Karen Howard, CEO and Executive Director, Organic & Natural Health Association , 07-Jan-2016
Last updated on 07-Jan-2016 at 15:22 GMT2016-01-07T15:22:12Z

Karen Howard, CEO and Executive Director of Organic & Natural Health Association
Karen Howard, CEO and Executive Director of Organic & Natural Health Association

The close of 2015 left the dietary supplement world a bit battered from attacks by Attorneys General, and found the natural food industry in a bit of a quagmire as companies evaluated the impact of class action lawsuits. Then there was the FDA’s call for comments on defining natural, and the implementation of FSMA. The combined result leaves us with the unique opportunity to re-set the stage, build consumer confidence and strengthen the support of policy makers and regulators. Creating this opportunity will require increased commitment to truly transparent relationships between consumers and corporations, adherence to quality standards and collaborative, open dialogue within the industry. The absence of effort to achieve any one of these objectives will result in one certain outcome: a lack of consumer trust.

A Forbes article published in July, 2015, “Why Transparency Should Matter to Food and Beverage Companies,” articulates the enormous power of transparency. The article delves into the fact that transparency speaks to a “consumer desire for connectedness, authenticity and control in an increasingly complex and competitive consumer landscape.” If you aren’t yet aware, technology has provided us with the most connected, intelligent and savvy purchasers to date. Consumers, according to Forbes, trust certain retailers and consumer advocate groups to fairly represent their best interests, not the companies themselves.

Companies who are moving to demonstrate their commitment to quality by telling a complete story, who openly share the way they do business and their vulnerabilities, are likely to garner brand loyalty more quickly. Recently, I had the opportunity to present with Bethany Davis (FoodState/MegaFood and the Coalition for Supplement Sustainability) at the SOHO Expo in Orlando. MegaFood has fully embraced this approach, streaming live feeds from their manufacturing facility and engaging consumers in Town Hall meetings. If you think this level of transparency is excessive, consider this statistic from Forbes: 68% of consumers are familiar with the term as it relates to a company’s business practices. 

Industry’s ability to survive under this microscope necessitates a level of quality and chain of custody management that is inconsistently implemented and poorly enforced. Several critical issues must be addressed to reassure consumers. Raw ingredient suppliers must adhere to good manufacturing processes. FSMA, on the food side, will play a critical role in this effort, although continued recall notices for contamination will plague suppliers and manufacturers as they slowly implement the new regulations. In fact, few actually believe that FSMA will improve the safety of our food change in any substantial way. To that point, FSMA will do nothing for the supplement industry to allay consumer concern regarding identify, effectiveness and quality of raw ingredients.  

Certainly, the newly announced Office of Dietary Supplement Programs within FDA will elevate attention (and potentially resource allocation) to issues like requiring cGMPs for raw ingredients and enforcement of DSHEA. However, overall advocacy efforts to support the FDA in both full implementation of DSHEA and development of sound food policy clearly require modernization.

Image © iStockPhoto

As suppliers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers move towards transparency, so too must the trade associations representing their interests to policy makers and the consumers who drive industry forces.  We represent an industry founded by people with creative, passionate energy for the preservation of the health of our planet, not barons of industry or tycoons of trade. Yes, our missions are being embraced by those ‘others,’ but that provides no incentive to further abandon the ideals that built the natural products industry.  

We must advocate for our members to implement traceability measures throughout the supply chain, to communicate those measure effectively to retailers, consumers and legislators, and yes, to the Attorneys General, so that we can ensure consumer access to quality goods.

We must advocate for accountability criteria through third party verification programs that are publically displayed, testing criteria that is reliable, and consistently applied, and the ongoing development of new standards and criteria that keep pace with technology and consumer concerns.

We must engage in a collective effort to promote the science of food and supplementation in ways that defy the limitations of clinical trails and actually demonstrate health benefits. 

We must embrace work to define a new standard of excellence that exceeds our current organic and natural paradigm, and to educate as many people as possible in order to ensure a sustainable future. 

We must never forget who the boss is. It’s the public, each of whom is a potential customer. Each of who could improve their health and that of their family through our work. 

The year 2016 is a turning point. It’s time to shun “king making” and “club culture,” be done with yesterday’s “old-boys club” and welcome new thought. There is value in our relationships with both detractors and supporters as we engage in a discourse on value and efficacy. By embracing our vulnerabilities, we will be better prepared for continual quality improvement, not surprised by public exposure of our weaknesses. Collaboration with one another, large and small, without denigrating the highest standards available, is essential. And we must undertake this effort as individuals, as associations and in representation of the companies and the public who have put their faith in us.  

I challenge all of us to fully embrace securing our missions. Let’s make sure consumers have access to healthy goods and services and inspire widespread adaptation of transparent business practices that result in quality products.

More on Organic & Natural at www.organicandnatural.org follow on Twitter @OrgNatHealth or www.facebook.com/organicandnaturalhealthassociation .

Biography: Karen Howard, CEO and Executive Director of Organic & Natural Health Association, is a visionary and results-focused leader who has spent more than 30 years working with Congress, state legislatures and healthcare organizations to develop innovative healthcare policy and programs. She has held a variety of executive positions, including serving as professional staff for a Congressional committee, and has policy expertise in the diverse areas of integrative and complementary medicine, managed care, healthcare technology and mental health. An advocate at heart, she has worked to strategically advance the mission and vision of organizations through effective advocacy and strong collaboration.