CRN at 40: ‘Our founders would be stunned and delighted with today’s industry’

By Stephen DANIELLS

- Last updated on GMT

Steve Mister, CRN President & CEO, with industry champion Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah)
Steve Mister, CRN President & CEO, with industry champion Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah)

Related tags: Industry, Dietary supplement

Forty years ago, three companies got together to form the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN). The industry has come a long way since then, and those founding fathers would be ‘stunned and delighted’ with dietary supplements today, says Annette Dickinson, past president, and original staff member.

In 1973, William Thompson, II, president of the W.T. Thompson Company, George Crawford, VP of Archon Pure Products Corporation, and Nolan Draney, Exec. VP of Plus Products Corporation, envisaged a CRN offering a ‘moderate, rational, scientifically-based voice on dietary supplement issues’.

Dickinson, who served as an original staff member and then as president (she is currently a consultant for CRN), remembers an industry in 1973 that was dominated by small health food stores. There were some large companies, like Miles Labs with its One-A-Day Vitamins that marketed through mass channels, she said, but the industry generally was totally fragmented.

“Back in 1973, most of the organizations speaking on the subject tended to be somewhat extreme,”​ she told NutraIngredients-USA.

“Trade associations like the National Nutritional Food Association (NNFA) and National Health Federation (NHF), which was very active at the time, tended to come from a point of view that the regulators were the bad guys, and in cahoots with big pharma.”

CRN was founded with a bigger vision; to establish a moderate, rational, scientifically-based voice on dietary supplement issues, she said.

Timing is everything

Establishing the association was not difficult, said Dickinson, because all three companies had substantial resources behind them. The timing was also important because FDA was about to finalize the restrictive Standard of Identity for vitamin and mineral supplements to limit the formulations of vitamin and mineral supplements.

“Those three companies were committed to putting whatever resources were necessary into establishing CRN,”​ said Dickinson. By 1983, the association had grown to 33 voting member and 11 associate members. Today, the association has over 100 members, having added six new members very recently.

‘Stunned and delighted’

Annette Dickinson
Annette Dickinson, PhD, former CRN President (and the first CRN staff employee)

So what would the founding fathers from 1973 think of the dietary supplements industry of 2013? “I think they would be stunned and delighted,”​ she said.

The association’s current president and CEO, Steve Mister, Esq, agreed: “If they could see CRN and the industry today they would be pleased with how it has progressed​.

“They’d be pleased that the science is moving forward, and the regulations have taken effect (while we would like to see FDA do more in terms of enforcing).”

Dickinson added that she thinks the founding fathers would be pleased with the degree to which the association has managed to pull together the different segments of the industry.

“Membership is a strategic priority for CRN,”​ added Mister.

Some industry stakeholders have, over the years, said that there are too many associations and called for some of them to merge, suggestions that Mister dismisses.

“What we recognize is that each association serves a segment of the industry, each has a special focus, and they honor the segments of the markets,” ​he said.

“There is coordination between associations, we meet regularly, we issue joint statements when needed, but we don’t think that we should dilute the missions of the individual associations.”

It’s beyond the associations’ members where there is concern for Mister: “What worries me are the outlying companies that are not really part of this industry who play on the fringes and could create a PR or consumer crisis that affects the whole industry”.

“We cannot control the fringe part of the industry.”

Industry champions

The industry as a whole is entering an interesting period, with a ‘changing of the guard’ on Capitol Hill set to come about. The next couple of years will see industry champions Senator Hatch and Senator Harkin retire after illustrious careers.

“Senators Hatch and Harkin have been incredible supporters of this industry,” ​said Mister. “They are a perfect convergence of people with a personal interest in the industry, coming from key supplement states, and they were members of the right committees. We are not going to find that again.

“We are not going to remake the next Hatch and Harkin. We have identified six or seven members of the Senate that we think can be good friends to this industry. We will not have two people but a cadre or Senators.

“We are preparing for that day.”

Regrets

Looking back at the history of the industry, I asked if there were any moments when you think, “if we could have that moment again, we should have done it differently”.

“With DSHEA, I wonder if we should have agreed to give up all disease claims,”​ said Mister. “We’re limited to structure/function claims in DSHEA [health claims date from 1990].

“The science has moved on and there is now good evidence that some of these products may prevent disease, or be involved in secondary prevention.”

Dickinson agreed that would have been a good thing, but was “not possible at the time”.

“It was probably too new in 1994 to take another leap.”

Looking forward

Lifting up the eyes from Memory Lane and gazing to the horizon, I asked what the industry will look like in 10 years’ time.

“The world we envisage 10 years from now is one of much more, if not universal, acceptance of supplements,” ​said Mister. “The science is advancing, the public acceptance is advancing, and the acceptance among the healthcare community is advancing.

“We envision a much broader acceptance of the role of supplements.

The acceptance among the healthcare community is definitely on the rise, noted Dickinson, with CRN surveys showing that 97% of dietitians recommend supplements​, while 60-75% of US physicians may use dietary supplements​ and do recommended dietary supplements to patients related to their specialty.

On the business side, Mister said that there is definitely an increase in interest, with an influx of capital from the likes of P&G, Reckitt, and Pfizer clear evidence of this. “I think we’ll see continued growth, growth that outpaces a lot of other industries.”

Life…supplemented

CRN is also gearing up for the next stage in its Life…supplemented consumer wellness campaign.  The initiative is managed and funded through the CRN Foundation and focused on helping individuals create a healthier lifestyle by offering actionable suggestions and educational information about the three pillars of a smart wellness regimen: healthy diet, supplements and exercise.

Judy Blatman, senior vice president, communications at CRN, told us: “Life…supplemented is unique for the whole industry. We established it because this industry needs to be proactive.

“Life…supplemented has turned into an opportunity to help change the dialogue on supplements, and to talk directly with consumers about using supplements in the way they were intended.

It was driven by five key supporters: Bayer, NBTY, Pharmavite, DSM, and BASF. 

To view our gallery of CRN over the years, please click here​. 

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