The Retail Landscape: Challenges in 2015

By Daniel Fabricant, PhD, Executive Director and CEO, Natural Products Association

- Last updated on GMT

The Retail Landscape: Challenges in 2015

Related tags: Natural products, Natural products industry, Dietary supplements

The digital marketplace, participating in advocacy efforts, and why membership of a trade association is important: In this guest article, Daniel Fabricant, PhD, Executive Director and CEO, Natural Products Association gives his views on the retail landscape for dietary supplements.

"Finding a way to grow the Natural Products Association’s (NPA) membership so that we can represent the largest number of natural products retailers as possible is a priority for this organization. Retailers are the backbone of the natural products industry and NPA. Whether you own a small store in Des Moines or run a large chain in Boston, you deal with the same issues. These include collecting real-time data about your consumers’ buying habits, forecasting and marketing (omni-channel or multi-channel), understanding the digital marketplace, and aligning the merchandising and marketing with the supply chain side. What you may not be as focused on is a cancer that can metastasize to your store. In a short time, the political landscape can erode and break the bonds you have carefully forged with your customers. Here, I wanted to discuss two of these topics affecting your business and how retailers can embrace the digital age at their customers’ fingertips and engage an imposing political power with a small sling and a voice.

The Digital Marketplace

Scanning products on retail food store shelves used to be performed only by individuals taking inventories at odd hours of the day. Who would have seen the day when consumers used their phones and apps to scan products for nutritional content to guide their buying decisions? Who can truly say that they understand the buying habits of Millenials, who sleep no further than two feet away from this electronic companion and rely on its content until its batteries need recharging too? How can your brick-and-mortar store better connect to consumers in the ever advancing digital age, where the three-year life span of your smartphone seems like an eternity before you absolutely require an upgrade? What is so distinctive and unique about your store that today’s consumer can only purchase it from you as opposed to one housed in the “Matrix”? If you don’t have an answer to that question, then you need to create a digital marketing strategy to attract your future customer base. Engage customers who are using devices to compare prices and ingredients. Participate in NPA surveys on trends in the marketplace. Once a customer is in your store, it is up to you as to how your store connects with them and whether they remain a loyal customer in the future or walk somewhere else to buy products for their family.

Engaging the Political Process: Active vs. Passive Voice

NIU's Retailer Forum

Dr Fabricant will join experts from Vitamin Cottage/Natural Grocers, Mustard Seed Market and Cafe, and the Natural Products Association will discuss the opportunities and challenges in the dietary supplement sector at the NutraIngredients-USA Retailer Forum. For more information and to register, please click HERE​. 

NPA recently held its 18th annual Natural Products Day in Washington, D.C., with members of the House, Senate and their staff. It was an opportunity for the natural products industry to let their voice be heard in their states and districts. Attendees discussed the GMO issue; NPA’s position on defining organic as non-GMO; the Family and Retirement Health Investment Act; FTC overreach on nutritional support statements made on natural products; and potential new legislation regarding the regulation of cosmetics. While NPA has submitted over ten thousand communications regarding these efforts to elected officials through our grassroots campaigns in the past few months, this is not enough. We need every stakeholder in this industry to participate in these advocacy efforts.

If you are in the natural products industry, you are in politics. If you are not actively involved in shaping policy and politics, then you will be shaped by it for taking a passive stance. As you know, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman issued cease and desist letters to four retailers to remove herbal products from their shelves based upon a method not endorsed for herbal extracts by either the Food and Drug Administration or the industry. In short, it was bad science. It should be an eye opener to every retailer in this country because the inquiry expanded to include three other state attorneys general. In the end, 13 state attorneys general in total had signed onto Schneiderman’s dubious probe of the industry. Rebutting their flawed science, combatting the issue in the press, and lobbying activities in the various states requires resources. Membership in NPA is affordable. What retailers cannot afford is to ignore the fact that their business and the products they sell on their store shelves are at risk in the present regulatory environment.

Why Membership is Important

NPA’s large retail membership base leads to not just a stronger organization, but a stronger industry overall. It allows us to wield greater power in legislative and regulatory fronts and provide a sturdier foundation for our anticipated grassroots efforts. NPA needs your voice and financial support through avenues such as NPA’s Political Action Committee to combat the latest assault on the natural products industry. We are vulnerable to attack from state attorneys general who have no understanding of the scientific methods they use to discredit the industry for political gain. The fact that a state can force a retailer to remove federally compliant products from store shelves based upon flawed science should frighten everyone in every state. The FDA is looking to implement new changes in the way homeopathic OTC products are regulated, and these changes will stymie innovation and invariably reduce the number of products and ingredients allowed to be sold to your customers.

Our industry was never built on apathy toward issues or the government leaving us alone. This natural products industry has fought for the rights, freedoms and access to products with innovative ingredients it currently enjoys. Many of you still remember those victories fought on behalf of the industry by NPA over the years including the Kordel decision; the FDA’s attempt to regulate vitamins as drugs; the Proximire Act; use of “natural” on products; the early ‘90s fight for the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act; the structure/function final rule governing nutrition statements; and the current fight over the FDA’s New Dietary Ingredient Guidance.

Working toward Solutions

Give NPA a call and let us know what challenges you are experiencing in your store. The threats this industry is about to confront are greater than they have ever been. It’s imperative that we work together to educate lawmakers and regulators about the important benefits natural health products provide to the American consumer if we are to overcome the challenges the industry faces. Be prepared, get involved and protect your business."

Related topics: Markets, The changing retail landscape

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