Although her passion for the issue is commendable, I respectfully disagree with most of Claudia David-Roscoe’s remarks (in response to NPA president Jeff Wright's opinion piece) regarding the proposed Natural Products Association (NPA) bylaw.
Discussions began 10 years ago among NPA’s leadership regarding declining membership and ways to better align membership with the current state of the industry. For the last three years, the NPA membership committee has been expanded to include some of the top retailers, suppliers, distributors and consultants in the industry, who have been working tirelessly on this project.
I serve on that committee, and have had the privilege of working with some of the best minds in the trade. I believe Claudia’s remarks are off base and warrant additional discussion.
Point: “. . . to allow mass market companies to become voting members in our association even though NPA will not disclose specific names of companies we’re allowing in.”
Counterpoint: At the last NPA convention, 218 companies submitted applications for membership, which had to be declined because they did not meet current requirements of 75% of sales in the natural category and a store front. Any NPA member can ask who these are. This is not a secret. Most of these applicants were Internet retailers—not one was a mass market company.
Point: “There is a proposed ‘code of ethics’ change to remove the words that our members ‘protect the environment, safeguard our natural resources and improve the quality of life.’ The removal of this code of ethic leaves us to assume that the companies we are being asked to allow in our association are knowingly harming the environment.”
Counterpoint: When I was first invited to participate in the NPA membership committee, I completed an analysis of NPA’s mission statement, vision statement, operating guidelines and code of ethics. I made some recommendations so that the code of ethics would better align with the mission statement. Included in these recommendations was the removal of the paragraph that required an NPA member to “support public measures that protect the environment, safeguard natural resources, and improve the quality of life.” Reasoning: NPA’s primary mission is to preserve access to natural foods, supplements, and personal and home care products by working closely with regulatory agencies to promote and protect good legislation, and prevent bad legislation, at the state and federal levels. While many NPA members are also involved in public measures that support the environment and natural resources, it should not be a membership requirement for NPA to dictate what public measures a member wants to support. This is outside the scope of NPA’s mission. There are wonderful environmental and natural resource protection groups and organizations whose primary mission statement is to do this—not NPA’s. For the record, NO company has been asked to join NPA. Of the 218 that applied, no NPA board or committee member has any knowledge of how they stand on environmental issues.
Point: “At two webinars . . . even though valid questions are being asked by current members, there have been no responsible answers given by the board or willingness to openly discuss obvious challenges of this proposal.”
Counterpoint: All NPA’s webinars thus far are of the “town-hall, open-discussion” format. The proposal, including supporting facts from the NPA membership committee, is first presented, and then the bulk of the webinar time is for open discussion among members and panelists. Every question asked has been answered, based on the facts of the research and efforts of the committee over the last three years. It should also be noted that when this proposal was first announced Claudia sent a letter to the NPA board asking nearly all of the same questions she is presenting here. At that time, NPA President Jeff Wright wrote a very detailed and pointed response to each of her questions.
Point: “There is no business plan and because of that we have no idea how the dollars will be spent. Advocacy work is the only point that has been discussed but ‘media’ has been suggested. What kind of media and will it benefit all aspects of our industry equally?”
Counterpoint: The NPA mission has always been primarily to support positive legislation that protects the free market trade of natural products. NPA’s vision includes “striving to achieve a broader, more accessible marketplace for natural products that will improve the quality of life for consumers worldwide.” Increasing membership will not change NPA’s mission, vision or business plan. Dues will continue to be used mainly for legislative efforts. When I was an NPA board member in the 1970s, we discussed how wonderful it would be if, like the dairy and almond trade associations, NPA had sufficient resources to fund a national advertising program to increase the visibility of natural products for all. If membership is increased, someday we may have funds available to do this for the benefit of all in the industry. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?
Point: “What is the expectation for new companies becoming members that don’t share our founding principles? Standards of quality, caring knowledge of our products and commitment to principles all have been important aspects of our industry. This proposal has no accountability for new members.”
Counterpoint: Like current NPA members, any new company becoming a member will be committed to adhering to the NPA code of ethics. Accountability is the same for every member. Over the years, I have worked with thousands of retailers. Some of these have been crossover grocery merchants and pharmacists who have a passion for the natural and organic category, and want to align their traditional operations with a more natural presentation. I have found these people to be not only equally committed to the natural category as many of us old timers, but also many have larger companies with greater resources in terms of time, talent and funding. These are the types of companies and individuals who could greatly enhance NPA. We should jump at the chance to have NPA become an organization that would not only allow but also attract these individuals and companies as members.
Point: “There is an obvious potential for new companies paying higher dues to demand more decision-making power in our industry over time. How will this be addressed? The only safety net NPA offers is the current bylaw that allows ‘one member, one vote.’ It is safe to presume that if mass market companies with deep pockets ever threatened to leave our association taking their money with them, the pressure from the board would be even greater to cave in to their demands; the ‘one member, one vote’ protection would certainly be thrown to the wind and everything we have worked for would be lost.”
Counterpoint: NPA has had the largest supplement retailer in the world as a member as well as the largest natural food retailer in the world as a member. Currently, there are companies that are members with 500 stores, 1,000 stores and over 5,000 stores. Never in the history of the association has any one of these companies received more than one vote, and never have their higher dues pressured any board member.
Point: “The proposed bylaw change allowing any company into our association simply for financial gain, ignoring their business practices and what they stand for is simply short sighted and irresponsible.”
Counterpoint: The proposed change allows for expansion of NPA membership to align with the current state of the market. It is not “simply for financial gain” but for long-term survival. While in early years, the NPA membership represented members ringing a significant portion of natural product sales, currently NPA dues are collected from retailers representing just 3% of all industry sales. These dues provide the legislative support for the free-market sale of natural products for everyone, including all of the retailers in all of the channels who ring 97% of the industry’s sales without paying a single dime to preserve good legislation. Continuing to watch NPA dues represent an increasingly shrinking portion of industry sales and not initiate a course correction would be short sighted and irresponsible.
Observation: Some small retailers have the misguided impression that NPA is a private club for independent retailers, and that NPA’s mission is to protect the market share of these small retailers. While their passion is commendable, one should think carefully about letting misguided emotion dictate the direction of this important vote.
I have been a member of this industry since 1960, when I started working in my parents’ store in San Francisco. In the last 53 years, I have seen much. I understand emotion and passion. I also understand math. It is long past the time for this membership bylaw change. NPA should have opened membership years ago and could have been decades ahead of where we are now in terms of supporting legislation and employing national media promotions.
Ponder and vote smartly, my brothers and sisters. The final Open Forum Town Hall Webinar is on July 25 at 11:00 am EST. Join us. We invite all NPA members to participate.
President, Danny Wells & Associates
Published on WholeFoods Magazine Online, July 24, 2013