The natural products industry is filled with stories of people who have tried to leave it, but who never quite succeed. When, in the 1980s, John Mackey and then-president Peter Roy decided that Whole Foods Markets would be a national chain, the duo approached the largest natural products retailers—at the time any store over 6,000 square feet was a shock—and offered to buy them. Southern California’s Mrs. Gooch’s, Boston’s Bread and Circus, and Maryland’s Fresh Fields all wound up selling to Whole Foods Markets, along with several other industry pioneers around the country.
This “roll-up” strategy quickly boosted Whole Foods Markets’ national presence. Mackey and Roy reaped the benefits of being the “first mover” in an industry that would grow uninterruptedly for the next 30 years, and continues to grow today. But, sitting on the sidelines and watching the industry zoom ahead, some of these entrepreneurs thought they might have sold out too soon.
Whether you are an optimist (glass is half full) or a pessimist (glass is half empty), the truth is that the natural products industry continues to provide a comfortable home for thousands of folks who just want a store of their own. If you are an industry veteran, perhaps you take home less money today than yesterday, but while competition may have slowed your growth, you are still able to make a decent living.
As I write this, healthcare bills have passed in the House and Senate and are being reconciled over the year-end holiday interim. By the time you read this, we will likely have some sort of new healthcare regulatory structure with a much larger role for the federal government. On January 2, 2010, one of our two longtime natural products industry Congressional Champions, Orrin Hatch (R-UT), wrote on the op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal that he believes the proposed rule is unconstitutional because, among other things, it forces Americans to purchase health insurance. Senator Hatch predicts legal battles over the constitutionality issues.
Regardless of your political leanings, it would be wise to pay attention to the senior senator from Utah, without whom we would have no DSHEA—the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994. DSHEA protects our free-speech right to tell customers what dietary supplements and nutrients are good for. Before DSHEA, federal regulations prohibited that. Senator Hatch patiently reminds us that if we are going to be in business, we need to be in politics.
As Big Pharma, Big Insurance and Big Government divvy up healthcare, and as some of DSHEA’s sworn enemies—Dick Durbin (D-IL), Henry Waxman (D-CA 30th)—sit closer to the seat of power than ever before, you may want to consider the energy it took our industry to get DSHEA in place, and reflect on what it will take to preserve it.
There is something you can do. Join your industry peers in Washington, D.C., during Natural Products Day, sponsored by the Natural Products Association (www.naturalproductsassoc.org – Take Action), on Tuesday, March 23, to visit and tell your representatives personally how important natural products are to you, your employees and your community. This simple act of constituency is more powerful and persuasive than you might imagine. What’s your comfort worth to you? WF
Jay Jacobowitz is president and founder of Retail Insights®, a professional consulting service for natural products retailers established in 1998, and creator of Natural Insights for Well Being®, a holistic consumer marketing service designed especially for independent natural products retailers. With 33 years of wholesale and retail industry experience, Jay has assisted in developing over 900 successful natural products retail stores in the U.S. and abroad. Jay is a popular author, educator, and speaker, and is the merchandising editor of WholeFoods Magazine, for which he writes Merchandising Insights and Tip of the Month. Jay also serves the Natural Products Association in several capacities. Jay is next scheduled to be part of a panel on “Helping Your Customers with Healthy Aging,” at Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, CA. The panel will speak from 2:30 to 4:00 on Saturday, March 13 (room 207B). He can be reached at (800)328-0855 or via e-mail at email@example.com.
Published in WholeFoods Magazine, Feb. 2010