Washington, D.C.—It has been 27 years since the Natural Products Association (NPA) revised its membership guidelines, and the association now feels it is time to make some changes.

NPA recently announced a set of proposed changes to its bylaws to it feels would modernize the association. Members will have the chance to vote on the changes this summer, and the results will be announced in September during Natural Products Expo West.

Proposed changes include allowing board members to serve three consecutive two-year terms (up from its current two straight two-year terms); allowing for electronic voting in addition to paper ballots; and fixing voting and board terms to a specific time, now that NPA has no national show at which to hold its annual Business Meeting.

The most significant change is to update its definition of a “retail member.” Current bylaws define a retailer as a person or entity engaged in the sale of nutritional products that earns at least 75% of the gross sales consists of nutritional foods, supplements and related items. They also must have at least one self-contained store. These stipulations made the NPA reject over 200 potential new members in 2012 alone, according to NPA president, Jeff Wright.

Wright defended the change during a May 14 online/phone Town Hall Meeting, making the case that shoppers are purchasing natural products in many places, including e-tailers, big box stores and compounding pharmacies. The current bylaws, created in 1986, don’t take into account these new players in the field.  “The industry changes, consumers’ shopping behavior changes,” said Wright, and the definition of a “retailer” should be updated to reflect these changes.

If passed, the new Article 3.2 (c) would be much broader: “A retailer is defined as a person or entity engaged in the retailing of nutritional products that adheres to the NPA Code of Ethics.”

Added Wright, “We need to align NPA’s member with the mission and vision of the association—current membership restrictions are incongruent with our role as advocates for all with a vision to broaden the market.”

By that, Wright indicated that one of NPA’s chief duties is advocacy on behalf of the natural products industry, and these efforts are largely funded by membership fees. Without big box and other stores in the mix, independent retailers are funding an unfair portion of the advocacy efforts when numerous parties (included many currently prohibited from membership) benefit from NPA’s work. Essentially, they are getting a “free ride” on the backs of NPA members.

To make his case, Wright cited statistics showing that in 2011 natural food stores had 42% of the revenue share for natural products (down from 52% in 1997); on the other hand, mass market retailers grew to 40% in 2011 from 19% in 1997. And currently, revenue from NPA members only comprise a very small percentage of overall natural products sales from all types of retailers.

Given this, Wright stated, “The independent natural products retailer is still the backbone of the industry, but the association needs to stay relevant. We need to grow and change…Our current model isn’t sustainable and is not fair.”

Allowing in additional members, he feels, could enable NPA’s power to “grow exponentially.”  

Wright added that NPA’s core principle of giving each member (regardless of size or number of locations) only one vote would not change.

Additional town halls are being planned for members to ask questions and voice concerns.


Published in WholeFoods Magazine, July 2013 (online 5/14/13)