It’s no secret the natural products industry landscape is changing and has been for quite some time. The way our industry forefathers defined a natural products retailer is very different from what we see in the marketplace today, with 60% of all natural products now sold outside of the natural channel. The Natural Products Association currently finds itself at a crucial point in our association’s history: do we allow our membership to evolve with the industry or do we remain as we are?

NPA’s primary mission is to preserve consumer, retailer and supplier access to natural products and to promote and protect good legislation that allows for the legal sale of our products. Currently, all retailers who sell natural products—in every channel—are benefiting from NPA’s efforts to promote legislation that provides for the free market sale of our products. However, only NPA members—primarily smaller independent retailers—are footing the entire legislative bill. It is time those selling natural products through the internet, mass market, discount, grocery, pharmacy and other channels pay their fair share.

The association has always progressed with the industry. We’ve modified our name numerous times to most accurately represent our members. We began in 1936 as the National Dietary Foods Association. In 1970, we became the National Nutritional Foods Association, and in 2006, transitioned to the Natural Products Association.

NPA members will vote this summer on a serious issue: whether to change the association’s current definition of a retailer. That change would remove the requirement that 75% of a business's sales must come from dietary supplements, nutritional foods and other products. It would also no longer require a retailer to have a physical storefront.

By approving this change, NPA members will allow the association to not only grow in size, but also in revenue, which supports advocacy efforts on Capitol Hill that assist in accomplishing our mission of preserving access to natural products.

While adjusting NPA’s definition of a retail member will result in mass-market, Internet and big-box stores being able to join the association, it absolutely does not mean that they will be entitled to more than one vote. One-member-one-vote has always been and will continue to be our safety net. There are both past and present NPA member retailers with 500 stores, 1,000 stores and over 5,000 stores who have never gained more than a one-vote influence. This will not change.

At our 2012 MarketPlace, 218 companies applied to join NPA and were turned away because they didn’t qualify based on current membership bylaw restrictions. If all of these 218 companies became members, it would have increased total membership by only about 11%. In addition, if every mass-market retailer selling natural products joined NPA, membership would rise only about 9%. This would put us in the position to more than triple our revenue while still giving current NPA members – who are primarily independent retailers—80% of any vote.

It’s important to point out that this potential change is not sudden. Modifying the definition of a retail member was first discussed 10 years ago, and the NPA Membership Work Group has been focused on this project for more than three years. We’ve considered this issue from all angles and have devoted countless hours to moving this change forward. The time for a vote is now.

Your NPA board and membership committee team of retailers, suppliers, consultants and distributors unanimously support this change. We are an industry that is full of passion, integrity and determination. Those strengths have significantly contributed to the success of the natural marketplace.

It’s time to open our doors and broaden our membership so that we can better serve our customers, ensure our industry continues to excel, and stop footing the legislative bill for the other retail channels that are profiting from the sale of natural products without paying their legislative share. WF

Jeff Wright is the president of the Natural Products Association.

Published on WholeFoods Magazine Online, June 24, 2013 (updated June 25, 2013)