Note from the Coordinators

Beyond the "Product of the Week"

Debra Wasserman
Charles Stahler

As hunched-over workers picked strawberries in the hot sun, multi-million dollar natural products business was going on across the street. VRG staff again exhibited at the Natural Products ExpoWest. This busy trade show is attended by health food store owners and employees, natural products manufacturers, brokers, importers, and the rest of the industry. Natural Products are hot, as evidenced by exhibitors owned by Kellogg's, Kraft, and others. We're excited and optimistic when we see all the new items out there.

Each year we look forward to attending the Natural Products Expo seminar on Trends. In general, we have the same take as presenters, seeing a booming industry. But, as in the past, the emphasis is on the customer interested in health. Though the environment might be mentioned, the ethical vegetarian isn't even on the radar screen. This is interesting, since they are really the ones who pioneered and promoted the industry. One exception was JB Pratt, owner of a supermarket chain in Oklahoma, who has long pioneered healthy foods in the supermarket. He is an MD and his emphasis is on health, but he also recognized the other audiences out there.

JB also stated that the industry shouldn't just be concerned with selling more vitamins, but about providing a whole-health solution which also includes good produce. In one of his stores, he even has an MD who sees patients at times during the week. Thank you, JB, for all your work.


Because people's lives are so complicated and there are so many choices, the Trends seminar's theme was that people want solutions and simplicity. This requires a knowledgeable sales staff. Some stores are putting heavy emphasis on educating their employees. However, as natural foods move into supermarkets, can their employees be expected to really know the products? This is not likely without good training. We've been told by several retail employees, even of natural foods stores, that often the training has been subpar. It's going to become harder and harder to retain employees, as ambitious workers seek higher paying jobs.

Will the web be the information solution? Almost weekly, some internet site which appears to have spent millions on their bells and whistles approaches The VRG. They've invested heavily in technology and marketing, and now are looking for the content to be given to them. We believe that even as the natural foods industry goes mainstream, nonprofits such as The VRG and our readers and vegetarian activists become even more important in educating the public about answers that are not always simple. There are questions which need to be addressed beyond just selling the new "product of the week." We need to look at overall health, ethical considerations, ecological concerns, treatment of farm workers, sound science, fair prices, access for all, how not to overwhelm people, and much more. Thank you to VRG members for being part of a team to make the world better.

Debra Wasserman & Charles Stahler
Coordinators of The Vegetarian Resource Group