CRN Board of Directors Chair 2023 Address


DANA POINT, Oct. 5, 2023 – CRN Board of Directors Chair, Tara Martin, general counsel, Nutrawise/YouTheory, addressed attendees of CRN’s Now New Next annual conference at the Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel, reflecting on accomplishments of CRN and discussing what is next to continue expanding consumer access to nutrition.

See President's Address here.

Hello. Wow! Thank you for such a lovely introduction. And welcome everyone! 

My name is Tara Martin, and I am absolutely thrilled to be here with all of you at the Ritz Carlton in Laguna Niguel.

Walking around the last couple of days, I kind of feel like we are all on the set of White Lotus.

But really, what a great location made even better with such an amazing group of people.

And I think it’s a fitting location, too. Not just for the natural beauty—but also because of the great view of the ocean which extends as far as the eye can see presenting unlimited possibilities. 

It's an appropriate metaphor for the opportunities before us at CRN.

But it’s not just about opportunities. Just like the ocean, we are also navigating the immediate threat of the next wave about to crash into the shore, monitoring the longer-term challenges as waves start to form some distance away, and at the same time always looking out to the horizon, watching for the long-term possibilities that can transform this industry. 

Before I go much further, I want to comment for a moment on unity in the industry—why we all come together. When you think about it, it’s actually pretty remarkable. Many of us are competitors, vying for the limited attention spans and dollars of the same consumers. 

We are ingredient suppliers, contract manufacturers, direct sellers, small entrepreneurs, and global consumer brands all coming together to protect and preserve the integrity, legitimacy, and viability of this industry—pretty impressive!

And that brings me to what I want to talk about today: 

  • First, some of the ways CRN is tackling the immediate threats to our industry.

  • Then second, our new strategic plan that will be the foundation for our work over the next three years.

  • Lastly, I want to challenge all of us to dream big and see the opportunities that are still out there on the horizon. 

We all know that our industry has experienced tremendous growth in the last three decades. Next year, DSHEA is 30 years old! That just seems crazy to me. In that time, we have seen the evolution of social media collide with unprecedented developments in medical science. Consumers are more empowered by their access to information than ever before. Lifespans have increased. We lived through a pandemic that redefined self-care and what it means to be healthy, forever. And we are very much a part of these conversations.

CRN’s consumer survey and our own sales numbers establish that dietary supplements are regarded by millions as essential to modern health. 

We come together as CRN to continue that path, to build something larger than our individual companies. That blue horizon out there may seem full of endless opportunities, but we all know there are also threats, storm clouds forming and waves building. Despite our industry’s successes, or perhaps because of them, we need the collective strength and unity to address them. 

For starters, there is a pharmaceutical industry that has its eye on some of our most popular ingredients. 

Then the opportunists, looking to make a quick buck in the dark alleys of the Internet, dragging down our industry’s reputation with inferior products and outrageous claims.

There is an FDA that seems to have lost its focus, allowing drug preclusion to tilt steeply in favor of Big Pharma, refusing to exercise its authority over CBD, and ignoring its authority to enforce the law against bad actors. All of these things tend to diminish the authority of DSHEA.

So when we come together to build a stronger industry in the face of our critics, it’s not because we want our competitors to witness our birdie out on the golf course, or to see who can flex the best at karaoke later tonight. It's because mitigation of these risks takes coalition, consensus and a shared vision. 

I’ll come back to the shared vision, but let’s look first at how CRN is addressing some of these immediate threats.

First and foremost, it begins with the unique teamwork that exists between our members and the dedicated staff at CRN. I am constantly amazed at how many issues we seem to be tackling at any given moment.

For example, FDA’s erroneous interpretation of drug preclusion sent waves of concern throughout the industry, creating uncertainties about the future of various ingredients. In response, CRN proactively developed a Citizen Petition advocating for a balanced approach that fosters supplement innovation while ensuring consumer safety. 

This past spring, the spotlight shifted to gummy supplements after an article was published that was critical of melatonin gummies. CRN’s Board quickly reassembled the CRN Melatonin Task Force and created a new Gummy Form Work Group to address criticisms posed by the article. 

Dr. Welch from the FDA engaged with our Board, asking member companies to reach out and initiate a dialogue with her office about gummy manufacturing. This started a constructive back-and-forth with FDA to address manufacturing issues that are specific to gummies, conversations that are still ongoing.

Then in June, FDA announced its proposed reorganization of the Human Foods Program. As you heard from Commissioner Califf yesterday, the proposal would eliminate the Office of Dietary Supplement Programs as a distinct office, and instead make it part of one larger Office. CRN has responded emphasizing that the advances that have been made toward providing resources to dietary supplements have resulted in increased safety and quality and have strengthened consumer confidence in our products. 

These gains cannot be sacrificed to divert resources to other parts of the agency.

And no discussion of threats would be complete without mentioning CBD. CRN’s Board continues to address FDA's irrational rejection of DSHEA as a regulatory pathway. CRN has publicly called out the FDA’s dismissal of safety data for these products; and we have laid out an approach that incorporates CBD into the existing enforcement tools available for all dietary supplements.

Not to be outdone by the FDA, the FTC launched its own blast this year with the release of a new Health Products Compliance Guide and, as many of us know, it also sent some questionable letters to over 600 companies in the industry. CRN submitted a response to the FTC that challenges the purported substantiation requirements. 

In addition, CRN has emphasized that the FTC cannot unilaterally change the legal standards or reinvent rules for advertising in an obvious attempt to create an avenue for it to collect civil penalties.

I will stop here on the list of threats. Suffice it to say that the waves of challenges are continuous and likely to leave us a little seasick. But thankfully, CRN’s quick and effective responses have helped to calm the seas. 

And that brings me to the CRN staff. I want to take a moment to recognize the amazing CRN staff for their tireless efforts on all these matters and more. CRN staff, thank you so much for the tremendous job you do for us every day. It has definitely been a busy year, and I’m sorry if I make it sound like our industry is always on the defense.

In reality, CRN is also proactively navigating a course forward—creating the agenda and defining the priorities for the industry.

This year marks the end of our current program of work, and CRN’s Board has charted the course for a new strategic plan. It started with the charge to create a "Vivid Description of a Desired Future." I like that, because if you know where you want to go, you can be strategic about how you are going to get there. 

So, what is this desired future? How are we going to get there?

Our first pillar of the new Strategic Plan is to continue to "Expand CRN’s Self-regulatory Initiatives." 

It centers on advocating for self-regulation, highlighting our members' collective dedication to transparency, accountability, and responsible practices. 

We already see this in action in the reactivation of the CRN Melatonin Task Force and the establishment of the new Gummy Form Work Group that I spoke about earlier. 

At the same time, an E-Commerce Work Group is exploring how to assure online consumers get the same information they would, if they were examining the product in a store. 

We will also continue our work with the Global Retailer & Manufacturer Alliance to harmonize retail standards and reduce the duplicative burdens of these programs, just to name a few.

Our second goal is to actively "Shape the Public Policy Landscape" through legislative, regulatory, and commercial opportunities.

The goal is to safeguard, promote, and enrich the integrity of our products while advocating for evidence-based policies that focus on strengthening human health and well-being. 

Of course, the path to this desired future is in motion every day, in small achievements and larger wins. This year’s Day on the Hill brought this message to lawmakers, where many of us came together to share with Members of Congress both our pain points and our areas of progress and success. 

We supported legislation that will allow consumers to use their Health Savings Accounts to purchase dietary supplements. 
Then CRN took it a step further and identified the potential opposition and developed the rebuttal and the data to back it up. 

For example, we conducted a survey this spring that demonstrates that consumers want the flexibility to use their Health Savings Accounts to purchase supplements, but the survey also shows that doing so won’t result in massive increases in untaxable income, because most consumers won’t increase the amount they elect to put into their Health Savings Accounts, even if they are allowed to use the money for supplements. 

Likewise, our Supplements to Savings study demonstrates how an increase in the use of supplements will actually save billions of dollars for the U.S. healthcare system. 

Our plan extends to the global level as well, with efforts to protect probiotics from adverse requirements at Codex and to ensure protection of front-of-pack labeling.

Then on to the states, where we are actively fighting age restrictions and proposals to ban certain ingredients, and where CRN will continue to engage with groups that are taking on sustainability and recycling initiatives.

Our third goal will "Cultivate Positive Public Perceptions" through education and outreach. 

As the science continues to develop supporting the use of functional food and dietary supplements, we will defend the scientific integrity of our members products and shape the narrative by providing continuous examples of how our products help consumers to lead healthier lives. 

Our fourth strategic objective is to strengthen CRN itself through "Expanded Membership and Representation of the Industry." 

CRN will expand our programming to provide educational opportunities for our members and increase the return on investment for your membership dues.

And this is where each of us play an important role. By showing up, we have evidenced the value of coming together. We need all of our members to become ambassadors, to spread the word to our vendors, our customers and yes, even our competitors, that CRN is the leading voice of the industry.

Just imagine how much more we can do with more members, more resources and more visibility. Which brings me to our final initiative, and the one I’m most passionate about: 

Expanding Consumer Access to Nutrition.

In many ways, this initiative overlaps with the other four, but separately, it elevates CRN beyond protecting our own businesses—to actually changing the world. We can improve nutrition, knowledge, and health by improving access to our products and nutrition education. 

I am so impressed and humbled, not only by the work so many member companies have already been engaged in for years in this area, but also for the response of so many to last year’s Chairman’s Challenge, led by my esteemed predecessor, Barry Ritz. 

Our dedication as a group is reflected in the good work already done and also the work that is ongoing through partnerships with nonprofit entities and programs that confront nutrition insecurity.

The support you’ve shown Vitamin Angels, Convoy of Hope, Feeding America, and other worthy organizations, exemplifies what I already knew to be true about this industry: we care.

But, we can’t just sit back and coast along, hoping for the best. The reality of the situation demands action. It is undisputed that a substantial number of Americans lack vital nutrients. According to the CDC, the FDA, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, as well as numerous independent studies, insufficient intake of nutrients are public health concerns for much of the general U.S. population. 

We all know that inadequate nutritional intake is a primary contributor to illness within the United States, but did you know that it leads to more than 600,000 deaths a year? That is more than 40,000 deaths a month. 

We heard Howard Schiffer, of Vitamin Angels, talk about how supplements impact the health of women, infants and children.  

How is it, though, that in one of the wealthiest countries on Earth, about 17 percent of the pregnant population is anemic, as Howard mentioned? What can we do to turn statistics like that around? Especially when we know that undeserved and underprivileged communities shoulder more of these kinds of nutritional burdens.

Howard described vitamins as a “cornerstone of public health.” That’s aligned with what we have seen in CRN’s Supplements to Savings Report. Supplements—our products—have a profound impact on the mitigation of so many health conditions. Supplement usage improves countless lives and saves the healthcare system billions. But we must be careful to not leave vulnerable populations behind.

We have to build carefully upon that cornerstone. It’s not enough for us to wait for someone to do it first. We need to be building upon the promise and opportunities science continues to reveal. 

CRN’s Nutrition Access Task Force has been hard at work, vetting potential organizations that we can partner with to develop a united pathway, to build upon that cornerstone. The Access Group will present the ideas and options to the board in March of 2024. 

I want to thank all of the members of the Nutrition Access Group for taking the laboring oar on this important strategic goal, and more specifically a special thanks to Barry Ritz and Micah Osbourne for laying the foundation, and to Chris Reid and Kim Drabik for their continued support and commitment as we create this roadmap and get underway.

There will be more to share regarding this initiative in 2024 and I look forward to working together with all of you as we do our part to help bridge the gaps we know exist in the health of millions of Americans. 

Our strength is our unity of purpose. We can, and should, be known as an industry that is committed, on the ground, to improving lives.

Thank you so much for your attention—I sincerely hope that each of you enjoy the rest of your time in this amazing place.