Health E-Insights: What’s your role at AHPA?
Dr. Johnson: My role as chief science officer with AHPA will include providing direct service to members on scientific and technical issues, contributing to AHPA’s educational and scientific programs and publications, reviewing and developing policies and guidance on technical issues, and also engaging with government, academic, and other industry organizations in promoting the interests of AHPA’s members and the natural health products industry.
Health E-Insights: What excites you most about the work you’re doing?
Dr. Johnson: Collaboration. I am thrilled with the opportunity to form impactful collaborations with diverse stakeholders and to influence our evolving industry’s thinking. In my work with Alkemist Labs I enjoyed interacting with groups at AOAC and USP in standards setting initiatives; I will happily continue to contribute to those efforts. I am also enthusiastic about increasing AHPA’s engagement with organizations furthering the rational and responsible use of herbs, such as AHP, ABC, NIST, and ODS.
Health E-Insights: Did you always envision a career in the supplement/natural health arena?
Dr. Johnson: No. When I started college, I fancied myself as a fiction writer, perhaps the next great American novelist. But I was a kid from Minnesota with perpetual wanderlust and had grown up as an outdoor adventure enthusiast loving hiking, kayaking, camping and such. I quickly figured out that if I became an expert in tropical plants, I would be required to spend considerable time in jungles. I had always been into herbal medicines and made tinctures in my closet as an undergrad, but my interest in ethnobotany was solidified on a trip to Ecuador one summer. I became fascinated with the cleverness of indigenous systems of medicine and just astonished at their level of botanical knowledge. So, instead of going to medical school or studying naturopathy, I took a PhD in Pharmacognosy.
Health E-Insights: What is the biggest challenge facing supplement companies today?
Dr. Johnson: I think from a global perspective one big challenge facing supplement companies marketing products in the U.S. is a regulatory structure that prevents any association of their products with information about efficacy or therapeutic endpoints, regardless of how solid the science is.
Health E-Insights: Where do you envision the most significant expansion in the industry within the next few years?
Dr. Johnson: Scientific innovation is rife in our industry and there will of course be myriad new product categories and such. What I view as a significant positive expansion is the general attitude toward quality policies and ingredient traceability that is market driven and will define brands. In the past several years I’ve seen sweeping changes in manufacturers’ testing regimens, and savvy consumers are paying attention. Many companies that were previously allocating perhaps 1-3% of budgets to quality and testing have now increased that investment to more in the 8-12% range, which is obviously a significant change. There’s a trending shift from viewing rigorous testing programs as unnecessary or just an annoying expense, to many companies now proudly showcasing their strong quality policies as a badge of honor in marketing and outreach initiatives.
Health E-Insights: Who was the person who most influenced you in your life/career, and how?
Dr. Johnson: Perhaps a tie between my mom and Dr. Norman Farnsworth. My mother was widowed too young and became a tireless entrepreneur and a hobbyist pilot while raising my brother and me. She always told me I could and should follow my dreams, which led me to an obscure field and spending most of my young life in a penniless but satisfying career living in huts on remote islands studying medicinal plants. Dr. Farnsworth is an icon. He challenged me to be formidably skeptical and simultaneously keenly receptive to innovative ideas, foreign concepts, and well, life.
Sheldon Baker is CEO of the Baker Dillon Group LLC and has created numerous nutraceutical marketing communications and public relations campaigns for many well-known companies and brands. For Health E-Insights interview consideration or public relations consulting, contact him at SBaker@BakerDillon.com.