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Natural Health Products Week

Celebrating a decade of change

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Natural Health Products Week

Celebrate Natural Health Products Week from November 3 to 9 and raise awareness of NHPs.

Celebrating Natural Health Products (NHP) Week this month is especially fitting because 2014 marks the end of a 10-year phase-in for regulations overseeing the NHP industry—and that’s just one thing that’s changed over the past decade.

What is NHP Week?

The “mainstreaming” of many natural and organic products, consumer trends, and growing pains for everyone from manufacturers to media have created a stronger industry that deserves to be recognized as part of NHP Week from November 3 to 9.

Founded in 2012 by the Canadian Health Food Association (CHFA), NHP Week is designed to raise awareness about NHPs and their impact on Canadians.

The association’s figures for 2013 indicate that 15 million Canadians were reached during NHP Week and that 45 retailer members participated in some way at nearly 100 stores. The CHFA also conducted 14 radio and TV interviews in major Canadian cities.

“We’re excited,” says Helen Long, president of the CHFA. “Seventy percent of Canadians are using NHPs; let’s celebrate it.”

Behind the scenes business

Matthew James, who has been chair of the CHFA board of directors for two years and has worked in the industry for 23, anticipates taking part in the CHFA annual jaunt to Parliament Hill to hobnob with MPs and discuss ongoing issues and concerns. “The industry continues to grow,” he says, “which is phenomenal.”

As president and CEO of Purity Life Health Products, a major Canadian distributor of natural products and health foods, James also anticipates they will do some business-related promotions with their retailer customers that will trickle down to consumers.

To the more than two-thirds of Canadians who regularly use NHPs and the 45 percent who use them daily, that’s good news.

Blast from the past

But while we’re celebrating how far we’ve come, let’s step back to January 2004, which is when Health Canada began the laborious implementation of NHP regulations—a move that has resulted in considerable time, money, and effort spent by manufacturers and importers, while affecting what can be bought and sold by retailers and consumers.

“The reality with any regulation is they’re not perfect. But we’ve made a lot of progress working collaboratively with Health Canada,” says James. “We’re continually working with government to make sure our members get their issues addressed, so there’s a vibrant market where people can choose their own health care.”

He mentions oil of oregano, melatonin, probiotics, digestive enzymes, and single amino acids as examples of products that have recently been approved for sale.

More education for regulators

As of September 1, 2014, all NHPs for sale must have Health Canada approval and possess a Natural Product Number or Homeopathic Medicine Number visible on the label.

“It’s a pretty significant change,” says James. “The CHFA has been working hard trying to ensure there’s a smooth transition and that members are aware, and that Health Canada doesn’t get too heavy-handed [in] and knows we are trying to comply.”

“We’re continuing to work on the regulatory piece,” agrees Long. “We’re working with our member retailers on compliance. We need to make sure there’s awareness.”

Beyond compliance, there’s still more work to be done. James mentions that a regulatory loophole allowing personal importations needs to be closed. “It affects Canadian employers because US manufacturers can sell to Canadians without having to comply. We have to deal with that, given that Canadian manufacturers and retailers are part of a $3 billion industry and are getting undercut.”

Supporting by shopping

At the end of the day, the CHFA believes that regulations give the industry more predictability and more confidence. “It’s quite exciting if you’re an interested consumer,” James says, adding that, beyond supplements, the category of natural food products is also seeing significant growth and the two are spurring each other on.

According to James, gluten-free, certified organic, or glycemic-index-based foods are hot trends. “You see it at the trade shows. Some are going mainstream. Coconut anything is extremely popular. Kale chips—extraordinary. Healthy convenient snack items,” he says.

If you’re feeling indulgent, come on November 3 to 9 and take one of James’s tasty recommendations.

Other ideas to consider:

  • Post on social media how an NHP has benefited you.
  • Treat five close friends to a sample size of one of your favourite organic goodies.
  • Participate in a charity event at your local health food store.
  • Host a workplace health break, inviting everyone to bring a snack to share.

Other ways to get involved are on the CHFA website (chfa.ca) and social media pages. And keep an eye out for specials and coupons at your local natural grocer.

Promoting public awareness

All year long, the CHFA puts effort into public education, including a monthly consumer-oriented newsletter via its website and an active social media stream.

Another area of activity is responding to biased reports. For instance, last May, when commentary was published that discredited the benefit of fish oils for cardiovascular disease, the CHFA responded with a statement pointing to 40 years of research on fish oil benefits.

“Look at all the information,” Long advises consumers. “The press loves to take a story and run with that one aspect that they have. Oftentimes, there’s a lot more information out there. Consult with a practitioner if you have any concerns. Talk to your local health store. Do your research.”

And if that research involves sampling some tasty kale chips or coconut-based snacks during NHP Week this month, all the better.

Healthy stats on natural products

  • $3 billion is the worth of Canada’s organics sector and natural health industry.
  • 25,000 people are employed by the natural health industry.
  • 71 percent of Canadians have used a natural health product.
  • 77 percent of us agree that NHPs are useful for maintaining or promoting health.
  • 10,000 retail locations across Canada sell NHPs.
  • 3,900 producers utilize 695,000 hectares of land to produce certified organic products in Canada.

Natural health products defined

Natural health products are governed by the Natural Health Product Regulations, which began implementation in 2004. NHPs must be approved by Health Canada before reaching the market. They’re sold over the counter, don’t need to be prescribed, and include

  • vitamins and minerals
  • herbal remedies
  • homeopathic medicines
  • traditional medicines
  • probiotics
  • other products such as amino acids and essential fatty acids
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