CRN 2021 Chairman's Address


Barry Ritz



Delivered by Council for Responsible Nutrition Board of Directors Chair Barry Ritz, Ph.D., of Nestlé Health Science, on Oct. 20, 2021, during the Now, New, Next event.

See President's Address here.

Good morning and welcome. My sincere thanks to the CRN leadership, staff, and conference planners for this opportunity, and to each of you for investing your valuable time to join us at the CRN Annual Conference, whether here in the room or virtually.

Now I will admit, and I know it’s unusual—the statistic I read was 10%—but I am one of those people who actually enjoys public speaking. I’m not sure why, it’s not genetic, my family considers me an anomaly. But two years ago when I had the opportunity to MC this event and was wearing my “novelty” suit, as some of you may remember, I was day-dreaming of when I might have this opportunity to stand before you and address my industry friends and colleagues. It is a great honor and a welcomed responsibility. But admittedly…this is not how I imagined it. There is no doubt this is a strange time, a challenging time, a time of change.

But just as we’ve seen, over and over and again, during periods of fear or uncertainty, people tend to turn inward to what they can control—including by becoming more active participants in their own health. And as such, the dietary supplements industry is historically and remarkably stable during challenging times. In that way, this time is no different.

In these past 20 months, in response to COVID-19, we as an industry have witnessed unprecedented growth.  It’s during these times that the products and services we provide are reaffirmed for what they truly are: essential, indispensable, and potentially life-saving.

A survey CRN conducted with member company Herbalife earlier this year shows that 8 in 10 Americans believe their health is a “work in progress” and that many are taking steps to improve their diet and lifestyle. 77% of respondents want to know more about the nutritional benefits of supplements to support their overall health.

On Thursday, you’ll see the topline results from the 2021 CRN Consumer Survey on Dietary Supplements. And the full data set will become available for purchase. While I won’t give away any of the headlines here—I would get in trouble for that—I will sound one spoiler alert. Use of dietary supplements has reached a new high. And trust in our products and this industry remains strong. We’ve worked hard to earn that trust, and I believe it is well placed.

As I reflect on our ability as an industry and as an organization to navigate this time of change, it occurs to me that our more than 20-year history of conducting the Dietary Supplement Consumer Survey embodies a bit of what this conference theme—Now, New, Next—is all about.

Taking the needed action NOW to set us up for where we need to go. Doubling down on what’s working, and changing what’s not. It’s about planning and having the foresight, courage, and leadership to secure our future success. So, let’s explore some examples of what we as an organization have been doing.

Like many who turned to home and backyard projects during the pandemic, the CRN Board of Directors and staff worked tirelessly this year to get our house in order and to plan for our future. These efforts include the roll out of our updated 3-year strategic plan, revisions to our bylaws regarding CRN’s code of ethical conduct and qualifications for membership, an updated membership review policy, a change in our investment strategy for reserve funds, and perhaps most notably an overhaul of our dues structure.  While these may sound like general housekeeping items, I assure you each and every decision required significant analysis, discussion, clarity of purpose, and the strong will of our Board of Directors.

All the while, CRN continues to do what it does best, serving our industry through scientific and regulatory leadership, governmental affairs, educational efforts, and a robust communications program, anticipating and responding to the needs of the dietary supplements ecosystem.

In May of this year, we launched Vitamin D and Me, an online resource to house the emerging research on Vitamin D and COVID-19—whether those results be positive, negative, or null—as well as expert analysis and commentary. Today, there are more than 100 clinical trials and 10 meta-analyses on Vitamin D and COVID.  And the data are overwhelmingly encouraging, with much of the research reporting higher vitamin D levels associated with reduced COVID-19 risk and severity.  Earlier when I referred to our products as potentially life-saving, I meant it.  We cannot rely on government or professional organizations to say it for us—the research on higher Vitamin D levels in preventing COVID-19 infection and associations with better outcomes for those who get the disease, should be broadly acknowledged.

Next, CRN took an immediate and clear stance on FDA’s unexpected position on N-acetyl cysteine, filing a citizen’s petition, educating members of Congress, and providing our members with a legal memo explaining that FDA warning letters are not final agency action.

CRN has led the industry in discussions on mandatory product listing and securing a seat at the table, even having the foresight to launch the Supplement OWL as a voluntary online product registry to serve as a model for legislators and FDA.

And we continue to advocate for a regulatory pathway for hemp-derived CBD as a dietary ingredient.

We’ve engaged with retailers, providing feedback on how retailer-driven quality standards may impact costs and innovation, and encouraging harmonization with each other’s similar quality programs.

Our probiotics campaign “What’s Inside is Alive” was developed to educate retailers on how to do probiotics the right way. CRN-developed assets—including a white paper, infographic, videos and a retail buyer’s guide—are making a positive impact.

Our Sports Nutrition Working Group has been very active with legislative advocacy and positive messaging for sports nutrition ingredients and products, as well as providing education on a variety of sports nutrition-related topics. The Working Group recently commissioned a review paper that will be published in a peer-reviewed journal in the first half of next year.

And, a topic near and dear to me, we very recently launched the Health Care Practitioners Forum to meet the unique needs of our HCP channel members and to engage and educate those practitioners recommending our products as an essential part of patient care.

So, with all those examples of NOW—what’s NEXT?

In the spirit of “let’s double down on what works,” the Board recently decided to re-invest in a third-party economic study to quantify the impact of dietary supplement use on U.S. health care cost savings. The CRN-led 2013 Health Care Cost Savings Study which projected savings through 2020, has been an invaluable tool when meeting with stakeholders, including press, NGOs, members of Congress, and even international authorities. An updated and expanded report will be available for our use in early 2022, and will serve us though the end of the decade.   

In our newly adopted Vision and Strategic Plan, we embrace a commitment to closing the nutritional gap by improving access to safe and effective nutritional products and reliable information. In my first act as incoming Chair, I created a strategic task force to address access, and we took immediate steps to restructure and breathe new life into our 501(3)(c) CRN Foundation.

We have been inspired by the individual efforts of our member companies. Many of our members engage with numerous local, national, and international organizations to provide funding, as well as food, supplements, and employee service activities in support of our communities. One company’s initiative has planted over 200,000 fruit trees providing 28 million pieces of fresh fruit.  Another partners with local school districts to provide supplements for teachers. A third is working to feed malnourished children all over the world through donations from distributors and customers.  And these are just a few examples.

If that’s what we can do as individual companies, imagine the impact of our collective membership. I can’t wait to see where we go next. And I invite all of you to join me on the journey.

Gone are the days of putting all our energy into defending the legitimacy of our products. They are now mainstream and they are trusted. It’s no longer just about whether what’s on the label is in the bottle. It’s about sustainability and clean ingredients—what’s NOT in the product or its packaging is just as important today.  Corporate social responsibility. How we serve our communities and employees. And the impact we have to do good.

As always, CRN will be there to help with the sudden and unexpected crises that pop up—and will be working to continue to bolster this industry in all the ways I’ve described. But more of our energy in the future will go toward this important initiative of doing good. Our customers want it, our stakeholder and stockholders expect it, and the world’s needs demand it.

Thank you.