by Hannah Bauman
HerbalGram. 2017; American Botanical Council
Elwood Richard, founder of natural products and dietary supplement industry leader NOW, died on April 7, 2017, after a lengthy battle with mesothelioma. He will be remembered for the significant impact he made on the natural food and dietary supplement industries over the course of almost six decades.
Richard’s introduction to natural foods began when his father, Paul Richard, bought Fearn Soya and developed the industry’s first soy (Glycine max, Fabaceae) protein supplement product. Elwood Richard, with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Monmouth College in Monmouth, Illinois, and graduate studies in physical chemistry and biochemistry at Indiana University, stepped in to run Fearn in 1960 after his father’s death, with input from his brothers Bill and Lou. In 1962, Richard opened his first health food store, the Health House. Eventually renamed The Fruitful Yield, the Chicago-based retail chain currently operates 13 stores. In 1968, Richard founded NOW. His brother Lou would later join the company full time, and together they worked with early quality programs of the National Nutritional Foods Association (NNFA, now the Natural Products Association [NPA]) Standards Committee.
Richard led NOW through decades of growth, expanding product lines and manufacturing facilities, and he never wavered from his original belief that good health should be available to everyone. He also ensured that the company’s mission of empowering people to lead healthier lives would never be compromised by short-term profit demands. Through Richard's legacy planning and gifting of shares to family members, NOW currently has about 40 owners from the Richard family, and it is well positioned for future generations, according to information on the company's website.
When Richard retired as CEO in 2005, succeeded by long-time Fruitful Yield and NOW employee Al Powers, he stayed very much involved in the business and the industry as the chair of the NOW Board of Directors, and a member of the NOW Advocacy Team, the NOW Strategy Team, and the NOW Environmental Team. He was also on the managing board of the Natural Health Research Institute (NHRI), a nonprofit organization he founded that is committed to informing consumers, scientists, the media, policymakers, and legislators about scientific evidence on the usefulness and cost-effectiveness of a good diet, supplements, and a healthy lifestyle.
NOW CEO Jim Emme, a veteran of the company for 22 years, commented: “His passion in defending consumer choice in the industry with logic and with scientific knowledge he had as a physical chemist came through many, many times. One of the legacies he left is the Golden Rule, treating others as you want to be treated. He lived that every day that I knew him.”
Former NOW CEO Powers also recalled Richard’s energetic commitment to the company’s mission. “El was a truly great man and a great entrepreneur. He was always passionate about the health food industry, and the success of the NOW brand is a testimony to his vision, leadership, and dedication to our mission and our industry. He will always be remembered for his love, generosity, and kindness that touched the lives of everyone at NOW. He was the heart and soul of NOW Foods.”
“This year is my 20th year working for Elwood Richard’s companies,” wrote Neil E. Levin, CCN, DANLA, a nutritionist, writer, and educator who works at NOW (email to M. Blumenthal, April 14, 2017). “I found him to be unfailingly polite, kind, inquisitive, generous, and fully committed to the natural products industry. He was always interested in me, both as an employee and as a fellow natural products enthusiast, frequently taking time to ask about me, my work, and my family, including my wife’s organic garden.”
“His work ethic, deep faith, tolerance, family values, and belief in the Golden Rule have driven the success of his businesses without losing the love and respect of his family, friends, employees, customers, and even business competitors,” Levin continued. “He constantly visited health food stores when traveling, even when on vacation. He freely shared best practices and quality methods developed by his employees with the industry without trying to patent or restrict their use for profit, because he believed that we all sink or swim together. He was especially concerned about health freedom and product quality issues, devoting much of his energy to these areas. This focus culminated in his work to support the NHRI, a long-term project close to his heart.”
Richard was recognized by the industry he served for so many decades with numerous honors and awards, including induction into the New Hope Hall of Legends, the NPA Lifetime Achievement Award, the Nutrition Business Journal Lifetime Achievement Award, the NNFA Crusader Award, and, most recently, the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) Visionary Award.
After the announcement of Richard’s death, his fellow industry leaders came forward to honor his life and legacy. United Natural Products Alliance President Loren Israelsen commemorated Richard’s life in a public comment, stating: “We note with sadness the passing of one of the industry’s true legends, who, as much as anyone in living memory, has shaped the modern natural foods and dietary supplement industries. Elwood combined extraordinary tenacity with a very clear focus on and vision for what he was hoping to accomplish: combining value and quality in his company’s products and to continually invest in his business. He was a force of nature…. His legacy lives on through the NOW team and its continued support of best practices and multiple industry quality initiatives” (email, April 11, 2017).
AHPA President Michael McGuffin was quoted as saying, “I was honored to acknowledge Elwood with the AHPA Visionary Award earlier this year, adding to the already impressive list of awards and honors bestowed upon him by the natural products industry…. His sincere and lifelong commitment to public health greatly benefitted the industry and the public. He will be sorely missed, but his rich legacy makes Elwood impossible to forget.”1
Dan Fabricant, PhD, executive director and CEO of the NPA, remembered Richard’s business savvy and personal involvement with NOW. “One of the things that was so remarkable was that he hired good people and got out of the way,” said Fabricant in a statement to NutraIngredients-USA.1 “He looked to others to add strength, and so many business owners could learn from that.”
In the same article, Steve Mister, president and CEO of the Council for Responsible Nutrition, was quoted as saying, “[Richard] was a true pioneer in the dietary supplement industry and a strong advocate for supplement consumers…. [H]is passion for ‘empowering people to lead healthier lives’ came across in every conversation, every communication, and to everyone who had the opportunity to know and work with him.”
American Botanical Council Founder and Executive Director Mark Blumenthal added: “El was always a consummate gentleman and a true believer in the proposition that natural foods and dietary supplements are necessary elements of a healthy life. He is a genuine pioneer of the natural products community and a strong example of the uniqueness and special character of the people in this community.”
Elwood Richard is survived by his wife Betty, daughter Sharon (Richard) Wong, sons Dan and David, five grandchildren, and one great grandchild. “His sincere humility and great humanity live on in the hearts of his family and friends, and in the ethical and responsible business practices of his company,” concluded Levin. “He will be missed, but will always remain with those who knew him.”
Editor’s note: We would like to thank NOW Health Group, Inc., and Neil Levin for their contributions to this tribute, including the use of language from a press release2 and tremendous insight from Mr. Levin.
1. Daniells S. Industry pays tribute to NOW founder Elwood Richard. NutraIngredients-USA website. April 11, 2017. Available here: www.nutraingredients-usa.com/Manufacturers/Industry-pays-tribute-to-NOW-founder-Elwood-Richard. Accessed April 17, 2017.
2. NOW founder Elwood Richard 9/17/31 – 4/7/17 [press release]. Bloomingdale, IL: NOW Health Group, Inc.; April 10, 2017. Available at: www.nowfoods.com/now/nowledge/now-founder-elwood-richard-91731-4717. Accessed April 17, 2017.