Last month Diversified announced that it was ceasing print production of Natural Products News after 30 years of publication. As a former editor I found myself reflecting on the magazine’s long and central contribution to the UK’s natural and organic industry.
In March 2001 I took up a new post as editor of Natural Products News. I vividly remember my first day in the ‘office’, because I had a sharp sense of imposter syndrome. The truth was I’d landed the editor’s job without having the foggiest idea about the health food trade – I literally didn’t know my echinacea from my elbow.
On the other hand, editing magazines on subjects about which I knew next to nothing was by then a sort of house speciality. And I think managed to convince the owner of NPN, Robin Bines, that I was adept at developing a good working knowledge of a subject at speed (which pretty much comes with the territory with journalism). The fact that I’d written for The Guardian on a range of environment subjects also seem to play to my favour.
Now, you might have noticed I put the word office in inverted commas earlier. That’s because it took just one day at Full Moon Communications for me to realise this wasn’t your typical office environment – or business. To me, it felt more like the nerve-centre of an activist or campaign group. Which in a way it was. Full Moon was a mission-driven company a good couple of decades before the term entered the mainstream business lexicon.
What was also made clear on my first day was that Natural Products News was a “journalist-led publication with content driven by editors not advertisers” (to quote Robin himself). Sitting behind it was a conviction that all business sectors collectively benefit from being subject to journalistic scrutiny, if that is done responsibly and to established ethical codes. Editorial was therefore something to be invested in. And I have to say that NPN at the time had a very generous sized editorial team. It allowed us not only to deliver comprehensive news coverage, but also to go in deep on some of the bigger, thornier issues affecting the industry. In that sense, I believe, the magazine played a significant role in helping carry the whole natural products industry forward.
I started at Full Moon a just couple of weeks before the 2001 edition of the Natural Products Europe show (as it was then) took place. I was amazed that the tiny team from the rickety Steyning office (an oversized shed and connecting warren of wonky rooms) had put on such a huge, polished and forward-looking event. And I realised quite quickly that one of smartest things Full Moon had done was to leverage the ‘natural products’ descriptor with its brands, allowing it to convey something much broader – in size and ambition – than the health food trade on its own. The magazine and show could be a platform for the burgeoning natural food, organic, Fairtrade and eco categories too and draw a wider audience from across a broader set of values and outlooks.
In 2002, Full Moon was acquired by Portland, Maine-based Diversified Communications. It proved to be good new owner and custodian of the Natural Products brands. Diversified now runs three trade shows in the natural and organic sector (NOPEX, Nordic Organic Food Fair and Organic Food Iberia) from its UK offices, and Naturally Good out of its Australian division, demonstrating an ongoing commitment to the sector. And while Diversified’s business priorities and outlook were always going to be different to those of Full Moon, the editorial teams under all five editors (Peter Sofroniou, Diane Millis, Kate Miller, Jim Manson and Rosie Greenaway) were aways given the freedom to report on the issues they believed would most interest NPN’s passionate and diverse readership. There was always an appreciation of the distinction between a magazine or publication produced by journalists, and industry PR (which from time to time had to be pointed out in as tactful a way as possible to clients and industry bigwigs).
To be clear, the magazine also benefited hugely from the insights of its roster of high profile columnists and from the brilliant retailers, brand owners and campaigners with whom we collaborated and were supported by over the years (from my tenure Craig Sams, Jack Challem, Patrick Holford, Sara Novakovic, Margaret Peet, Renée Elliot, Simon Wright, Harriet Lamb, Alan Martin, Pat Thomas, Helen Browning, Patrick Holden and Elisabeth Winkler all immediately spring to mind).
I’m sorry to see NPN go (in print – an online presence will continue), especially because editor Rosie Greenaway and deputy editor Jane Wolfe (and the wider team) did such a brilliant job evolving the magazine and keeping it relevant for this fast-changing sector. Its closure is a loss to the whole of the natural and organic sector which it reported on without fear or favour from the start, and championed for very nearly three decades.
Jim Manson is the editor and founder of the website and news agency Natural Newsdesk