Natural Products Consulting Institute Offers Direction, Innovation And Success

Publish Notes: 

Taste Of New England Keene, NH 2004

Natural Products Consulting Institute Offers Direction, Innovation And Success
Natural Products Consulting Institute Offers Direction, Innovation And Success

ANDOVER, MA. - As the natural food and product sector has grown into a billion dollar industry, more and more start-up, and already established companies are looking for assistance in a wide range of areas including product development and expansion, sales and marketing, and distribution.

One very busy New England-based consulting firm is the Natural Products Consulting Institute(NPCI)based in Andover. Ma., a company headed by Bob Burke and Rick McKelvey, two innovative leaders in the natural products industry for many years.

Photos courtesy of Natural Products Consulting Institute

Burke, the founder of NPCI in 1998, was first the VP of Marketing and Sales for Stonyfield Farm Yogurt from 1986-98, and also served as the company's Execute Director for eight years. Under Burke's direction, Stonyfield Farms grew from one million to 43 million in sales while achieving national and international distribution.

"I started consulting after spending 11 years at Stonyfield Farm Yogurt, first as VP of Marketing and Sales and later as VP of Sales and Corporate Development," Burke said in a recent interview. "I left on gracious terms in 1998 to start my natural product consulting business, and was well received right away. "There were plenty of large, medium and small companies looking to enter or grow their business in the natural and specialty channels, and could benefit from the kind of experience I developed at Stonyfield."

Burke is also active in the Northeast Fresh Food Alliance as a Board of Directors member for four years, as well as an outside board member of the Equal Exchange, a worker owned co-op that practices fair trade and third world farmer co-ops. Burke has also worked as an independent consultant for other natural food companies including Kraft Foods, Kelloggs, Annie's Homegrown, Putney Pasta, Bagel Works, and Natural Health Magazine.

McKelvey has served as VP of Sales and Marketing at Lightlife Foods, Inc. for 12 years during a period that saw the company's sales grow from one million to 25 million before the eventual sale to Con Agra Foods. Under his leadership Lightlife emerged as the number one fresh meatless company (vegetarian hot dogs, luncheon "meats") and also oversaw the successful navigation to national distribution.

McKelvey also serves on the Board and is a past president of Soyfoods Association of North America, and is co-founder (with Burke) of the G. E. N. A. Group, an association of 13 New England/New York-based national product companies. With this wealth of experience Burke and McKelvey had accumulated, along with the growing interest and attention from other companies within the field, the next logical step was to create a way to share their knowledge.

"I found myself talking a lot about 'how to put a budget together,' and 'how to work with brokers', and my first idea was that I could be talking about this to 30 people. So I started developing the seminar, and the extension of that was the need for some sort of hand-out or take-away to offer. Which eventually became a three-volume manual."

NPCI has created an unprecedented platform that offers the most comprehensive, educational and training materials available. They provide companies the information needed to become a sustainable and profitable natural product business.

Burke and McKelvey have worked with over 50 retailers, distributors, CEO's, brokers and industry experts to create the Natural Products Field Manuel, a landmark publication within the industry. Originally published in 2002, and revised and expanded in 2003, the field manual is a three volume, 38 chapter guide on "how to get to market".

It includes a CD-rom that lists over 7,200 natural product stores, a directory of natural buyers, mainstream grocery stores, directors and distributors, as well as budget models, new item forms and a PR mailing list. The guide also provides $15,000 worth of natural products coupons, as well as additional commentary information and more.

"The difference between a field manual and a textbook is the better balance of real results, proven as best practices and recommendations, with the right amount of theory," which reads straight from the introduction of the NPCI field manual. " It is the road map, flashlight, reference guide, and angel on your shoulder as you fight the daily fights with all those competing with you for your profit."

Some of the many natural product companies that utilize NPCI's field manual include Kraft Foods, Tom's Of Maine, Snyder's Of Hanover, Power Bar, Annie's Homemade, Rhino Naturals, New England Natural Bakers, Maple Grove of Vermont, Drew's All-Natural, and Green Mountain Coffee.

NPCI also offers other publications and services including the companions "Staking Out Space on the Supermarket Shelves" and "The Sales Manager's Handbook", both publications of which were launched in 2003. Other specialized training NPCI provides includes everything from assistance in strategic planning, budget and pricing analysis, and sales and marketing plans, to building distribution, broker and selection management, sales training and meetings, and reporting systems.

They also provide in-house or off-site training on a variety of topics that are covered in the field manual including interim sales and marketing management, consulting work in the field, and also an 'executive soundboard' if you will, for help with solutions on key organizational issues.

"Overall, we help people in all aspects of bringing products to market," Burke stated. "We have now worked with over 100 companies in many categories. In addition to sales and marketing issues, we have assisted in fund raising, operational and board issues, and we also have a wide network of experts to call upon when needed.

"Currently, I am working with a number of companies including Nantucket Offshore, Dancing Deer Bakery, The Natural Dentist, Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, and Looks Gourmet Foods" Burke said. "I am also putting on seminars with John Maggiore, a broker and former natural category manager at Stop & Shop, and also working on the third edition of the Natural Products Field Manual with Rick McKelvey."

To learn more about the services NPCI has to offer, as well as the Natural Products Field Manual, visit online at or call 978-975-9902.