Industry Mourns Loss of John Carlson

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WholeFoods Magazine Staff
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The hearts of many were heavy with news of the passing of John R. Carlson. He was 77.

A pioneer of the natural products industry, Carlson co-founded J.R. Carlson Laboratories, Inc. with his wife, Susan in 1965 and served as its president for 45 years.

“The industry has lost a friend and one of our founding fathers,” stated Howard Wainer, president of WFC, Inc. (publisher of WholeFoods Magazine). Indeed, Carlson put many supplements on the nutrition map that previously didn’t have much presence. Carlson Laboratories started its business with vitamin E, having seen first-hand how beneficial the supplement was to Susan Carlson’s father. The company grew immensely over the years under the leadership of the Carlsons, even becoming one of the first companies to introduce omega-3-rich fish oil to the North American market in 1982.

The Carlson Family from Right: John, Kirsten, Susan, Carilyn.

For years, Carlson was an active member and supporter of the Natural Products Association. Prior to founding Carlson Labs, he served as assistant to the chief water engineer for the City of Chicago.

To those who knew him, Carlson was a model for the highest of ethical standards. “He always wanted to—and always did—the right thing,” stated Jack Challem, A.S.N., The Nutrition Reporter, and a former employee of Carlson’s. “In the natural products industry, everyone respected his ethics and incredible sense of fairness, even his competitors (who usually said the nicest things about him). John set a standard and lived by that standard.”

Pat Sardell owner of Country Vitamins, Corvallis, OR, also remembers Carlson for his high ethics. “To both businesses and to consumers, he ‘brought us, and taught us’: With unwavering dedication to quality and high standards, he brought superior products to the marketplace. And with the same fervor for excellence, insisting that information be validated and credible—he and his wife, Susan taught both trade and consumer sectors how to enhance and optimize personal health.”

Carlson was a great friend of natural products retailers. “John was a leader and pioneer in our industry. A quality man with quality products. It was a pleasure to know him, work with him, carry and sell his products. He will be greatly missed,” says Peggy Ranger, owner of Peggy’s Natural Foods in Stuart, FL.

Also remembering Carlson is Kemper Isely, co-president of Vitamin Cottage, headquartered in CO. “Our Mother Margaret and John were close friends and it saddens us deeply to see another pioneer in the natural food industry pass,” he states. “John was dedicated to this industry like few others were and he had a great belief that nutritional supplements were an integral ingredient to good health. Additionally, he had a great sense of humor that was particularly appreciated by my Brother Zephyr.”

Speaking on behalf of the Natural Products Association (NPA), Jeff Wright, NPA president and owner of Wright’s Nutrients, New Port Richey, FL, stated, “John Carlson has made a significant impact on our industry and the Natural Products Association for over 45 years. John will be remembered for being one of our pioneers and a great advocate for natural health. We will miss him greatly.”

Carlson’s daughter, Carilyn Anderson is currently the president of Carlson Labs, and his other daughter, Kirsten Carlson is the vice president of marketing.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, Nov. 2011 (online 10/5/11)