Peter Semper, who was one of the founding forces for the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) and its first executive director, died on December 13, 2018. In addition to his work at CRN, Semper worked tirelessly to expand consumer access to herbal and dietary supplements through lobbyist efforts and his supplement-centric public relations agency.
Semper was born on February 10, 1931, in Lindsay, California. As the Great Depression gripped the United States, his family moved frequently and Semper began working at an early age: first in the fields and orchards, then as a paperboy when his parents settled in San Francisco, California. He graduated high school at the age of 15 and held a series of jobs until he enlisted in the US Air Force in 1950. His duties included training in jet electronics and as an instructor for flight simulators. When his four-year commitment in the armed forces ended, Semper attended Los Angeles City College and earned a degree in marketing and communications. With this degree, he worked for a few years as an account executive at an advertising agency in Los Angeles. According to long-time friend Mark Blumenthal, one of Semper’s early clients was Altec Lansing, a manufacturer of large loudspeakers for movie theaters, which stimulated his interest in publicity and public relations (email, February 2, 2019). Semper eventually opened his own agency, Semper Moser, in 1968.
A year later, in 1969, Semper gained Bill Thompson of the William T. Thompson Company (then one of the largest supplement companies in the United States) as a client. James Turner, an attorney at the Swankin & Turner office in Washington, DC, and CRN’s general counsel from 1973 to 1975, recalled that “Thompson pulled Peter, his old Marina del Rey [California] friend who lived on a sailboat, onto his company team with the assignment to get dietary supplements off the fringe and into the mainstream” (email to M. Blumenthal, January 1, 2019).
This business partnership ignited Semper’s interest in the subject of nutrition and supplementation, and he gradually shifted his entire business to specialize in the nascent-but-growing dietary supplement industry. Semper further immersed himself in the business of dietary supplements when, in 1973, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed stringent legislation regarding the manufacture and sale of vitamins and minerals. The proposed legislation required review and approval by the FDA’s over-the-counter expert health advisory committee for any product that provided more than 150% of the FDA’s recommended daily allowance of a vitamin or mineral. The industry perceived this action as the government’s attempt to regulate supplements as drugs based on nutrient levels (referred to as “potency”) alone. The outcry by the industry spurred Semper to register as a lobbyist and protest the FDA’s proposal.
This action by the FDA also inspired the founding of CRN, a trade association that would represent the interests and concerns of dietary supplement and functional food manufacturers.
John “JB” Cordaro, former president and CEO of CRN (1982-2002), relied on Semper’s advice and guidance as CRN expanded. “I learned quickly in the early days of my tenure as CRN president and CEO that Peter Semper was my North Star,” wrote Cordaro (email to M. Blumenthal, January 3, 2019). “With Peter’s encouragement and support, I set out to establish a CRN Code of Ethics for our members with real enforcement teeth and Guidelines for Safety and Quality Standards. These achievements would stand us in good stead with regulators, our existing and prospective members, and even among some of our critics…. In addition, Peter exemplified the selfless characteristic [with] a willingness to get things done and not needing to be known for what he achieved.”
Thanks in part to Semper and CRN’s leadership, Congress passed the 1976 Proxmire Amendment, which prohibited FDA from establishing standards to limit the potency of vitamins and minerals in food supplements. Around this time, Semper and Thompson supported other industry projects, including Natural Foods Merchandiser, Natural Food Expo (now the Natural Products Expo), and the Natural Foods Network, a gathering of natural products brands that became a key basis of the national expansion of the Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods Market.
Turner worked closely with Semper through the founding of CRN and the turbulent years of the early dietary supplement market in the United States. “Semper’s shrewd, clever, strategic thinking saw the power of combining consumer and producer interests,” he wrote. “Peter made towering contributions to the foundations of the natural food, dietary supplement, and integrative health markets as we know them today.... He expanded my life, and enhanced the health of millions of dietary supplement consumers.”
In the midst of his work with CRN, Semper continued to run his supplement-oriented advertising and public relations agency. He also served on the board of directors of the National Nutritional Foods Association (now the Natural Products Association) in the late 1980s, as well as various other advisory boards, and served as an informal consultant to many companies.
In his personal life, Semper was an avid surfer and outdoorsman. He also maintained a deep interest in the history of California and Mexico, organic gardening, and citrus cultivation, managing groves in Florida from the 1990s until his death. “Peter wanted to be remembered for the laughter and joy he brought others, even strangers, and for the delight he brought others through his gift for storytelling,” wrote Teri Semper, Semper’s wife (email to M. Blumenthal, January 23, 2019). “He was most proud of his work in the dietary supplement industry. He was interested in his personal freedom and the collective freedoms of his fellow Americans. His was a well-lived life.”
Peter Semper is survived by his wife Teri, brother George, sons Peter and Chris, and his grandchildren, nieces, and nephews. He was predeceased by his daughter Jacki.