Does the supplements industry need to embrace experts?

15 : 05 : 2018 Health : Wellness : Supplements
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The supplements industry has to make a collective choice about how it now establishes its credibility.

Jessica Smith, visual researcher, LS:N Global

If you’re like me, you can’t resist the promise of a handy health hack. I have an endless supply of supplements at my desk, from vitamin D and iron to a collagen tablet for that extra glow. But I am not alone. As many as two-thirds of UK adults said they had taken vitamins or supplements daily or occasionally in the year to September 2016, with the global dietary supplement industry set to be worth £207.35bn ($278.02bn, €236.65bn) by 2024 (sources: Mintel; Grand Review Research). But is this cocktail of supplements doing us any good? With consumer scepticism about the effectiveness and safety of these products growing, the industry has to make a collective choice about how to establish its credibility.

‘In any given month, countless new studies are released about vitamins, and at first glance, the information often seems conflicting,’ Katerina Schneider, founder of online supplements brand Ritual, tells LS:N Global. ‘It’s tough to filter through to what is really being said, and there isn’t one clear resource that people can go to for reliable expert information.’

Unlike prescription drugs, for which claims and safety have to be proven before they can be sold, supplements are barely subjected to government scrutiny. In Europe, they are classified and regulated as food products, while in the US, they are classified as dietary supplements and can go to market without extensive testing. The issue of credibility is now being further compounded by the mass of celebrities, health bloggers and beauty businesses launching their own Instagram-friendly brands or providing endorsement to third parties. We need to urgently question whether this is the right approach at a time when the industry is struggling to establish its integrity.

The examples are numerous. Take Tati Westbrook (aka @glamlifeguru) who has 1.3m Instagram followers and more than 4m YouTube subscribers and recently launched Halo Beauty, which claims to do everything from prevent premature hair greying to firming skin and reducing fine lines. Then there is the Kardashian-Jenner clan, who since 2015 have promoted brands such as Hairfinity and Sugarbear Hair gummies, with the latter recently hitting 2m followers thanks to their endorsement. Even beauty giant Bobbi Brown has dipped its toe in the water with the recent launch Evolution_18, a range of edibles designed to promote beauty both internally and externally.

Tapping into influencers who merely have a large following to spread the message is simply a clever marketing ploy, but does little to allay fears about the safety and effectiveness of the products being promoted.

It is easy to see why some might challenge the authenticity of these supplement brands and claim that they trade more on interest in appearance rather than genuinely improving consumers’ health. Tapping into influencers who merely have a large following to spread the message is simply a clever marketing ploy, but does little to allay fears about the safety and effectiveness of the products being promoted. I would suggest an alternative tactic, one that relies more on expertise than the cult of personality. In short, for such brands to be appealing, we need more doctors in the conversation.

In a bid to overcome this, Brendan Murdock opened anatomē, a new retail space that aims to educate consumers by guiding them on which own-brand vitamins and nutrients would be suitable to them. With an army of in-house nutritionists and practitioners on the ground, as well as very plain, informative packaging, consumers are able to understand their specific health needs without being sold merely on savvy marketing tactics. ‘With the plethora of health products on the market, it's hard for consumers to know what’s right for them. At anatomē, we seek to help inform consumers and connect with them more meaningfully,’ Brendan Murdock, founder of anatomē, tells LS:N Global.

While this hands-on approach is ideal, it obviously won’t be achievable for all. Nevertheless, supplement brands can’t simply wait for regulation change in order to clarify the benefits and efficacy of their products – businesses that want to be leaders in this space need to quit their addiction to influencers and re-invest in evidence-based marketing.

For more on the issues set to confront health and wellness brands in the next 18 months, book tickets for our forthcoming Health and Wellness Futures Forum.

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