Turmeric latte anyone? How about some supplements for extra brain power or increased performance in the gym? The market for vitamins, supplements and nutraceuticals is booming as consumers increasingly look for ways to improve their health and wellbeing.
At present, three in five Australians use some form of vitamin or supplement , and we spend more on complementary than prescription medicines . But do we, as consumers, fully understand the potential risks of using certain supplements and nutraceuticals (food products with claimed medical benefits), including when combined? Could too much of a ‘good’ thing be a bad thing?
With an increasingly self-reliant, but insufficiently informed consumer, combined with limited government regulation, what role can or should consumer companies and retailers play to enable responsible nutrition choices? And what commercial opportunities could this provide?
Today’s consumer is increasingly taking a hands on approach to their pursuit of health and well-being, and seeking out health-enhancing nutritional ingredients that can be easily incorporated into their daily routines – from recovery after a workout, to an on-the-go breakfast.
And each year brings new nutrition and supplement products and trends – from MCT oil and turmeric to nootropics – that claim to enhance immune, digestive, bone, cognitive and general wellbeing.
There’s no doubt that natural is good, but natural does not always mean safe.
Vitamins, supplements and functional foods are frequently seen as harmless or benign. Unlike medicines, these products are not subjected to the same levels of safety and efficacy regulation, and they have been known to produce significant toxicity and adverse reactions in some cases.
In the USA for example, a study estimated that 23,000 emergency department visits and over 2000 hospitalisations per year could be attributed to adverse events from dietary supplements . Here in Australia, herbal and weight loss supplements have been linked to the need for at least six organ transplants since 2011, as well as kidney damage .
Fewer than half of consumers discuss their use of vitamins, herbal preparations and supplements with their doctor, and with nearly 80% being confused about conflicting messages about food and health[WL13] , there is a real need for greater transparency and information, as well as a growing preference for trusted players and brands.
This blurring of lines between foods and medicines creates several opportunities for consumer businesses.
The convergence of food companies and the biotech/pharmaceutical sector is gaining pace as they consolidate and partner to deliver a holistic health approach that moves beyond food. The rise in ‘natural’ vitamins and supplements (a US$106 billion global market in 2018 ), and nutraceuticals (worth US$379 billion ), have changed the way we think about our health and what we eat.
Consumers have demonstrated a willingness to pay for products they believe have health benefits – and last year, Australians spent $4.9 billion on complementary medicines, up $2 billion over five years .
With this heightened interest, and in the absence of defined regulation, consumer companies and retailers have an opportunity, and perhaps even a responsibility, to step in and meet demand.
Brands and retailers could connect with consumers through the provision of transparent health related information, education and advice, with the offering of meaningful services beyond the product becoming a real differentiator (for more on this, see our meaningful brands report). Tech savvy consumers increasingly expect to encounter multiple digital engagement channels that offer services from basic product information to value-adds and interventions that influence behavioural change.
A good example of value adding nutrition related services is retailer apps that inform consumer choice such as those developed by Dutch food retailers Ahold Delhaize and Albert Heijn, and which provide nutritional value of food information, promote links between health and nutrition, and encourage better, healthier choices in shopping habits . And companies such as US-based pharmacy retailer CVS are using technology to go one step further and offer, or discount, a healthier food option at point of selection to reward and ‘nudge’ consumers to choose products that support health and wellbeing..
Personalised nutrition provides yet another commercial opportunity. Consumers increasingly recognise that what is right for one person may not be for another, and companies can leverage their understanding of individuals’ genomics, epigenetics and nutrigenomics, and linkURL a diet to their genetic makeup and curate personalised advice, products and meals for consumers.
It can be a challenge for companies to stay up-to-date with innovative technologies, regulatory change and the pace of consumer trends in a competitive and rapidly growing market. Success will come to those who recognise that they can, and should, have a role to play in promoting and delivering responsible nutrition.
Proactive engagement on responsible nutrition with consumers through value adding information and services create the potential for consumer businesses to achieve the much desired status of “trusted brand/provider” allowing them to become a meaningful partner in the lives of their customers.
 Geller AI, Shehab N, Weidle NJ, et al. Emergency room visits for adverse events related to dietary supplements. N Engl J Med. 2015;373(16):1531-1540.
 http://www.mynewsdesk.com/uk/new-nutrition-business/pressreleases/press-release-consumers-are-confused-about-food-and-health-2370040 )
 Ministry of Health Singapore https://www.healthhub.sg/programmes/42/get-healthy#promo
 Tesco Helpful Little Swaps