Safeguarding the future of dietary supplements

Safeguarding the future of dietary supplements

Supplements are under increased artillery fire, and the latest attacks have done more than simply label this class of products as snake oil. As supplement retailers, would you be wise to do more to vet the products you sell?

We reported in NFM’s 2012 Market Overview issue that retail sales of dietary supplements continue to grow at a healthy clip—particularly in the natural channel, where health food and specialty stores grew their supplement sales 7 percent to reach $11 billion in 2011. Such growth is welcome news given the importance of supplements to the bottom line for many natural products retailers.

Along with serving as a sales buoy, dietary supplements are a crucial element of the self-care movement that continues to spread throughout the United States and even the world. Distrustful of pharmaceuticals and intent on preserving their long-term health, more consumers are adding omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, probiotics, magnesium, protein and other supplements to their wellness regimens. In fact, according to the Council for Responsible Nutrition’s consumer survey, nearly 70 percent of U.S. adults now use dietary supplements.

Given the importance of this product category, I wonder if natural products retailers feel as anxious as I do sometimes about the future of the U.S. supplement market. Supplements have long been a target for snake oil accusations, but lately it seems that the pace of attacks and negative news is accelerating.

Over just the last few months, the media—fueled by new studies and adverse event reports—has painted pretty scary pictures of niche products such as DMAA, but also of supplement staples such as vitamin E, calcium and even multivitamins.

The Dr. Oz Show, meanwhile, exposed adulterated weight-loss supplements, while Dateline blew the lid off the illegal and troubling practice of “dry labbing” (where testing labs report the chemical analysis of a supplement without actually doing any tests).

In the midst of all the negative headlines, the Food and Drug Administration has turned up the heat on the supplement industry with more warning letters related to GMP and disease claim violations, as well as with its potentially worrisome New Dietary Ingredient draft guidance.

All of this, of course, is upping the ante for supplement retailers. After all, your businesses suffer when damning research and industry exposés motivate shoppers to forgo supplement purchases. More important (at least in my mind), however, is the fact that you are the last checkpoint standing between your customers and any potentially dangerous or ineffective products.

With so much on the line, a growing number of retailers are stepping up their efforts to vet the quality and integrity of the supplement products they sell. Some of these retailers, including Cambridge Naturals’ Michael Kanter, offered to share with us how they are doing this so that we could pass the information on to you and other supplement sellers. We hope you find this advice helpful and are able to use it to become a better supplement gatekeeper.

How is your store safeguarding the products you sell?

Please share your tips and stories with other retailers via the Natural Foods Merchandiser Facebook or LinkedIn pages. And, as always, let me know how NFM can better serve you by emailing me.

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