Natural Products Expo
Ashley Koff, RD

How brands can avoid being part of the 'nutrition whiplash'

When information about something as important as nutrition conflicts regularly, no one wins. Dietitian Ashley Koff explores the challenges of delivering information about your products today.

When it comes to nutrition and health, there’s such an overload of information in the marketplace and the media that it can be hard to keep anything straight. Dietitian Ashley Koff spends a lot of her time helping people sort through the mess with her Better Nutrition, Simplified Program, and helping brands figure out how to communicate the strengths and benefits of their products without adding to the noise and confusion. She’ll bring this expertise to Natural Products Expo East, where she’ll speak at a Friday morning panel, Nutrition Whiplash: Making Sense of Conflicting Scientific Studies. Here, she gives a preview of the topic of conversation.

What will your main message be during this session?

Ashley Koff, RD: When talking to consumers, whether it’s on a media show or with my clients or talking to doctors about nutrition for their patients, the message is the same—we all want the same thing: better nutrition for better health. We know what good nutrition is and we know what it isn’t. Brands and products believe they are offering better nutrition—so if you believe that, how do you communicate that? Consumers feel overwhelmed, the retailer feels overwhelmed. The quantity of information is overwhelming. So how do we break through and avoid being part of not just “infobesity,” as I like to call it, but really the nutrition whiplash? One day acai is in, one day acai is out. The list goes on. I’ll talk about best practices from a nutrition standpoint: Do you use a spokesperson, and do you commission a research study? Do you focus on a product category or a product ingredient?

Given the overload of information and label claims we see today, have we reached a point where brands and health experts should think about going back to the most basic of health messages and not be promoting specific, say, nutrients or new studies?

AK: I don’t like to oversimplify. There are truisms, but the interesting thing about truisms is they often come with exceptions. Some people like to say, only shop the perimeter of a grocery store, and you’ll only get fresh, healthy ingredients. Well for me, some of the best ingredients are in the middle aisles—grains, for example. And retailers are also getting that message, so they’re putting products around the perimeter of the store that might not be as good a quality, or that might be equal quality but higher cost.

So how can brands communicate nutrition information about their products without contributing to the information overload?

AK: We all recognize that this nutrition space is maddening. It’s so frustrating if you’re trying to promote your product and don’t want to put 35 labels on it. I think the goal of this talk is to demonstrate that you can be successful—and that we the consumer and health care practitioners need you to be successful—in not trying to take on the responsibility of communicating everything, either about your product or what the consumer needs.

What are the nutrition and health lessons or messages that are in greatest demand right now, or are resonating the most with consumers?

AK: People are understanding more and more that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer, and shooting for perfect isn’t the goal. For lots of Americans right now, their diet is at a C level. But we don’t need to all be aiming for an A. It would be great for many people if their nutrition was at a B or B-plus.

I help people to implement what it is they know they should be doing. I call myself a chief implementation officer. I work with people to get results without having to change their lives too dramatically. Sometimes a dietary shift is really needed, but the answer shouldn’t be, don’t go out for food with your friends. I think people are trying to figure out how better nutrition can fit into their current lifestyle.

As far as specific nutrients, there’s a lot of enthusiasm right now for vitamin D. I think magnesium has really hit its day, thankfully. The natural products industry and consumers are focused on magnesium because it has such an impact on so many functions in the body. There’s also interest in good digestion and probiotics for digestion, and in detoxification—which is not about just drinking a green juice or fasting, but looking at what nutrients do you need to detoxify.

I also get asked a lot about mental health and cognitive function. Boomers have the purchasing power and are interested in not just living longer but in being active for longer.

Your message of fitting nutrition into an existing lifestyle seems to fit both with consumers and with where the industry has been going, as brands look for ways to integrate convenience with whole-food ingredients and better nutrition. Is that a coincidence?

AK: That’s interesting. I think within the natural products industry, there’s such an overlap, because for the most part—we’re seeing less of this as more companies get acquired—but for the most part the people who are running the businesses are also the consumer in the natural products space. So there are a lot of overlapping thoughts. Unlike in other industries, very often in the natural products industry, you have people from the top down who are actually the consumer. They’re the ethos of the company. 

Don't miss Ashley Koff at Expo East.
What: Nutrition Whiplash: Making Sense of Conflicting Scientific Studies
When: 10:30 - 11:45 a.m., Friday, Sept. 23, 2015
Where: Baltimore Convention Center, Room 302

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