Industry veteran Dan Murray, VP of business development at premium ingredient supplier Xsto Solutions, with previous stints at Roche, Lonza and InterHealth, embodies experience and integrity. We caught up with him before he rode off into that good Iowa landscape.
FI: What impact did the years of dietary supplement ingredients being commodity driven have on the industry?
Dan: History tells us products are developed either out of “need” or “want.” Vitamins started in the “need” category with supplementation of basic foods such as milk and bread. Over the decades, supplementation has evolved into individuals “seeking” better nutrition and companies responding to that demand. The commodity aspect brings price pressure but also acceptance and familiarity – which is good! Most people accept the fact that a multi-vitamin is beneficial. Many choose to go beyond commodity supplementation and shoot for quality-of-life considerations or personal dietary issues, thus creating demand for specialty nutrition products. Typically, things start as specialty and become commodities. Vitamins have arguably taken an opposite path.
FI: What components do a branded ingredient need to have for sustainable long-term success?
Dan: For branded ingredient success, there should absolutely be a demonstrated benefit.This can be related to science and safety for condition-specific ingredients or it can be a functional benefit as in taste, stability or solubility. To justify branding, there needs to be real feature or benefit, besides price, that separates the branded from the generic. Beyond the recognized benefit, it takes good (or great) marketing to call out the differences and make the world aware of the brand. Patents are also a big plus but companies need to be willing to defend them against infringers. In general, consumers like branded products and the prestige that goes along with a solid brand. People like to be persuaded and are curious to hear the details of differentiation. Just adding a trade name doesn’t cut it and this may be why we’ve seen a decline in brand value over the past several years.
FI: You’ve been in the industry a long time. How do you think the supply chain has changed and what do we need to do better?
Dan: The supply chain of raw materials has improved significantly over the last decade, especially considering we have far more hurdles today with national security, prior notice and biosecurity issues. What we can improve on as an industry is the self-regulating of the ingredients we use in finished products, meaning do they have a regulatory status? Regulatory enforcement needs to be stepped up, either by federal agencies orby manufacturers themselves.There are untold cases when a specific ingredient supplier has a clear-cut regulatory status yet infringing suppliers sell tons of unregulated material into hundreds of finished products.
FI: You will be riding your bike across the state of Iowa again this summer. What’s that all about?
Dan: The ride is called RAGBRAI, which stands for the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. It starts at the Missouri River and ends at the Mississippi River. It’s a week-long ride and we basically eat our way across the state, sampling lots of pie, corn on the cob and pork chops. The good news is the 60 to 80 miles a day helps offset the ridiculously high caloric intake. There are usually about 25,000 riders so it’s quite an event and the people of Iowa are great hosts. The towns we pass through are very hospitable and hopefully make some money for their non-profit organizations.
Suzanne Shelton conducted this interview. Suz knows. Visit her boutique PR shop at sheltongrouppr.com or [email protected]