Probably the only consistent factor all business people can agree on is the lack of time to do everything we need to get done. This seems even truer for those of us fortunate enough to be in the nutritional industry. Knowing that fact, it might seem improbable to recommend reading a 75 page abstract and summary of a Conference where less than 1,000 people, including participants, attended. But, recommending a review of the recent NIH State-of –the Science Conference on Multivitamin/ Mineral Supplements and Chronic Disease Prevention held May 15-17 in Bethesda, MD is exactly what I am advocating to all those involved in this industry. The content and review of this conference was important for both what was said but also what was not said.
This Conference highlighted both opportunities and failures of the entire nutritional industry, not simply MVMs, including supplement suppliers, manufacturers and retailers. Looking closely at the abstracts and review, one can read between the lines and sense both the hope and frustration of not only those within the industry but the consumers as well.
The most optimistic point presented is the first sentence of the Introduction of the Draft Statement which states “At least half of American adults take a dietary supplement, the majority of which are multivitamin/multimineral (MVM) supplements”. This fact gives new life to the optimism of our mission as an obvious receptive target audience exists. It would seem a simple task to convince a demographic already familiar with your ideas to adopt your ideas more completely.
The Conference explored six key questions:
· What are the current patterns and prevalence of the public’s use of MVM supplements?
· What is known about the dietary nutrient intake of MVM users versus nonusers?
· What is the efficacy of single vitamin/mineral supplement use in chronic disease prevention?
· What is the efficacy of MVM in chronic disease prevention in the general population of adults?
· What is known about the safety of MVM for the generally healthy population?
· What are the major knowledge gaps and research opportunities regarding MVM use?
The Conference conclusion paraphrased: healthy people take supplements as part of a healthy lifestyle and it has not sufficiently been proven that supplements support health or health supports supplements. Furthermore, the safety and efficacy of MVMs is “inadequate”.
The opportunities presented here are clear whereas the solutions are not. Having spent most of my career in pharmaceuticals I have been “fortunate” to be able to experience the trust and confidence afforded that industry. From an industry perspective, the job of marketing pharmaceuticals was much easier as the consumer rarely seemed to question the safety or science of the pharmaceutical industry. That perception has changed slightly in recent years due to high profile pharmaceutical debacles but the level of public confidence in that industry remains higher than ours. It is my belief the confidence afforded to the pharmaceutical industry was concomitantly earned and not lost. In other words, the message was primarily proactive and reactive only when absolutely necessary. It is easy to blame the nutritional industry’s lack of consumer confidence on economics. But, that is not the answer. We, as an industry and individual companies, need to do more within our own advertising to collectively raise the bar and deliver a more positive message designed to build consumer confidence. Part of the solution to building this confidence is to not simply compete within our own industry against existing products. We, as an industry and as individual companies, also need to reach out to our associated partners such as Editors, Advertisers, Pharmacists, Nurses, and other like interested personnel and incorporate their voices into our positive and proactive messages. Influencing and incorporating these third party sources underscores the depth and credibility of our messages to the consumers. At the very least we must look within our own advertising to determine how to improve the message and convince the public to trust the science and trust the supplements.
I believe this was an important conference with a real message. We just need to take the time to read the message and heed the advice it contains.