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Supplements' future lies in consumer education

Supplements' future lies in consumer education

As the 14th annual NBJ Summit came to a close, the future of supplements was on everyone's mind. A common theme that ran through discussions was the need for not only more research around the effectiveness of supplements, but more education for consumers.

Although sales of supplements continue to grow, consumers seem to be looking for more information as to what supplements to take for their personal needs. With modern technologies, consumers have access to more information than ever before, and yet the sentiment was that they are more confused than ever before. As Barry Perzow, founder and chairman of Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy outlined, "In all the years I've been in this business, I've never seen so much confusion, controversy and lack of education. As more consumers are embracing natural medicine, I think they're also more confused than they have ever been."

At the NBJ Summit, Perzow sat on a panel called Retail Futurecasting, which also included Greg Horn, president, Specialty Nutrition Group; Jason Reiser, vice president, Health & Family Care, Sam's Club; and Jeff Wright, founder, Wrights Nutrients.

Although Perzow blamed media coverage in part for constantly representing conflicting issues within the nutrition and supplement industry, these experts also acknowledged that this is an industry that needs a personal touch. Even the big box stores are beginning to understand this as Jason Reiser of Sam's Club outlined, "The person who talks to that patient is going to win in this space like none other. We try to always get the pharmacist and associates closer to the patient, not just with Facebook or a tweet. If you're not investing in people and getting closer to that customer, I think you're nowhere. At the end of the day people want to be told what to take."

Answering consumers' supplement questions

Reiser likened the role the supplements industry can play in people's lives to that of the cosmetics industry, where he said women walk up to the counter at Estee Lauder and they say "fix this." This being whatever makeup, wrinkle or skin issue it is they have. Women are willing to open up their wallets to be given the products that will make them feel good or solve their cosmetic conundrum.

People feel the same way about supplements. They want to be given the solution to their health problem. They don't want to have to work too hard to find it themselves.   

And this is where specialty stores can shine. As Wright outlined, his store based in New Port Richey, Fla. is known for its customer service. "We have the ability to stand in the aisle and tell the story and connect the dots. Our customers trust us and are willing to listen. We have more than five minutes to tell the story. When they come to our store they're already sold, we're a destination, it's not just Sam's Club."

Perzow as well, outlined how his 23 stores, which have an integrative medicine focus, all have alternative medicine practitioners such as naturopaths and herbalists working the floor. In addition, the pharmacists in his stores are trained to suggest supplements that complement or best interact with prescribed pharmaceutical drugs.

Supplements as a necessity

Ultimately, a point of discussion at the Summit was how to get consumers to think of supplements as food, as a necessity, and something that needs to be taken as part of a daily routine. Many ideas were floated, including during The Future of Wellness and Nutrition for CEOs session. One idea is for manufacturers to shop with their customers for supplements to truly understand their customers' barriers to entry.

Another suggestion was for vitamins to be better integrated throughout traditional retail outlets, rather than just having a supplement section. This would mean that calcium or vitamin D and C would appear next to the orange juice or dairy products, or kids' multivitamins would show up in the cereal aisle. If vitamins are integrated in stores, it would be easier for consumers to put them into a context of food and harder for consumers just to ignore them in the store.

Ultimately educational materials at the point of purchase are also helpful to consumers. And in an industry that is often limited by what it can and can't say, manufacturers were encouraged to find ambassadors for their products, or consumers or bloggers who are willing to help talk about the benefits of supplement use.

Wellness care includes supplements

Keynote speaker Dr. Michael Roizen, MD, author of You: Staying Young and chief wellness officer of the Cleveland Clinic is very much an ambassador of the supplement industry and offered some simple starting points for consumers. "A multivitamin with DHA and lutein taken daily is the best insurance policy you can have," he stated.  Roizen, a friend and colleague of Dr. Oz, noted that 81 percent of hospital admissions in this country have to do with tobacco use, food portions and choices, physical inactivity and stress. Our country, he said, has twice the chronic disease of Europe and our obesity rates, which are already high, are projected to double over the next 30 years.

"We need to make exercise and eating healthy the norm in this country," he stated.  He outlined that people don't change because of facts, but rather "it's emotion that makes change." But once people make a change, it's hard to sustain. People need to be in an environment or culture that will support them in sustaining change. While he called for people to cut out saturated fats, trans fats, sugar, simple carbs and syrups from their diets, he also emphasized the need for wellness care in this country, which includes education and integrating supplements into our healthcare choices, "If we don't change the way we do healthcare in America, we won't survive."

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