Gretchen Daugherty is a 47-year-old shopper in New York. She has a family history of diabetes and is gun-shy about getting on blood-sugar drugs, especially because she has not been diagnosed with the disease yet. So she went into her local vitamin shop and perused the nicely organised store shelves in the diabetes section. There she found a selection of natural ingredients purported to help stave off the onset of diabetes without the muscular side effects.
"I saw cinnamon and thought, 'I used to put this on my toast as a kid,'" she says. "So I didn't think it would be harmful to add cinnamon to my daily vitamin regimen, and it would help me."
Also on the shelves was alpha-lipoic acid, about which she read good things in a women's magazine.
Usage of condition-specific supplements has doubled among the general population of US adults, Natural Marketing Institute research shows. "Forty-seven per cent of American adults say they currently use condition-specific supplements. It's one of the only categories within the entire supplements market that is really showing any sort of growth right now," says NMI's Steve French.
While the overall trend — alive and existing for more than a decade now — shows no sign of abating, it can be a bit tricky to gauge specific category growth. This is because many ingredients are useful for more than one condition, and it cannot be known precisely why a person purchases a specific supplement. For example, 100 per cent of glucosamine and chondroitin sales can be said to be for the joint-health category because these products are primarily targeted to this condition. But what about those multi-use ingredients like fish oil or carnitine?
"Pycnogenol's ability to reduce inflammation and to help all aspects of circulation makes it an ideal multitasking ingredient," says Frank Assumma, director of marketing for Natural Health Science, supplier of the branded French maritime pine-bark extract. "The cardiovascular-health focus has been ongoing for some time. The focus on skin health, and most importantly joint health and blood-glucose control, is relatively new and is getting more and more focus."
Clinical research is essential to breaking out in the increasingly crowded condition-specific supplement space. Without good research, earning a much-coveted health claim, or even a squishier qualified health claim, is impossible. For manufacturers seeking to source ingredients, research is the bottom line.
"First and foremost, we examine the research to make sure that the ingredient has 'scientific legs.' This means it must have published, peer-reviewed, clinical studies supporting its efficacy or safety, and/or a documented history of successful, traditional use by one or more cultures around the world," says Gene Bruno, a consultant to Jarrow Formulas and dean of academics at Huntington College of Health Sciences in Tennessee. "If it passes that litmus test, we then proceed to consider sourcing, formulation, marketing and other issues of importance before making the final decision to introduce the ingredient into the market as part of a new or existing product."
Research is important, but conveying a scientifically complex message to consumers is the next trick to stitch.
It's called marketing. In the dietary-supplements and functional-foods world, sometimes it is all that separates you from your competition. Today, the primary driver of differentiation lies in marketing healthful drinks, pills and even foods by the health benefit they deliver. The language you choose to use can spell the difference between market success and a warning letter from the FDA.
As General Mills recently discovered, its marketing copy meant the difference between breakfast cereal and a drug. Who knew?
Structure-function claims have served the supplements world well. Today's condition-specific market is the logical extension of structure-function claims — most retail outlets and mail-order catalogues organise their supplement offerings by health condition: probiotics for eczema, sterols for lowering cholesterol, calcium for osteoporosis, vitamin D for everything. The natural-health industry is defined by natural solutions for health concerns.
In the pages ahead, Fi tells the story behind the health categories: how companies are capitalising on the trend, and which ingredients on offer will help manufacturers and marketers pick that next ingredient for their formulation in order to paste that age-old marketing ploy — 'New & Improved!' — on the product packaging.
Following the editorial review, Fi has a directory of select suppliers playing in the associated space. Unlike many publication directories that contain all players in the supply world, Fi has separated the wheat from the chaff for you, so that your business expansion efforts are already somewhat targeted. In the end, that's what we hope to bring to you — a useful tool for your marketing and business efforts.
Whether you are an executive, marketer, supply-chain manager or formulator, place this issue in a handy spot on your desk for referral throughout the year. Look ahead for the latest trends and ingredients.