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Letter From NBJ: Navigating By Numbers

It might be nice to say a fresh breeze has supplement makers trimming their sales for a steadier course across the all too choppy waters of public perception and media misdirection. It’d be nice to say that reforms and pushing self-regulation past lip service will steady that new course.

But the truth is the supplement industry remains a rather random flotilla of ships, boats and skiffs, and many are navigating without a compass to ports unknown.

The problem, many insiders agree, is a matter of numbers.

Nobody really knows how many boats there are. Nobody is entirely sure what cargo those boats carry. Turning that loose collection of craft into a well-coordinated fleet will take better navigational charts, but just counting boats is a good step.

NBJ provides the best numbers in the business on sales, but counting the number of companies remains difficult.

The Council for Responsible Nutrition’s coming voluntary product registry is a solid step forward and the first version will likely be online by the end of the year. And Vitature is set to track roughly 80,000 products by company and ingredient, with plans to track raw materials up the supply chain. First versions could launch as early as the summer.

Vitature’s tool will undoubtedly change the way business is done. CRN President and CEO Steve Mister predicts their registry could be “transformative.”

With the fleet counted, what then?

NBJ will be using those numbers and offering the analysis expected of a leading trade journal. Bad players and bad ingredients might be easier to spot by supplement makers, regulators and consumers.

That last set of users, consumers, should be the most notable feature on those navigational charts the industry should be better able to plot. CRN’s annual consumer survey showing the broad, seemingly unflappable, faith in supplements is comforting. The Natural Marketing Institute can go more granular with their look at which age groups are particularly valuable. NBJ and New Hope Network have embarked on an exploration into trust and what it means for natural products across different populations.

But there is so much the industry doesn’t know that it will take a while to even figure out where and how to look for it, much less interpret it.

That can be seen in NBJ data showing both sports nutrition and herbs and botanicals outpacing the supplement industry while enduring the heaviest media onslaught. As I said from the stage at Natural Products Expo West, “Consumers are not reading the headlines the way we are.”

Figuring out how to reach those various demographic slices, not just with products but with information, is vital.

That’s hard to do without numbers, but the numbers are coming.

When you know where that wind, fresh breeze or not, is coming from, it’s a lot easier to plot a course.

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