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Secret Shopper: Why should I look for branded ingredients in supplements?

Proprietary versions of botanical extracts, nutrients and other compounds are typically standardized and tested. Find out what retail staff needs to know.

Melaina Juntti

April 11, 2024

2 Min Read
Secret Shopper: Why should I look for branded ingredients in supplements?

Many of the high-quality supplements lining natural products retailers’ shelves feature one or more branded ingredients. Also called trademarked ingredients, these proprietary versions of botanical extracts, key nutrients and other health-promoting compounds are typically standardized and tested for safety, purity, potency and efficacy. These characteristics make them attractive choices for supplement formulators and, increasingly, for shoppers seeking trustworthy products. Here’s how one retailer explained branded ingredients to our inquiring Secret Shopper. 

Natural Foods Merchandiser: Why should I look for branded ingredients in supplements?

Retailer: Branded ingredients are usually higher quality than generic ingredients. They usually have research to support them too. 

Natural Foods Merchandiser: If that’s the case, is a supplement that contains more branded ingredients always better than a product that has fewer or even none?

Retailer: Not necessarily. Depends on the supplement. Your standard vitamins and minerals and stuff are pretty consistent no matter what, so they’re usually not branded. A company would have to alter them in some way to be able to brand them. That happens sometimes, but it’s more common with herbs because they can vary in potency.

Related:Weigh in: 9 ideas for retaining supplement customers in a changing market

Natural Foods Merchandiser: So will a branded herb work better than a generic herb?

Retailer: It might. Again, it really depends on the supplement and who makes it. But branded ingredients are usually a safe bet.

How did this retailer do?


Our expert educator: Jim Hibsch, account strategy director at MarketPlace, a St. Louis–based marketing and branding firm focused on food, dietary supplements and ingredients.

I give the retailer props for really knowing her stuff! When talking about supplements, there truly is a difference between branded ingredients and generic ingredients. So much of it comes back to quality. With so many ingredient options that supplement brands can choose, branded ingredients indicate that they’ve put in the work to ensure the purity, efficacy and safety of their products.

Many times, a branded ingredient is linked with human clinical research that affirms its efficacy. Too often, though, brands with generic versions of branded ingredients use findings from these studies to show that their ingredients work too. This is what we call borrowed science, and it’s a major threat to the supplement industry.

Borrowed science essentially tricks consumers into believing that all ingredients are the same—but they’re not. Using a specific example, the 20 years of clinical research that ingredient supplier Kyowa Hakko has invested into its Cognizin brand of citicoline does not apply to generic citicoline.

When shoppers know the names and understand the value of branded ingredients, they can seek them out on product labels. If your store’s private-label supplements use branded ingredients, or if you stock other brands whose products contain branded ingredients, be proud of what that stands for, and let your customers know. Building more awareness of branded ingredients can help negate the borrowed science issue while increasing the value of both branded ingredients and the products that use them.

About the Author(s)

Melaina Juntti

Melaina Juntti is a longtime freelance journalist, copy editor and marketing professional. With nearly two decades of experience in the natural products industry, she is a frequent contributor to Nutrition Business Journal, Natural Foods Merchandiser and Melaina is based in Madison, Wisconsin, and is passionate about hiking, camping, fishing and live music. 

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