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Millennials demand transparency in supplements

The holy grail of marketing has always been finding ways to connect with the coveted 24-35 age demographic. This group of people is just coming into their own, with their own money, and are at the stage where they are cementing brand loyalty. Get them when they’re young, the thinking goes, and they are yours for life.

For the last couple generations, supplements have been presented as pills containing nutrients. Nutrition science has pushed forward our understanding of how nutrition affects health, but at the end of the day the calculus has remained the same—put the desired nutrients, at the desired dose, inside an encapsulated capsule or tablet. Once the formulation is set, marketing takes over to connect with consumers on either message or price.

But a funny thing happened on our way through the 21st century. The information age, through the information superhighway, has provided a new generation of consumers with more information than they’ve ever had before. More information has led to more requests for not just what’s in a supplement, but also the larger story of how the pill is made and where the ingredients are sourced.

To coin a phrase, traceability and transparency.

“Boomers were OK to hear the story about the benefits of supplements,” said Jeff Hilton, chief marketing officer and co-founder of BrandHive, which helps ingredient suppliers and finished goods manufacturers bring products to market. “Millennials want what precedes that and what’s after that—what made you do that, is there another agenda here, why did you do that, what do you do with the packaging?”

Simply put, Boomers want the core proposition and benefit, while millennials want the complete story—not just what brands want to tell them. And through social networks and the power of the Internet, they are able to get that information, or brands will pay the price for their opaqueness.

Two other millennial notions set them apart from previous generations, Hilton said.

One is related to the traceability and transparency of ingredients, and that’s the whole-food ingredient movement, which is being driven largely by millennials.

Three pioneering supplement brands in the whole-food supplement movement are Rainbow Light, Garden of Life and MegaFood. But in just the last few years, other companies have hopped on board, from American Health to Natural Factors. And beyond whole-food ingredients in pills, a faster-growing area of supplements are nutritional powders, or the “greens” category.

“They love the concept that the nutrients are coming from our fruits and vegetables,” said Hilton. “It plays directly to the millennial audience who wants transparency, wants a source they can understand.

“As marketing stories go, they don’t get much better than whole-food supplements,” Hilton added. “It’s powerful.”

The other millennial challenge for supplement makers is that they are not pill takers. They want nutritional fortification, just not via pills. This opens opportunities for functional foods and beverages as well as for gummies and other alternative delivery formats such as satchels and powders.

“The challenge for supplement makers is new dosage forms—millennials won’t put a pill caddy in their backpack,” said Hilton. “So how do you get nutrients in a form they can take along?”

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