Editorial: Industry at a crossroads

By Len Monheit

With the present stock market conditions and industry malaise affecting many within the health and wellness industry, the enthusiasm and positive outlook as well as the sharing of success stories at the recently concluded Newport Summit is a pleasant surprise.

We hear of rising health care costs and an impending health care crisis, as well as consumer trends to take a more involved approach to personal health and wellness management. Both of these suggest significant opportunities for our industry in the months and years to come.

Our battle in many respects, will be uphill, with consumer faith at an all-time low and a hostile regulatory and government environment. We have the FDA in the US to deal with, and Codex and EU directives threatening to adversely affect industry growth.

Four dominant principles were presented to Newport Summit attendees last week, which, if successfully employed to guide the industry in the near future, should maximize the chances for long term success and growth.

  1. Focus on and support a science based approach only (click to the discussion)

    From the investment community through to consumer sales the entire industry must realize that long term success, while strengthened by high-level marketing approaches, cannot rely solely on marketing without a scientific foundation to support product sales. Investment in research and the presentation of this research is critical for industry success. The practitioner and medical communities are seeking this information and consumers will demand it. Our credibility will depend upon research and creative and strategic approaches must be taken to support the costs of this research.

    Protection and support of research and intellectual property to encourage the investment is absolutely imperative, and the next issue may be part of a solution.
  2. Speak with a stronger, more unified voice (click to the discussion)

    While recognizing the efforts of industry organizations and trade associations to lobby and campaign on our behalf, fragmentation in the industry is hurting us all. Perhaps it is time to set independent political agendas aside and form a super-confederation, one not dissimilar to the efforts which led to the passage of DSHEA in 1994. Many have begun calling for the formation of an industry ‘confederation’ which would be involved in the lobby process but possibly also involved in the next point.
  3. In the absence of solid guidance and enforcement from the FDA, self-regulation and a high ground is imperative. (click to the discussion)

    FDA enforcement has still not impacted the industry, although increases in the FDA budget may alter this. Recent changes to food regulations can be expected to impact the industry including issues such as mandatory facility registration. The industry has an opportunity to take a high road, knowing that the environment will change. Proactive steps towards self-policing and administration, supported by a dynamic PR campaign will go a long way towards reestablishing credibility as well as positioning the industry with momentum once FDA does start enforcing the regulations. In one scenario, an industry ‘confederation’, openly supported by industry and all trade associations would be empowered. Spokespersons for the ‘confederation’ would be known by all industry participants and available to act proactively as well as reactively on a moment’s notice.
  4. Education is still the key (click to the discussion)

    While consumer education is obviously critical, education of the professional community is also imperative. Certainly the pharmaceutical symposia and detailing process has ensured that medical practitioners know some of the science and benefits of products. This model, on a large scale basis, has not been employed by our industry. And the other dimension, consumer education, has been sadly lacking, and all the while, consumers are becoming more knowledgeable and more critical, with higher and higher expectations. It is our responsibility to give them not only marketing and PR, but first and foremost, solid science based information on health, wellness and nutrition, recognizing that they are hungry for this type of educational process.

Although the issues may appear daunting, trends to self care (diagnosis, treatment and manage health) and rising health care costs and potential strategies to manage these costs (or at least mitigate them) should provide us with incentives to accomplish the steps above and ensure our success. We have been assured that investment funds are available and that the research community is willing and able to help. We see that increasing nutritional value in food is a tremendous opportunity to reach health conscious consumers.

I encourage your comments on these issues which we at NPIcenter believe are pivotal to the health and wellness industry. For that reason, we’ve set up discussion threads around each of these four issues so that you can post your comments, thoughts and ideas.

We look forward to hearing from you.

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