As Americans are becoming more aware of and interested in their health, it makes sense that food and ingredient manufacturers are launching products targeting the wellness needs of people of all ages.
But the market for fortified and functional foods has remained relatively steady for the last decade. And experts say it comes down to one reason: Lack of scientific evidence.
At SupplySide West in Las Vegas, a group of experts talked about the importance of a clinical trial to a product's success.
Paul Clayton, chief scientific adviser to Gencor, said that in order to have a successful launch of a product that has health and wellness benefits, manufacturers, marketers and health professionals need to talk about what sorts of scientific studies should be done in order to prove a product's effectiveness.
"If you don't have this round table discussion at the outset, and design a clinical trial that has the output you want and is legal, you can throw an infinite amount of money at it and not have anything that is useful," he said.
Gencor, which makes nutraceuticals to help people as they age, has a partnership with GNC, which sells many of its products. Clayton said that manufacturers interested in a product, as well as consumers who might want to use it, need to be reassured that the product actually does what a company promises.
"There's a very low static to noise ratio out here," he said, gesturing toward the expo show floor.
Last month, statistics from the Natural Marketing Institute indicated that consumers were not buying products with nutraceuticals because they were unsure they would do what they claimed, or they weren't sure their bodies were able to absorb it.
Abhijit Bhattacharya, president of OmniActive Health Technologies, has been faced with the question of proof for his company's lutein supplements. Lutein helps maintain eye health, which Bhattacharya said is extremely important since many people nowadays spend hours staring at screens every day.
In the past, the average person who was concerned about preserving his eyesight was rather aged. Today, Bhattacharya said, everyone should be taking steps to preserve their eyesight from a young age because the damage starts when people are young.
To get out the message, he said OmniActive worked on research to show the damage that light from screens can cause to eyes. He estimated that the company worked on 12-15 scientific posters and presentations, nine studies, and about 12 scientific papers. One of them addressed Bhattacharya's primary target, showing the impact over six months of the blue light from screens on the eyesight of young and active millennials.
He said that health claims that are for people who are otherwise healthy — not dealing with a disease or people who are otherwise weak — helped customers understand why they need to take the supplements now.
"Everybody needs evidence, and I think science is a great equalizer," Bhattacharya said. "If you can convert that into claims that people can understand," manufacturers will be successful.
Tom Druke, director of strategic marketing for Balchem, said his company is also working to make consumers understand the importance of their products. Balchem makes products to supplement choline intake — a vitamin that 90% of people don’t get enough of. While choline has previously been obscure, it will be featured on the revamped Nutrition Facts Panel.
Choline intake is vital to cell and metabolic health. But Druke said its importance begins in utero. Choline is important for fetal brain development. And people need to know that.
Balchem sells premium branded ingredients to increase choline intake, and Druke said science is becoming more critical than ever. All of their marketing is grounded in clinical research, and he said they continue to invest in it.
"You see the trends in the industry, and there's a lot more scrutiny on supplements," he said. "I think people really want validated ingredients. Things they know will make a difference. Most consumers in the marketplace will pay a premium for the quality and the experience."