As Warren Buffet said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.”
Has negative press cast a shadow on the dietary supplement industry? Absolutely, and most of the recent industry conferences have placed a spotlight on this major issue. This past June, the NBJ (Nutrition Business Journal) Summit of key industry executives, held in Dana Point, CA, highlighted “trust” as the core topic of discussion. Rick Polito, Editor In Chief at NBJ, also dedicated the May issue of the print journal to the topic. Clearly, the dietary supplement industry has some work to do.
The answer may be clear to many, but the question still looms: Why does the dietary supplement industry face a trust issue in the first place?
Most will point to the abundance of negative publicity over the last couple of years. The most recent “attacks” began with the NY Attorney General’s action against a handful of larger companies and the onslaught of articles and consumer blogs that followed. Others will point to the poor quality, outlier companies and individuals who are akin to bad actors, dragging the supplement industry down without regard to quality or DSHEA-compliant claims, giving us all a bad name. Others propose conspiracy theories, purportedly designed to keep the general public dependent on pharmaceutical drugs or big food. Regardless, consumers have sound reason to feel both cautious and confused.
However, the supplements industry is not alone. A recent NEXT and NBJ poll (January 2016), showed that respondents put the supplements industry near the bottom of a list that ranked trustworthiness by industry. Big business and government ranked even lower, falling below dietary supplements. It is clear that overall consumer trust for large institutions, corporations and government is at record-low levels.
How should the dietary supplement industry respond?
Most responsible executives agree that building consumer trust is among the most important tasks that we’re faced with. In this hyper-speed information age, consumers have instant access to unlimited streams of news and data. There is no hiding, and no room for excuses.
Taking the reigns of leadership is key.
Several companies have already taken a leadership role in developing trust with their consumers. Last July, MegaFood unveiled a project to build transparency into their operations and build greater trust with consumers. Here is a link to that announcement. From 24/7 monitoring of their facilities and manufacturing operations to open product development plans and analytical test results, they are providing a window into their company that is very rare.
Last year, another well-regarded company, Gaia Herbs, also launched a supply chain transparency program called MeetYourHerb®, which allows consumers to learn where the botanicals in their products are sourced from. Here is a link to that announcement.
Build trust through education.
Open education about high-quality practices is the best way to approach consumer trust-building.
One of the companies most affected by the NY Attorney General debacle, GNC, has taken a leadership role in developing and promoting certain quality programs that include review of GMPs (Good Manufacturing Practices), FSMA (Food Safety Modernization Act) and GACP (Good Agricultural and Cultivation Practices). The idea is to be able to develop standards that promote supply chain traceability from the field through to a finished product.
This GNC initiative is interesting because they are inviting the entire industry to participate alongside them, with an overarching goal to build bridges between industry insiders, consumers, industry associations and regulatory agencies. They have invited brand stakeholders, contract manufacturers, ingredient suppliers and all the industry associations, as well as some government regulators, to participate in developing this standard. The process is pretty much open to all industry stakeholders, and is being presented via a group of meetings, the most recent of which was this past June in Greenville, SC.
The trust story has a paradox (of course).
While the industry was busy facing negative media and declining consumer trust, the US Nutrition Industry still grew by 8.9% during 2015 (as estimated by the NBJ and New Hope). According to those same estimates, the herbs and botanicals category grew by 7.7%, despite the negative press. The natural and organic category as a whole experienced one of the highest growth rates, closing at 10.9% over 2014, lending credence to the consumer trend of preference for simple, whole-food-type supplements that are also clean label.
Whether consumer trust has truly deteriorated or not, there is still a great opportunity to make sure that the industry puts out a message which helps to build, or re-build, consumer trust like never before. These perceived failures are actually an opportunity to thrive, because it is clear that consumers want what we offer. In this industry, everyone is a stakeholder, and we all play an integral role in communicating—weaving—this message of trust into every business decision that we make moving forward. Are you on-board?
Are you onboard?