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Leveraging Trust Transparency in the Supplement Marketplace

Three weeks ago, FDA’s Director of the Office of Dietary Supplement Programs Steve Tave started the public meeting to discuss the Old Dietary Ingredient provision of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) by using the word transparency in describing what he hoped was the forward relationship between FDA and industry. A healthy transparent agency relationship can only be a good thing.

Two weeks ago, news came out of the American Botanical Council Adulterants program that after rejection of many off-spec ingredients at the purchasing company, those ingredients get repurposed into the market through companies that are less scrupulous in quality. Opening this Pandora’s box and trying to do something about it is critical not only as a formal process, but it also continues to signal willingness to discuss openly the less savory aspects of our industry – to the agency, to detractors and to industry.

Last week, CRN’s Steve Mister spoke about the Supplement OWL database as a proactive industry effort in openness, again towards the FDA originally, but in the broader scheme, a recognition of the increasing demand for disclosure and transparency that companies up and down the supply chain can no longer ignore.

While representing only three data points, it’s quite clear (pun intended) that there are internal forces and activities driving away traditional opacity in the dietary supplement industry.

That’s a really good thing, as growing sectors of the population are also both expecting and demanding more transparency and disclosure on the part of companies they choose to do business with and product categories they choose to support and endorse. And it is very much an issue of choice.

So on one hand, we have a proactive industry, and several self-policing initiatives, which are great things, especially in an era of limited enforcement resources. On the other hand, motivated buyers and influencers, increasingly interested in healthy lifestyle solutions, are demanding the exact type of transparency we are promoting within industry.  This is all really good, right?

At this past week’s CRN Conference, attendees heard specifically about two channel opportunities that bear upon this transparency issue.

Zac Bensinger, Director, Health & Wellness of Wal-mart US and discussed how emerging technology capabilities are fueling disruption, by changing the shopping experience in store and online, making it personalized, and providing tools to both help customers build bigger baskets, but also leaner more about the products they are buying. Wal-mart is approaching these opportunities with vigor. And we know that much has been made of the emergence of Amazon as a disrupter in retail, impacting the supplement space with its Amazon Elements offering. Brick and mortar operators continue to panic, in many cases not optimizing or leveraging their personal relationships and community potential and wrestling with competing effectively.

On the other end of the spectrum, in the practitioner channel, we have a new generation of integrated docs embracing lifestyle solutions that include supplements.  Here is an opportunity to develop solid relationships with a community that by itself could double the size of certain markets.

There’s a trust transparency connection in both.

On the retail side, omni-channel strategy has never been more critical, and leveraging of the in-store relationship into an online experience that further offers a transparency to consumers of how products are sourced and made, who is making these decisions and why are all part of a story that must be told. While striving towards convenience, it is important to recognize other values at work in the minds of consumers. The use of smart tools and tactics to recognize and offer these values is a worthwhile investment, and of course, most disruptive environments fuel innovation – and that’s a healthy environment for companies in wellness markets.

Trust transparency is important to engaging practitioners too. Practitioners remain the dominant influencer of lifestyle change and supplement use. Retaining this practitioner support and endorsement is vital for longer term industry growth. The proactive and transparent steps on the part of industry therefore need to continue, to multiply and to be improved.

It is through emerging digital strategies that both consumers and practitioners will find information that guides their decisions on a daily basis. Digital solutions to support transparency are available for small and large alike. And as ever, it’s a matter of knowing your audience and embracing them as community, and then communicating with them regularly, in the manner in which they prefer.

Though trust transparency can and will often expose vulnerabilities, in most cases, it’s only a matter of time before those vulnerabilities are exposed and exploited anyway. As in the case of the ABC Botanicals Adulterant program, and as we recognize from common mainstream media experiences, whoever gets the message out first has better control of the ultimate story. We’re in a great place, two stakeholder groups at least, consumers and practitioners want to hear more.

Let’s give it to them – transparently.

~Len Monheit, Managing Partner, Trust Transparency Consulting