The panel discussion included moderator, Steve Mister, president and CEO, Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN); Connie Barry, president and CEO, Pharmavite LLC; James Hyde, CEO, Albion Laboratories; and Douglas Lioon, executive chairman, Douglas Laboratories.
According to the panel, the current state of the economy is having a positive impact on the dietary supplement industry. Consumers are continuing to utilize dietary supplements as an important part of their health program, said Ms. Barry. Mr. Lioon agreed, noting that though there has been robust growth in the dietary supplement business, the industry certainly does not take that for granted. “People are worried about themselves and their health. The year 2009 has been good for the dietary supplement industry; we look forward to 2010,” added Mr. Hyde.
Education will be critical in coming years, according to experts, and more companies are beginning to allocate money for consumer education. Consumers want to understand more about their health, said Ms. Barry, adding that an educated consumer—one who understands the role dietary supplements play in health and wellness—leads to a consumer more willing to spend money on the products.
Mr. Lioon, whose company manufactures products for the healthcare professionals channel, noted that, “There is an abundance of information out there and consumers are demanding that information. We need to put out good products with clinically backed ingredients. The more science they see about supplements, the more they become believers.”
With GMPs in place for the majority of the dietary supplement industry, Mr. Mister asked panelists whether the new regulations have changed their businesses. Mr. Hyde said his company is not doing anything drastically different. “We embrace the GMP regulations and use it as a strategic advantage,” he said. “It is a few bad actors that give the industry a bad name.”
Mr. Lioon added that companies, such as his, who do business internationally, have to be cognizant of all the different regulations globally, making it necessary to raise the bar on all products. “We have built a brand around quality,” said Mr. Lioon.
Ms. Barry noted the fact that Joshua Sharfstein, MD, principal deputy commissioner, FDA, was willing to speak at CRN’s annual conference, was a good indication that the regulatory agency was open to collaboration and dialogue with the dietary supplement industry to help ensure high-quality, safe products for consumers. “That’s why I get up in the morning—to give consumers products that can benefit their lives,” said Ms. Barry.
Food safety regulation will continue to be another important regulatory matter. Mr. Mister noted that CRN had recently announced support of S. 510, the Senate’s bill for the FDA Food Safety and Modernization Act, which would include annual registration of facilities and mandatory recall authority for FDA.
Mr. Mister asked panelists whether or not the passage of this legislation could have a large impact on the dietary supplement industry. “If there is a perception change in how the industry is regulated, then it is probably a good thing,” Mr. Hyde said.
Ms. Barry said she wished Congress, FDA and the industry could use the tools already in place under the law before going forward with new legislation, but she also noted that food safety is an important issue that needs to be addressed.
Mr. Mister also asked panelists how new investors will be using capital and credit to enter the dietary supplement industry and what effect that will have on the industry as a whole. Mr. Lioon cautioned that, “There are two types of investors—the ones that get it and the others that are just looking to make an investment and profit quickly and flip their business.”
Mr. Hyde commented that there will be some companies looking for short-term profit, not worrying about the long-term health of the industry. To counter this, he suggested the industry needs to raise the bar in terms of accountability so that there is a balance between profit this quarter and long-term growth. He urged companies to work hard to meet somewhere in the middle on these goals.
In terms of offering advice to industry newcomers, Mr. Hyde said having a good platform and a strong foundation is essential to success. Ms. Barry proposed that start-up companies need a clear vision of who they are. “A core understanding and a commitment to quality will take them a long way,” she said.
Mr. Mister concluded the session by asking the leading CEO’s what one thing keeps them up at night. Mr. Lioon noted that the fear of a new economic contaminant that finds its way into the supply chain is one of his biggest fears. He went on to encourage companies that see something that doesn’t make sense, to step up and raise their hands and report it. “We all need to take responsibility for, and protect, our own real estate,” he said.
Ms. Barry said her biggest fear is that industryas an industry, she worries that we won’t take the opportunities for growth around us seriously, warning that companies who see growth must also strive to maintain responsibility. “I do feel that the industry we make today will set us up for the industry that we become in the future,” said Ms. Barry.