Consumer usage of dietary supplements remains strong, with about 76% of U.S. adults; confidence is high as well (87% feel assured about the safety, quality, and effectiveness of products). Clear commitments to quality remain crucial to long-term integrity of the industry. Companies that fail to comply with basic regulatory requirements like good manufacturing practices (GMPs), or choose not to oversee their own supply chains, have given industry critics fresh material to circulate in the mainstream media. Sketchy science and questionable marketing tactics don’t help either.
Transparency and accountability may help dispel some of the criticism. The Supplement OWL (Online Wellness Library), a dietary supplement product registry, is designed to offer a more complete picture of the marketplace for regulators, retailers, and industry, as long as it’s widely adopted. Uncertainty persists regarding FDA’s guidance on New Dietary Ingredient Notifications. Despite some efforts from the agency and industry, there’s no definitive list of old dietary ingredients marketed and sold prior to Oct. 15, 1994 (the implementation date for the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act).
Sustainability will also continue to be an important theme. Whether it relates to the broad and pressing reality of climate change, wasted food, plastic in oceans, deforestation, or a host of other issues, there are plenty of opportunities—and there’s an absolute need—to do business better.
—Sean Moloughney, Editor, Nutraceuticals World
The dietary supplement industry confirmed the same fact almost all industries did in 2017: you can’t spell “amazing” without depending almost entirely on the letters A-m-a-z-o-n. The dietary supplement brick and mortar concepts continue to lose double-digit growth to the giant Amazon and its underlings. GNC reached its 2017 market high on Jan. 4 at $11.45 and in the middle of November rests 46% lower at $6.15. Vitamin Shoppe had an even worse showing with a 2017 market high on Jan. 4 of $32.44 and a Nov. 15 closing 88% lower at $3.95. Amazon currently lists over 13,900 “brands” of supplements.
In conjunction with the trend of easy/quick to market products, we have an ingredient supply chain that has been forced to compete on price alone. In September 2016 a New York Judge overturned a jury verdict of a $148 million fine against several Chinese companies found guilty of vitamin C price fixing because “the March 2013 jury verdict should have deferred to China’s interpretation of its own laws, regardless of the country’s motives.” 2017 saw a significant increase in ingredient pricing, which is controlled by international manufacturers that have been permitted to obey the direction of their own government in deference to U.S. anti-trust laws.
If you believe the dietary supplement industry’s “golden age” was the advancement of science-proven vitamins, minerals, herbs, and specialty ingredients, you are not going to like where the commoditization of both ingredients and retail will take us. Most category searches of PubMed clinical science citations show an overall decline in clinical research of dietary supplement ingredients. With the trend away from clinical substantiation and more toward commodity and social marketing, what can we expect to achieve? It is time to recognize the trends and require all components of the supply chain to reinforce education and science, or all we will have left is the ability to sell unsubstantiated commodity products through Amazon, or its equivalent.
—Scott Steinford, President, NAXA and CoQ10 Association
When I began working in nutraceuticals, the food industry had not yet realized that nutrition and health was going to be a primary driver of its business. The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 had just been enacted and supplements were becoming more recognized and popular. Today, it is universally accepted that health and wellness is transforming not just food but also the companies that make and market our foods.
We are at the same turning point for personalized nutrition. There are indisputable, different nutritional needs depending on one’s metabolism. For instance, at least one third of American adults need to reduce high glycemic carbohydrates (i.e., sugar and flour) while others need to reduce protein. Nearly everyone I know needs more dietary fiber, especially fermentable dietary fiber like resistant starch, but this may not be a good option for people with certain digestive diseases.
Understanding your metabolism is complicated, but I am encouraged by new companies like Habit, DayTwo, and InsideTracker, which are helping people identify their metabolic needs, and are helping consumers identify what to do about them. This is significantly different than consumers racing from one fad to another as they searched for a specialized program that helped them feel better. Based upon biochemical markers and your own preferences, you can begin to understand your own personalized needs in order to stay healthy and well, or to optimize your performance. (Personally, I’m into wellness and not so much optimized exercise, but if you know me, you would already knew that.)
Personalized nutrition will significantly change the food and nutraceuticals industry. I cannot predict the specifics, but I do know that once consumers understand the power of personalized nutrition, there will be no turning back. Just like there’s no turning back from health and wellness transforming our industry today.
—Rhonda Witwer, Vice President, Marketing & Business Development, International Agriculture Group
From a mergers and acquisitions perspective, we have seen significant activity among both large and small entities. There has certainly been consolidation in the ingredient space, as the medium-sized companies have been gobbled up, and now the smaller ingredient companies are being acquired. Hopefully this leads to investment in new science and ingredients. From a finished product viewpoint, the large mass market brands may be paying a price for taking risk-averse positions over the past several years. Few if any new ingredients have met all the requirements, and consequently nothing new was launched—just a rehash of the same old thing. On a more positive note, we are seeing huge funding for start-ups. These start-ups are taking calculated risks, strategically targeting specific populations, and making big splashes in direct-to-consumer markets. Good for them! And they are doing it without severe discounting. Even better.
Pain, sleep, and anxiety support are thriving, and digestion keeps going strong. Perhaps new ingredients and finished products in the future will target much more narrow but robust market populations. As an example, will gaming or academics be a future niche target market for cognitive support? Or ultra-athletes for sports? Here’s to another year behind us, and a future that looks bright.
—Dan Murray, Vice President, Business Development, Xsto Solutions, LLC
Amidst our current cultural revolution, changes impacting the herbal industry include greater use of testing laboratories. In the 1980s, few bothered with herbal product testing; there just wasn’t enough demand. But a few entrepreneurs dug in and carved out their unique niches. Since then, several large international testing laboratories have joined, along with the equipment manufacturers, in giving attention to the supplement industry. At least a couple of the pioneering shops are still doing well and undergoing major expansions in order to manage recent upticks in business.
I would like to think that attention to detail and reaching for higher standards of herbal ingredient integrity accounts for the growth of these dedicated analytical shops. To some extent this is true. It’s also true that increased regulatory attention has driven companies to better know their ingredients and to ensure that their products can withstand critical scrutiny. It would be hard to argue that actions by New York state’s attorney general, misguided though they were, aren’t partly responsible for an acceleration in product integrity verification.
Genomic-based, “DNA-testing” used to identify botanicals is probably here to stay. Ironically, the details—which methods, equipment, and standard reference databases can be used to ensure that the implementation process is scientifically valid—are still being determined. Some members of the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) are working with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to help figure out how fit-for-purpose genomic testing methods are for herbal identification. USP is engaged in similar efforts, as are several academic institutions. We should have more of an idea of the results of these endeavors by this time next year.
In other news, what’s a cultural revolution without plants that can change your consciousness? Cannabis, and to some extent kava and kratom, are in the headlines again. On Jan. 1, 2018 cannabis for adult use will be legal to sell in California—the state that also brought us Prop 65. Adult in this sense means responsible use by adults who do not hold a prescription for medical cannabis use.
Yes, this is old news in Washington, Oregon, Colorado, and a few other states, but reflect for a moment on the fact that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) still has cannabis listed as a schedule I substance with “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” This is where the DEA had emergency scheduled kratom last year, then reversed direction for several reasons, including public outcry, legislators’ requests, and scientists pointing out that needed research would come to a halt. So they took a step back and asked FDA to review the science on kratom. Now that that’s been done it will be interesting to see what the DEA does with the information.
The statement recently delivered by the FDA commissioner on kratom was misleading and not reflective of the existing science. Kratom binds to the body’s opiate receptors, but it isn’t a binary on-off system with opioid drugs on one side and naloxone (Narcan) on the other as an antidote to opioid drug overdose. Unlike classic opioids that cause the body to stop breathing in an overdose, kratom produces little to no respiratory depression.
Kava continues to make a comeback with increasing sales, and deservedly so. I know of no other substance that breaks anxiety without impairing mental function. 2018 should see an AOAC kavalactones—kava’s bioactives—Official Method of Analysis. It has been my privilege and pleasure to serve as the working group chair for this NIH Office of Dietary Supplements funded effort.
I’ve been consulting again for just over a year, and it’s an interesting view that has included serving on GRAS affirmation panels, advising attorneys in legal cases, and representing kava at a Florida planning and zoning board meeting where, afterwards, I received applause for just showing up at the nakamal (kava bar). I’m guilty of liking to think that many herbal supplement companies could benefit from my expertise, and saying so, followed by “and some even know it.”
If we hadn’t thrown out the wheat with the chaff when we transitioned to pharmaceutical companies designing our drugs, we might still have kava and other plants as official drugs, where they were up until about the 1950s. Healthcare practitioners would still be trained in their use and pharmacists in their preparation, all within a responsible social model and an appropriate regulatory structure to house it. Instead of “build it and they will come,” we’ve already arrived and need to continue constructing the city to meet our needs.
Meanwhile, using botanicals for self-help requires what we already need to do: to be responsible for our own health. This is best done with informed and willing collaborators—yourself and the practitioner of your choice.
—Steven Dentali, PhD, Dentali Botanical Sciences, Industry Consultant