Consumers in the Supplement Space Demand Higher Quality Controls

by Matt Weik

The supplement industry is unregulated for the most part. While the FDA claims they oversee manufacturers and distribution, they admit that the regulations in place are different than “conventional” foods. This leaves many consumers questioning why this is and how they are supposed to trust brands when it’s apparent that supplement companies can play by a different set of rules?

What exactly is the FDA responsible for when it comes to supplements?

According to the official FDA website, they state, “Manufacturers and distributors of dietary supplements and dietary ingredients are prohibited from marketing products that are adulterated or misbranded. That means that these firms are responsible for evaluating the safety and labeling of their products before marketing to ensure that they meet all the requirements of DSHEA and FDA regulations. FDA is responsible for taking action against any adulterated or misbranded dietary supplement product after it reaches the market.”

But let’s be honest, there are many shady supplement companies out there today with overhyped products, that don’t do as they claim, and are tricking consumers into spending their money on a placebo pill. While this doesn’t represent the industry as a whole, it certainly casts a shadow upon it. For years consumers have been crying foul, yet the industry seems to be unchanged. Sure, every once in a while, a supplement company will get slapped on the wrist or with a heavy fine, but more times than not, it doesn’t change the business model or ethics in place. Will the FDA one-day step in and oversee the industry like they do with conventional food? Possibly. But, as it stands right now, it looks like that might be far down the road if ever.

The UK is now chiming in too

In a survey, over 70% of the consumers over in the UK who purchase sports nutrition supplements would like to see some sort of regulations and certifications in place. Consumers across the globe are demanding transparency and some type of reassurance, other than the word of a brand, to ensure the quality and safety of the products they are purchasing. One researcher noted that, “Looking to the future, there is a high level of ingredient scrutiny among sports nutrition users, highlighting the need for brands to be transparent about what goes into their products.”

When analyzing the survey, researchers noticed that 27% of Brits are using supplements—ranging from a multivitamin all the way up to a protein powder. Not surprising, around 63% of them mention that they aren’t even sure if the supplements they are taking are actually working. This is actually quite common as we live in a world where if we don’t see it or feel something, we can’t confirm or deny that it is actually doing as it says it will. For instance, the pre-workout category these days is booming because it’s a product you can actually feel. You can feel the boost of energy and even the tingle from certain added ingredients within 30 minutes of taking it. However, on the other hand, products like fish oil, vitamins, and even protein powders are not supplements that you will consume and feel an immediate benefit or reaction from.

Consumers are becoming more educated

While not to say that consumers weren’t educated in prior years, only recently have consumers become more interested in the actual ingredients and profile of a product. They examine the ingredients list and supplement panel to see what the product contains and in what dosage. According to the data from the UK research, around 64% of those using supplements look at the ingredients before making a decision on if they will purchase the product or not.

With many products containing added sugars or artificial sweeteners these days to enhance the flavor, almost half of those surveyed in the UK mentioned if a product contains sugar, they will not purchase it. One researcher mentioned that, “Sugar is one such ingredient in the spotlight, signaling the need to highlight reduced sugar contents on-packaging where possible. Meanwhile, opportunities are ripe for operators to explore products made with all-natural ingredients, with significant demand for such products.”

Should brands conduct third-party testing of their products?

Personally, I think they should if they want to have an edge on their competitors. In a world where consumers want to feel safe using a product, I feel it could go a long way. Brands can actually do more on their end such as get their products NSF certified or even show their COAs (certification of analysis) on their products online. While many will not want to move forward with this due to the costs involved, the return could actually be worth it if, indeed, the consumers feel more comfortable with their brand after seeing the certifications. All brands should, however, be GMP (good manufacturing practices) certified.

With larger conventional food companies looking to enter the sports nutrition space with products higher in protein, this could change the landscape as we know it today. One researcher said, “The sports nutrition market is facing intensifying competition from the growing number of mainstream foods embracing a high-protein proposition. Usage of the two overlaps heavily and the more accessible prices and less processed image are likely to work in favor of the latter, with ‘lifestyle’ users particularly likely to be swayed.”

I love transparency and when brands put exactly what’s in the product on the label with the precise dosages. I’m not even a fan of proprietary blends because you simply have no clue how much of an ingredient is actually in the product. It’s deceptive in a way. I may be one man speaking my piece on this topic, but on thing’s for sure—I’m not alone.

Gray, Nathan. “Is Growing Consumer Scrutiny and ‘mainstream Protein’ Putting Sports Nutrition under Pressure?” 18 July 2017. Web.