A Good Year

Dec 9, 2009

Unlike many other industries, the dietary supplements industry had a pretty good year.

In its recently released Consumer Survey on Dietary Supplements, the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN; Washington, DC) reported that despite the recession, an increasing number of Americans are using dietary supplements.

The upbeat mood was palpable at CRN's annual conference in October.

"People are worried about themselves and their health," said James Hyde, CEO of Albion Laboratories, during the conference's The View from the Top panel. "The year 2009 has been good to the dietary supplement industry. We look forward to 2010."

Conference speaker Jason Reiser, Walmart's health and wellness category manager, attributed the market's success to a "perfect storm" of conditions—including an aging baby-boomer segment, a consumer trend of going back to basics, and finally, a new focus on preventive healthcare, since, as Reiser said, "Vitamins cost less than doctors."

Reiser also reported that Walmart is seeing its strongest supplement sales to date. "There's no reason for me to think that this is going to stop," he added.

For consumers, 2009 is also ending on a positive note, with an unprecedented wave of regulatory actions happening in the last quarter of the year, all looking to increase consumer safety.

FDA (Rockville, MD) had an especially busy October. That's when the Senate hearing for the agency's Food Safety Modernization Act, which looks to give FDA more authority to monitor food safety, took place. Also in October, FDA announced plans to crack down on front-of-package labeling. The effects were immediate, and industry watched as corporate support for the Smart Choices labeling program began to crumble.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC; Washingon, DC) was also busy, releasing its revised guidelines for advertising endorsements and testimonials in December.

Could this signal an era of strong regulatory action in 2010? Most believe so. And that has industry members worrying about whether FDA will revise the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA).

Industry trepidation over possible revisions to DSHEA and how to deal with bad actors in the supplements community cast a shadow over the otherwise cheerful outlook at the CRN conference.

Joshua Sharfstein, MD, FDA's principal deputy commissioner, represented the new FDA administration at the CRN conference. He said that officially, FDA has no current plans to revise DSHEA.

However, put a big asterisk next to that statement.

During his speech, Sharfstein made sure to emphasize that although FDA will be trying to make use of the tools that DSHEA provides, he "can't say whether that's going to be enough." Therefore, he said, industry must be open to "other options" down the road.

The fact that Sharfstein took the time to speak to industry at the conference could indicate that FDA is true to its word in wanting to maintain an open dialogue with industry on any developments going forward. However, industry members also recognize that they need to be prepared to fight against proposed changes to DSHEA if necessary.

CRN president and CEO Steve Mister echoed the warning of many at the conference when he urged industry to step up policing against bad actors in the industry. He also advised that industry start talking to members of Congress to "persuade them of the correctness of our positions."

Conference speaker Patricia Knight, founder of Knight Capital Consultants and the former chief of staff for Senator Orrin Hatch, helped to craft the original DSHEA bill. She said, "We have to be ready for engagement when [change] comes."

Looks like we're headed into an action-packed 2010.

Jennifer Kwok
Editor