When online giant Amazon launched its Amazon Elements dietary supplements line with little fanfare this spring, it took those in the supplements industry by surprise, and it got a lot of attention, as is the case with anything Amazon does these days. At present, the Amazon Elements line includes four organic supplements: Turmeric Root Extract, Calcium Complex, Vitamin D2, and Vitamin K2.
Aside from its Amazon name, the Amazon Elements supplements line is notable for the level of transparency Amazon is investing in this product line. One look at the website, and it’s apparent that Amazon is providing a lot of information about these products. Take the vitamin K2. The retailer’s site describes everything from how the ingredient’s fermentation from chickpeas takes place to explaining why each ingredient was selected and added to the final formula. In a Q&A for the turmeric supplement, the retailer presents and answers questions like, “Is this supplement synthetic or made from an actual plant?” and “How long are supplements potent?”
But what’s probably getting the most attention is the QR code on each Amazon Elements supplement bottle that consumers can scan (using the Amazon mobile app, of course) in order to get more information about a product’s batch number, certificate of analysis, where the ingredients were sourced, when the supplement was made, how it was tested—basically “every bit of vital information,” Amazon says.
And while many consumers will likely think that Amazon is the first supplements brand to institute this type of traceability program, that isn’t the case. As far back as 2010, herbal-supplements brand Gaia Herbs introduced its Meet Your Herbs traceability program. The company redesigned all of its packaging to feature a unique identification number (an “Herb ID”) that consumers can enter on the www.meetyourherbs.com website in order to gain information about where an herb was grown, how and by whom it was certified organic, when the herb was harvested, and how it was extracted and tested.
But even if Amazon wasn’t the first to do this, its size and mainstream reach means that Amazon may be able to do what no one has done yet: popularize the notion of hands-on supplements traceability. As consumers become familiar with the Amazon Elements line, they will come to see this type of dietary supplement traceability as the norm—just as it has now become the norm for shoppers to buy diapers, car tires, groceries, and everything in between through Amazon.com.
More importantly, other supplement companies that need to compete with Amazon may increasingly feel pressured to offer similar traceability. Think of how Amazon is selling this on its Amazon Elements website: “Openness on this level is unprecedented, but we see transparency as our responsibility to you.” What brand can deny this to their customers these days?
For those who sell supplements, the Amazon Elements line is both scary competition, but also begs the question of, “Should we follow?” And the answer is probably, yes.
At March’s Natural Products Expo West trade show, I spoke to Jeff Hilton, chief marketing officer and cofounder of longtime health and wellness branding and strategy firm BrandHive. Hilton said that when he learned of the Amazon Elements line and its traceability element, “my first response was, ‘Wow, Amazon.' The industry is going to let them lead the way on this, of all people? I mean, we should own this mind space as an industry.”
Hilton’s feelings echo those of many at the Expo West trade show when he says, “I think Amazon threw down the gauntlet. We need to get on board with this because if Amazon’s doing it, you know they see opportunity or they wouldn’t be doing it.”
Traceability isn’t a goal to aspire to; it’s a reality of doing business in 2017. And the industry can either follow the leader or be left behind. Something tells me we’re going to see a lot more of these initiatives developed over the next few years, to the benefit of those who buy supplements as well as those who sell supplements.