Can a monograph system improve quality and trust in the nutritional supplements market?

The pandemic saw an influx of opportunities and challenges for dietary supplements, including the emergence of more bad actors in the market. A CBD executive discusses one way the industry can continue to maintain quality and consumer trust: a monograph system.

Vitamins and supplements saw a substantial boost in interest during the pandemic. The market saw a massive boom over the past two years, which is to say something for a worldwide industry already valued at $353 billion1 as of 2019.

While some gyms and other wellness centers went through waves of forced openings and closings, vitamins and supplements became a go-to option for scores of consumers. The spike in customer interest grew to the point that numerous well-performing supplement brands struggled to keep inventory in stock2 during parts of the pandemic.

American consumers flocked to vitamins and supplements in the early days of the pandemic. After experiencing a 5% sales growth in 2019 compared to the year prior, U.S. supplement sales shot up 44%3 for the six weeks following early April 2020, totaling $435 million products sold. The market is expected to continue growing for years to come, with estimates projecting an 8.6% CAGR4 between 2021 and 2028. In addition, emerging supplement options, like CBD, boost industry growth, with U.S. sales exceeding $5.3 billion5 last year.

The market surge is a welcome sign for bottom lines. Most vitamins and supplements come from reputable, compliant producers. However, the pandemic ushered in numerous bad actors looking to cash in without much concern about product quality. Such bad actors persist6, with the impact of untrustworthy companies being felt via consumer skepticism. With some likely feeling duped7, dissatisfied consumers could lose interest in supplements. If the instances happen to enough buyers, then we can predict that the surging annual market growth could dry up at some point soon enough. While frustrating, various efforts to thwart such players are proving effective. With consumers demanding more science-backed data, leading companies are pushing back against bad actors, developing products with ingredients and stringent lab testing that meets the ballooning market demands.

Most leading brands understand the importance of establishing consumer trust in their products and the market at large. Discussions over regulatory gaps and similar market pain points were common well before the pandemic. Due to COVID-19, additional issues have been raised. A prime concern has focused on companies looking to capitalize on consumer fears and deceptively market their products by making false claims8 regarding virus treatment and prevention. This includes claims about cannabidiol (CBD) curing or addressing pandemic symptoms. Select in vitro lab reports have indicated its potential in treating virus symptoms. However, some jumped the gun by making a health claim when they don’t know even know how to interpret the data that was released.

Consumers are doing their part as well by demanding greater information and transparency about the available vitamins and supplements. Like producers, product reliability and filtering out bad actors was already a concern for scores of vitamins and supplements shoppers before the pandemic. Finding trustworthy products is a tall task at times. Thankfully, shoppers, advocates, and other helpful consumer sources have utilized news media, social media, information sessions, and various other education endeavors to get the word out about high-quality products that they find.

Together, the reliable players in the market demonstrate how they can overcome the challenges posed by the pandemic and other lingering regulatory issues. Consumers and top companies are now relying on science to verify their products. There is also hope that federal regulators will provide further market guidance through improved regulations and standards for existing and emerging supplements such as CBD.

A Monograph System

From a regulatory perspective, one path to boost consumer confidence would be to look at creating a dietary supplement monograph system, especially for some of the high-volume products in the market. Such a system would provide guidelines to cover how products are formulated, amounts deemed efficacious, recommended dosing, and how the products are to be manufactured and marketed with appropriate claims. It would raise the bar on the industry and likely cause some players to make major adjustments to their product development and marketing. This path would be a welcome update to increase confidence in the CBD category as well as other high-volume supplements and is certainly in the best interest of consumers.

With lawmakers unlikely to make moves in the near-term, the market must do its part to ensure that consumers buy trustworthy products backed by third-party lab science. Improvements have come and will continue to match the developments in the sector and in the world around us. In doing so, we may one day soon enough see the bad actors flee the scene. Together, we can address the concerns and improve the industry rather than hurt its credibility. The last few years have been the strongest indicator of that potential, and I expect more of it to come in the following years.

About the author

John McDonagh is the CEO of NextEvo Naturals (www.nextevo.com).

References

  1. Grand View Research report. “Nutraceuticals Market Size, Share & Trends Analysis Report By Product (Dietary Supplements, Functional Food, Functional Beverages), By Region (North America, Europe, APAC, CSA, MEA), and Segment Forecasts, 2021-2030).” Published January 2022.
  2. Data Bridge Market Research blog. “COVID-19 Impact on Dietary Supplements in the Food and Beverage Industry.” Published July 6, 2020.
  3. Grebow J. “Peak Dietary Supplement Sales Leveling Off During COVID-19 Pandemic, but Growth Still Remains Strong over Last Year, Market Researchers Report During Webcast.” Nutritional Outlook. Published online June 15, 2020.
  4. Grand View Research report. “Dietary Supplements Market Size, Share & Trends Analysis Report By Ingredient (Vitamins, Minerals), By Form, By Application, By End User, By Distribution Channel, By Region, and Segment Forecasts, 2022-2030).” Published March 2022.
  5. Hasse J. “US Hemp CBD Market to Hit $5.3B in Sales in 2021, Driven by Drinks, Gummies, and Charlotte’s Web.” Yahoo! Published May 26, 2021.
  6. Grebow J. “FDA’s Tave Outlines Obstacles to Dietary Supplement Market Enforcement at CRN’s Virtual Conference.” Nutritional Outlook. Published online October 15, 2020.
  7. Louca P et al. “Modest effects of dietary supplements during the COVID-19 pandemic: Insights from 445 850 users of the COVID-19 Symptom Study app.” BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health, vol. 4, no. 1 (April 19, 2021): 149-157
  8. Hein I. “Vitamin Sales Skyrocket in the Pandemic, but Buyer Beware.” Medscape website. Published online March 2, 2021.