How Much Does Marketing Drive Dietary Supplement Ingredient Demand?

The ingredient marketing machine.

As an editor covering the nutrition space, when my in-box is suddenly flooded with a ton of news about one specific ingredient, from several different companies, my ears prick up. I’m not talking about finished products, either. When it comes to a product trend, I expect to get a ton of similar news from product marketers. Coconut water. Energy drink. Gluten-free. I hear these words daily. But what about when the news explosion comes from the ingredients sector? If a ton of suppliers start telling me that an ingredient is “hot,” sometimes I have to wonder: Is the ingredient really hot, or are suppliers of that ingredient still working together to make that ingredient hot?

It’s the oldest game in public relations, I suppose. If one competitor announces news about an ingredient, it behooves another supplier offering that same type of ingredient to keep its name in the press by coming forward with its own headline.

In any case, I turned to a couple of industry folk-a marketing expert and a PR expert-and asked them, “How much do public relations and marketing drive ingredient demand?”

I asked Lauren Clardy, the founder and president of NutriMarketing (Santa Rosa, CA), about what happens when several companies, within a week or weeks of each other, announce news about their similar ingredient. Is it coincidence? “No, definitely not. Absolutely not. It’s PR-driven,” Clardy says.

“Obviously, there has to be some legs behind [the news]-I mean, hopefully there is,” she continues. If a promising study is published that everyone supplying that ingredient can benefit from, that’s legit. And if a lot of promising science leads to an ingredient truly trending, that’s legit.

But if a company announces it is scaling up production of an ingredient due to high demand-yet that ingredient isn't really widely popular yet-it’s smart for industry members to look into the numbers to determine whether that demand is real. Because “the reality is that PR sells,” Clardy says. And if a supplier hires a PR consultant “for $5,000 or $10,000 per month, it’s amazing what stories [that PR consultant] can weave, even on the supply-chain and B2B side. It drives demand, by all means. When you get the PR element involve, it absolutely will help drive demand.”

Of course, people are not naïve. Nutritional Outlook readers are no dummies. They understand that PR often makes news. And smart industry companies have smart, qualified scientists and R&D staff to evaluate and determine whether the ingredient really is promising.

I asked Kathleen Murphy, senior public relations counsel for public relations firm BrandHive (Salt Lake City), about the public relations aspect of the ingredients machine. There is, of course, an element of timing to it all, she says.

For instance, it’s no surprise that ingredient news emerges when a big trade show is about to happen. “You’ll often see big waves of information spilling out at once.”

But, she adds, the information has to start with a need. “You can’t solve people’s problems by just piling on the information-you have to understand their needs and respond specifically in a way that helps,” she says.

“PR’s job is to connect messages with the people who most likely want to hear them, because the message could help solve a problem or make their lives easier. In our industry, a formulator or manufacturer may be looking for an ingredient solution, or a consumer may be seeking to address a specific health concern.”

Ultimately, a marketing campaign will fall on deaf ears if there really are no legs to stand on-that is, if the ingredient and the problems it address are relevant to no one.

So what creates ingredient demand? Is it truly need, or is it the marketing machine? It’s both. But at the end of the day, the ingredient will only live as long as consumers really want it.