How to Offer Nutraceutical Products Sustainably

  • Dr Anish Desai, Clinical Pharmacologist, Nutraceutical Physician, Founder & CEO, IntelliMed Healthcare Solutions

Healthy, sustainable and cheap; these are all words used to describe what consumers are demanding from nutraceutical products across the globe. Consumers are looking to companies and governments to lead on providing sustainable solutions. Innovative businesses are driving sustainable development across the dietary supplements sector.

As people are increasingly concerned about staying physically fit and keeping certain ailments at bay, the nutraceutical market is experiencing commensurate growth day by day. Every now and then we hear of a new startup or a new brand in the field. But as a business, it is challenging for startups to survive, as the market is already highly competitive. 

Taking the sustainable route

Sustainability involves the maintenance of a certain level of materials, or preventing the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance. It is a term that has become the new buzzword regarding a myriad of things- ranging from sustainability of our food and agricultural systems to the protection of our planet’s resources. Sustainability as a trend is inherently linked to the clean-label and plant-based movements of the past two decades. 

Delivering transparency and quality throughout the dietary supplement supply chain, offers the traceability that consumers are now looking for, like raw materials and ingredient processing, to delivery solutions and beyond. In practical terms for the nutraceutical industry, sustainability means responsible ingredient sourcing, creating vegan and vegetarian product formulations, examining processing methods and packaging, as well as minimising energy use and waste. To achieve authenticity, and therefore gain consumer trust means, designing sustainability into product development from the outset and holistically.

Today, consumers of all generations include nutraceuticals in their daily diets, and the industry is expected to reach a projected value of $358.5 billion by 2027. Over the past few years, there have been a lot of developments in the nutraceutical industry, including adjustments to customer perception and behaviour. According to HealthFocus International’s 2021 Global Sustainability Report, 46 per cent of consumers have become more concerned about the environment and sustainability of the world around them since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. 64 per cent of global consumers believe that what is good for the planet is also good for themselves.

The nutraceutical industry is becoming more plant-based, particularly with regard to the aspects of effectiveness, safety and naturalness.  This is in line with the sustainability logic of dietary supplements. A trend which has grown into a global phenomenon and reflects a much broader range of consumer lifestyles and preferences, it now drives the demand for products with naturally-sourced, easy-to-understand ingredients, trusted certifications, such as vegan, vegetarian, non-GMO (genetically modified  organism), kosher, halal, as well as sustainable positionings.

The industry must focus on  science, product safety, integrity, and sustainability. We also need to strengthen and standardise quality-assurance programmes. Companies must look out for the following challenges that may arise:

  1. Awareness among both healthcare professionals and consumers: Lack of awareness persists at both levels – physician-level and patient-level. There is a lack of standard guidelines for management with nutraceuticals. Planning and implementing activities to improve product and disease awareness is necessary for overall growth. 
  1. Unique ingredients and products :  The brand must incorporate some innovative and natural ingredients, which keep up with the market demands.  These innovative ingredients with good health benefits help in attracting consumers since they are willing to try something new and different and hence are up to paying  the premium price for such products.
  1. Efficacy data: The product must have strong scientific data with benefits seen in human studies. Functional medicine is an evidence-based, therapeutic model that is centred around personalised approaches for prevention and treatment of diseases.
  1. Quality of raw material: Most consumers are highly aware about different brands. Thus, quality of nutraceuticals is paramount for efficacy and safety, and it includes quality of raw materials, different available chemical forms, complex products, and the absence of contaminants. Manufacturers of dietary supplements can make substantiated and sincere sustainability claims by using sustainable ingredients.
  1. Research and development : As consumers want effective research-based products, they feel hesitant to try a new brand.  For that, a new brand or startup organisation needs to work a lot more on research and development. Evidence-based nutraceuticals, clinical and pharmacological data of the product, help the consumer to build their trust. So, R&D forms the foundation for any brand’s sustainability in the market.
  1. Packaging: Innovation in biotechnology will help meet environmental and sustainable demand with more clinically validated and efficacious, naturally derived ingredients and packaging without a heavy eco-footprint. Algae is one industry taking on many environmental challenges in this way. The younger population is the largest consumer-base for nutraceuticals and is looking for innovative as well as sustainable packaging.
  1. Dosage form: Gummies are popular among children whereas the elderly prefer sachets or powders. Formulation and dosage form of the product varies as per age.
  1. Taste: Also, consumers are often picky about the taste of the supplements they are consuming. So, for their comfort, a brand needs to pay attention to this aspect. 
  1. Price: Nutraceuticals are more commonly used for long-term chronic disease, and that’s when cost becomes an issue. Also, some consumers tend to compare functional categories with normal food categories. Getting the best-quality ingredients and making a product easy on the pocket, can be challenging.
  1. Supply chain and Distribution : To succeed in this volatile environment, businesses will need to handle the global supply chain and labour difficulties. Having good communication with all business partners, strong relationships with suppliers, labs, & packaging, and maintaining product in stock will be essential. A successful business will need to communicate and handle any product delays or other difficulties that may have an impact on consumers at this turbulent moment in the global economy. The target market and the channel through which the brand is selling its goods must always be in focus. The emphasis on e-commerce has changed in terms of distribution channels very quickly when looking at the current environment or the last few years.

Organisations need to be more aware about these challenges and work on the strategies that can help in overcoming them. There is often a misconception that adopting more sustainable practices costs more money. When looking at the long-term benefits, sustainability reduces business costs, adds innovative strategies, improves reputation and brings new customers who value sustainability and a greener environment. The nutraceutical industry is expected to continue focusing on sustainability.

In a nutshell, the more sustainable your brand is and the more you communicate this to consumers, the more consumers will value your product, improving brand-loyalty and leading to overall growth of the company.

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