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Key Success Factors for Dietary Supplements and Functional Foods


by Greg Stephens

The investment required to launch new health and wellness products has increased rather dramatically over the past decade. Minimizing risk to ensure each product delivers on expectations is critical for companies of any size. As example, the evolution of the dietary supplement market has shown significant growth in the mainstream distribution channel (F/D/M/C) where consumers’ needs and desires are often quite different from those of the traditional natural channel shopper. It is paramount to understand the psychographics of the targeted consumer and the market dynamics, as well as any enabling technologies driving innovation.

A process to identify and assess risk and likelihood of success for health and wellness products relies on specific criteria I have termed the Key Success Factors™. Success factors include the product’s ability to address an unmet need, deliver on sensory expectations, demonstrate efficacy, possess unquestionable safety and provide a compelling lifestyle fit.

First, products must provide a clear and compelling benefit that addresses an unmet consumer need. An unfortunate reality of health and wellness in the United States is the ever-increasing incidence of health issues related to poor lifestyle and behavior choices. Certainly not easy to change, this has led to an epidemic of the co-morbid conditions of obesity, diabetes, elevated serum lipids and possibly osteoarthritis.

Additionally, with the explosion of Baby Boomers hitting their 60s, the demand for solutions associated with aging is on the upswing. Many of the Boomers’ health issues are fairly obvious, ranging from joint pain, mental acuity, heart health and vision to the broader categories of performance and wellness. Baby Boomers are not accepting aging as an inevitable decline as earlier generations have.

Sensory and organoleptic characteristics encompass taste, texture, color and smell. It is well understood that today’s health and wellness products must deliver on taste; however, organoleptics also include, for example, mouthfeel and the “throat catch” associated with some high-fiber products or the “aftertaste” and smell associated with consumption of certain fish oil products. Over the past few years, formulators have been quite successful at remedying these issues.

Historically, the power of “the story” has played a significant role in the marketing of dietary supplements. However, as marketers try to reach the emerging “mainstream” consumers, the importance of demonstrated efficacy has become increasingly important. Not surprisingly, the demand for substantiation is stronger for products offering preventive or long-term health benefits. Use of supplements for acute health issues is more likely when the consumer feels there is no other solution and he believes a supplement will be effective. Believability of the benefit is not limited to label claims; with certain consumer segments, it resonates stronger through word-of-mouth or through such authoritative sources as health care professionals.

Recent consumer surveys have shown unquestionable safety is the number one product attribute affecting consumers’ purchase decisions. Though their concern about the safety of dietary supplements is not new, it has intensified over the past few years due to negative media coverage of often deserving products.

Finally, lifestyle fit includes a fairly broad group of characteristics including convenience, eating habits, purchasing patterns, pill consumption, preferred product forms, vegetarianism and sustainability. The demand for convenience has changed significantly over the years. No longer are customers willing to seek out products in out-of-the-way health food stores; they expect to purchase where they shop, including convenience stores and the Internet. For today’s busy consumer, one-stop-shopping has become the norm.

Traditionally, the majority of dietary supplements have been delivered in a pill or capsule form or in powered beverage mixes. While today, most supplement users still prefer capsules, functional foods and beverages sales have dramatically increased. Though food applications present challenges for product developers and regulators, one just has to look at breadth of innovation in probiotic and omega-3 delivery forms.

Evaluating pipeline nutraceutical products through Key Success Factors will assist product developers and marketers to succeed in an increasingly competitive environment.

Editor's note: Greg Stephens will present an in-depth seminar entitled, "Succeeding in Today's Health and Wellness Market: Key Success Factors for Nutraceutical Products," on Wed. Oct. 12, from 10 am to 10:50 am, at SuplySide West trade show in Las Vegas. Click here for more details .

Greg Stephens is the president of Windrose Partners; contact him at (215)860-5186 or .

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