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Amazon Elements: A New Level of Transparency for Dietary Supplements

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by Rachel Adams -

Amazon recently launched four supplement products as part of its Amazon Elements private label, featuring QR product labeling and an online platform offering in-depth insight on the products.

The supplements and vitamins line features four products: turmeric root extract, calcium complex, vitamin D and vitamin K2.

Accompanying each product, Amazon discloses information, such as:

  • Its contract manufacturer,
  • The certificate of analysis (CoA) for each product (accessible via QR labels on packaging),
  • Insight on the tests performed on each product,
  • Information on how the product is created,
  • The ingredient origins, and
  • A Q&A addressing concerns, such as use of synthetic ingredients, excipients, etc.

The breadth of information and ease of accessibility address increased demands for transparency in the supplements category.

“We’ve known for a while that today’s consumer requires more information and is more educated than they’ve ever been before,” Scott Steinford, founder of Trust Transparency Consulting, said in a phone interview. “Transparency has been in evolution in the consumer mindset and, as such, the standards have been raised,” he said, adding the launch of Amazon Elements’ supplements line has set a “new standard” for consumer expectations.

Amazon details testing parameters for each product—including what’s being tested (potency, purity, microbial contamination, pesticides, herbicides, rodenticides and heavy metals)—along with charts of test results.

“They go deeper than I thought they would go,” Jeff Hilton, partner and co-founder of BrandHive, a marketing and branding agency, said in a phone interview. “They’re talking about microbes, they’re talking about pesticides, herbicides, rodenticides, heavy metals … It’s pretty extensive.”

Additionally, consumers who purchase Amazon Elements supplements will be able to download the product’s CoA via a QR barcode on the product’s label, providing information such as the product’s batch number, testing location and production date.

Amazon’s disclosures offer a nearly unprecedented amount of transparency. But its strategy is not totally unprecedented.

Other manufacturers have taken the lead on similar initiatives. Gaia Herbs, for example, launched in 2010 its MeetYourHerbs® traceability platform, which allows consumers to view information such as the harvest date of herbs, identity validation and methodology, purity testing and batch number by entering an ID number located on the product’s packaging into an online platform.

Referencing Amazon’s QR transparency, Steinford said, “I would be reticent to say there’s too much information. It is going to be difficult to maintain an entire product line with the kind of information they’re providing because consumers are going to have questions.”

Steinford, former CEO at Doctor’s Best, was leading the company when it began implementing QR labels on its products in 2012 to provide greater access of information to consumers.

“Doctor’s Best didn’t take it to that level because we knew that there would be questions that would emanate from that level of transparency,” Steinford said. “Maybe we weren’t ready to handle that.”

Hilton, too, noted Amazon’s transparency could lead to greater consumer awareness. “I think it raises the bar,” he said. “Now, you’ve got a consumer who’s looking at this going, ‘What’s a certificate of analysis?’ Next time I’m in my health food store, I’m going to say, ‘Do you have the certificate of analysis for this product?’”

He continued, “You have this enlightened consumer who now knows more, which I think is a good thing … but it does open that whole can of worms now for all supplements, which is—you better have your act together because consumers are going to start to read this stuff, and they’re going to be looking for your potency graph, your purity statement and your CoA.”

Steinford noted two components of the product line working to its advantage: its small size and its ingredients’ origins.

“Most notably, Amazon only launched four items, so it’s not as difficult to address [transparency in] this line of four than it would be a line of hundred,” he said. “What they didn’t do, which is impossible to not do if you have a line of hundreds, is have ingredients from China.”

He explained consumers often carry bias against ingredients sourced from China.

“That has been the concern that many suppliers have is that when consumers find out a product is from China, there’s going to be bias,” he said. “There’s a large number of ingredients used in the dietary supplement industry that come from China; none of the ingredients are used by Amazon.”

Up for debate is whether the QR barcode will prove valuable to North American consumers. According to Steinford, the QR code is used extensively in Asia and Europe, but “hasn’t been as much of a factor in the United States as it is in other parts of the world.”

From a marketing standpoint, Hilton said he “thought the QR code was dead.”

He continued, “The buzz among marketing type, those of us who do this for business is … consumers don’t use it. It’s not really viable. It’s not giving consumers the information they want. So then, seeing Amazon come out with this now, that was my first comment: ‘Wow, I guess the QR code isn’t dead.’”

However, Steinford suggested the QR code is a viable option to provide additional information, especially for dietary supplements. “I do think dietary supplement companies and brand holders will be looking at this more as time progresses,” he said.

From an industry perspective, the disclosure of Amazon’s contract manufacturer, Arizona Nutritional Supplements (ANS), is big news. INSIDER asked contract manufacturers in its “Tips for a Successful Contract Manufacturing Partnership” Q&A  from the January/February 2017 print issue whether brand owners will “acknowledge or even advertise the companies that manufacture its products.” While several companies suggested the possibility is on the horizon, several also felt disclosing a contract manufacturer wasn’t necessary, wasn’t likely or wouldn’t happen.

Whether Amazon’s disclosure of its contract manufacturer will prompt other brand owners to follow suit remains to be seen. “I think [disclosure of a contract manufacturer] will be determined by the consumer,” Steinford said, “and I don’t know that the consumer cares as much about the contract manufacturer, but only time will tell that.”

But consumers do care about transparency, and it appears Amazon’s step toward easier access to a greater amount of information may—as Steinford suggested—raise the bar for transparency. In March, supplement company NutraBio announced its customers can view the results from third-party testing labs for its protein products and others via its website by entering the product’s lot number.

“It’s long been a feeling that ‘clean label’ is a food and beverage thing,” Hilton said, “but I think what this shows us is not only is it a supplement thing, but it’s going mainstream, and so I think the people who are already carving out that path are ahead of the game, and I think everyone else is going to have to get in line with it.”

Amazon did not respond to requests to comment.

 

 

 

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