Consumers today have no shortage of choice when it comes to purchasing dietary supplements. They have extensive options to choose from, a variety of products and delivery formats to fit their individual needs, and the ability to choose where they purchase products. Market growth and innovation benefit consumers by providing more opportunities for personalization and require industry and retailers to remain vigilant to ensure consumers have access to safe and quality finished products.
In an effort to bolster quality and accountability in the dietary supplement aisle, retailers have started to develop and implement their own verification programs. These programs serve as a set of quality checks that dietary supplement products must pass prior to going on store shelves. Though well intentioned, retailers have started to create a complicated patchwork of requirements that can lead to unnecessary increased expenses and burdens on manufacturers. Simultaneously, various standards can confuse consumers and increase costs to dietary supplements, limiting public access to these beneficial products.
Responsible dietary supplement manufacturers already work hard to comply with the law, meaning they follow GMP (good manufacturing practice) requirements, testing procedures, labeling and storage requirements, among other quality practices enforced by regulatory agencies at the federal and state levels. Many companies use their own qualified in-house or partner laboratories, and others work with reputable third-party testing labs that provide a quality seal or certification of approval.
Duplicative standards implemented by retailers may limit manufacturers’ flexibility to use their own in-house labs and choose a third-party certifier to work with where there may already be an established relationship. Often, in-house or partner labs are the most experienced and familiar with testing a company’s various formulations or ingredients. Retailers would benefit more by confirming a manufacturer’s GMPs, instead of implementing redundant and rigid testing by a lab that may be unfamiliar with the nuances of a manufacturer’s formulation.
These varying standards create a scenario where costly testing will affect the public. Three-quarters of Americans take dietary supplements and rely on these products to support a number of health and wellness benefits. Increased costs from duplicative testing will eventually fall to consumers and potentially affect the public’s ability to purchase affordable products.
Not only can patchwork standards affect the cost of dietary supplements, but also varying standards may confuse consumers as they shop for products across different retailers. This is concerning, as consumer data demonstrate that supplement users pay particular attention to the product label and rely on it to make purchasing decisions.
Results of the 2020 CRN Consumer Survey revealed that the product label was the most important (67%) purchasing factor for supplement users. And among supplement users who cited the product label as their most important purchasing decision, nearly one-third (30%) cited a quality seal (e.g., NSF International, Nutrasource, UL, USP, Eurofins, Informed Choice, and Banned Substances Control Group) as the most important label consideration. As the dietary supplement marketplace experiences growth and innovation, and more consumers recognize the important role these products play as part of a healthy lifestyle, retailers and industry must ensure consumers continue to have access to safe and affordable products. The consumer’s ability to choose from various dietary supplements and decide where they purchase products is especially critical, as people have become increasingly aware of their individual nutritional needs and are seeking products to fit their unique lifestyle.
To best preserve consumer access and promote public safety of dietary supplements, it’s critical that retailers and manufacturers come to the same table to make quality and safety the base price of entry into the retail supplement marketplace. Moving forward, CRN and others in the responsible industry are working to foster a dialogue between manufacturers and retailers in an effort to harmonize certification standards.
Megan Olsen is the assistant general counsel, Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), a leading trade association for the dietary supplement and functional food industry.