The American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) is planning to hold a virtual conference focused on the sports nutrition industry. The Oct. 21 event will offer practical advice for business growth, ranging from understanding industry trends and developing an innovative pipeline of products to reducing liabilities and leveraging banned substance testing.
The programming for the inaugural Sports Nutrition Congress “showcases an industry that has come a long way,” Robert Wildman, Ph.D., who chairs AHPA’s 10-year-old Sports Nutrition Committee, said in an interview. The sector has evolved from its reputation as the “Wild West” to what Wildman described as “How the West was won.”
The event’s day-long agenda, which includes more than 20 speakers, arguably reflects a sports nutrition industry increasingly focused on compliance, innovation and science. The Sports Nutrition Congress will feature a welcome address from AHPA President Michael McGuffin, followed by six sessions, a keynote from five-year NFL veteran David Vobora, and a recap of the day by McGuffin.
Wildman provided an overview of the event in this video.
Four of the sessions are highlighted below:
- An overview of domestic and international markets, with an examination of trends relevant to brands, manufacturers and suppliers. Speakers include Tom Vierhile of Innova Market Insights, Mathias Toft Vangsøe of Arla Foods Ingredients and Jack Gayton of The Vitamin Shoppe.
- Building a strategic innovation pipeline, based on consumer insights, regulatory and legal compliance, food science acumen and high-quality production. Among those presenting: James DiNicolantonio, Pharm.D., of AIDP Inc., Sara Perez Ojalvo of Nutrition 21 LLC and Aaron Heidebreicht of Woodbolt Distribution LLC / Nutrabolt.
- Applying best practices to limit ingredient, product and brand risks and liabilities. The session will explore such issues as understanding the rules, making substantiated claims and monitoring consumer communications. Legal and regulatory experts include Rick Collins of Collins Gann McCloskey & Barry PLLC, Jay Manfre of REDCON1 and John Venardos of Venardos & Associates.
- Exploring opportunities to leverage banned substance testing and quality marks in sales and marketing. Speakers include David Trosin of NSF International, Paul Klinger of LGC Group and Oliver Catlin of Banned Substances Control Group (BSCG).
Evolution of sports nutrition industry
The industry has evolved from a “highly secretive” one to a sector more transparent with its consumers regarding its products, truthful in its marketing, and devoted to using best industry practices, suggested Wildman, chief science officer of Dymatize, a protein and amino acid supplement brand.
In the early 2000s, bodybuilding brands based on such ingredient formulations as protein and amino acid typically relied on “more sensationalized” marketing and often “abstruse” ingredients, he noted in an email.
“Dietary supplements used proprietary blends, collapsing multiple ingredients into a single quantity, and often leaving the consumer unaware of not only what, but how much of the different ingredients, were in the product,” stated Wildman, who also founded the International Protein Board. “Brands remained more secretive, protective and less collaborative.”
Two decades later, various players in the sports nutrition industry are more collaborative and communicative, Wildman said. He listed various reasons for increased collaboration, including, among other things, consumer education, legal actions, quality assurance (QA) programs and trade association sports nutrition committees.
Wildman reported a “sense of camaraderie,” based on an understanding that the “industry as a whole” will face fewer “issues and distractions” if everyone is in agreement regarding such matters as compliance and quality.
“And most importantly, ingredients, formulations, labels, marketing and advertising is more understandable and credible to consumers,” he concluded.
In an interview, Collins remarked compliance has significantly increased in the sports nutrition industry, based on such things as cGMPs (current good manufacturing practices), claims and selection of ingredients. He observed companies are employing more people focused on quality control (QC). Also, faced with the prospect of class action lawsuits based on state consumer protection statutes and litigation brought under the federal Lanham Act, many firms are turning to lawyers with federal regulatory expertise to review their labeling and marketing materials before introducing their products.
“The smarter ones are getting legal advice up front,” Collins shared. “They’re not relying on a contract manufacturer for label review.”
Although the use of controversial ingredients—such as synthetically created steroids and SARMs (selective androgen receptor modulators)—in bodybuilding products labeled as supplements has contributed over the years to sullying the reputation of the sports nutrition market, Collins concluded, “The days of the ‘Wild West’ of noncompliant innovation are over.”
Collins not only cited the risks of litigation, he said “FDA enforcement actions against” a select few companies has produced a “chilling effect.”