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Five hot tips Big Pharma can teach Big Supps

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During a fireside chat with Steve Mister of the Council for Responsible Nutrition, some industry execs weighed in on the climate crisis, holistic health, the importance of science and more.

PHOENIX—Pharmaceuticals and supplements companies have this love-hate relationship, with natural health care suspicious of synthetic chemical compounds and consumers appreciating the safety of supplements yet reliant on the immediacy of pharma products, especially for acute or life-threatening conditions.

And yet in recognition of growing consumer demand for natural products, pharmaceutical companies continue to acquire successful supplement brands.

At the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) annual conference in Phoenix on Oct. 13, a representative for one of the biggest pharma companies in the world had answers for the question of, “What can pharma teach supplements?”

The question was asked during a fireside chat with Steve Mister, president and CEO of CRN, along with Frederic Boned from DSM, one of the world’s biggest ingredient suppliers, and Jennifer Holahan, vice president of the U.S. Wellness Division for Haleon.

Haleon is the new corporate name for the GSK umbrella of consumer brands, spun off only this past July. The non-pharma brands include Aquafresh and Polident toothpaste, Contac and Theraflu OTC for colds and flu treatment, Advil and Excedrin NSAID painkillers, and Centrum and Emergen-C supplements.

Haleon’s rep gave five different answers, all of which can be a roadmap for other supplement companies to build their own businesses and capitalize on trends and demands from consumers, if not citizens.

Carbon

The first answer was from both representatives, and the answer was refreshing because while the climate crisis has turned into another partisan political issue in the U.S., corporate America is clear-eyed about the reality and its responsibilities to make a difference.

Notably, DSM came about it from a somewhat selfish point of view.

“The way we see it, there’s nothing you can do for consumer brands if you can’t do right by yourself first,” said Boned, DSM’s regional vice president of Health Nutrition & Care North America. “Then we can move to the next step, work with brands, much better.”

Boned pointed out DSM’s efforts to switch out the omega-3 fatty acid superstar DHA from fish to fermented, renewable solutions.

“We have plenty of examples,” he said. “You cannot do that if you don’t [make] your own bed first.”

Boned also noted DSM had a goal to be completely carbon net-zero by 2050, with an intermediate goal of reducing its carbon emissions by 30% by 2030.

He said the company reached that milestone—30% emission reductions—this year. The company has redefined its milestones and is now aiming at a 59% carbon reduction by 2030 and reliance on 100% clean energy by 2030.

Holahan mentioned Haleon’s goals, which include reducing its carbon footprint today and eliminating it entirely by 2030. By the end of this year, the company will be powered 100% by renewable energy.

“Then we can get to sustainable sourcing, sustainable packaging, and eliminating waste and water as part of the manufacturing process,” she said. “We believe the health of people is linked to the health of the environment.”

These audacious goals being met by big industrial corporations is a demonstration that clean-energy aspirations can be achieved. Politically, arguments against climate action tend to be focused on the inability of industry to comply and in a financially tenable manner. It is notable that such efforts are generally accomplished both ahead of time and under budget. But the battles continue anyway, despite a long roster of success in the regulatory arena around environmental action.

Science

Supplements usually find favor with consumers when efficacy can be demonstrated. This routinely happens by ingredient suppliers if not universities. But pharmaceuticals cannot be approved by FDA to get on the market before they are thoroughly tested for safety and efficacy. The bar is obviously lower for dietary supplements, as supplements are regulated like conventional foods, which need no pre-market safety testing.

It still helps fortunes when some patina of research is applied to the ingredients. Rare indeed is the finished product brand that conducts research on its CPG brand. But the benefits of such finished-product research are great.

A new study on multivitamins improving a metric of lifespan by 60%—1.8 years of biological aging in a 3-year study—is great news, and you know that Centrum (a Haleon brand) will play up those results to great effect for consumers.

“Everything we do is rooted in science,” Holahan said. “Everything we do is tested so we can bring products to market.”

Children

Children, of course, are not buying supplements, but they are consuming them. That’s thanks to both the moms who buy them along with the gummy delivery format that are favored by kids—and, increasingly, by adults as well.

In fact, 2019 represented a tipping point. Nutrition Business Journal data showed 2019 was the first year that non-pill formats overtook traditional capsules, tablets and softgels as the most popular delivery format.

Are you looking at the children’s supplement space, which is ripe for disruption? It is a target area for Haleon. Holahan has two words of advice.

“Trust,” she said. “Responsibility.”

Natural and organic

Speaking of moms, as the ones who tend to do the shopping in the household, Holahan said Haleon is watching as mothers have begun leaning toward natural and organic supplements and away from synthetics.

“Within our current portfolio,” Holahan said, “we are looking at the immunity and multivitamin space, and we are looking at the family and how children play a role there.”

Holistic health

Covid, of course, has upended the world in so many ways. For supplements, it’s been boom times, punctuated by immune-support supplements rising to become a $5 billion category.

With year-round wellness now a common notion among consumers, nobody is expecting the category to dip below that $5 billion mark ever again.

Year-round wellness has encouraged a real shift in consumer mindset around wellness. People are focused on their health as never before. Plus, with rising health care costs, the concept of self-care is appealing to a growing number of consumers.

“Consumers are looking holistically at their health,” said Holahan. “That accelerated during Covid and it’s here to stay.”

In conclusion, supplements are a major component of the self-care revolution. And they are helped along through digital diagnostic tools like the Apple Watch—if not also at-home tests assessing metrics around gut health, omega-3 and vitamin D status, heart rate and more.

 

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