The New York Times recently highlighted a study detailing the dangers and health complications associated with supplement use. The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, noted that more than 20,000 U.S. emergency room visits per year stem from dietary supplement complications. And in more than 25% of those cases, the patients were ages 20-34, or, in other words, millennials.
This isn’t the first time—or even the most recent time—that supplements have come under fire. GNC currently faces a lawsuit in Oregon over illegal synthetic drugs found in its supplements. Faced with negative press and negative perceptions, nutrition and supplement brands have a great opportunity. Now, more than ever, is the time to differentiate in the marketplace and secure relationships with consumers, both actions that are crucial to driving continued growth and ultimately changing opinions about the industry.
The millennial market
Despite credibility challenges, the nutrition and supplement market is growing in core sales and broadening its depth of offerings. By 2017, the U.S. market alone is estimated to hit more than $36 billion—which doesn’t even account for rapidly growing subcategories like functional beverages ($17.9B) and probiotics ($30B).
Many of the overall changes in the health and wellness market are driven by millennial behavior. Millennials tend to be social and ego-driven, much more likely to share personal health information and behaviors online than Boomers or Gen X. They’re adept at using technology and tech platforms. They have also adopted a wellness-first attitude and demonstrate a willingness to use alternative medicine as a preventative measure. According to a 2015 survey of millennials, 30% take supplements, 17% use health software/apps, and 6% wear a fitness tracker.
The brand opportunity
Despite a rapidly growing market and an eager, youthful consumer base, concerns in the industry continue. For supplement brands, educating the consumer is key to building trust and loyalty. As the New York Times article infers, better health literacy, specifically around supplements, could reduce the occurrence of complications.
Consumers are hungrily scouring the web for reliable product information and education sources they can trust. By interacting with these consumers in meaningful ways, through the appropriate channels, brands can extend their influence beyond just the purchase phase and enrich overall consumer experiences.
By developing a brand strategy that positions the company as consumer-centric (educational and innovative for consumers) and authentic (delivering on a brand promise), nutrition and supplement brands can instill brand loyalty, build industry confidence, and mitigate negative PR in the future.