Will consumer warnings from NYT best-selling author and doctor about dietary supplement contamination affect industry?
What happens when a New York Times best-selling author, with two million website subscribers and monthly average page views of 3.75 million, says Americans are harmed by dietary supplements? Michael Greger, MD, FACLM, architect of NutritionFacts.org, publishes free, “bite-sized,” evidence-based nutrition videos developed for the lay-person, available for free on the website and distributed directly to his two million subscribers. This June he said 50,000 Americans are harmed every year by ineffective regulation of dietary supplements.
Consumers are tuned in, their attention to health honed by the Covid pandemic. News reports highlighting FDA’s Covid-related hand sanitizer recalls of at least 75 brands draws consumer attention to contamination issues. Michael Greger’s blog of the day entitled “Contaminants Found in 90% of Herbal Supplements Tested” provides a similar message.
Natural Products Insider, citing Steve French, a market researcher for NMI, reported this June that 90% of the general population are now taking vitamin supplements, including 21% who are new users since Covid. While the sales peak is expected to flatten, expectations are high that the uptick in growth can be sustained. Katheryn Peters, with SPINS, pointed out in the same Natural Products Insider article, that consumers are “increasingly comfortable with the idea of proactively taking their health into their hand.”
Consumers taking their health into their own hands may cut both ways. Yes, they appear more likely to take dietary supplements. But as the initial shock of Covid recedes, will they also seek additional information online about effectiveness and safety? What influence will blogs like Gregor’s have on sustained use? What does it mean for brands and for the industry as a whole when consumer messaging indicates 90% of supplements are contaminated? And most importantly, what can be done?
In the comments following Dr. Greger’s blog, readers encouraged other supplement users to research supplement companies online before buying. The Quality & Safety page on the NOW Foods website, one reader suggested, was a good resource. Another asked: “…[W]here does this leave those of us to [sic] take supplements? Which companies can we trust? Even if they say they do appropriate testing, can we rely upon such assurances?” Another reader asked whether there were any safe supplement producers and requested Dr. Greger identify the “good guys.”
Consumers are looking for brands to trust. Increased consumer enthusiasm for an already upward-trending dietary supplement market is promising for the industry, but with more attention comes greater scrutiny. A physician like Michael Greger who operates a non-profit and donates 100% of proceeds from his best-selling books and speaking engagements is a compelling voice with a concerning message. Consumers want certainty – that the product they purchased has in it what’s promised, that it’s safe to consume and not contaminated, and that it does what’s promised. Integrity matters.