Supplement Science No Longer a Selling Point?

by Matt Weik

I was recently reading an article that made me stop and actually think about the science behind supplements these days and the consumer buying habits. The article talked about how supplement science really isn’t a huge selling point these days as consumers expect there to be science and research surrounding the products they are purchasing. This raised two major questions for me. The first question is, “Are consumers naïve to think that all supplements will actually have research behind them?” and the second question, “Is supplement science no longer as big of a deal as it once was in the supplement manufacturer’s eyes?”

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

While supplement consumers are getting smarter about their buying habits with each passing year, are they expecting research to be behind every single product they purchase? Over the last few years, consumers have been doing their homework on products and ingredients. They are looking for research backing up what a supplement company is claiming and from there deciding if they want to make a purchase or not. But, not only is there still a large number of consumers who don’t know what they are looking at or for, they simply read label copy or the copy on the product page of a website to decide if they want to make a purchase.

In my opinion, having science behind a product and making sure that science is front and center seems like a good idea. It shows that the supplement manufacturer at least has some supplement science behind the product and the ingredients found in the product have actually been found to work and be effective. Bottom line is, no one wants to be ripped off or use a product that won’t yield them any results. So, for me, I feel that science should still play a role in educating the consumer – whether they already know the information or not. We cannot simply assume everyone knows what all ingredients do and if there is research behind it.

More Emotion and Less Science?

On the other side of the spectrum, people aren’t as concerned these days because they (again) assume supplements are all backed by science – which we all know isn’t always the case. It seems like a greater selling point when it comes to supplements is actually the sense of emotion consumers feel from the product and not truly the supplement science behind it.

This makes sense as there has to be a reason for a consumer to engage with a brand in the first place but a consumer shouldn’t simply make a purchase based off of an “emotion.” Sure, there are consumers who look at the fancy packaging, they look at the marketing (such as the use of athletes) and gauge their buying habits off of that solely – what I’m saying is that this is a poor decision.

A market research company dug into this topic a little deeper and their CEO was quoted saying, “It’s not that science isn’t critically important. It’s just that for the consumer it’s noise. It’s expected to be there because it’s a level of validation that they’re making a good decision. But a brand can’t lead with science – it just becomes noise. Although it’s really important for transparency, once a consumer connects with a brand emotionally, they’re going to want to dig deeper, and it’s important for that science to be transparent, but it’s not an entry point into a brand.”

Maybe I’m simply out of touch with reality, but I wouldn’t consider science or research behind a supplement or ingredient as “noise.” In fact, I would look into a supplement company FIRST if I heard they had a line of products that were scientifically backed – it wouldn’t be an emotional purchase at all (but that’s just me).

Assuming research wasn’t paid for by the company and the results slightly skewed to fit their agenda, I would feel more comfortable making a purchase knowing it was backed by legit science. We all know that there isn’t much transparency these days with supplements (although it’s getting better) and many brands are still hiding formulas behind proprietary blends so even if there is research behind a product or ingredient, there is no way of knowing if the dosages of each ingredient are efficacious or not.

This market research company also found that 16% of the consumers shopping for supplements thought the industry was transparent. They said, “There’s such a confusing message that appears in the media constantly that drives that distrust. Consumers don’t really know who to believe, on the one hand what they’re hearing in the media versus what they’re hearing from the companies.”

That actually makes me come back to my thinking that consumers should be looking at companies that are known for utilizing supplement science in their formulations and then figure out who they want to be more emotionally attached to.

All in all, what the article is showing is that supplement manufacturers should focus more on connecting emotionally with the consumer and then making sure they have the science to back up their products. Consumers these days should be more aware of what they are putting in their body and only look to use products that have science backing up the claims not only for health reasons but to ensure they are getting the best bang for their buck when it comes to results.