Virtual—Natural products retailers have a lot to contend with: Keeping up with the research and the regulatory changes, running a business, dealing with the effects of COVID-19, and finding ways to communicate with, connect with, and educate their customers—which can be particularly tricky. Panelists at the Naturally Informed eventDriving Opportunities in the Microbiome Spacediscussed how to educate customers.

In the U.K., for instance, Jen Thompson, Healthcare Regulatory Affairs Manager at Walgreens Boots Alliance, says that things are quite restrictive. “In the E.U., things are very regulated, there aren’t a lot of claims that are approved regularly. For that reason, the health claims—the list isn’t very long. And for probiotics, zero health claims have been approved.” She went on to give advice for those looking to discuss product benefits, along with further explanation regarding how on-pack claims work for U.K.-based retailers.

In a separate panel, U.S.-based Paul Schulick, Founder, Formulator, and CEO of For the Biome, noted similar struggles when it comes to education and sales: “If I make an anti-inflammatory product, I can’t tell you it’s anti-inflammatory, I have to tell you it supports a healthy inflammatory response. And if you ask 99% of consumers, they don’t really understand that, so you have to really work around it. For the 26 years since DSHEA passed, we’re free to sell supplements, but we’re not really free to educate about supplements.”

The retailers who work within this space find ways to work within regulations while educating consumers, as Ed Jones, Founder/Owner of Nutrition World, shared with attendees. “I have taught the 26 people on my staff—we have to position ourselves in more of a neutral position but still empower the consumer to be able to make right choices.” His observation: “Most people aren’t really asking probiotics questions, they’re coming in with a probable disorder, and they want to make the right choices.” Hear expert suggestions for educating customers in the panelClaims and Enforcement: An overview, along with information from Ivan Wasserman, Managing Partner at Amin Talati Wasserman, available for free on demand

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Jennifer Costolo, Natural Health Consultant at Health Hut Stores, shared a similar sentiment: Rarely will customers come in with a question allowing retailers to pull information straight from the product label. In the panelWinning Strategies: Innovating & communicating in the microbiome, along with Schulick and Alana & Lisa Macfarlane, Costolo pointed to the opportunities that arise every time a customer walks through the door. “Never ever be afraid to ask questions and delve deeper if you get the sense that a customer is there for a little more than vitamin C… I’m thankful for the ability to help my customers and steer them towards products that can maybe help address some of their health concerns.” Once something works, she said, you have a customer for life—which can provide an opportunity for more discussion and education. “Just have a care for your customer, because that’s the connection that’s going to pay dividends—for the store where you work, but also for their soul, for your soul.”

Alana and Lisa Macfarlane, Co-founders and Co-CEOs of The Gut Stuff, spoke in the same panel on differentiating yourself—as a manufacturer, brand, or retailer—from the rest of the noise, and getting through to customers. “You’re competing against Spotify, Ariana Grande, whatever else they’re interested in," Lisa Macfarlane said. "I think the main way that you can cut through that is not speak like everyone else, tonally, that’s in that space. Be trusted, but not too clinical, and be transparent about firstly where the science is at, secondly about how you do your product, how you got there, and lastly what limitations there are in the research. Be honest with customers that there isn’t yet a magic bullet, there probably never will be, it’s not one-size-fits-all. Be open about the choices that they have.”

Alana Macfarlane's advice: "Just be bold about your message. Be simple, be clear. A lot of other brands out there that maybe aren’t health brands—your Coca Colas, your Pepsis—they have very clear messages, you know exactly what they are, so just be clear and consistent. Take big risks through education. Be disruptive through education.”

These panelists—and many more experts in the field—shared more advice and observations than could ever fit in one article in the Naturally Informed eventDriving Opportunity in the Microbiome Space.

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