Where to start when it comes to bringing a product to market in the crowded (and in-demand) immune-support space?Nutrasource Director of Scientific Affairs Susan Hewlings suggests starting bydiving into a very basic question:What is the product?

Speaking atTaking Control of the Immunity & Wellness Market, part of the Naturally Informed virtual event series powered byWholeFoodsMagazine and Industry Transparency Center, Hewlings advised determining whether the product will be a supplement—and this can be done by investigating the product’s mechanism of action, as well as what it’s intended to do. Hewlings’ rundown of seven key questions to consider:
  • What is the product?
  • What is the correct dosage?
  • What is known about the product—is there a literature review, is there historical evidence of its usage?
  • Who is the product intended for?
  • Where is it made, and where do you want to sell it? (This will affect regulatory pathways.)
  • How is it made?
  • Is there established safety data?
Hewlings focused heavily on the science—with good reason. “The literature review is your scientific backbone,” she told event attendees. “It links science to marketing to regulatory. It can be used to publish in peer reviewed literature. It can be used in white papers and blogs and website material. And it provides claim substantiation.”

When it comes time to design a study for the product, Hewlings suggested: “Design a study from a question. What do you want to say about your product? What claims do you want to make? Clear research questions should be thoroughly developed to save you time, money, and FTC letters.”

A solid study can also help answer many of Hewlings’ original questions. For instance, selenium may support the immune system—but how much? Vitamin C might be useful for a cold, but how often should it be taken?

Once the science is there, selling a product takes buyers. “Strive to become expert in both science and markets,” Julian Mellentin, Director at New Nutrition Business, told attendees. “Success results from aligning the science with consumer needs and delivering the benefit in a product. It doesn’t matter how good your science is if you can’t engage with the consumers.” And this doesn’t just mean that suppliers need to engage with manufacturers—Mellentin means the end consumer: “Give retail strategy as much thought as you give to science. Where and how is this going to be sold? How is the consumer going to find it? This is not something that you can leave to the end. This has to be part of the strategy from the beginning. Invest in consumer research, as well as science.”

Mellentin offered two tips for appealing to consumers:

  1. “Focus on ‘feeling’ the difference—products wherein customers leave reviews saying they felt different do well. There’s nothing that promotes trust in a brand like buying a product that will make a tangible difference. And if they can’t feel the benefit, show them the benefit. For instance, Anlene—the #1 high-calcium dairy brand in Asia—went around and provided consumers with free bone scans. They said it was more effective than marketing. It allowed people to understand and internalize the benefits of calcium for their bones.”
  2. “Your ingredient must make sense in the product format you are selling. A few years ago, there was a push to put omega-3s in everything, like yogurt. But people aren’t expecting to find fish oil in their yogurt. They looked at the product and automatically decided it would taste like fish, so the product failed.”
Clasado Bioscience’s Business Development Director, Luis Gosalbez, Ph.D., also had a suggestion making products more palatable to consumers: Make the appropriate number of claims. “The average number of claims is 3.1,” he explained. “Too few and the product is unattractive; too many, and the product is regarded as snake oil, so you want to sit in that middle ground.”

On the topic of claims, Ivan Wasserman, Managing Partner at Amin Talati Wasserman, explained the a difference between FTC and FDA. “FTC has jurisdiction over advertising—everything you say in an ad, whether expressed or implied, has to be substantiated. FDA says you can’t say your product treats, cures, or prevents a disease, but you can say the ingredients in your products are great for the immune system.”

And then there are the other ways advertising can be disputed: “The National Advertising Division (NAD) of the Better Business Bureau can challenge advertising, and it allows companies to challenge their competitors,” Wasserman explained. “So does the Lanham Act, which allows competitors to challenge each other’s advertising in court—that’s for those who don’t want to go to the BBB, for whatever reason. There’s also TINA, a consumer group that goes after what they see as false advertising—they keep a list of bad actors on their website. And then there are class action lawsuits, the bane of most marketers’ existence these days—these represent consumers who claim they were misled by something you put on your product or advertising, so they were tricked into buying the product. My law firm is typically involved with 10 to 20 of these a month.”

An FTC letter isn’t the end of the world—Wasserman noted that “if you stop doing what they tell you to stop doing, you should be fine. That said, he added that a letter doesn’t go away. “If someone googles your company, that letter will pop up, and it may make them wonder if you’re still doing things you’re not supposed to be doing.”

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