Why Marketing Natural Products is so Complicated
Part 3: The Claims Conundrum
In the previous articles (part 1 and part 2), we talked about general concerns surrounding the issues which make marketing natural products so difficult. Today we’ll talk a closer look at why we need to watch what we say.
Thanks to the rise of the natural products industry, power foods are gaining influence with shoppers who are turning health goals into lifestyle changes. Choices in the grocery aisle are now made on the overall health benefits of the product, not just on taste and price alone. This has created a rise in the number of products that are infused with traditional and medicinal herbs and spices.
The Therapeutic Benefits of Turmeric
For the past few years, turmeric (curcuma longa) has been the golden child of the spice world with its bright, beautiful hue and earthy aroma. Its also been considered the top performing ingredient in the supplement industry with sales topping the $50 million mark in 2017, a 12.2% increase from 2016.
In the mainstream channel, turmeric jumped to the fifth top-selling ingredient of herbal supplements, with sales of $32.45 million in 2017 and a 46.7% increase compared to 2016.
The golden beauty, typically used as a key coloring and flavoring ingredient in Asian cooking, has also been used as a major part of Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine. Curcumin (diferuloylmethane), a phytochemical found within the root is considered to be the healing compound in turmeric.
Curcumin, not turmeric as a whole, has been at the center of research and clinical studies dating back a half a century to test its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties along with its potential healing power. These clinical trials have addressed the safety and efficacy of this nutraceutical against life-threatening diseases in humans, including cardiovascular disease and cancer.
This has led to the spices popularity in products formulated to target inflammation as well as joint and cardiovascular health. Because of this turmeric seems to be making its way into everything from turmeric chicken bone broths to traditional turmeric teas and even a turmeric-infused chai, chocolate blended treat.
Many product formulators and marketers, all with good intentions, wonder; if an ingredient has been used medicinally for centuries, why are we restricted from talking about its natural benefits today?
Many marketers refer to scientific studies to help determine what can be said about a particular ingredient. In turmerics case, an article published on the US National Library of Medicine National Institute of Health (NIH) sites several clinical trials and the amazing benefits for curcumin. It should be noted that in many of these studies, the curcumin was combined with other agents, such as quercetin. The article also lists completed clinical trials with over 60 individual studies, all with different dosages taken for varying durations of time.
Here’s where it starts to get complicated. While one particular combination of curcumin and another compound, taken in a particular dosage, for a set period of time resulted in a positive effect on one group of people, it’s not guaranteed, or even plausible, that your product will give the same or similar result.
Not all Tumeric is Created Equal
There is also a question about potency? If curcumin is the key compound needed for a health benefit, how do we know if the potency of the curcumin is consistent with all forms of turmeric? ConsumerLab.com does a great job in answering that question in the article Tumeric Spice vs. Tumeric Supplement. To summarize, turmeric the spice is the dried, grounded root, sold as a powder. When a ½ to 1 full teaspoon (2.5 to 5 grams) is consumed it is said to have ‘certain digestive and cognitive benefits’.
It goes on to say that most clinical studies, like the ones listed above, don’t use a turmeric powder but rather a turmeric extract. The difference between the powder and the extract is the amount of curcumin found in each one.
Only 3% of the weight of turmeric powder contains curcumin while the turmeric extracts often contain concentrations of curcumin as high as 95%.
This means food or beverages containing turmeric powder will contain far less curcumin, and along with it the medicinal benefits, than a supplement which contains a turmeric extract with a high-dose of curcumin.
Consumerlabs.com takes this even further by saying that there are many supplements on the market that contains a ratio or blend of turmeric powder and extract. This can confuse a consumer as they may not be aware of how much curcumin they are receiving unless they check the dietary supplement labels active ingredient list.
Circling Back to Adulterated Ingredients
Remember in part 2 we talked about the seven brands of turmeric which were recalled for containing excessive amounts of lead. With the idea that most brands want to sell clean, healthy products, I’m sure it’s safe to say that most products producers don’t want to add an unhealthy dose of lead to the menu.
This is why it’s so important that product producers have individual ingredients tested. Third-party tests will help you determine if your product is what the supplier says it is, as well as what the potency levels are.
What Does All of this Mean for Marketers?
Understanding the potency of a particular product is important when talking about claims. A turmeric flavored broth made with the dried spice will want to make sure there is an adequate amount of curcumin per serving if they plan to sell their product with a nutraceutical benefit.
A turmeric extract supplement with a defined amount of curcumin per serving may wish to state a non-disease related benefit. This is as long as the potency, dosage and duration of use are backed by a number of clinical or scientific studies.
This is where the confusion and frustration begin for people trying to sell natural products. Yes, there are compounds found in nature that can make a positive impact on people’s lives. I am an avid supplement user and have found that certain supplements make a big difference in how I feel on a daily basis. As supplement advocates and users, we can talk about them, write about them and teach others about them. Once we decide to sell them we are taking on a greater responsibility and liability.
Healthy people eat, drink and take supplements to stay healthy. Then there are the people who are using supplements and botanicals to support mainstream medicine or are trying to ‘self medicate’. If they are sick, they will have weaker immune systems and may be on medications which could cause serious interactions with natural compounds. Healthy people may be strong enough not to feel the effects of a wrong dose, forgotten warning or drug interaction. Others may end up seriously hurt, or worse.
There is a lot of confusion and misinformation out there. For many of us, it’s a true challenge to sort through all the BS and determine the right way to market CPGs.
How we act today will define the regulations that are placed upon us tomorrow. Hopefully, additional regulations in areas that are already heavily regulated won’t be the case. [CBDs are an entirely different story.]
If you take anything away from this article, take away the fact that our industry is being watched for the purpose of protecting consumers from ‘bad actors’. Moving forward, things are going to have to change in some way shape or form. It’s time to self-regulate because if we don’t do it on our own, someone else is going to do it for us.