Implementing an effective clean label strategy for food supplements


In recent years, consumers have started to pay greater attention to what is in their food, where it comes from and how it’s made, notes Catherine Lehmann, Senior Marketing Manager, Capsugel

As the culture of 'label scrutiny' continues to develop, the food supplement industry is responding by launching a variety of new products featuring clean label claims, which highlight their vegetal origin and 'free-from' ingredients. Yet, to fully capitalise on this trend and meet new regulatory requirements, food supplement companies will need to implement more tailored clean label strategies.

First, these companies will need to develop a robust understanding of the specific claims that drive consumer demand. Second, they will need to adapt to the changing regulatory environment in ways that also support and promote their business goals. Third, these companies will need to adopt dosage forms that support their clean label objectives. By implementing these steps, food supplement companies will be able to create customised, clean label strategies that deliver the best possible results for each of their products.

Aligning health claims with consumer preferences

Although the globalisation of food supplement development, manufacturing and distribution has produced numerous cost efficiencies within supply chains, it has also created unprecedented risks related to traceability, quality control and product integrity. Media coverage has raised awareness of these risks to consumers.

As a result, consumers from a variety of geographies are increasingly attentive to the origin, contents and safety of the food supplements they purchase, often searching for 'closer to real' products that contain as few additives as possible. In a 2013 SORD study of US food supplement users, 71% of respondents said that knowing the source of ingredients in food supplements was 'somewhat important' or 'very important,' whereas 66% said the same about whether the ingredients came from natural sources. Similarly, a 2013 Mintel survey of British consumers found that they consider the traceability of food to be important, and an Agence Bio survey of French consumers revealed that more than 50% look for information about the origin of ingredients when buying food products.

Manufacturers are rapidly responding to these consumer-driven trends. Products containing 'free from' claims are growing at an average annual rate of 7.5%, according to a 2014 Innova survey. The data show that, in Europe, this trend is particularly acute. From 2009 to 2014, a total of 35% of food supplements launched in Western Europe had a clean label claim. And from 2012 to 2013 alone, supplements with a 'vegetarian' claim grew by 118%, while those launched with a 'no allergen' claim grew by 115%.

When developing new food supplements or relaunching existing ones, companies should leverage the full spectrum of market and adjacent market intelligence to ensure that the clean label claims they are using resonate most effectively

As food supplement manufacturers rush to add clean label claims to their products, there is growing evidence that a one-size-fits-all approach may not be an effective one. Companies need to understand what drives consumer demand in their particular country. A 2012 Healthfocus study found significant disparities among European consumers by country regarding their most preferred clean label claims. The study, which surveyed consumers from the UK, Poland, France, Spain, Italy and Germany, found that UK respondents were less likely overall to rate any clean label claim as 'very important' or 'extremely important,' while in Italy, respondents were much more likely to do so.

Among the claims studied, which included certified organic, GMO-free, natural, no artificial colours, no artificial flavours, no artificial sweeteners and no preservatives, there were notable differences in the share of consumers in each country who deemed each particular claim to be 'very' or 'extremely important.' For example, in the UK, Spain and France, respondents said a 'natural' claim was most important, while in Poland, respondents gave primacy to a 'no preservatives' claim. In Italy, respondents equally emphasised 'natural' and 'no preservatives,' but German respondents said 'GMO-free' was most important. These data indicate that having a customised, by-market approach to clean label claims is essential to effectively reach consumers.

There are also indications that certain clean label claims that are being used by the adjacent food and beverage industry can be adapted for use by food supplement companies. For instance, less than 1% of total food supplement launches tracked in Europe currently contain a 'raw' and/or 'unprocessed' claim. However, within the food and beverage category, products with a 'raw' claim increased by 89% from 2012 to 2013. This may indicate an opportunity for food supplement companies that their counterparts in the food and beverage space are already exploiting, and that they should explore.

Therefore, when developing new food supplements or relaunching existing ones, companies should leverage the full spectrum of market and adjacent market intelligence to ensure that the clean label claims they are using resonate most effectively.

Leveraging a changing regulatory environment to promote business

In tandem with the new clean label consciousness in Europe is the emergence of new regulatory rules in numerous markets promoting the use of clean label. Of significance is the European Union’s Food Information for Consumers Regulation (FIC) — which passed in late 2014 and requires full compliance by year-end 2016 — that applies to food supplements.

According to the European Commission, the objective of this regulation is to 'ensure that consumers receive clearer, more comprehensive and accurate information on food content, and help them to make informed choices about what they eat.' This 46-page legislation specifies in great detail what mandatory information must be included on labels and in advertising, and includes requirements on how voluntary information is presented so that it is clear and, when appropriate, based on relevant scientific data.

To maintain compliance in this evolving regulatory environment, food supplement companies that choose to promote natural, free from and other clean label claims must carefully source not just primary ingredients, but also encapsulation, excipients, manufacturing agents and other trace ingredients to ensure that they comply with each associated claim. This shift is requiring companies to select suppliers that are conversant in these requirements and prepared to supply all necessary documentation and support as needed.

Although these new regulations may initially seem like obstacles, they present lucrative opportunities for food supplement companies to align their products with the clean label trend. Doing so, however, requires that companies invest in developing the know-how to best navigate the rules in ways that also serve their business goals.

Dosage forms and clean label Strategies

Dosage form is also playing an increasingly integral role in how food supplement companies are positioning and marketing their clean label products. Research shows that consumers have clear expectations regarding dosage form, and that convenience, efficiency and quality are fundamentally important attributes.

According to a 2013 NMI survey of European consumers, pure and simple, vegetarian, certified trustworthy, non-GMO, clear source, integrity and safety are the most important attributes of food supplement dosage forms. More often, food supplement companies are choosing dosage forms that better meet consumer criteria. The 2014 Mintel survey found that half of new clean label supplement products are developed in oral solid dosage form — with capsules representing one third of the new clean label food supplement products launched.

As an example, Capsugel has introduced a portfolio of high quality vegetarian capsules that meet EU clean label requirements, allowing for claims including no allergens, no preservatives, no artificial colourants and gluten-free. The capsules also feature non-GMO, Kosher and Halal certifications and approval by the Vegetarian Society. Additionally, the company has leveraged its knowledge of the clean label market to advise contract, brand and private label manufacturers seeking guidance and support in developing their related products. By providing clean label dosage forms and counsel, the company is able to meet customer needs in bringing clean label products to market.

Food supplement companies that proactively align clean label claims with their target consumers, invest in regulatory compliance efforts that best achieve business objectives, and choose dosage forms that most effectively support clean label needs will be most successful in navigating today’s increasingly complex market environment.