The Council for Responsible Nutrition is laying the groundwork for a massive public relations campaign to 'restore pride' in the supplement industry and will be looking to all companies for funding - a sign of the critical image problem the sector is facing.
As part of a series of announcements at the trade association's Annual Symposium on Dietary Supplements, the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) indicated it is strategizing an industry-wide project to counter a proliferation of bad news on the industry, but has remained hushed on the details.
The supplement industry has been negatively impacted by media attention of late and CRN hopes to counterbalance consumer misinformation by kicking off a large-scale movement to generate good news instead of waiting to react to bad news.
"This is going to be a multi-million dollar initiative that will take several years," CRN president and CEO Steve Mister told NutraIngredients-USA.com.
The CRN has chosen a public relations agency to work with and is now raising funds for the project. While Mister acknowledged there have been other public relations initiatives in the industry, he said they have been reactive in nature, have dealt with specific supplement issues, or have been short-term.
"We think it needs to be on a much grander scale for a sustained basis," Mister said of CRN's view on the industry's efforts to combat consumer misinformation.
The CRN is looking for funding from the entire industry and not just its members. Accordingly, 'outside' participants will have a say in the planning.
"Our board has said that any company that contributes on a certain level will be on the steering committee," said Mister.
In recent years, the industry has faced negative media attention on a host of issues ranging from illegal drugs masquerading as supplements, to studies with inappropriate methodologies claiming to prove certain ingredients are ineffective or dangerous, to products making false claims.
In a regulatory environment where finished supplements are not subject to pre-market approval, many reputable manufacturers invest in scientific research to maintain credibility and distance their image from crooked products that crop up on retail shelves and the Internet.
Negative publicity is thought to have a trickle down effect, compromising the industry as a whole and making it an even greater target for the kind of fly-by-night media coverage that has a lasting impact on consumers.
"…The consumer press took a series of jabs at dietary supplements starting this past spring," Mister said in a speech at CRN's recent conference. "Even the mainstay of the industry, the multi-vitamin has come under attack."
And Mister said the effect on sales could be felt in the future.
The results of a recent survey indicate that while the number of Americans taking supplements appears to be staying steady, consumer confidence in these products is declining. The CRN-funded Ipsos-Public Affairs survey found consumption has remained close to 65 percent since 2003, despite the fact public confidence in the safety and effectiveness of supplements has dipped from 78 percent in 2003 to 69 percent this year.
Mister agreed this discrepancy could represent a tipping point of sorts for the industry - whereby negative publicity has still not caught up to overall consumption.
"At this point people are still taking them," said Mister. "But there could be an effect on sales."
CRN's strategic campaign is not about blotting out all bad news though. If a scientific study has a logical purpose, examines an ingredient for something it is actually used for and turns out to have negative results, CRN would not fight its findings said Mister.