“We’ve seen a couple of things that made it the right time for a program like this,” said Jeff Weidauer, vice president of marketing and strategy for Vestcom.
“Retailers are looking for more ways to engage their consumers. And from our own research, we know that consumers are looking for information where they are shopping. And that is true whether they are shopping for food or for vitamin and mineral supplements,” Weidauer told NutraIngredients-USA.
One of the big issues with communicating with customers about dietary supplements concerns the differing ways foods and supplements are regulated by federal authorities. A very few supplement ingredients have approved health claims, whereas most fall under the DSHEA umbrella of being enjoined against claiming to treat or prevent any illness.
Shoppers have become more and more used to the general health benefits attributable to food categories. It’s common knowledge that daily servings of fresh fruits and vegetables are part of a healthy diet, for instance, and whole grains and fiber can aid in digestive health and may contribute to heart health.
Staying within regulatory boundaries
But consumers of dietary supplements are looking for more specific benefits and are looking for advice on which supplements confer those benefits. Communicating that information to shoppers can be tricky; it requires knowledge that store staff may not have, and it is all too easy for employees to step over regulatory boundaries about what can and can’t be said about supplements.
The new labeling service can help communications with customers stay within regulatory limits, Weidauer said.
“It’s something that we try to help with. There is a lot of information out there; some of it is good information and some of it isn’t. By relying strictly on FDA we provide a source of reason, if you will,” he said.
“We’re not injecting science here. We’re following what FDA says. We want to have a source of expertise that shoppers can rely on.”
The program is being launched with information on a limited set of categories, Weidauer said.
“We had really tried to concentrate on four specific claims. They are based on health concerns that people have. Number one is heart health. Another is bone health, and joint health, which connects to that. And then there’s glucose,” he said.
“We tried to take those high-level health concerns that we are hearing about on a daily basis and provide information to consumers on those health claims.”
The program looks at all the products on a retailer's shelf and groups them according to the above categories, and then assigns shelf edge tags to those that qualify according to FDA guidelines, Weidauer said.
“Each of those products on the shelf gets a shelf tag that calls out what are the claims that individual product might qualify for through the FDA policies and what FDA requires for substantiation for dietary supplement health claims,” he said.
Label language driven by science
Retailers can determine the scope of the program, Weidauer said. A given retailer might, for example, only choose to provide the information on their private label dietary supplements. But they aren’t in the driver’s seat when it comes to which specific products qualify for claims, nor what the tags will say. That’s driven by the science, he said.
The new program is a development of the company’s existing healthyAisles program that uses FDA and USDA guidelines to provide easy-to-read nutrition labeling on a wide variety of food products. That program, which is about five years old, is already the leading nutrition labeling program is the business in North America, according to Weidauer. Many of those retailers will be natural targets for the new program.
“Virtually ever drug and food retailer out there has vitamin and mineral supplements,” Weidauer said.
“What we know from our own research that virtually everyone who buys dietary supplements will at some time buy it in a brick and mortar store.”