Omega-3s are among the most highly researched dietary ingredients and are among the most recommended by health practitioners, too. But some recent equivocal studies and the splashy, negative headlines they gave rise to, has put a serious dent in the market, causing the first decline in the ingredients’ history in North America.
“It’s still declining,” said Adam Ismail, executive director of GOED. “There are some channels where growth is continuing, such as the practitioner channel and the network marketing channel. In a way that makes sense because those are the ones where you have a lot of touch points with consumers.”
Resting on laurels
Being out of touch with consumers seems to have been one of the things that led to the market decline in the first place, Ismail said. When the negative publicity took the wind out of the market’s sails starting almost two years ago, consumers had few current positive messages about omega-3s to fall back on. When they got to the end of a bottle of soft gels, they were less and less motivated to pick up another one. The industry was resting on its laurels, Ismail said, and was relying on the media to carry the positive message and now that that prop has been removed, that lack continues to make itself felt.
“From everything we’ve heard in the mass market, the omega-3s sector is down around 2% to 2.5% over the past three months. The decline does seem to have slowed a bit, so it’s a good time to launch the national campaign,” Ismail said.
The basic idea was similar to the highly successful “Got Milk” campaign funded by dairy producers. GOED solicited funds from industry sources, and tested last fall in the campaign in Charlotte, NC last year. The results of that effort, which included television, print and billboard advertising, were promising. Prior to the campaign Charlotte was lagging behind much of the rest of the country, but by the end was the best performing region in the country. The four-week campaign doubled its sales target and returned the market to growth.
The national campaign is similar, with a national TV ad and social media components. But reaching a national audience dictated some strategy shifts, Ismail said.
“The TV ad is basically the same ad. We are also doing a digital campaign which features banner ads on selected websites. But we are not doing the mini print ads; we are not doing mainstream newspapers. And we are not doing big bill boards. Those were two of the vehicles we tested in Charlotte,” he said.
Lessons from brands
Ismail said the market decline has not been smooth. Some brands which have put more into promotional efforts have continued to grow through the decline whereas as lower profile brands seems to have suffered disproportionately by comparison.
“The most effective vehicle is retail activation. Putting a sign up in a store where people buy the products. One of one of the most important insights from this is the brands that do do that are the ones that continue to grow and the others fade,” Ismail said.
A big push for funding both for the test campaign and for the national campaign was mounted at the SupplySide West trade show last October. Ismail said that effort has fallen slightly short, with about $5.5 million of a target goal of $6 million having been raised so far. But the organization felt strongly it needed to go forward anyway. In any case the campaign was aimed at a consumer segment that was seen as the easiest path to a quick win.
“It’s really targeting a demographic of 45-plus,” Ismail said. “Since we have limited funds we thought that would be the easiest group to bring back to the category. It has the highest proportion of people who have already tried omega-3s. What we are aiming for is we would like to get the market at least back into positive territory.”