Consumer health is a focus area for many multinational and mid-sized companies, and the natural health product segment is growing at an accelerated rate. As a result, the market is getting very crowded, which makes brand differentiation a key to success. Therefore, innovation is the most important driver supporting economic growth. During the complex and multifaceted process of innovation, consumer needs and wants, and producers’ desires and expectations meet scientific, technical, regulatory, and business challenges.
Natural health product manufacturers usually develop products based on identified consumer needs and wants. These may be health concerns, convenience factors (product formats and packaging), pricing, and so on. The targeted innovation must be scientifically meaningful and comply with regulations, and the manufacturing expenses should fit the company’s business model, including cost structures and brand strategies. As there are many variables, it’s hardly surprising that usually only two or three for every 100 innovation concepts proceed to the development stage. Finally, consumers are the judges of success for any innovation, as they must recognise the additional value the company intends to provide, demonstrated by their willingness to pay more for it.
Innovation at ingredient level is usually quite costly and time-consuming, and bears the risks of regulatory uncertainties. Unfortunately, health claims may not be used for natural health products in the food supplement category in the EU if the product was not properly studied in human clinical trials, or if the health benefits and safety could not be demonstrated to European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) standards. Even if a health claim were authorised by EFSA, translating this into meaningful consumer language is not always easy, presenting an additional hurdle. Another typical challenge at ingredient level is that consumers will probably not be able to feel any immediate physiological effect.
In recent years, many companies have therefore focused their innovation efforts on delivery formats and packaging rather than new ingredients. Typically, stick packs, gummy formats, on-the-go solutions and other such products are marketed successfully as innovated, as consumers can easily understand the benefits, immediately feel and see the difference, and appreciate the overall advantages of these different delivery formats. For the producer, innovation in this area is less cumbersome in terms of regulatory aspects; communicating the benefits is easier, and the fit with a certain brand strategy is simpler. In many cases, the right galenical formats and packaging can have a strong influence on purchasing decisions as consumers look for convenience and products that are easy to use, improve their lives, are pleasant, and fit with their lifestyles.
This approach results in an innovation landscape that is strongly focused on incremental advantages for consumers. Considering the current shift in healthcare from treatment to prevention, the industry also needs more radical innovation approaches in ingredients that address unmet medical needs and are supported by strong scientific data. Both incremental and more game-changing innovation are needed to sustain a business and to offer the best products to consumers. An effective consultant should uncover relevant opportunities, keeping both the client's individual requirements and all related steps for a sound innovation strategy in sight at all times.
Dr Volker Spitzer is managing director of analyze & realize GmBH, a leading contract research organisations (CRO) and consulting group specialised in the development of natural health products, e.g. nutraceuticals, dietary supplements, and natural medicines. Dr Spitzer has an educational background in chemistry, pharmaceutical science and food chemistry, and holds a doctoral degree in Food Chemistry from the University of Bonn, Germany.