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Holland & Barrett switches to a science-led strategy

Article-Holland & Barrett switches to a science-led strategy

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UK-based health and wellness retailer Holland & Barrett has embarked on a programme to transform itself into a science-led business.

Dr Abbie Cawood, who has a PhD in nutrition and is head of science at Holland & Barrett, spoke at last month’s Vitafoods Europe event to explain how the retailer is implementing this new approach.

Over the course of 150 years, Holland & Barrett has grown into a major player in the nutrition and wellness space, with 1,300 stores across 19 countries – but in the past few years, it has made a “transformational” shift towards being science-led.

The company is responding to demands that product development and claims are science-led as a means of ensuring efficacy is backed up by solid research.

“What does being science-led really mean to us at Holland and Barrett?” Cawood asked the audience during the presentation.  “Well, it means that we use our evidence and expertise to create and curate our health and wellness solutions.

“We really want to think about how we can evaluate the quality and the effectiveness of our products and our services to ensure that all we do is rooted in scientific vigour, [and] set principles and guidelines to ensure that everything we do is evidence-based.”

Building a strong team of scientists

The first step in implementing this transformation has been to build a strong team of scientists working across the business, Cawood explained.

The end goal is to provide clear, accurate, and accessible information about Holland & Barrett’s products and services.

“We want to ensure that we integrate science into the core of our business, processes, and corporate culture,” she said. “This is supported by the establishment of our new centre of excellence, which is going to aid us in reinforcing our commitment to science.

“We also want to ensure our business decisions, from product development to marketing strategies, are guided by expert knowledge, evidence, and ongoing research. What we want to strive for is that science is woven into our DNA.”

The rapidly evolving scientific team at Holland & Barrett includes practising nutrition, health, and wellness experts, all of whom are grounded in science. This means the team includes biomedical scientists, medics, and pharmacists who are involved in all aspects of the business – specifically, customer services and product development.

“The team looks at substantiation and nutrition, to provide evidence behind our efficacy claims,” said Cawood. “We are integrating science into our core and this is new for us at Holland & Barrett.

“Reflecting this, we're setting up our Science and Nutrition Centre of Excellence, which will enable us to champion and centralise access to our internal and external health experts.”

A case study on women’s health

As part of its new strategy, Holland & Barrett chose to carry out a case study on women’s health. While women live longer on average than men, the company’s research shows that they spend approximately 25% of their life in poor health, relative to men.

To investigate this further, the company surveyed 2,000 women to gain insights into their health, particularly with respect to hormone-related issues.

The results showed that women have a limited understanding of their health in relation to their hormone levels and how these impact their health in general. Using the survey findings and the team’s scientific insights, a campaign was built to support women’s hormonal health, specific to menstrual cycles and the menopause.

“From a scientific perspective, we were able to share insights about female hormonal fluctuations and how this impacts women,” said Cawood. “This allows us to consider ingredients and nutrients that are backed by scientific research to help support women with specific symptoms during their journey through their life cycle.

“We have some great content about this topic on our health hub, which we can assure is both credible and scientific.”

The hub provides in-depth information about women’s hormones and related issues, taking into account puberty and menstrual cycles, as well as the perimenopause and menopause stages, tying that to hormone-related effects like cardiovascular disease, hair loss, osteoporosis, and weight gain.

“We have a science-based learning and development programme where we educate all of our employees in store,” said Cawood.  “We have trained over 600 colleagues who have completed the full programme and become women's health coaches. This underscores how we are trying to ensure everyone at Holland & Barrett has this science-led approach to everything that we do.”