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Why third-party certification could boost your sports supplement brand

Article-Why third-party certification could boost your sports supplement brand

© AdobeStock/103tnn Why third-party certification could boost your sports supplement brand
Testing sports supplements for contamination with banned substances can be a difficult ask in a category constantly bursting with new trends and novel ingredients.

That’s the challenge for an organisation like Informed Sport, a third-party testing and certification programme for the global sports nutrition industry, created in 2007 with the support of the UK and Dutch anti-doping authorities.

Vitafoods Insights sat down with business development manager Terence O’Rorke ahead of next month’s ESSNawards, of which Informed Sport is a gold sponsor, to talk testing, trends, and tricky ingredients.

Led by the European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance (ESSNA), a trade association for Europe’s specialist sports and active nutrition sector, the ESSNawards celebrate success across the industry, honouring the latest products, supplements, and brands.

Minimising the risk of contamination in sports nutrition supplements

Sports nutrition as a category “is all about innovation”, said O’Rorke, adding: “Different brands and manufacturers are always looking for that new ingredient that they can market and sell and make various marketing claims about.

This can present challenges for a company like his, which has had to familiarise itself with thousands of different ingredients – expertise that has taken decades to build.

There has been, and continues to be, a slight risk with sports nutrition and supplements in terms of contamination, and Informed Sport was designed to minimise that risk,” said O’Rorke.

There is a variety of ways supplements can become contaminated: unwanted substances may be present in raw materials, but they can be introduced elsewhere during the manufacturing process; cross-contamination can happen at a facility that also handles pharmaceutical products, for example. And of course, there will always be disreputable vendors who deliberately add banned substances to products.

It's also important to remember that [while] a certain ingredient may be called something in the UK, it's called something very different in China or in Japan, or even in the United States,” O’Rorke added.So you have that nomenclature that you have to develop a good expertise with.

What’s more, ingredients don’t have to be novel to bring new challenges; some botanicals that have been in traditional use for centuries can present complex challenges.

They can be very complex in terms of their structure,” he said. “There are certain types of botanical ingredients which, throughout the manufacturing process, they have things called sterols, and those sterols can convert into looking very similar to banned substances.

So the type of ingredients that go into products, although they may not be considered banned substances, they have to be assessed and reviewed very, very closely.”

He gave the example of Citrus aurantium, better known as bitter orange, which can show up on tests as evidence of higenamine, a beta-2 agonist that was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Prohibited List in 2017. 

“We have to develop that knowledge to be able to say, OK, if we were to identify higenamine in a test for products which contain Citrus aurantium, we know what the source of that would have been and we can then advise the customer that it's not a matter of contamination; it's not at a level that would present a risk to the consumer or the athlete,” he explained. So there's a lot of expertise that we have developed over the years.

Informed Sport’s assessments are highly robust, testing down to parts per billion – the level at which athletes are tested by anti-doping authorities.

Protein, probiotics, and personalisation: Trendspotting in sports nutrition

A sector that defines itself by innovation makes for a busy market – and an exciting space for trendspotting.

Protein exploded in 2017 and is now very much part of the mainstream, turning up in everything from cereal to yoghurt to rice pudding, said O’Rorke.

“Probiotics is obviously another important one,he said. “Gut health has been an important trend.”

In certain parts of the world, particularly in Asia, there is a focus on healthy ageing, while some brands have been focusing on the female consumer, he added.

“Particularly in sports nutrition, all of the data has always been taken from male athletes and male subjects and they recognise that that doesn't necessarily meet the requirements of female consumers and female athletes,” O’Rorke said.

Another area he identified as having a moment was personalised nutrition, which keeps raising its head.

But trends come and go, he said – and sometimes come back around again.

He added: “It's an ever-evolving industry and just going back to the fact that it's full of innovative people, innovative brands… Often it's based on how successful you are as a marketing company, because you'll have these third-party manufacturers who make the same product for maybe six or seven brands.

And it's the brand which markets it the best which tends to be most successful, even though their products might be almost identical.”

Consumers in search of third-party assurances

This is where third-party certification can come in: O’Rorke cited Forbes statistics which found that most consumers now seek out third-party assurances for everything from sustainability certifications to “free from” claims.

“We are a point of difference for a lot of brands,” he said, adding: “People are looking for third-party assurance, and that's not just in sports supplements or sports nutrition… There is a trend that consumers want third-party assurance and we provide a very strong assurance in terms of manufacturing and banned substances.

© AdobeStock/JackFWhy third-party certification could boost your sports supplement brand

And certification from Informed Sport not only allows brands to communicate the quality and the cleanness of their products to consumers; some companies opt in to the scheme to check the robustness of their own internal quality controls.

O’Rorke added: What we're doing for the industry is important because consumers and athletes need to know that their products are safe and we provide that.”

Of the anti-doping authorities, he said: That community also needs support because there is nothing mandatory about their standards and their processes with regards to sports nutrition. They're very wary of sports nutrition because of any potential liability issues part of my job is to support them.”

Informed Sport will be at the ESSNawards. Winners will be announced at a ceremony in London on 7 December.