Consumer knowledge low on supplements

Related tags Nutrition

Consumers are baffled by the names of supplements and often do not
know exactly what they are consuming when they take them, suggests
a new survey.

The findings reveal the need for marketers to better explain the benefits and properties of their products, but proposed new legislation on health claims will do little to help companies clear up the confusion.

The survey of 2000 British consumers, carried out by natural health retailer The Nutri Centre​, said to stock the largest number of complementary health products in the world, showed that a staggering 65 per cent "weren't entirely sure" of the ingredients of the complementary health supplements they were buying.

Three quarters said they found the names of the supplements confusing, while 35 per cent revealed that they take complementary supplements without really understanding what they are supposed to do for them.

A further 68 per cent who do not currently take complementary health products said they would do so if they had a clearer idea of which to use.

Tesco, which bought a controlling share in the specialised complementary medicine store in 2001, said it has recently launched a new range that clearly marks the product by its benefit, for example 'Energy Support', 'Immune Support', 'Hair, Skin and Nail Support'.

"The complementary health market is exploding at the moment as more and more people become aware of the reported benefits of vitamins, minerals and other alternative supplements. What can often happen, however, is that consumers find themselves overwhelmed when they are faced with the shelves of strangely named products,"​ said Karen Simister, category manager for healthcare at Tesco.

Strict new legislation on health claims looks set however to prevent the supplement industry from using many claims, such as behavioural/psychological, slimming and general well being. Industry associations have also attacked the draft legislation for its rigid labelling restrictions.

The European Health Products Manufacturers assocation says that article 11 of the regulation, which outlines which foods qualify for specific claims, such as 'high protein', 'high fibre' or 'natural source of vitamins', and how these claims can be worded, stops food and supplement makers from successfully conveying the health benefits of their products.

"Superficially these appear helpful but in practice they prevent food and food supplement producers from explaining the contribution of their products to health. Flexibility is needed so that labels and literature can use language suited to different degrees of understanding, and messages whose terms are already well-accepted by consumers throughout Europe,"​ said Pedro Vicente Azua, EHPM's director of regulatory affairs, last year.

Other food industry groups are also pushing for changes to the proposal before it goes to the European Parliament. It is expected to enter into force by 2005.

Further results from Tesco's survey found that 52 per cent would buy complementary health products on the back of a newspaper or magazine recommendation while 18 per cent follow the trends set by celebrities.

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