Special edition: Inflammation

Chronic inflammation? Most consumers don’t get it (yet), say branding experts

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Inflammation

Turmeric: Rich in curcumin, a potent anti-inflammatory agent
Turmeric: Rich in curcumin, a potent anti-inflammatory agent
Scientists increasingly recognize inflammation as a key contributor to chronic disease and supplement firms have tried to cash in with tailored products, but getting consumers to part with hard-earned cash for something so nebulous will be tough, predict marketers.

Gabrielle Klein, principal at consultancy Jack Klein & Associates, which specializes in nutraceuticals and functional foods, said: “Chronic inflammation is a new paradigm that people are beginning to understand, but it’s still very premature.​”

The regulatory framework governing dietary supplements also meant that regardless of the merits of the science, firms were limited to making very general statements such as “supports healthy inflammatory response”, ​which were not very meaningful, noted Klein.

“Consumers like to see tangible benefits from supplements, although the success of antioxidants proves it is possible to sell something that doesn’t immediately deliver a discernible benefit.”

Industry-wide consumer education effort required

Jeff Hilton, co-founder of marketing consultancy IMG, is also convinced of the potential, although persuading consumers to buy in would require an industry-wide effort from raw materials suppliers, supplement makers, retailers and the healthcare profession, he said. And it won’t happen overnight.

“The cognitive, heart and joint categories are pretty crowded, so this is potentially an area where people could shine, but educating consumers will be hard. Look how long it took with antioxidants, and even now if you hold a focus group, people will say they’re good for you but can’t tell you why.”

Euromonitor head of global consumer health research Samantha Chmelik is more skeptical: “We might be seeing more discussion in the medical literature about this, but I doubt it will work with consumers. If I don’t think I have inflammation, why would I buy the products? Supplements that have consistently strong sales focus on specific health aspects that consumers understand.”

‘A large percentage of consumers just don’t get it’

Sheldon Baker, senior vice president of nutraceutical brand marketing firm Baker Dillon Group, agreed that the average consumer first needed to be persuaded that inflammation was something to worry about.

“Maybe educated consumers get anti-inflammation as a concept, but my sense is a large percentage of consumers just don’t get it. Inflammation to most people is visible swelling or even redness of the skin. I don’t believe people realize these conditions are the body’s way of indicating a recurring situation without any resolution rather than the possibility of the body displaying symptoms of disease states.”

He added: “You have to make the anti-inflammation story as palatable as manufacturers did with antioxidants.”

Start a PR campaign and get the celebs on board …

Getting the marketing right was key, said Baker. “It’s been my experience that if you created a highly visible public relations campaign and used celebrity spokespeople and social media marketing to its fullest extent as part of an integrated marketing plan, you could disseminate meaningful and easy to understand information over time.”

While obese people were in an increased state of inflammation, this was probably not where the opportunity lay, he said. “I don’t think products would or should be marketed as a way to tackle obesity. They should be marketed as a way to ease or reduce pain. The consumer must recognize that there is an underlying health issue that must be addressed to relieve the pain on a continuous basis.”

Health writer Jack Challem, who has recently revised his 2003 book ‘The Inflammation Syndrome’, said: “Some consumers understand the connection, and others don't seem to understand that an ‘-it is’ disease is an inflammatory disease.

“Low-grade chronic inflammation as a cause of coronary artery disease can be a little more difficult to convey, partly because the drug companies have helped convince people that cholesterol is the problem, which it isn't.”

Twinlab: It’s one for the marketing team …

Marc Stover, director of marketing at supplements giant Twinlab, said: “The challenge is one of communication, not formulation. Consumers will understand the concept over time, but how do you market something like that?

“However, it’s the kind of thing that people are starting to write books about and will gradually get picked up by consumers and then the industry can tap into that.”

Kerry Watson at market data provider SPINS, added. “This is still very new and most consumers tend to think of inflammation as a localized acute problem rather than a systemic chronic one. To get this message out, brands that develop these types of products will need to spend time and resources on staff education at the retail level.”

Visit NutraIngredients-USA.com tomorrow to see what products are already on the market claiming to address systemic inflammation.

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