Speaking as part of the panel of experts in the webinar, Mike Hughes, director of insights for the global market insight provider FMCG Gurus, explained that there are three key trends which are driving increased interest in omega-3: Re-evaluating health, functional lifestyles and evolution of nutrition.
“Consumers taking a more proactive approach to health rather than just reacting to health problems. This pandemic will only cause this to intensify further. They are actively searching for ingredients that can boost their health.”
He added that a survey of 26,000 consumers by FMCG Gurus (Q3 2019) revealed that consumers have a high level of general awareness of omega-3 supplements but little detailed knowledge with a huge range of benefits being linked to the ingredient but this isn’t converting into sales.
“82% of consumers have heard of omega-3 and three quarters associate it with having a positive impact on health, however there’s an attitude behaviour gap. 82% of consumers are aware but only 43% make an attempt to seek out products with the ingredient.
“Whilst consumers have a lot of aspiration, shopping is driven by routine and inertia and price and sensory appeals often tend to take priority. This is something the industry needs to look to address.
“Perceived health benefits vary from one country to the next. The reality is consumers won’t turn to an ingredient for one reason alone. This can be a positive if an ingredient is associated with a variety of benefits it can lead to a health halo, or it can lead to consumers being confused by what benefits they actually will get and they may turn to the wrong ingredient for the wrong health need. So consumers need to be better educated about the core benefits.”
He added that there is little understanding of how much omega-3 is needed and how much consumed through the daily diet which could mean many people are deficient and they don’t realise it.
When asked about barriers to purchase, consumers said their main concerns were the high cost of products and the taste.
“This shows it’s not enough to rely on health claims as many consumers feel they don’t really need the ingredient. The industry needs to work to help consumers understand how much they need and how much they are currently getting.”
Another purchase barrier revealed by the research, was sustainability.
“We know consumers are becoming more concerned about the environment than ever before and they want to act in a more responsible way in terms of good for me and good for the earth. So it’s important to demonstrate ethical credentials.”
Ellen Schutt, executive director for GOED, agreed that its these basic questions that need to be answered in order to start to build more trust in the industry.
“There have been questions about sustainability and understanding what is in an omega-3 product, what the DHA and EPA content is, how much they need, how much they are already getting. This all causes a problem when it comes to trust if they don’t even understand what’s in a product and what that means for their health.”
Camiel Derichs, programme development director for MSC, revealed that MSC's own consumer research has shown consumers look at packaging as their first source of information about sustainability of the products.
“The MSC label makes it easy to navigate what products ensure traceability and sustainability," he said. "Eco labels are just one way though. What we are starting to observe, amongst other accelerated in the covid situation. Links to information online are becoming more and more relevant. That’s where provenance information can be made available.”
Schutt added that its this reliance on such a small space of information that makes it difficult to put across the full story of the sustainability work that goes on behind the scenes in the omega-3 industry.
“At GOED we often get asked to put together sustainability stories around omega-3’s, there’s a lot of stories out there with sustainable fisheries. The Peruvian fishery has not opened for various seasons due to sustainability. That’s an example of a good sustainability plan for the fishery. That’s not easy to explain in 140 characters for the consumer.
“Perhaps that’s one positive that will come from all this negative right now - Consumers have time to go and read about these.”
Packing info into packaging
Defining exactly what information companies should ensure to include on omega-3 supplement packaging, Schutt said GOED always tells its members to spell out the exact amount of DHA and EPA, and the serving size.
Hughes added that it’s important to be as simple and straight forward with information as possible but to always back up claims with third party evidence to try and avoid sustainability messaging looking like pure marketing.
“When it comes to trust and transparency, one of the reasons consumers can be un-trusting is they can find packaging unnecessarily confusing and cluttered. Consumers can think a brand might focus on one element of sustainability while ignoring another element.
“They might think they are turning a blind eye to the elements of business where they are unsustainable. They might think claims are marketing orientated.
"It’s important to ensure information is simplified but third party certification helps to validate such claims to ensure they are seen as more than just marketing comments."
Schutt added that it’s important to stay away from negative marketing which claims one product is better than another as this can cause people to walk away from the whole category as there.
“Making negative claims about other products causes too much confusion and too much doubt about how all the products can be right if they are all claiming to be the better source.”
Discussing the question of how much scientific documentation companies to provide to consumers, Schutt pointed out that it can be very difficult to make reference to scientific findings without going against regulation.
“If a brand wanted to say ‘there’s a study that says omega-3 reduces your risk of cardiac death’ they can’t say those words because they are disease words so there’s a challenges caused by wanting to give consumer the hard science that supports your products and not being able to make certain claims.
“So consumers sometimes criticise the industry for not being as transparent as we can but we’re limited by the regulations we have to adhere to.”
The value in transparency
Len Monheit, CEO of the Trust Transparency Centre, explained why building trust and transparency is so essential in this day and age.
“Trust and transparency are so interwoven. Transparency doesn’t exist without trust and vice versa. We coach our clients that consumers are demanding transparency from every company, no matter what your bag. Especially nowadays as you’ve got younger generations who are very value orientated."
He added that recent data has shown that 84% of market value is based on intangible assets such as brand value, trust, authenticity, sustainability and transparency.
“But as well as that, on a fundamental level, if you have a transparent supply change this will lead to better supplier retention, better retailer retention, better consumer engagement, more brand loyalty, better compliance, and it will impact nearly every aspect of the business and this has a solid correlation with a solid ROI.”
Speaking about how this challenge can be turned into an opportunity, Derichs said that the technology available today and the ability to bring information to consumers' fingertips is a huge opportunity to build trust and transparency.
Schutt agreed, adding that there’s a high level of interest in blockchain technology, with producers wanting to use it and wanting to find out how but there’s a lot of work to do behind the scenes first.
The panellists agreed that one big issue is making companies work together with Monheit adding that supplements' particularly 'convoluted' supply chains make this more complicated.
Derichs explained: “Data in confidential and owned by the companies so its essential for data to travel through the supply chain that there’s an inter-operable system allowed to link into all the systems along the supply chain. That will unlock sustainability and make the communication easy at the end level.”
Hughes said this type of technology would be particularly well received in this market where questions have been raised over the sustainability of the products.
What's more, he said businesses are most likely to benefit from this sort of technology if they buy into it early as this will show they are proactive and open.
“If companies are going to use it, it's not necessarily about what information they make available but its about showing they are proactive and being open to giving data to consumers.
“That proactive approach is something that develops trust and transparency as opposed to businesses adopting it further down the line when everyone has it in place and it's seen as more of a necessity.
“There’s an awful lot of information that can be put on there and consumers aren’t realistically going to look at all that information but it’s more about showing proactivity and openness.”
Webinar chair Nikki Hancocks, NutraIngredient section editor, pointed out that consumers are increasingly interested in taking home tests to check their health credentials, with many even happy to send off their faecal samples in the post. She asked whether the panellists thought this was a good opportunity for the industry to build trust and transparency by encouraging consumers to take omega-3 index tests.
Schutt said there would be a lot of education to be done to help consumers understand what these test results meant in terms of tangible benefits.
“The omega-3 index is great. The challenge is getting consumers to understand what it is and what the results mean. With omega-3 you don’t immediately notice the benefits, it’s more of a long-term health benefit. It’s important to explain how the index results relate to their long-term health,”
She added that the other question is who should be the one to sell the tests, pointing out that it would be ideal if they could be administered by a health expert that can explain the results.
“Should it be available via the retailer? Maybe. The other missing piece is insurance companies or doctors. If it can become part of the normal testing regime when they do blood tests for a variety of conditions, that would do so much to raise awareness, educate consumers and get DHA and EPA into consumers and help public health around the world.”
With many consumers stocking up on immunity supplements it would appear this epidemic could lead to an organic boost in sales for the industry but Schutt said this could also have a massive knock on consumer trust in the industry if any market players act unethically during this period.
“We want to be careful as an industry to make sure you don’t erode consumer trust by making claims that are not substantiated, linking omega-3 particularly to viral infections.”
GOED is working to warn all industry players to act ethically during this pandemic.
Monheit agreed this was an essential time to help build the industry up, not knock it. “We are in the health products industry and we will fare better than other categories as we get through this pandemic.”