VIDEO: Ingredient list secrecy damaging the supplements industry

By Nikki Hancocks

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Regulation Transparency Collagen Packaging

Misleading ingredients lists are putting the industry and its consumers at risk as a number of brands continue to ignore the law on proprietary blends in Europe.

This is the view of co-founder of the premium collagen brand Pura Collagen Jennifer Mo and food law expert Mark Tallon.

Proprietary blends are blends of ingredients which are stated on pack using terms such as ‘healthy ageing complex’ or ‘energy matrix’ with the exact doses of each ingredient in that blend not disclosed.

This sort of labelling is currently legal in the US but is prohibited in the EU via a number of laws which ultimately state the amounts of any substances with a nutritional or physiological effect present in a product must be declared on the labelling.

Yet a number of products remain on the market with proprietary blends, vexing brands which pay extra costs and jump through hoops in order to remain totally transparent.

“Our main concern is always the consumer,” explains Pura Collagen’s co-founder Jennifer Mo. “When you are putting out a supplement and it has a number of ingredients, you need to make sure the consumer knows exactly what they’re purchasing. Especially now - when we are aware of sensitivities, gut health issues and dietary concerns.

“It concerns me that we are seeing brands not disclosing the amounts of ingredients so the consumer is not fully aware of what they are purchasing or ingesting.”

She takes issue with brands claiming that exact quantities are withheld for reasons of intellectual property.

“We live in a time where it is relatively simple to reverse engineer a product to get full analysis of what is in it.

“Saying ‘we’ve worked really hard to engineer something that’s special’ is quite frankly just hooey because we know we can break it down and work out what the actives are.

“They are doing it most likely because certain materials are a higher expense.”

Mark Tallon, managing partner of the Food Law firm Legal Foods, agrees that this lack of compliance in the industry is damaging to consumers and others in the industry.

“Legislation without enforcement is a waste of time and only results in damaging compliant businesses through an inability to be competitive.”

He argues that the lack of action by the authorities is equally criminal.

“Enforcement authorities are aware of this non-compliance and in many cases refuse to act.

“A significant concern is the role of primary authority relationships in the UK. A question is where food businesses are paying for guidance from statutory enforcement authorities is there then a conflict when the same authorities are made aware their client are breaking the law? We have had two cases when we have directly told enforcement authorities in the UK of the concerns by very large business being non-complaint and they have refused to act.

“In cases where enforcement don’t act there are limited options to force such officers to act. This must change and there must be a direct route that for officers that refuse to remove or act to ensure a fair market regarding unsafe or misleading products they themselves should be prosecuted.”

Considering the consumers’ view, Mo suggests this is not something they are even likely to notice, let alone be concerned about.

“If they actually know enough to look beyond the fat, sugars and carbs on the the front of pack and look to the back of the pack to see the ingredients, they are going to see ingredients that they think are important and will be happy with that even though they have no idea of the quantities of those ingredients.”

She points out that this is not only a concern in terms of products not providing the dose needed in order to be able to provide the health benefit claimed; it can have serious health implications if the consumer is taking multiple supplements and not knowing the exact doses of active ingredients.

Discussing Pura Collagen’s decision to be completely transparent on pack, with both health claims and ingredients, Mo explains this comes with additional costs and challenges.

"We have the same messaging from marketing through to packaging, which means we are going a step further than others by putting health claims on pack.

“We have an external review body to review all our packaging, all with additional costs, but we want to put out the most information that we can because once it goes on shelf we are not there to speak to the consumer.

“Also, if you are listing in big high street retailers, you then go through their legal hurdles which can take 18-20 months to get through. We even lost a listing because we choose not to change our labelling.

“If they’re a retailer that covers a hundred different categories they are not going to be expert in all these areas so sometimes we have to teach the retailer on what can and should be stated on label.”

Adding further to its on-pack call outs, Pura Collagen has become the first brand to call out its benefits to women going through menopause, with the new 'M-tick’ symbol.

The M-Tick symbol is the world’s first recognisable menopause-friendly symbol created by GenM, a movement with the aim to improve support for women going through the menopause.

Similar to the vegan V or gluten-free labelling, the M-tick aims to make it easy for consumers to find suitable products that might help them with their symptoms.

Mo explains: “We have a product that is built specifically to help with some of the symptoms of menopause but we have made sure to specify the symptoms that it can support rather than just stating ‘help with menopause’ which could be misleading as there are many different symptoms experienced by different women.”

Related topics Regulation & Policy

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