For those of us raised on a healthy healthcare business diet of fresh pharmaceuticals and mouth-watering medical devices, the arrival of new healthy functional foods, herbs and minerals can stick in the throat. But don’t be fooled by their appearance, nutraceuticals are firmly on the menu in the US and are rapidly gaining supporters in Europe and the UK. As PR professionals, we need to understand these more eclectic tastes and look at how we can serve them up to the media.
The truth is, nutraceuticals are now being used regularly by more than 50 per cent of the US population, with a market predicted to top $240bn (£155bn) in a couple of years and growing at an annual rate of almost seven per cent. To put this in perspective, global pharma sales are about $980bn (£632bn). In Europe, we are certainly behind, especially in the UK (where it’s estimated we only represent about eight per cent of the global market), but that still represents an awful lot of probiotic bacteria.
Nutraceuticals are made up of two principal product types: functional foods; and vitamins, minerals and supplements (VMS). Functional foods are defined as foods enhanced with bioactive ingredients and which have demonstrated health benefits. Examples are probiotic yogurt, tomato or garlic pills for cardiovascular conditions, and collagen supplements for improved skin and joint health.
The attraction of these products is partly that they are not pharmaceuticals. Being foods, they have few if any side effects and are easy to obtain. And now they have clinical studies to show they actually work too. But surely those studies include all of seven patients, most close relatives of the researcher, with each ‘patient’ asked to fill in a questionnaire detailing how much better they felt after taking a single tablet/drink/sachet?
Well, yes and no. Certainly these laughable pieces of research do still exist, especially on the ‘cosmecuetical’ side of the business, but the truth is regulators, not least in the advertising world – the ASA in the UK and FTC in the US – are increasingly demanding almost pharmaceutical-grade research to back up any health claim made on TV.
With pharma increasingly on the back foot, driven off-balance by regulatory and societal forces that show no sign of dying down, nutraceuticals are without doubt going to be a big part of the healthcare future. If you’re a smart PR with FMCG as well as pharma expertise, then you have a recipe for success.
Predictions for the future of healthcare
1. A much bigger role for nutraceuticals in disease management and prevention – nutraceuticals will go mainstream in the UK in the next two years.
2. A huge growth in wearable health technology and health tech for the home, eg blood pressure monitors.
3. Nanotechnology will start to appear regularly in everything from smartpills to new delivery devices.
Dr Martin Godfrey is managing director of 3 Monkeys Communications Health and Wellness, and a south London GP