If dietary supplements are truly best represented as part of the natural products industry, then the natural versus synthetic ingredients issue smoothly goes away. For how then can synthetic ingredients be tolerated – all things being equal?
I suppose this is another example, not unlike other categories that mainstream, of ‘be careful what you wish for’.
Before the technology existed to make synthetic ingredients, before sustainability from over-farming became an issue, before costs became a market issue, before dietary supplements mainstreamed to become used by over seventy percent of the US population, well, the world was a lot more simple. We didn’t know how to use biotechnology and other emerging tools and techniques to manipulate organisms, cause selective expression of ingredients and make synthetic versions of natural ingredients. We also had a $4 billion USD industry, fewer ingredients and fewer sales channels. The Internet didn’t exist as a communication vehicle, handshake relationships predominated, and sourcing often went through layers and layers of middlemen in an opaque,…‘nudge, nudge’… environment.
It was much easier in those times, really not that long ago, to live an ideal universe where the source of all supplement ingredients was obviously natural.
We are now faced with a predictable commercial / values collision course made inevitable by industry success. Whether we are talking whole food-based supplements versus ‘the rest’, natural versus synthetic, non-GMO or ‘not’, this industry tension is real. And the customer base has grown, far beyond a motivated community in lock-step with core, ‘authentic’ industry values. Some of our consumers don’t share these values as strongly.
The emergence of clean label in the food industry as a driving force, and efforts to promote transparency along the supply chain and in communications offer an opportunity to regain these core values. And, we have as an industry lost our way in some cases, over the years, favoring opacity and opportunity over honest open communication.
So we now have this opportunity to come full circle, at least for some. To do this however, risks splitting the opportunity, dividing the category, and divulging unpleasant realities. Our ingredients come from around the world, we use new technology (super-critical extraction as an example), some botanicals have been exploited beyond sustainability, and we have evolved as an industry. We are not as we were years ago. We cannot go back.
We can only hold to our values and tell the right story from this moment forward.