Marketing bioavailability: “Aware” consumers are pushing companies to innovate


05 Mar 2019 --- Consumers are becoming more savvy about what’s in their products, scouring nutrition labels and demanding ever-cleaner, more efficacious ingredients in their foods, beverages and supplements. Since bioavailability is strongly linked to the potency and efficacy of certain active ingredients, assuring an improved bioavailability is a key focus for companies trying to differentiate their products and attract consumers’ attention. However, speaking with NutritionInsight, industry experts lay out just how important it is to have solid communication strategies that convey key messages.

Many in the industry believe consumers are at a “crucial stage” in terms of their awareness about how bioavailability works – the proportion of a drug or other substance which enters the circulation when introduced into the body so as to have an active effect. This shift in mindset is evident in some markets where products containing ingredients with enhanced bioavailability are taking market-leading positions in their segments.

“Bioavailability is a complex process involving several different stages: liberation, absorption, distribution, metabolism and elimination phases. To exert any beneficial effects, several active food ingredients, whether derived from various plant or animal sources, need to be bioavailable,” explains Isabel Gómez, Marketing Manager of Lipofoods.

Click to EnlargeThere are a number of culprits that impact the bioavailability of a product. These include degradation in the stomach of the active components, low solubility in the GI tract which translates into a poor absorption rate when arriving in the small intestine, or interaction with other components of the diet, thus limiting their proper absorption.

“On the other hand,” Gómez explains, “there are active ingredients where it is convenient to control their delivery for a sustained release in the blood. Assuring an adequate bioavailability of ingredients is, therefore, key to developing nutraceutical formulations that deliver proven benefits.”

Consumers are getting increasingly aware of the importance of bioavailability. “They understand that when they eat, the food is taken into their digestive system and some of the useful nutrients need to be absorbed into their bloodstream to ensure that it will have the full health effect on them,” Gomez states. 

Ease of access to information means that consumers will not necessarily take information on ingredients at face value. 

“The crucial stage we’re in is the awareness of how ingredient quality, chemical state or delivery technology, on one hand, and stability of the finished product at the end of the shelf-life, on the other, affect the extent of the promised benefits actually received by end-users,” states Blaž Gorjup, Chairman & Founder of PharmaLinea Ltd.

“Ingredients such as iron, folate, vitamins or even certain plant extracts are examples of where ingredient quality differs heavily and bioavailability makes all the difference. In areas of their application such as iron deficiency, prenatal nutrition or immunity, consumers demand products with added value and a growing part is prepared to pay for such value,” he says.

“Companies must come up with technical solutions and innovative delivery systems to guarantee a better absorption of poorly bioavailable ingredients. They also must demonstrate the effectiveness on absorption of the technological solution by providing scientific data to consumers to support the improved bioavailability claimed in their products,” Gomez puts forward.

Consumer confusion?
One of the biggest stumbling blocks in bioavailability marketing is possible consumer confusion surrounding the relative bioavailability of certain materials or technologies. 

“For example ‘XXX times’ bioavailability compared to ‘XX+1’ times availability is confusing to consumers and a little meaningless; a much better way to show the absolute measure of how much an active ingredient is absorbed in the body is more comparative,” explains Eric Meppem, Co-founder at Pharmako Biotechnologies (Australia).

On top of that, notes Sally Aaron, SVP Health Ingredients and Marketing at Evolva, consumers are not always “aware of what bioavailability means and bioavailability doesn’t always equate to bioactivity, which is a measure of the effect or interaction at the cellular level.”

Still, there are ways to increase bioavailability through innovation, including technological advancements.

“Many manufacturers use bioavailability as a way to differentiate their products with consumers in a very competitive market,” Aaron notes. “Evolva’s approach, for example, is to provide our customers with the best tools possible to create quality, differentiated products. That toolkit includes proprietary clinical studies using Veri-te resveratrol as well as an option to enable an enhanced bioavailability claim through our partnership with Pharmako Biotechnologies.”

“Another challenge is acceptance of excipients or the ingredients used in delivery systems to enhance bioavailability. Many consumers and brand companies request cleaner labels these days,” Meppem notes. “It can be a balance of a cleaner label, against a more effective product, or a product with a lower dose.”  

Communication is key 
Clear communication and consumer education play a vital role in facing these challenges.

“There are several steps or lines of communication where the success of an ingredient with enhanced bioavailability is decided: from ingredient manufacturers themselves, to product brand owners, onto medical practitioners and pharmacists or at consumers directly,” explains Gorjup at PharmaLinea.

“These benchmark success cases all start with ingredient manufacturers investing not only into the R&D of the ingredient itself but also into best-standard clinical studies and brand-building. A highly bioavailable ingredient can lose credibility if it is validated by observational, single-arm, single-centric ‘clinicals’ and potentially questionable research managers. The right way is far more demanding, in terms of investment and risk of outcomes, but it’s the only way for the future,” he notes.

“Similarly, focusing on establishing and developing an ingredient brand is vital for building credibility. We are already seeing ingredient manufacturers recognizing such value and making the first steps into brand development to legitimize their value in front of businesses and consumers,” Gorjup adds.

Both investments are substantial and do not give immediate rewards, hence they require, within the nutraceutical industry, on all levels, a critical mindset change towards credible growth investments that will aim for substantial market movements within three to five years and a vision of long-term, sustainable growth.

 When working with product brand owners, ingredient suppliers have to target companies with established brands, who have integrity in consumers’ perceptions, Gorjup adds.

“For product brand owners with an established position and knowledge of high-quality product marketing, opting for ingredients with enhanced bioavailability is one of the best options for product differentiation,” he adds. “One of the major challenges is in communicating the advantages, the added value of bioavailability and justifying the price difference between two seemingly identical ingredients within the confined space of packaging and limited attention of consumers.”

Investing in research and awareness
While investments in the research of new technologies to address bioavailability challenges would definitely contribute to the successful development of innovative delivery systems themselves, there is also a clear role for consumer education on the topic.

“Scientific data, clinical evidence and technical papers need to be generated to provide customers with the marketing tools to support the claimed enhanced absorption and bioavailability to differentiate their products to the consumer. It is also important to take into account the end-product matrix to check the efficiency of the technological solutions in different applications,” Gomez concludes.

Currently, the pharmaceutical, food and cosmetics industries are more advanced in bioavailability marketing than the dietary supplements and vitamin industries. But, notes Meppem, the dietary supplements industry has a good opportunity to rapidly catch up. 

“Due to our industry’s speed-to-market, there is an opportunity for academic and research institutions to focus more on nutraceuticals than pharmaceuticals,” says Meppem. 

These enhanced research options can then form the basis of strong messaging to the end-consumers.

“In our experience, successful product launches were achieved by marketing teams who were able to surpass the boundaries of labels,” notes Gorjup. “Strategic multichannel campaigns, where a uniform message was conveyed to consumers through advanced packaging, digital and printed media and, most importantly, educating doctors and pharmacists, not only targeting consumers, were the ones to succeed. Which all leads back to integrity and credibility of everything and everyone in the chain,” he adds.

Industry experts are in agreement that concise, appropriately simplified messaging has proven to be key in educating consumers on the importance of bioavailability and the entire science behind the product. 

“With consistency and time, such campaigns build consumer awareness and trust while generating stable sales,” Gorjup concludes.

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