Since the completion of the Human Genome project in 2003, the emerging field of Nutritional Genomics has experienced a huge surge in the number of collaborative research projects and publications to date. It is predicted that developments in the field may lead to better personalised nutritional recommendations to prevent or delay the onset of chronic diseases such as Diabetes, Obesity, Cardiovascular disease and Dementia. The developments in this field are therefore of particular interest to the nutraceutical industry. Individual nutrition recommendations in the future, could refer to specific macronutrient distribution for example low fat diets, micronutrient recommendations, phytochemicals or nutraceuticals dosages. Numerous studies have already indicated that the personalised health market continues to show strong growth driven by increased consumer interest in health and reducing medical costs.
Dietitians, registered Nutritionists and GP´s play a large role in delivering health messages and have also been identified as key healthcare professionals to translate the science of personalised nutrition into practical solutions. In recent consumer studies, the above healthcare professionals are also the ones that consumers would like to receive personalised nutrition advice from (Stewart-Knox et al 2013). More educated consumers, easy access to health information via the internet and fast developing health tracking devices have increased the demand for practitioners that are knowledgeable, up-to date and holistic in their approach to dealing with chronic illnesses.
Healthcare professionals are therefore key stakeholders in recommending a change in diet and lifestyle as well as scientifically-backed foods and nutraceuticals as part of a preventative health strategy. However despite the fast developments in science and increased consumer interest in personalised health, the knowledge of clinicians and practitioners regarding nutrigenomics remains low (Collins et al 2013, Weir et al 2010). Possible reasons cited in the research include; lack of scientific evidence, lack of time to train as well as a lack of educational resources to name a few(Collins et al 2013).
The functional food industry is expected to grow to $130 billion by 2015 (Global Industry Analyst 2012) , it is therefore in the interests of nutraceutical and functional food companies to ensure that healthcare professionals are adequately involved, informed and trained on the scientific aspects of their products. Traditional marketing approaches directed at consumers may not be as effective as consumers demand to receive recommendations for products that may prevent or delay the onset of chronic disease by their healthcare professions (Wells et al 2013).
What are possible strategies nutraceutical and functional food companies can take to engage healthcare professionals?
1) Research and health claims– Obtaining scientific backing for any product is crucial. New health claim legislation (EFSA) is already distinguishing credible products from those with less strong scientific evidence. Developments in other omic technologies such as metabolomics and proteomics will drive future research into health effects of foods and bioactive molecules. It is important to share these new technologies and research with hcp´s
2) Staying close to consumers – Marketers should get a good understanding about clinical management of chronic diseases in terms of guidelines, recommendations and future directions from expert practitioners. Products that have credible science, are easy to explain and have a easy- to use format are more likely to be recommended as part of a lifestyle change.
3) Ensure a good Social media presence – Social media platforms are particularly important to build a brand by informing and educating both consumers and healthcare professionals. Sharing good content will more likely attract followers, users and ambassadors.
4) Invest in expertise – In order to stay abreast of developments in the nutritional genomics arena, outsource an expert who can inform, update or train the whole company team. In addition as the scientific evidence for bioactive peptides in functional foods strengthens, it is important to involve a specialist nutritionist at every stage of new product development.
5) Create company open days or internship opportunities – In order for healthcare professionals to be more involved at the technology or product development interface, arrange open days to discuss how your product fits into the future direction of nutrition and how advances in technology are used to improve lives.
6) Develop a great Sales team– Sales people are an important point for healthcare practitioners to stay updated on scientific developments and new products. In order to engage healthcare professionals on nutraceuticals and functional food, all members of the sales team need to be updated on the latest developments in personalised nutrition and how products fit into a healthy lifestyle. It is also important for companies to attend hcp training days and annual conferences not just trade shows.
In summary, the current health & wellness trend is set to continue in the near future. As scientific developments in nutritional genomics and biotechnology continue at lightning speed, the nutraceutical industry should ensure to invest in engaging healthcare professionals in the early stages of product development and brand building, as these are the professionals consumers prefer to receive personalised nutrition recommendations from. Getting a good understanding of how clinicians manage chronic conditions on the ground level as well as using social media platforms to create awareness is of utmost importance for functional food and nutraceutical companies to be successful.
About Mariette Abrahams MBA RD: Is a freelance registered dietitian and nutrition business consultant to companies in the functional food, PR and biotechnology industry. She has over 15 years experience in the clinical setting and the medical nutrition industry. She has a keen interest in Nutritional Genomics and Wellness. Her services include technical expertise, social media content creation, spokesperson services and strategic business advice on a flexible contract basis.
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