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A baseline, not a trend: A new role for sustainability emerges at Vitafoods Europe 2024

As in previous years, Vitafoods Europe 2024 was a testament to the dynamism of the nutraceutical industry. This year’s maze of stands demonstrated that adventurous consumers are increasingly seeking novelty and innovation across supplements and food & beverage categories, with sea-derived and mushroom-based ingredients exhibited everywhere across the show floor. While the rise of consumer adventurous was unmissable, another striking observation revealed itself through absence, rather than presence: the once prominent sustainability theme, formerly a central focus, with dedicated areas, stages and networking events, was not so much highlighted as seamlessly integrated into the fabric of the event. Vitafoods Europe 2024 seems to demonstrate that sustainability has become a table stake, or a given – a baseline expectation that’s now foundational to the nutraceutical and dietary supplement industry. As our sustainability issue of the knowledge predicted, “When you see that stakeholders of all kinds are insisting on sustainability, it is clearly no longer a ‘nice-to-have’ for businesses. It’s essential. It is a licence to operate.” 

Despite the reduced focus on the topic, some exhibitors stood out as exemplary examples of embedding sustainability into their marketing operations. Nutralie for instance decided to use a container handcrafted in Spain from 100% recycled materials for an exhibition stand. Much more than just a visual piece; the container embodies Nutralie’s sustainability ethos, designed for repeated use at various exhibitions. The brand’s sustainable approach mirrors the core principles of the circular economy, focusing on Reuse, Recycling, and Reduction, whilst its marketing communications effectively convey the brand’s sustainability journey, showcasing a company that truly embodies sustainability through purposeful innovation. 

Regulatory requirements level playing field 

While sustainability may no longer be a primary selling point, it’s now a necessity, with EU and other government regulations ensuring that all products meet certain sustainability standards. As a result, companies are becoming more conscious of the claims they make, leading to a pullback in sustainability-focused communications. This regulatory aspect has created a more level playing field, where sustainability is no longer a unique selling point but rather a necessary condition for market entry. 

Consumer priorities shift alongside cost-of-living increases 

The cost-of-living crisis has had a profound impact on consumer perspectives on sustainability. As budgets tighten and priorities shift, many consumers are prioritising value and quality when purchasing. This was evident in many presentations as well as offline conversations at the event, revealing a disconnect between consumer priorities and manufacturers’ perceptions of sustainability’s importance as a purchase driver.  

During a panel discussion titled ‘Research essentials for powHERing success in formulating and marketing food supplements for women’, an intriguing insight emerged regarding the influence of sustainability on purchase decisions. When asked how much the sustainability or environmental impact of ingredients influences their food choices, it was revealed that sustainability skews male rather than female consumers. The data showed that the “always influences” response was higher among the male demographics, particularly the 18 to 34 and 35 to 54 age groups. This insight alludes to a complex interplay between sustainability, gender, disposable income and purchasing behaviour, revealing that while sustainability remains important, brands must balance maintaining their commitment to sustainability with offering products in trending categories like women’s health that meet consumers’ growing demands for value and quality. 

Adapting communication strategies to sustainability expectations  

To effectively navigate these shifting priorities, companies must align their communication strategies with consumer preferences, willingness to pay and the broader B2B2C context. Manufacturers should prioritise showcasing the specific health benefits and value proposition of their products. By emphasising the unique properties, efficacy and affordability of their offerings, companies can demonstrate that their solutions directly appeal to consumers seeking targeted solutions for their health concerns. 

To bolster consumer trust, companies should focus on cultivating verifiable regulatory credentials by integrating sustainability into their core operations and supply chain. Transparently demonstrating the inherent sustainability of their products as part of a broader value proposition allows nutraceutical manufacturers to effectively communicate their commitment to environmental and social responsibility while avoiding greenwashing, which can undermine consumer confidence.

Implementing these strategies effectively requires manufacturers to consider the following tactics: 

  1. Conduct thorough market research to understand the specific needs, preferences and willingness to pay of target consumers in each product category. This insight will guide the development of tailored communication strategies that resonate with the target audience.
  2. Develop clear, concise messaging that highlights the health benefits, value proposition and inherent sustainability of products. Consistency in messaging across all channels will help reinforce the brand’s positioning and build trust with consumers.
  3. Invest in consumer education initiatives that help build trust and credibility around the efficacy and safety of products. By providing transparent, evidence-based information, manufacturers can empower consumers to make informed decisions about their health and well-being.
  4. Regularly review and update marketing communications to ensure compliance with evolving regulatory requirements and changing consumer expectations. Staying attuned to the dynamic landscape of the nutraceutical industry will enable manufacturers to adapt their strategies and remain competitive.

The path forward 

Now Vitafoods Europe 2024 has made clear that sustainability is no longer a trend but a table stake in the nutraceutical industry, the path forward lies in negotiating the interplay between consumer demands, pressing trends and sustainability imperatives. By attuning to emerging dynamics, recognising the varying influence of sustainability across consumer segments and adopting a proactive, customer-centric approach to communications strategies, companies can position themselves for long-term success. 

Sustainability may have shifted from the spotlight to the foundation, but its importance for a healthier future for all is undiminished. As the industry adapts to new demographics like an aging population and the rise of more adventurous tastes, companies which embed sustainability into their ethos while fulfilling consumer requirements will be the ones that build trust, drive innovation and create a healthier world for all living in it.  

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