Nutritional rating systems, with Nutri-score leading the way, are becoming more widespread. If their role is to guide us towards better eating today, why shouldn’t they apply to dietary supplements tomorrow. So, when should we expect to see ratings for dietary supplements?
Dietary supplements have made a space for themselves
The dietary supplement (or nutraceutical) market is in fine form, as evidenced by the figures: +6% in 2021 in France, amounting to a total €2.3 billion in sales. It has to be said that the preventive role of nutrition in our health is now an accepted fact: one in five deaths in the world is attributable to unhealthy eating. And the place given over to dietary supplements on our lives is also increasingly justifiable: the top 3 categories reflect the needs of the times with Vitality-immunity in first place followed by Mood-stress-sleep, then Digestion-Transit. As a result, 59% of French people have taken dietary supplements in the past two years (compared with 44% in 2020).
The nutraceutical transition is underway! From health-enhancing food to nutricosmetics, without forgetting ingredients and DNBVs, nutraceuticals are today becoming established in consumer habits.
A dense supply doesn’t always mean quality
In pursuit of naturalness and given an increasingly dense array of products, the choice of a dietary supplement can be a complex one. Brands are diversifying and, although pharmacies remain market leaders (with almost 50% of the market share), the rise of e-commerce (+25%1) means that products can be purchased without direct advice from an expert. 35% of consumers bought their dietary supplements on a website last year. This is a logical shift towards digital, with the emergence of DNVBs (digital native vertical brands). This growth is achieved almost exclusively through digital (social networks, influencer marketing, etc.). Thus, a new face of the dietary supplement market and its distribution is taking shape. Finding a way through this market fog, notably with the help of a rating system, is becoming crucial.
Awarding a “nutra-score” to rate dietary supplements
The reason why there are so many ratings in the food sector is that it is a consumer market with a duty to provide the highest quality offering possible.
On the other hand, dietary supplements are foodstuffs that round out a diet. They are not medicines, but precautions must be taken when using them.
The market, despite its decades of existence, does not yet have a valid rating system. And the question is whether the existing systems could be used to rate dietary supplements:
- Yuka, which evaluates food and cosmetics, does not rate medicines or dietary supplements, as their composition is very specific.
- The Nutri-score, sponsored by Santé Publique France, is today based on a scientific evaluation of the nutrients contained in a foodstuff: fibre, salt, etc. – which, as things stand, cannot therefore apply to a dietary supplement.
Overseeing the market
Dietary supplements are regulated by high quality standards at European level in terms of product safety and information. France also adopts specific provisions on the use of certain ingredients. However, this level of health standards on French soil is not necessarily applied abroad. In addition, new brands that are just starting up in e-commerce take certain liberties before the regulatory authorities examine them… Therefore, a scoring system would provide a safeguard for the whole market.
In addition, the support of Synadiet and the health authorities will be needed. And ratings will have to be standardised.
In short, all the problems encountered in setting up the Nutri-Score will arise with nutraceuticals. This is a formidable challenge, with no less than 400 brands listed by Synadiet in 2017.
Defining scoring criteria
The list of scoring criteria could very well be a long one! But we could draw guidance from the big consumer trends, with the following examples:
- Naturalness is beginning to carve out its space and should be measured somehow: any additives or excipients? GM substances? How many active ingredients?
- French origin (for ingredients and manufacture), which, in this country, is in vogue.
- Specific attention should naturally be paid to the sourcing of ingredients and active ingredients.
- The choice of plant-based or synthetic should also be included in the calculations.
- Another factor could be whether or not the product is vegan-friendly – for capsules, for example.
Next, the examination of the scientific evidence behind each active ingredient should influence the score. Indeed, if an increasing number of promises are boosting this fast-growing market, this should not happen at the expense of scientific soundness.
The first to try its hand at rating food supplements is Nutrascan, which bases its assessment on 3 criteria: the presence and nature of additives, the manufacturing conditions (origin, organic, etc.) and finally the environmental impact.
Conclusion: the pros and cons of a nutra rating system
Appropriate rating is necessary to provide structure and guarantee high standards in this fast-developing market.
Moreover, an example of a rating system already exists in BioCurae. This application lists the active ingredients by measuring their effectiveness on a scale from A to E according to evidence and tests (A = evidence, E = use in traditional medicine).
Could this be a source of inspiration for a universal score?
Mot-clé: dietary supplement rating
 Le marché des compléments alimentaires en 2021. Synadiet
 Health effects of dietary risks in 195 countries, 1990–2017: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study, 2017.
 Market share of dietary supplement segments in France according to Synadiet data
 Baromètre 2022 de la consommation des compléments alimentaires en France. Synadiet, March 2022.
 Harris Interactive, 2021. Rapport final : Nouvelles tendances