When it comes to the dietary supplement industry and label claims, there hasn’t been a shortage of headlines. Be it the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC’s) Health Product Compliance Guidance released in December 2022, or the subsequent 670 warning letters sent the world’s leading health and wellness brands (including OTC drugs, homeopathic products, dietary supplements, and functional foods, putting them on notice “that they should avoid deceiving consumers with advertisements that make product claims that cannot be backed up or substantiated,” there has been increased regulatory scrutiny of label claims in the interest of protecting consumers.
In light of the increased regulatory scrutiny, the dietary supplement industry is increasingly interested in using clinical trials to substantiate claims and product efficacy. This is what makes the new consumer psychology study by University of California, San Diego and Radicle Science on the consumer perception of “clinically proven” claims so compelling. Turns out that clinical trials may not only be important for regulatory compliance, they may also make sense for the bottom line.
A large sample of consumers were recruited online to participate in the study with roughly equal distribution of men and women and well-distributed across age groups. Each subject was randomized to see an image of a supplement bottle, and asked to report their likelihood of purchasing the product. All the bottles shown were identical in appearance and carried the claim “reduces stress,” except some carried an additional “clinically proven” claim on the label. The consumers were then asked a series of questions around their willingness to pay for the products.
- Those who saw the bottles carrying the additional “clinically proven” claim had approximately two-fold greater odds of being “Likely to purchase,” relative to those who saw the bottles that only carried the “reduces stress” claim. This difference was statistically significant.
- Those who saw the labels containing the “clinically proven” claim were also willing to spend approximately $5 more for their product, on average, relative to those who saw the labels that only carried the “reduces stress” claim–this was at least a 20% increase in the price they were willing to pay compared to those who were shown the base label without the “clinically proven” claim.
When respondents were asked to 7 factors in descending order in terms of their importance when purchasing a product, the following were the three most influential factors:
- “The product has been proven effective in clinical trials” emerged as the most important factor; 76% of respondents ranked this as a top 3 factor
- “The product has been tested to be free of contaminants” was the second most important factor; 52% of respondents ranked this as a top 3 factor
- “The product has good user reviews” was the third most important factor; 50% of respondents ranked this as a top 3 factor
While the UCSD/Radicle Science study is not without limitations (ex. Self-reported data), the study does shed light on claims that consumers are willing to pay for. Better yet, ‘clinically proven’ claims and randomized controlled trials necessary to substantiate them are considered the gold-standard when it comes to FTC compliance. The reality that regulatory compliance can also be good for the bottom line is great news for regulatory bodies, the dietary supplement industry, and consumers.