Who’s watching the protein supplement industry?

Protein products have become highly popular in recent years, accompanied by thriving misconceptions. ESSNA is busy keeping the industry to task and consumers informed throughout Europe.

Mayar Raouf
Mayar Raouf Senior Communications Officer, ESSNA

Protein-based or enriched products have been proven to show immense nutritional benefits if used correctly by people leading active, healthy lifestyles and focusing on a balanced diet. As the fastest, best-selling sports nutrition product on the market, their appeal has broadened to the degree that they’re now mainstream products.

But popularity has its downsides – and it is even more important now that consumers are informed about what to buy, and that industry is transparent about the products it sells.

A lack of education can breed erroneous facts and misconceptions, which undermine the industry and the proven benefits, as well as subsequent growth, of these products. Untrue claims can include that these products commonly contain banned substances, for example. And, in some cases, supplements are exploited unscrupulously for commercial gain through false claims such as ‘protein shakes can give you a six-pack in a week’.

This is where ESSNA (the European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance - the trade association representing the sports nutrition industry across Europe and working to secure proportionate legislation for the industry that does not limit innovation) steps in. ESSNA takes responsibility for ensuring the industry is monitored and held to account, in order to protect those who might buy into these false messages, and also works to make sure that consumers are informed about how best to use these products.

Industry watchdog
ESSNA promotes the responsible purchase and correct use of sports nutrition products by the general public, using its members as examples of best practice. Working with major EU bodies, EFSA (European Food Safety Agency), the European Commission and different governments across the EU, ESSNA encourages and facilitates collaboration across the industry.

A core function is pushing out credible information to consumers, many of whom lack a full understanding of the nutritional benefits of protein, or alternatively, have unrealistic expectations. Someone might see an athletic, strong-looking person advertising a product and think that all they need to do to achieve the same appearance is to consume the protein product. That’s obviously not the case, so educating consumers, for example, that the product is a supplement to a normal diet is important.

When made aware of breaches in regulations, such as where the promotion of the product is directly misleading, ESSNA works to get the product changed or removed from the market. While it has no formal power as a trade association, ESSNA works alongside the relevant regulatory authorities to ensure consumers are protected.

Multi-faceted approach
Working to protect the reputation of the industry and influencing public perception demands a multi-faceted approach. ESSNA has recently published a new information resource for consumers on its website, which will be updated regularly with news, tips and advice. And the finishing touches have also been put on ESSNA’s first official guide, 10 Steps to Buying the Best Protein, which outlines a simple, easy-to-understand checklist to use when buying and consuming protein products.

There’s more in the pipeline, too, including a separate resource entirely dedicated to protein. ‘Watch Your Protein’ is a new website that will contain in-depth information about the uses of protein and its benefits.

Protecting consumers
Unfortunately, there are too many irresponsible businesses trying to find legislation loopholes and exploit them for profit, in the worst cases, masquerading their products as something far from the truth. This means that an important part of ESSNA’s work is ensuring that protein products currently on the market are compliant and provide the appropriate information. Sometimes those assurances even involve ESSNA facilitating the removal of such products from the shelves.

Commitment to quality
All ESSNA members sign a strict Code of Practice, which reinforces their commitment to follow all relevant EU legislation. The ESSNA kitemark is a key element of membership and can be included on members’ sports nutrition products and company websites.

ESSNA requires that members comply with EU regulations which commit them to communicating truthfully with consumers, so that they are fully informed about what they are buying. For example, instructions on packaging must be clear and information provided in advertising should not be misleading.

There’s no doubt that protein supplements are here to stay, and ESSNA’s role is to help ensure they meet their potential. By working with industry, our members and relevant EU bodies, we can help to ensure that sports nutrition products are manufactured and used responsibly, allowing consumers to realise the full benefit of using protein supplements.

This blog contains material and information intended for B2B customers, suppliers and distributors, and is not intended as information to the final consumers.