Consumer Understanding of Nutritional Supplements: An Irish Context

Julie Ann Walsh, Angela Wright


Nutritional Supplements have been available in Ireland for over thirty years. Originally available in health food stores only, supplements now have several distribution channels including pharmacy, practitioner, and online. Recommendations for consumption can come from many sources including general physicians, alternative practitioners, dieticians and nutritionists. The demand for Nutritional Supplements has increased over the years, and the industry has expanded exponentially. Nutritional Supplements provide an important opportunity to optimize illness prevention. As scientists and health professionals start to understand the value of Nutritional Supplements in terms of the prevention and treatment of disease, consumers follow suit. Market growth of Nutritional Supplements is reliant both on market positioning and the distribution strategies and channels chosen by the industry. The success or failure is dependent on how effectively and efficiently their products are sold through marketing channel members (e.g., agents, wholesalers, distributors, and retailers).

An examination of the distribution channel most appropriate to the purchase of Nutritional Supplements, and advice on their consumption has never been investigated in Ireland to date; hence, this research will be applicable to those involved in this specific industry.

A mixed method research approach was undertaken in this study to enable a thorough overview of the industry as it currently stands in Ireland. This research examines the quality of education of those who are distributing, retailing and/or recommending Nutritional Supplements. Qualitative data was collected through semi-structured interviews with twelve participants working within the Nutritional Supplement sector. This research also examines the thoughts of the consumer, relative to preferred distribution channels and who they deem most appropriate as advisors of Nutritional Supplements in Ireland. This was executed through a quantitative process and the consumer data was collated via an online survey.

A key finding of this study is that those who are considered best qualified for consultation (general practitioner, dietician and pharmacist), are actually not qualified enough to distribute Nutritional Supplement advice. Health food stores are the preferred distribution channel by consumers; however, Health store workers are not recognised as the most trustworthy for advice. This research will benefit those involved in the manufacture and distribution of Nutritional Supplements in Ireland. 

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Copyright (c) 2015 Julie Ann Walsh, Angela Wright

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