We interviewed Robert Sanahuja, former President of AFEPADI for more than 10 years and with more than 20 years of experience in the food supplements sector. Currently Robert Sanahuja directs the area of corporate advice to companies in the sector at GARAL GROUP CAPITAL CONSULTING.
- First of all, can “food supplements” be considered drugs?
No, they are two types of products that have specific differentiated regulations.
For simple illustrative purposes, supplements are food products consisting of concentrated sources of nutrients that are presented with the purpose of supplementing the intake of such nutrients in the normal diet, while drugs are substances that are presented with curative or preventive properties with respect to diseases,
- What has been the evolution of the consumption of food supplements in Spain in recent years?
The concept of food supplement as a category is relatively new, perhaps not much more than 20 years ago. But long before, these types of products already existed in the Spanish market and were consumed, although in a much more limited way.
In Spain, the use of food supplements experienced a notable boom a little over 30 years ago with the entry into the country of products from other European countries, especially France, Italy and The Netherlands, which were the germ of the products that today we know. This was so novel that, in the absence of regulatory legislation, there were numerous disagreements with the Spanish health authorities.
As an example, the growth in sales of food supplements in Spain in recent years has been at an average rate of 6%, on a sustained basis. Despite the fact that a rate of 12% was reached in 2020, the exceptional situation of this year with the covid-19 pandemic does not allow us to project this growth in the future.
In Spain, the consumption rate of this type of products per inhabitant was very low compared to Europe, but at present we are already approaching the levels of other European countries with a longer tradition. There is still plenty of room for growth in a market of almost 50 million inhabitants.
- Who are the main players in the food supplement industry in Spain?
Traditionally, the companies that were dedicated to the production and marketing of dietary products were practically the only ones occupying the market, operating in a very limited sales channel – herbalists – and therefore with very limited expansion.
As the years have passed, a greater demand from consumers and the opening of other sales channels – the pharmacy, the parapharmacy and online, favored not only the development of traditional Spanish companies, but also the entry of foreign companies, especially European, and also the interest of companies from other sectors related to health such as pharmaceuticals and traditional food companies.
- What is behind the interest of the pharmaceutical sector in the food supplement business?
Food supplements “are trendy.” Although, with another name and simpler presentations, they have been present in the Spanish market for almost 80 years, the consumer appreciates more and more products that help staying healthy and well-being.
The much more mature pharmaceutical sector also wants to respond to these consumers based on its consolidated experience in health issues. Food supplements are not antagonists to drugs; they have another function that is to help stay healthy.
There is no doubt that, for companies in the pharmaceutical sector, incorporating new products and opening new lines of business is of interest.