Rachel Brice is Head of Business for Sports Nutrition at Omega Pharma UK & Ireland. Omega Pharma owns Etixx Sports Nutrition, a leading sports nutrition company set up in 2009. Their sports nutrition products are used by over 82,000 different athletes. Prior to her career at Omega Pharma and Etixx, Rachel worked for multinational consumer goods company Reckitt Benckiser, and prior to that worked for L’Oreal.
In this interview we speak to Rachel about some of the challenges of operating in this industry, tips for businesses who want to expand overseas, and what she feels are the biggest threats and opportunities in the supplements and sports nutrition industries.
How did Etixx come about, and how does the brand differentiate itself in the crowded sports nutrition market?
Back in 2002 our founder Pascal interviewed about 6000 people to understand usage of sports nutrition. The survey told us that there were 5 areas that had to be right for optimum performance; that’s why interestingly Etixx has the health range – if your health isn’t good, there’s no point in taking other products. The other thing really evident at that time was doping in cycling. Pascale was well tapped into cycling world and wanted to make a brand that was 100% credible and no comeback if someone was found to be doping.
Pascale asked: “How can I produce a brand that is absolutely free from any banned substances?” He developed one of longest relationships with HFL testing. Every single batch of every single product gets tested. We don’t just test the WADA list, but also 160 substances above the list because we believe thy will also become banned substances at some stage in the future.
The care that is taken is second to none. We also hold on to every single batch for two years afterwards, so if anyone has any issues, we have certificates and the original batch that was tested, if required. It’s really important when dealing with athletes at that level. Some of the less credible manufacturers forget that this is people’s lives. There’s got to be complete trust and full education about what comes under HFL testing.
What are some of the biggest marketing challenges facing sports nutrition and supplement companies?
The challenge with the industry is that it’s very fragmented. You’ve got to look not just at how you reach your consumers, but because people are very loyal to a brand, you have to give them proof and understanding of why your brand is different to what else is on the market.
For us it’s about connecting with consumers and educating them as to why Etixx is a different choice to what they use at the moment. With regards to teams, I’ve never been approached by so many companies in the world of sports. The value that businesses seem to be getting off sponsorships is quite immense.
It’s an interesting world in terms of sports rights and sports ambassadors – we call them partners because they’ve been with us a long time and have developed products with us; and we don’t spend a lot of money on our athletes. We have to ensure we’re spending money in the right way, because were approached on almost a daily basis asking for partnerships.
You seem to have a very international presence, what advice would you have for health and fitness businesses that want to expand overseas?
Omega is lucky because we have an Omega network of offices around the world, down as far as Australia and New Zealand. That makes launching a global brand much easier. Don’t expect overseas expansion to be quick or cheap. Take your time to make sure the distribution opportunities are a good fit.
Understanding the regulatory environment is very important when launching a business internationally. Countries like the UK are heavily regulated, right through to other markets that are very loose and open. Then add in the internet, which makes borders irrelevant. Some people are unfortunately purchasing on websites that have zero credibility and zero regulation applied to their products.
In all of the European markets that we’ve launched in, they’re all focused on different channels. They focused on Etixx through the pharmacy channel because the pharmacist is in a very good position to provide excellent advice from a credible source. Pharmacists in Europe are seen very differently to how they’re seen here – they are much more central to a community and town compared to how they’re viewed in markets like the UK.
In other markets like the UK and Nordics, we have to take a more mass-market approach. If you’ve got shoppers that habitually shop in a particular channel and are used to shopping there, it costs a lot more to change their shopping habits than to recruit people to a different shopping channel.
How have you seen the supplements and nutrition industry change since 2009?
The growth is pretty phenomenal but the majority of it remains in the protein market. There’s definitely a greater awareness of sports, but generally people are really struggling with the education on it. As there are lots of sources and conflicting information, there’s got to be a good centralised location with credible information that people can rely on and trust.
For the majority of the population that are out doing sports, there’s a real lack of knowledge around things like hydration, energy systems and recovery, and there’s a long way to go in terms of education. You have to admire companies like Maxi, they’ve done a great job of educating people in the protein market, but the same needs to happen in the non-protein market. The market is experiencing really good growth, which is generally great for newcomers to the industry.
How do you feel about the explosive growth of the supplements industry?
It’s a bit of a double-edged sword. In one way it’s great because more people are talking about it and aware of it. However, businesses must strike a balance between gaining profit and market share and doing what’s responsible. Companies owe it to the general population to be responsible, but you’ll always get some cowboys, especially with the lack of online boundaries and the global marketplace.
People often don’t realise that quality varies an awful lot, and you get what you pay for. It’s the same in sports nutrition as it is in anything else. There are lots of really big sellers out there that have very cheap products, but much of it is cheap for a reason.
Read as much as you can about a brand before buying. Everyone loves a good deal, but you can’t pick up the cheapest one without doing a bit of research and looking at the manufacturer, the source of supply, testing and regulation. Don’t believe all the hype.