Reshaping Pharmaceutical Marketing: is there a difference between supplements and nutraceuticals?

Is there a difference between supplements and nutraceuticals? What is the difference between dietary supplements and nutraceuticals? Everything and nothing. According to Italian law, there is no definition of 'nutraceutical'; according to Pharma Marketing, the difference is profound. Let us try to delve deeper.

Dietary supplements

The law defines dietary supplements as products intended to supplement the common diet and constituting a concentrated source of nutrients, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fatty acids, plant fibres with a nutritional and/or physiological effect in mono- or multi-compounds in pre-dosed forms. Their use has become more widespread, and the possibility of incorporating active substances, which are also present in drugs in different doses, into these products has created new opportunities for the industry. It is a much debated and interesting topic.


If safety and efficacy tests are combined with scientific evidence, with quantity, quality and bioavailability using processes and methods similar to those required for drugs, then it is easy for the product in question to take on a potential 'therapeutic' or 'curative' value. When proper use can supplement a proper diet and lifestyle and improve the health or well-being of the consumer, reduce the risks of specific diseases or processes that may also be pathological, and this is scientifically proven, then it stands to reason that the boundary with allopathic medicine is very thin. In this case, many speak of nutraceuticals and do so to distinguish them from others that do not have these 'qualities and characteristics'. These are the subject of pharmaceutical sales rep in Italy and promotional advertising to the medical class with often qualified and professional information networks representing to doctors the use and potential in the case of specific altered health and wellbeing conditions or for the prevention of pathological conditions.

Supplements vs. Nutraceuticals

The standard and the law speak very clearly and what a dietary supplement can claim is defined according to national and international tables, according to 'authorised claims'. For some nutraceuticals, clinical studies state that the health benefits are further and different than what authorised claims allow the public to boast. Authorities take great care to ensure that supplements do not boast any benefits to the public that are not authorised and also regularly monitor potential adverse and side effects in the use of nutraceuticals. In the communication and promotion of supplements to the doctor, a cassation ruling has also established that any corrupt behaviour on the part of the company or the pharmaceutical sales rep in Italy constitutes the offence of bribery proper, an offence that occurs when the discretionary choice of the public body is made in the exclusive interest of the private individual, rather than the comparative one envisaged for drugs. Thus, pharmaceutical sales representative in Italy on supplements, albeit in different forms, must comply with the forms it has in the case of drugs. It is not subject to law 219, but of course to all the other aspects that the civil and criminal codes provide for. It is therefore clear that the nutraceutical walks a fine line, being able to have scientific work behind it that is sometimes very accurate, but not being able to claim therapeutic properties. Communication to the doctor, effective in increasing prescribing, must at this point intersect with his prescribing habits and the interests of the patient. The clinical and scientific interest that the doctor increasingly shows in nutraceuticals stems precisely from their characteristics and the credibility of the product and the manufacturer. If this is not positioning, what is? Nutraceuticals represent a challenge for pharmaceutical marketing and for scientific communication in general, which we have often found ourselves facing in the company of leading companies in the need to increase Share of Voice and credibility. The solution is not immediate and currently presents itself as an opportunity to be understood and developed to enhance the 'qualities' that nutraceuticals have every right to claim. The dividing line of what can be boasted in public and reported to the doctor (in relation to clinical trials) must be such as to allow a clear and unambiguous marketing positioning. Once again it is positioning that guides the choices, while following clear regulations and clinical efficacy studies, once again it is the physician with the assumption of the patient's needs that is dominant in the process, and once again it is what remains in the mind of the physician and the patient that directs the marketing choices to enhance the Unique Selling Proposition. Not infrequently in supplements or nutraceuticals, the pharmacy can play a relevant role, with promotional days and also in support of the pathologies involved. Social media, and more generally web-based promotion, can also contribute, but this must not be confusing to the distribution channel and must not disrupt the communication we have with the doctor. Pharma Multichannel in Italy in this case is the correct interpretation of the touchpoints: an overall vision of the patient's needs, speaking through all the channels and through the different moments of contact with the patient, but being very careful not to generate disturbances between the actors.

Salvatore Ruggiero

Salvatore Ruggiero

Salvatore Ruggiero nasce a Napoli nel 1964, si definisce un imprenditore seriale. Oggi a capo del gruppo Merqurio, di cui è stato anche fondatore. Sposato con Giuseppina, ha due figli e nel tempo libero, tra un'escursione e un'altra, tra un film ed un altro, è alla ricerca della ricetta dei biscotti perfetti.

Related posts

Pharma Multichannel in Italy? Let's start with the basics

Let's start with the basics: pharma multichannel has no unambiguous definition, it is true. But it...

Continue reading

The 3 Steps to a Digital Pharma Project

The challenges faced by a manager in the pharmaceutical sector in using digital to promote or...

Continue reading

The so-called 'telephone' has too many shortcomings

"This 'telephone' has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication....

Continue reading