Transforming a trade association into a reputable alliance that promotes healthy and active lifestyles.
ESSNA is an established pan-European trade association which represents the responsible voice of the sports nutrition industry in Europe. Over the years, ESSNA members increasingly began to identify and flag problematic sports nutrition products being sold on the market. These products were an issue for ESSNA members, and for the industry as a whole, for many reasons; they posed risks to our consumers’ health; they damaged the reputation of an otherwise responsible industry; and they resulted in unfair commercial practices, where uninformed consumers gravitated towards these illegal products believing their misleading promises to be fact. Therefore, policing activities in the sports nutrition sector and removing these non-compliant products from the market became a priority for ESSNA. We had to work to continue improving the image of a still contentious industry – even though the vast majority of it complies with the raft of legislation intended to protect the public – and increase consumer trust, ultimately protecting our integrity, multiplying our opportunities for dialogue with policymakers and improving business prospects for our members.
For the last seven years ESSNA has been running a campaign to promote compliance across the EU targeting manufacturers, distributors and retailers involved with these non-compliant products. We also recognised that to effectively tackle illegal products, it is important to reduce demand from the unaware public for these products, and so creating an informed consumer became another ESSNA priority.
We set out to tackle these unlawful products in in two main ways: 1) we urged ESSNA members and wider businesses to bring any suspicious products to our attention so that we can take action. We rely on the industry’s intelligence to identify non-compliant sports nutrition products on sale on the EU market, particularly over the internet, and products can be notified to us anonymously via a dedicated form on our website. 2) we set out to educate the consumer by warning of the dangers of illegal products through traditional media channels, via a consumer facing website, consumer how-to guides on specific sports nutrition categories, social media campaigns and our work with national authorities. A few examples include UK Anti-Doping, the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and the Food Standards Agency (FSA), all of which were campaigns to educate specific groups of the population about the harm of purchasing products from unrecognised e-commerce sites. We also produced a dedicated ESSNA Trademark for use on its members’ products to help the public identify products that abide by ESSNA’s strict Code of Practice and created a dedicated Facebook page for them to use to report potentially illegal products to us, as the social media platform sees a very high volume of product sales on a daily basis.
Since the inception of the campaign five years ago, ESSNA has tackled over 500 products: many were resolved informally as a direct result of ESSNA contacting the offending company, with companies committing to relabelling or reformulating the product in line with EU law, and others agreeing to completely withdraw the product in question from the market. Other cases were escalated to the relevant enforcement authorities, including the Italian Competition Authority (AGCM), the Portuguese Economic and Food Safety Authority (ASAE), the UK FSA and the MHRA, and the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA), among many others. The remaining alerts are currently still being processed.
ESSNA has moved beyond its remit as a trade association and is instead going above and beyond as the representative of a responsible industry to ensure the best possible outcome for its members and the public. Other industries that see similar instances of non-compliance (i.e. the majority of the food sector) simply rely on enforcement authorities to do their job to tackle these issues. ESSNA, however, recognises that these bodies face a lack of resources and cuts, and so we help them where we can. We have cultivated excellent relations with EU and national enforcement officials, who now regularly proactively seek our support on a range of issues. We share intelligence, provide advice, and ultimately give them back the time and resources that are so scarcely available to them to complete the job
“Really excellent example of supporting regulators and understanding their challenges (time, lack of resource). They go above and beyond their remit as voluntary regulatory association body.”
“Really strong supporting files. The How To guides are informative yet not patronising their audience. Eye catching, visually appeasing, interactive pdf. Really top notch. It tackles both aims: educates about the health benefits and risks, while also raising awareness about the buying process. Promote the ESSNA logo and demystifies the sometimes complicated ingredient list.”
“Strong example of an association living up to the goal of industry being ‘part of the solution’. Voluntarily and proactively addressing a market’s regulatory failure, to ultimately strengthen the health of the industry. Example of self-regulation that goes beyond window-dressing and works in close partnership with statutory bodies”