By Adam Veile, CEO
Year after year, healthfulness is consistently one of the top drivers of food purchasing decisions. That means health and nutrition research, in addition to being a scientific endeavor, is a valuable component of marketing food products. New discoveries are waiting, even for foods already backed by extensive research. Every scientific revelation can contribute to a flurry of online attention, on-going messaging, and additional research projects down the road. In a dream scenario, a product with enough buzz and research to support it can gain a reputation as a superfood. With so much at stake, agriculture organizations must contribute to human research studies on the commodities they produce.
A well-designed research study is expensive—clinical human trials, the gold standard of research, can take years and cost millions of dollars—but that doesn’t mean you should sit on the sidelines. Even without the scientific weight of more extensive research, small studies contribute to the scientific body of knowledge, which can have a long-term impact. Major research projects usually begin with a pilot study to evaluate the potential for a more significant study before more substantial time, money, and other resources are invested. Without a doubt, you need to know a project works on a small scale before it is tried on a bigger scale. Beyond that, any contribution to the scientific body of literature can inspire researchers down the road. The more developed the science is on a subject, the more researchers will be drawn to that area.
Incentive awards are a way to contribute to and share the cost of research when the funds aren’t available to pay for an entire study. Communique manages the Dry Bean Health Research Program for the Northarvest Bean Growers Association. For several years, Northarvest has provided three $20,000 incentive awards for research projects related to beans and human health. The selected recipients must submit a research proposal to the National Institutes for Health for a minimum of $150,000 per year for at least three years of funding. There are risks to this approach—the funding organization isn’t paying for a completed study and acquiring additional NIH funding is never easy. The perks outweigh the risks, however. Contributing to several projects increases your chances of getting one (or more) funded successfully. Additionally, putting out an open call for research concepts can inspire new ideas. Perhaps more importantly, the return on investment for this project has been fantastic. During the course of the Dry Bean Health Research Program, funding from NIH has been 10 times the amount of money paid in incentive awards. That is in addition to dozens of scientific papers that the $20,000 incentive awards have generated.
On the off chance that someone with a Ph.D. is reading this right now, I need to clarify: Research isn’t actually marketing. Science is science, and the quality of information is what makes it valuable. However, health and nutrition messaging is an important part of marketing, translating the research findings into actionable consumer messages is extremely valuable, and your contribution to research projects may be the key piece in the next discovery.