Who can you trust in a $1.5 trillion industry where every other company seems to want to sell you a “wellness” product or service? That is the question the Wellness Access Institute (WAI) wants to answer – partly to help customers make informed decisions, but also to support those businesses that bring genuinely useful products to market.
Founded earlier this year by Greg Macpherson and Warren Liu, WAI’s goal is to help industry, its regulators and consumers gain a better understanding of what a focus on wellness can achieve. Despite the obvious benefits to people’s health – ultimately the ability to live longer lives – policymakers are not providing the broad support the wellness sector needs, WAI argues. In particular, too many obstacles stand in the way of innovation.
“First, there is the issue of trust and transparency in the industry – how do we create a stronger link between the science and the buyer,” says Liu. “Next, we want to address the speed of innovation and accessibility for everyday people. Real solutions to health and wellness issues today can be accelerated by addressing these challenges and creating frameworks for education and access to knowledge to support health and wellness.”
WAI envisions establishing a trade body, funded by the wellness sector but acting independently of it. It will pursue initiatives such as certifications for products that are properly supported by science-based and real-world evidence, helping businesses establish trust. It also plans to launch a WAI accelerator programme, connecting innovators and entrepreneurs in the sector with leaders in areas such as supply chain, marketing and R&D.
The organization will operate as a not-for-profit, Liu explains, becoming self-financing over time through fees for membership, certifications and other services. Any surplus cash generated will be reinvested in the organization and its programs.
Both Macpherson and Liu have extensive experience working in wellness and preventative health, and have previously collaborated on a nutritional supplement brand designed to help people manage the aging process. Building that brand required overcoming a number of frustrating challenges, which the duo discovered were common when talking to others in the sector.
“Breakthrough innovations get stuck in the lab,” says Liu. “Genuine solutions do not reach people who can benefit from them quickly enough, and sometimes not at all. And even where the products are commercialized, they are sometimes too expensive or not readily available.”
Macpherson argues that WAI can help organizations overcome some of these problems, to the benefit of all. “An urgent paradigm shift is needed if we are to sustainably support an aging population and improve our collective and individual health as we age,” he says. “WAI aims to accelerate our understanding and access to wellness and wellness innovation in a way that is reliable and accessible to all.”
To get started on these goals, WAI has appointed an advisory board consisting of eight prominent leaders in the wellness field. They include Aubrey Levitt, founder of microbiome startup Postbiotics Plus, Dr Matt Yousefzadeh, a prolific contributor on well-being to scientific publications, and Michael Heinam, who works on patent applications and contracts with leading universities.
“It’s not just businessmen and scientists trying to create new products to sell,” Liu adds. “It is an open dialogue and vision-setting agenda that involves people at all stages of the journey; it starts with making knowledge about the main factors of well-being available to everyone.”
WAI points to fundamental misunderstandings among consumers, built up over many years, as evidence of the need for an organization to promote education and awareness. For example, the idea of ”eating green” is based on an outdated campaign and overlooks fruits and vegetables in different colors.
Ultimately, WAI’s founders believe that if they can help innovators make new, high-quality products available faster and equip consumers with the help and understanding to recognize such products, the potential to create better health outcomes is huge. “The benefits of health and longevity programs have never been clearer,” asserts Liu.