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Identify Counterfeit Food Supplements Safely

Food Supplements Are Booming - Watch Out When Buying!

Counterfeit Products in the Field of Food Supplements
Healthcare & Pharma
Retail & Consumer Goods
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Nerve disorders, sensitivity to light, headaches - Taking food supplements (NEM) can have side effects that are at best unpleasant, at worst dangerous to health. Particularly risky for consumers are counterfeit and unauthorized products that come onto the market via the Internet or unauthorized distribution channels. It is obvious why the market is attractive for black sheep: In Germany alone, 1.35 billion euros were turned over with dietary supplements in 2020.

A study commissioned in 2018 by the Working Group Food Supplements found that 30 percent of adults in Germany regularly consume dietary supplements - with an upward trend. The areas of application are versatile: improvement of health and fitness, competition preparation of hobby and professional athletes, lifestyle optimization or also in the wellness area. Also, vegans and vegetarians often use dietary supplements. But is taking them always a good idea?

Food Supplements: Food or Drug?

Nahrungsergänzungsmittel - Lebensmittel oder Medikament - Arvato Systems Blog

By definition, dietary supplements are foods and not medicines. Therefore, they are subject to the control and standards that also apply to foods but do not have to undergo medical approval or submit studies on their efficacy. Thus, dietary supplements must not interfere with the human body's natural metabolism, but at most support it in its "work".

In contrast to conventional foods, however, there is always a risk of overdosing with dietary supplements. Manufacturers should adhere to the recommended maximum amounts of the active ingredients specified by the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, but they are not legally obligated to do so. Since most dietary supplements in Germany are sold in drugstores and supermarkets without any advice, there is no inconsiderable risk for consumers. Even more risky is the growing sales via the Internet, which already accounted for around 20 percent of the market for dietary supplements in 2019. This is because there is a lack of advice here and no control over whether the products on offer have even been tested and approved for the German market. Thus, the main customs office in Nuremberg had already withdrawn the same number of counterfeit preparations from circulation in May of this year as in the entire year 2020.

Watch Out When Buying Food Supplements!

What can consumers do to find their way through the jungle of offers? In addition to the confusing quantities of articles in drugstores, supermarkets and pharmacies, there are also products such as those from the gym and, of course, the Internet. Especially here it can be risky, because increasingly counterfeit or falsely declared and thus potentially hazardous to health dietary supplements are sold.

Therefore, I recommend: 

Be skeptical of unrealistic promises. Weight loss in a few days or performance increases for competitions only based on dietary supplements is not very serious.
Pay attention to the labels on the packaging. In Germany, among other things, the ingredients, nutritional or active ingredient content, any allergens present, information on the manufacturer, and packager must be indicated. This also applies to sales via the Internet.
Good addresses for more information and advice are the consumer centers, which you can also find online. Here you can also make complaints. The information provided by the German Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection (BMJV) is also of interest.
Do not buy products from abroad or from less trustworthy sources. It would be best if you also were wary of bargains and discounts.
Before you take food supplements, talk to your doctor. Often there is no shortage of vitamins or nutrients. Short-term needs, for example, after illness or in the winter months, can usually be met by a balanced diet.

Putting a Stop to Counterfeiters with Digitization

Finally, let us focus on Russia to see how other countries are already tackling the problem of counterfeit or unauthorized dietary supplements. In Russia, for example, every transaction involving selected products is tracked along the entire value chain. For this purpose, packages are packed in shipping cartons with their own "Serial Shipping Container Code" (SSCC), to which the serial numbers of the product packages contained in the carton are assigned.

In this way, the shipping process can be recorded securely and without gaps. A so-called crypto code, an encryption process based on Russian crypto technology, provides additional verification options.


Food supplements can do a lot of good. However, in addition to proper use, clean, tested products that have been approved for use in Germany are crucial. Here, the responsible authorities are called upon to stop the black sheep of the market and control ordering options via the Internet - a difficult but also a necessary task for the protection of our health. 

Recording Web Session: Digital Identity Food & Food Supplements

From 2022, it will be mandatory for food and food supplements to bear certain serialization features for export to Russia. The central Russian track & trace system is considered one of the most complex in the world.

Track & Trace in the Consumer Goods Industry

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Whitepaper: Serialization of medicines in Russia

Track and Trace in the pharmaceutical industry - Download our free whitepaper on serialization in Russia here and learn more!

Arvato CSDB

Against Counterfeit Medicines: With Arvato CSDB from Arvato Systems, serialization is an integral part of the drug production process.


Written by

MA_Carl Rainer Stetter_Commerce
Carl-Rainer Stetter
Experte for Counterfeit Protection