Promoting a Product to PUrchasing Agents

You work as a dietitian in industry. Your company produces frozen meals and part of your job is to promote the sale of this product to purchasing agents for various retail outlets. The purchasing agents know that you are a dietitian. Are you in a conflict of interest?

The company hiring you wishes to make a profit from selling the products that you are asked to promote and knows that consumers respect your professional opinion about nutrition. They are buying that trust. A perceived conflict lies between the interests of the company paying you to represent their product, and that of consumers and other dietetic professionals.

A reasonable person could question whether your interest lies with the company or the consumer. In most circumstances, transparent, honest and evidenced-based promoting of a product would be perceived as managing the conflict appropriately.

The situation would be quite different if you were not employed by the company but were retained as an independent expert to endorse the product only to purchasing agents. Purchasing agents are not clients except in the most commercial sense of the term. They can still reasonably expect, however, that you would be transparent and clearly identify your role as a sales agent for your employer. They can also reasonably expect that any nutritional claims you make would be fair and accurate, based on evidence and not misleading by omission. In that context, you would have a competing duty in your role as dietitian and your minimal professional duty to the purchasing agent. You must ensure that representation of the product is always based on evidence.

The situation would also be quite different if, as a dietitian, you were to participate in advertisements to the general public endorsing a product with words like, "I am a dietitian and I recommend X to all of my lactose intolerant clients because it is the best product on the market".

Dietitians may wish to avoid a personal endorsement of this type entirely because they are so open to misunderstanding. In that context, their duty to the general public would be a competing interest. When working for a commercial entity that deals directly with the public, dietitians should always identify themselves as representatives of their company and should avoid any perception that they are making a clinical recommendation to anyone. This situation must be carefully managed through honest, transparent, and evidence-based practice.