Editor's Note: The following article is derived from two recent Mintel (Chicago) U.S. International Consumer Intelligence Reports, “Ingredient Trends” and “Weight Control.” See the end of the article for more information.

As consumer markets go, one of the largest could be defined as Americans who are concerned about weight management. The U.S. Office of the Surgeon General (Washington) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, Atlanta) have declared the country's obesity and growth in diabetes, a related disease, as epidemics. More than 60% of adults and 15% of children are classified as overweight or obese. This signals a growing supply of customers for weight-control products.

The “weight-control” market, however, includes more than just those who wish to shed fat. “Products used to lose weight are the same as or similar to products used to gain weight or build muscle. Products with seemingly different uses (e.g., weight loss and weight gain) are frequently marketed similarly, since the end result is dependent on the total regimen of diet and exercise that a consumer employs,” observes Mintel International's “Weight Control” report.

Sizing Up the Market

The market for powder or liquid weight-control supplements and over-the-counter (OTC) weight-control pills and “candies” totaled $2.3 billion in 2002, having grown 15% or more every year during 1997-2002. Additionally, this segment is predicted to grow roughly 13% annually from 2003 to 2007, to reach $4.3 billion.

Unilever's Slim-Fast Foods (West Palm Beach, Fla.) and Abbot Labs' Ross Products (Columbus, Ohio) dominate the liquid/ powder segment with 2002 FDM (food, drug, and mass merchandiser sales) of $398 million and $332 million, respectively. However, the two together control less than one-third of the weight-control market. The rest is split between dozens of companies with small market shares.

Women drive the weight-control market. Although the percentage of obese men and women is about equal, women are more concerned about weight and are more likely to diet. For example, in a fall 2002 National Consumer Survey (NCS) by Mintel/Simmons Market Research Bureau (New York), 23% of women (compared to 10% of men) said they were dieting to lose weight.

In the same survey, another question posed was, “What is the most important reason you use nutritional supplements?” Some 31% said they wanted to lose weight, followed by 24% who said they use nutritional supplements as a meal supplement. (This group could include people who are using these products for any reason--lose, gain or maintain weight.) Some 22% responded they need vitamin/ mineral supplements, and 16% said “energy supplement.” The report notes, “The fact that there are four main responses with substantial response rates suggests that manufacturers need to convey a broad range of benefits to be successful.”

Products Consumed for Weight Control

The NCS survey also asked, “Which non-prescription products or methods, if any, have you used or participated in [to control weight]?” Some 17% of respondents said “meal replacement”; 16% replied “pills,” and 6% indicated “reducing candies.” “Club/diet clinics” and “other,” which likely includes self-directed dieting and exercise, also were very popular.

As consumers look for convenience and the ability to get their nutrition on the run, meal replacement beverages, already a significant portion of the meal replacement market, are expanding rapidly. Although sales slowed in 2001, the category rebounded in 2002, likely fueled, in part, by lost credibility of candy/pill forms due to the ephedra controversy. The end of 2002 saw the market entrance of Cadbury-Schweppes' Snapple Beverages' (White Plains, N.Y.) 5-a-Day Meal Replacement, fortified with 24 vitamins and minerals.

Such products' nutritional composition is a determining factor in their success. Important ingredient systems include sweetener substitutes that lower calories, as well as vitamin, mineral and omega-3 fortifiers that increase nutrients in meal replacement products.

Sans Spoonfuls of Sugar

Mintel's “Ingredient Trends” report notes that much innovation has occurred in the area of low-calorie sweetener blends that mimic sucrose's taste and texture. With increased options in sweetener additives, an important trend has been a move away from the use of a single sweetener to the use of sweetener blends.

The same report estimates the wholesale U.S. sweetener additive market reached $303 million in 2002. The popularity of ingredients in this category continues to grow, along with the popularity of low-carbohydrate diets. For example, data from Mintel's Global New Product Database (GNPD), indicates a 48% increase in new product activity in the area of low-calorie sweeteners from 2001-2002.

The U.S. sugar substitute market includes high-intensity sweeteners such as aspartame, acesulfame potassium (ace-k), sucralose and neotame, which received FDA approval in 2002. Alitame, a dipeptide of L-aspartic acid and D-alanine, is some 2,000 times sweeter than sugar and still awaits regulatory approval.

Stevia, an herb estimated to be 150 to 600 times as sweet as sugar, is on the market as a dietary supplement and does not have FDA GRAS status. Its use in new food products largely has been limited to beverages such as drink mixes and teas.

Sugar substitutes also include sugar alcohols (which provide “bulk” as well as varying levels of sweetness). Ingredients in this latter group include erythritol, isomalt, lactitol, maltitol, mannitol, xylitol and sorbitol. FDA-approved in 2002, tagatose offers some of the formulation benefits of these sugar alcohols.

Fortifying Foods and Beverages

The “Ingredient Trends” report also notes, “The influx of vitamin/mineral fortified food and drinks rose dramatically in 2001-03 which, interestingly, coincided with a decline in the vitamin/mineral supplements market.” Mintel estimates the U.S. wholesale vitamin and mineral food additive segment (excluding supplements) reached $252 million in 2002. Mintel contrasts this with roughly $10.8 billion in 2002 sales of vitamin and mineral supplements, as reported by the Chemical Market Reporter.

Similar to the supplement market, fortified foods and beverages first emerged with single-ingredient fortification but, increasingly, have combined various nutrients to provide overall health solutions.

“One of the most significant developments in the vitamin segment is the shift from synthetic to natural sources,” notes the “Ingredient Trends” report. For example, although European chemical/pharmaceutical companies continue to chemically synthesize vitamin E, the market's focus has shifted to American-based agricultural companies that use natural sources (corn and soy oil) for production of vitamin E. Such natural-sourced vitamin E (in the form of d-alpha tocopherol) has greater bio-availability, when compared to the synthetic (d-l-alpha) mixed form, a fact promoted by the suppliers.

Nutrient Popularity

Consumer interest in nutrients is influenced by a multitude of factors beyond supplier promotional efforts, of course. For example, clinical research is extremely influential, but can create confusion.

A 2003 Annals of Internal Medicine issue concluded there was not sufficient evidence to recommend for or against the use of vitamins for specific purposes. “This was in direct contradiction to a Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) article a year earlier that recommended that all adults take vitamin supplements,” notes the Mintel report. Another contradiction occurred between research presented in a 2002 JAMA article that linked high levels of vitamin A in post-menopausal women with an increased risk of hip fractures, and the findings of researchers at a 2003 U.S. Endocrine Society meeting, which concluded low levels of vitamin A also could increase hip fracture risk in women.

Still, consumers are very interested in the vitamin and mineral content of a food. In an exclusive study of 1,000 adults commissioned by Mintel and conducted by TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence (Oradell, N.J.) in late 2003, the following question was posed: ”I am going to read some items that are printed on nutrition labels. Which of these items, if any, is likely to influence your decision to buy a food or drink product?”

Some 65% of the 1,000 surveyed noted they were influential. In a somewhat similarly worded question on another survey conducted some 24 months earlier among a similar sample of 1,010 consumers, only 42% had said that this was so.

Emerging Nutrient

If consumer interest in foods and beverages fortified with traditional vitamins and minerals appears substantial, it can be even more intriguing to gauge their attraction to less conventional fortifiers.

Omega fatty acids are a prime example. Although the Mintel report did not examine this particular nutritional lipid, a plethora of other data shows it is emerging from a niche to a mainstream fortifier.

For example, when the 2004 Prepared Foods' R&D Trends survey on Weight Control Formulations asked, “What ingredient(s) or categories do you believe [that] if consumers could see listed on the ingredient statements, the consumer would recognize it as beneficial in a food or beverage product designed for weight loss?” Some 35% of the respondents (in R&D, marketing and general management) said this was true for omega fatty acids. This fell slightly behind “fruit,” with 38% of respondents, and “vegetables,” with 51% of the respondents, but ranked higher than the 29% given for “high-intensity sweeteners” or 15% for “sugar polyols.” It is likely the benefits of the latter ingredients lies instead in how they can impact nutrient content label claims and the Nutrition Facts panel.

In April 2004, The National Consumers League (Washington) and Consumer Federation of America (Washington) submitted letters to FDA supporting a notification by a group of salmon purveyors that would permit nutrient content claims on food product labels for the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA). Such endeavors will continue to drive interest in the nutrient.

Overall, the future of ingredients that are beneficial in weight-control formulations appears bright. As Mintel's “Weight Control” report states, “With just 17% of respondents saying they dieted to lose weight in the past year, yet more than 60% of the population overweight, the potential market for weight-loss supplements and drinks is still apparently open for further development.”

For more information on the reports mentioned in this article, “Ingredient Trends” and “Weight Control,” contact Mintel International Group Ltd.; 213 W. Institute Place, Suite 208; Chicago, IL 60610; phone: 312-932-0400.

Showcase: Vitamins, minerals and omega-3s

The advantages of using liquid vitamins include no need for high shear to incorporate the vitamins, and no sedimentation during production. Texturant Systems, a business line of Degussa Food Ingredients, is pleased to offer Vitex™ GMO Free Liquid Vitamins for the fluid fortification of GMO-free and organic milk, soy, yogurt and juice beverages. The GMO Free line includes liquid vitamins A, D, and E in both oil-soluble and water-soluble forms. The vitamins impart no viscosity, flavor or visual changes when added to the finished products. Degussa Food Ingredients, Tammy Nichols, 800-241-9485, www.texturantsystems.com

Experts in designing custom pre-mixes of vitamins and minerals, this company offers a growing line of nutritional ingredients. ADM can boost a product's nutritional value and market profile, while maintaining the great taste customers expect. Since these added nutrients often are used at very small inclusion rates, they sometimes are difficult to accurately scale and distribute throughout the base food. As a pre-mix manufacturer, ADM accurately tests, formulates and blends mixtures of actives (vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, etc.) with suitable carriers so that formulators receive a known concentration of each active ingredient in a blend that easily can be scaled and distributed in your product. The company also offers the industry's quickest turnaround time, with its vast transportation network. ADM, 866-545-8200

Studies show DHA is essential for proper eye and brain development, and an important dietary nutrient for infants. Martek Biosciences Corporation is an innovator in the research and development of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid. The company's DHA omega-3 is a highly purified oil from a patented, vegetarian source (algae). Martek's DHA is ideal for food and beverage applications because it: is stable; has a consistent composition; is free of environmental pollutants and toxins; will not compromise flavor, aroma or texture; and is safe for all consumers, including pregnant women and children. Martek Biosciences Corp., 888-652-7246, info@martekbio.com, www.martekbio.com

This plant-based omega-3 fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is derived from highly developed micro-algae, while DHA oils are commonly extracted from fatty cold water fish. Available as bulk oil, Nutrinova® DHA contains at least 43% of its fatty acids as DHA, and a lower amount of undesirable fatty acids than found in conventional sources. Self-determined GRAS status of this DHA has been granted for numerous applications, permitting its use in the U.S. Nutrinova Inc., Cheryl Colline, 800-786-3883, cherylc@nutrinova-na.com, www.NutrinovaDHA.com

Natural mineral lactates and gluconates, widely used in vitamin and mineral supplements, are available from this company. Purac's PURACAL, GLUCONAL, and PURAMEX are high-quality mineral sources, and include zinc, magnesium, calcium, ferrous, manganese and potassium lactates, and gluconates. These products are known for their good bioavailability and biocompatibility, compatibility with other minerals and/or vitamins, chemical stability as solids, low lead levels, GRAS status and non-irritability of the gastrointestinal tract. The minerals come in many different forms like tablets, capsules, softgels, powders, liquids, lozenges, effervescents and chewables. They can be single-mineral formulations or multi-mineral/vitamin formulations. PURAC, Jennifer Thomas, 847-634-6330, www.purac.com

Prebiotics are important in developing digestive health products. Fortitech Inc. helps customers integrate prebiotics such as inulin, which contributes to digestive health by promoting beneficial microbial growth and regularity, and aids the absorption of essential nutrients such as calcium. In formulating digestive aids, manufacturers also may incorporate other ingredients to function synergistically with inulin. Fortitech can partner with companies to develop effective nutrient pre-mixes containing vitamins, minerals, inulin, oligofructose and other food ingredients to enhance the nutrient value of your products. Fortitech Inc., Maria Michael, 800-950-5156, info@fortitech.com, www.fortitech.com

Leading health organizations recommend daily consumption of omega-3s because of their heart-healthy effects. OmegaPure™ from Omega Protein is the only fish oil source of long-chain omega-3s with direct GRAS approval from the FDA. This taste-free, odorless ingredient is kosher, organic and contains both EPA and DHA. OmegaPure™ is incorporated easily in current formulations, offers simple, clean labeling opportunities and provides excellent performance in a variety of applications. Omega Protein Inc., 877-866-3423, www.omegapure.com

An omega-3 oil with a standardized composition and of exceptionally high purity, ROPUFA® '75' n-3 EE is a high-potency, long-chain omega-3 oil derived from the oil of cold water fish. ROPUFA '75' EE, an ethyl ester form, provides more EPA and DHA per serving than standard fish oils, making it an even more attractive ingredient for food manufacturers because less oil is needed in their products. In addition, ROPUFA '75' EE is refined, deodorized, stabilized and has excellent organoleptic characteristics. DSM Nutritional Products, William Brown, William-j.Brown@dsm.com, 973-257-8288

Active in the development and processing of specialty lipids for more than 100 years, a vast amount of knowledge and experience is available to help you. Lipid Nutrition, a division of Loders Croklaan, is the leading supplier of lipid-based health ingredients (nutritionally active components of oils and fats). For the food industry, Lipid Nutrition offers: Clarinol CLA, the first CLA for weight management in foods; marinol, fish oil concentrates (EPA/DHA) for heart health; and betapol, human milk fat replacer for infant formula. Lipid Nutrition, David Lewis, 815-730-5200

This company is a leading manufacturer of specialty calcium and potassium salts for enrichment and supplements. From calcium citrate, used in citrus juices for its dispersibility, neutral flavor and high bioavailability, to calcium lactate gluconate, used in clear juices for its clarity and ease of dissolution, Jungbunzlauer's products have a neutral flavor and outstanding quality. Potassium gluconate and potassium citrate are used in both enrichment tablets and buffering applications. Call for samples. Jungbunzlauer Inc., 800-828-0062, info@jungbunzlauer-inc.com