The political and social views in civilized society have a tendency (happily or unhappily, depending on where you stand) to move like a pendulum.
Few who follow the dietary supplement category would argue that the opinions of many Americans have swung away from what, half a decade ago, had been almost unconditional support for these products. Public pressure groups and elected officials are now calling for increased regulatory oversight using controversial â€œephedraâ€ as a rallying cry.
â€œDeclining growth, price pressures, commoditization of particular products, intensifying competition, a skeptical media and an emerging sense that the health-motivated customer base may be approaching saturation all conspire to make the business of selling supplements more challenging,â€ notes a 2002 Nutrition Business Journal releaseâ€¦and the situation has little improved since then.
Yet, opportunities do exist for those offering nutritional products that maintain health or help to alleviate health conditions. The year 2003 saw many products striving to reach market segments defined by age, sex and/or health concerns. As has been predicted by many, consumers may lean towards products in familiar food and beverage formats. And, certain bioactive supplements well may have a very bright future.
Changing ConsumersSo, for what are consumers looking? The Natural Marketing Institute's (NMI-Harleysville, Penn.) â€œTop 10 Trends of 2004â€ list notes there has been â€œnutritional maturationâ€ among consumers, as they look for specific rather than general health benefits in a product. NMI reports that 66.0% of the general population completely/somewhat agree that vitamins and minerals are effective in preventing certain health conditions (down from 69.5% in 1999), and only 26.1% believe functional foods/beverages can be used in the place of some medicines (down from 35.6%). However, interest in food as a delivery vehicle for nutritional components is growing. Some 47.3% (up from 40.6% in 1999) believe fortified foods/beverages can be used to get daily vitamin requirements and 45.0% (up from 39.1%) completely or somewhat agreed that functional foods/beverages contain ingredients that positively affect a specific health function.
The NMI report also researches specific health conditions of concern to consumers. Cancer tops the list, with 77.2% of respondents saying they had a lot or a little interest in preventing this disease. â€œVision problemsâ€ was a runner up (77.1%), followed by heart disease (76.6%), high cholesterol at (76.2%), hypertension (75.0%) and obesity/overweigh (74.2%). Arthritis, stress, lack of energy and osteoporosis follow in that order. However, except for those concerned about vision problems, fewer consumers indicated their interest in preventing the listed health conditions than indicated so in 1999.
Growth and Market SegmentsPredictions on the growth of the dietary supplement market vary. In 2003, Nutrition Business Journal gave interim results for the U.S. supplements industry as $18.4 billion in total sales in 2002, with about 4% growth. Categories in the supplement market included vitamins, minerals, herbs, liquid meal replacements, sports and weight loss, and specialty supplements. Furthermore, a moderate growth of 3-5% through 2005 was predicted, along with the observation that this rate is still above that of the economy as a whole.
A July 2003 industry overview in the Chemical Market Reporter predicts overall growth to be only 1-3% through 2005, but bets specialty supplements such as glucosamine, probiotics, lutein and essential fatty acids will experience higher growth, some into the double digits, over the next few years.
A look at new products introduced into North America (Canada and the U.S.) in 2002 and 2003 supports that expectation. Glucosamine and lutein exhibit increased use, as does lycopene and tocotrienols, although the numbers are still small. Glucosamine is popular in pet foods. Nestle Purina PetCare's (St. Louis, Mo.) Puppy Large Bread Formula Food and Farnam Pet Products' (Phoenix, Ariz.) Joint Health Formula Chewable Tablets are two recent examples.
And, although media has much-maligned supplements, few products have suffered the damaged reputation of hormone replacement therapies, thus driving interest in alternatives. Women, in general, have fared better than men in regards to products formulated for their needs. Mintel International's (Chicago) GNPD records 89 â€œhealth careâ€ products introduced in 2003 in North America that are positioned for women, versus only 27 items for men. Alta Source Nutraceutical's (Chamblee, Ga.) Maximum Androstene is just one example.
A closer look at supplement marketing efforts through age segmentations shows â€œthe kids have it.â€ The GNPD tagged 45 new products in 2003 for children five to 12 years old and 11 products for babies and toddlers four years and under. A recent example is BNG Enterprises' (Tempe, Ariz.) Gentle Care Gripe Water with ginger, fennel and chamomile. Some 12 new products were flagged for seniors (defined as those 55 and over), nine for adults in the 25 to 55 age range, and only three for those aged 13 to 25.
Food FuturesSo are there â€œrules of thumbâ€ for future successful nutritionals? Anthony L. Almada, IMAGINutrition (Laguna Nigel, Calif.) makes several suggestions. First, he advocates ingredients that have a pedigree of science. For example, if you look at ingredients oriented toward eye health, the most prominent one is lutein. However, data supports eye health benefits of marigold extract, which also contains other carotenoids such as zeaxanthin. Marketers are starting to combine zeaxanthin with lutein in supplements. More importantly, though, the evidence specifically is centered upon a few unique marigold extracts, which happen to contain notably less than 99% lutein by weight. One cannot say the evidence on supplements rests upon lutein, but rather on a lutein-rich, and to a lesser extent, zeaxanthin-containing extract of marigold petals. Herein resides an untapped intellectual property, which can be patent-independent.
Improved chances for success also may lie with extracts from â€œbiomass sources that areâ€ widely recognized and that are not pure. For example, a grapefruit extract would ride on consumer familiarity of the grapefruit diet. A very recent clinical trial showed that only the fresh fruit or the grapefruit juice, and not the specific extract used, were able to produce favorable changes in body weight and insulin action.
Thirdly, â€œteach old dietary supplements that they can do new tricks,â€ he advises. It's easier to market recognized ingredients and foods in regards to both regulatory and consumer acceptance.
Almada predicts a brighter future for compounds such as carnitine, chromium picolinate and CoQ10, as well. However, he notes the perennial regulatory challenge of whether to label under DSHEA (for supplements) or NLEA (foods), the latter which requires GRAS status. Large food manufacturers demand FDA notification of a GRAS self-affirmation, he says.
What does Almada see in his crystal ball? â€œExtracts of foods such as blue corn, exotic fruits, or flavor and spice constituents; new, chemical complex additives based on science, but with food heritage rather than pure single chemicals. These align more elegantly with the consumer and consumable food.â€
Whether such products appear in pill or food forms, nutritional products remain a â€œmust watchâ€ category.