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Nootropics for healthy cognitive function

People in many countries, including the U.S., are experiencing an increased life span.1 However, the aging population aims not just for increased, but optimized, years of life. Paramount to this are strategies to improve cognition or delay age-related cognitive decline. Supporting cognitive function is something that can, and should, be considered, even before the earliest signs of dementia are noticed.

Nootropic, a term coined in 1972 by Corneliu E. Giurgea, Ph.D, refers to a nontoxic substance that enhances learning and memory, facilitates communication between the brain hemispheres and enhances neurological resilience.2 Nootropics are commonly utilized to prevent or support early states of cognitive decline; they are also utilized by those who simply wish to optimize their cognitive function.

Cognitive function can be enhanced in a variety of ways. Studies show high levels of free radicals in the brains of those with cognitive decline.3 Antioxidants that can cross the blood-brain barrier tend to support cognitive function and protect the brain from the expected effects of aging. Vasodilators increase blood perfusion to the brain, enhancing oxygen levels and aiding glucose utilization.4 Substances that support neurotransmitter levels, particularly acetylcholine (ACh), can treat dementia.5 Finally, substances that support neurogenesis and increased neurological plasticity via modulation of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) show great promise in enhancing cognitive function.6

Ginkgo bilboa (ginkgo) leaf is a well-known nootropic herb. Ginkgo trees belong to the Ginkgoaceae family, an ancient family cultivated for thousands of years for medicinal use in China. Much of the ginkgo used in research studies is a standardized product (EGb 761) of 22 to 27% flavonol glycosides, 5-7% terpene lactones, and less than 5 ppm ginkgolic acids. Ginkgo increases circulation to the brain, supporting glucose levels and adenosine triphosphate (ATP) utilization, and decreasing free-radical damage. Nootropic effects may also be due to increased levels of BDNF.6 Ginkgo is most effective when used for at least six weeks; long-term dosing is safe if the patient doesn’t have a clotting disorder or using anticoagulants (ginkgo thins the blood and should also be discontinued prior to surgery). Adulteration/contamination of ginkgo can be a concern,7 so analysis should be done on ginkgo sources to ensure a high-quality product.

Bacopa monnieri (water hyssop) is an Ayurvedic herb traditionally used as a medhya rasayana (memory/intellectual enhancer). Water hyssop grows in swampy or marshy areas; the arial portion of the plant is used, making it a very sustainable product. Sometimes referred to as brahmi, water hyssop is often contaminated with Centella asiatica.8 Water hyssop is a potent antioxidant that can cross the blood-brain barrier. Administration is protective against toxic exposure, including tobacco and common environmental contaminants with neurotoxic side effects.9,10 Water hyssop also increases cerebral blood flow and supports ACh levels.9 Additionally, early research seems to indicate enhancement of BDNF.6 Multiple studies have shown water hyssop improves memory acquisition and retention, as well as attention and memory processing. Results are most pronounced after three months of administration; short-term memory improvements are not seen in research studies, although many patients feel subjectively better even with short-term administration.

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Considerations for success in the women’s health market

As with any other population, women have unique nutritional needs, life challenges and preferences that influence their purchasing decisions. Clinical studies have indicated a plethora of promising women’s health ingredients to help address nutrient shortfalls and enhance well-being at all life stages. In fact, Cornell University research identified a correlation between increased choline intake in pregnant women and higher information processing speeds in their infants (FASEB J. 2018;32:2172-2180). Additional studies are examining the potential brain health benefits of maternal choline intake as the children reach older ages, from 7 to 15. The importance of maternal health and proper fetal nutrition is well established, but research supporting the long-term effects gleaned secondhand, so to speak, is a game-changer.

A few key considerations can assist product developers looking to reach female consumers.

Identify the target audience

Although a given when creating any product, the women’s health category isn’t always clear-cut. Women from their teens to their 40s may be taking prenatal supplements. Market trends indicate some consumers are looking for proactive nutritional support decades earlier than women of the past, so Millennials may be seeking joint health products with different motivation than their parents, and likewise, their grandparents. The same goes for beauty-from-within products and more.

Create the right formulation

Dozens of ingredients are popular in women’s health products, including omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, protein/collagen, botanicals, carotenoids, probiotics, enzymes, yeasts, collagen and other nutrients. Drawing from the Ayurvedic practice of addressing various aspects of well-being, combination formulas are increasingly popular. Some women may follow a plant-based diet, and therefore require a vegetarian or vegan product. For others, organic positioning is a selling point.

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Protein powders for an expanding consumer base

Protein powder use among natural consumers is on the rise, according to SPINS data. While the US$892.5 million protein powders segment grew 4.2% over the past year (the 52 weeks ending April 21, 2019), sales in the natural channel of retail grocers grew 8.8% to $156.1 million, outpacing growth for the greater cross-channel segment. Tracking the sales of naturally positioned products across multiple retail channels shows that natural items also outpaced the greater segment’s growth, up 13.2% to $350.5 million as consumers increasingly seek clean, high-quality protein without artificial ingredients in a broader range of outlets. Even within the conventional marketplace, demand for natural protein powders is significantly increasing. Overall dollar sales of protein powders in the mainstream conventional multi-outlet channel was up 3.2% to $724.2 million, with sales for naturally positioned products climbing at a much faster rate of 17.2% to $196.0 million, while more conventionally positioned products remained relatively stable with a slight 1.1% decline to $528.1 million.

Natural Attributes and Ingredients Fuel Growth

As further evidence of consumer interest in clean-label protein powder products, label claims such as grass-fed, non-GMO, and organic showed significant growth over the past year, as well. Sales for protein powders labeled as grass-fed grew 92.3% to $21.6 million as grass-fed becomes a benchmark for quality and an important production standard regarding animal welfare to the natural consumer. Protein powders labeled as non-GMO grew 9.8%to $235.6 million, while products without labeled non-GMO ingredients were in decline. Certified-organic protein powders grew 33.7% to $136.9 million, and protein powders with any amount of organic content grew 8.2% to $220.7 million. While use of artificial sweeteners in protein powders is still prevalent in conventionally positioned products, sales for products in the segment that contain artificial sweeteners showed decline, dropping 14.3% to $255.6 million. Protein powders sweetened with stevia (a natural, zero-calorie, herbal sweetener) or alternative sweetener blends containing stevia grew 6.4% to $223.2 million.

Cultural Influences Bring New Consumers to the Segment

In addition to the natural consumer, other shopper groups are jumping at the chance to use protein powder to meet nutritional needs. “Health and wellness is quickly becoming health and fitness, led by a newer wellness community culture that recognizes the importance of exercise and fitness to overall health,” said Scott Dicker, client support lead and subject matter expert in sports nutrition at SPINS. “This movement drives dedicated fitness enthusiasts and weekend warriors alike to fuel efficiently for exercise and looks to protein for workout recovery and to reduce muscle soreness.”

Popular exercise trends such as CrossFit often promote dietary strategies as part of a lifestyle, bridging the gap between wellness and fitness verticals, and increasing demand for products that support specific ways of eating, such as paleo- or keto-positioned products. SPINS data show that paleo-positioned protein powders soared 55.7%, to $34.1 million, as the popularity of paleo and related ways of eating remain strong.

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Protein powder products: Differentiating in a crowded market

Protein is booming, and powders have played a huge role in delivering efficacious amounts of protein to sports nutrition consumers looking to build and maintain muscle mass. Tubs of ready-to-mix (RTM) protein powders have long been a visual mainstay of many sports nutrition stores, aisles and sections, and powdered ingredients are also used to fill sports supplement capsules and provide muscle to bars and beverages. However, the protein powder market is crowded, and the consumer shift to wanting higher protein intake via foods and beverages instead of supplements only adds to the challenges of making a protein powder-based product stand out and be successful.

For companies playing in the RTM protein powder space, differentiation requires innovative flavors and ingredient combinations, as well as enhanced bioavailability and responsible sourcing. The protein ready-to-drink (RTD) market is seeing increasing numbers of clear or water beverages with high protein content, in addition to new hot protein RTD products. The food segment has exploded with high-protein offerings as companies have found ways to infuse protein into an array of everyday foods and snacks. In every corner of the protein powder market, new technologies are supporting innovation.

The size and future of the protein supplement market varies depending on which market expert you ask, but Allied Market Research and Marqual IT Solutions Pvt. Ltd (KBV Research) both predicted around 7.5% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) over the next five or six years and a resultant market of US$8.7 billion. Zion Market Research calculated the CAGR at 5.7% and a size of $3.6 billion heading into 2024. Either way, the segment is expected to enjoy solid growth worldwide.

On the animal side, whey protein is set to grow 7.6% to $12.5 billion by 2024, according to Statista. On the plant side, the global pea protein market was about $101.7 million (all uses) in 2018 and should grow at a 17.4% CAGR through 2025, reported Grand View Research. Persistence Market Research reported organic pea protein should grow at an even more robust 7.2% CAGR through 2027.

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Flavor and function considerations when pumping up protein volume

Consumers increasingly are hitting the road to wellness and seeking out products high in protein to fuel their bodies before, during and after workout. Fortunately, today’s array of protein-rich sports nutrition products is in sharp contrast to yesteryear’s ready-to-mix (RTM), ready-to-drink (RTD) powders and energy bars that often fell short on flavor and taste.

Brands looking to enter the mainstream sports nutrition space must remember taste is always No. 1 in consumers’ minds, which means food developers must balance the beneficial effects of increasing protein content with the final product’s texture, appearance, taste and stability.

Plant proteins are available in isolates—including powders used for fortification—fractionated concentrates, and whole-food ingredients that are naturally high in protein and lend texture, color and flavor to foods and beverages. In addition to vitamins and minerals, phytonutrients and dietary fiber are other inherent benefits naturally packaged into wholefood sources of plant proteins. Furthermore, plant proteins meet several dietary needs.

“Consumer choices are driven by their quest to increase the repertoire of plant-based foods and protein in their diet as they directly link consumption to a healthier lifestyle,” said Melissa Sheridan, strategic marketing director, functional ingredients and additives, Kerry. “It is also linked to many consumers reducing their meat consumption, adopting a ‘flexitarian approach’ and an interest in a more sustainable food production system.”

While dairy proteins such as whey and casein traditionally have been the go-to proteins for building muscle, plant proteins are taking center stage as consumers look for ways to reduce their intake of animal-derived foods. However, the rapid advancement of plant-based proteins has created two key issues facing developers: mouthfeel and lingering off-flavors.

Consider pea protein, which can impart an earthy, grassy or beany aftertaste and gritty texture. Product developers typically will add other ingredients such as prebiotic fibers to change the texture of the protein and make it more palatable, noted longtime sports nutrition formulator Bruce Kneller, currently a partner with HiQ Financial Holdings Inc.

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The next generation of disruption in dairy alternatives

The large, complex U.S. dairy market faces several forces that are influencing growth and challenging the status quo. One trend impacting the industry across cheese, milk and yogurt, among other categories, is the competition from plant-based alternatives.

Once a nascent, niche trend driven by a narrow subset of consumers, plant-based formulations are now surging in popularity with more products entering the mainstream market. Growing concerns about the environment, animal welfare and personal health are attracting consumers to plant-based products, poaching sales from traditional dairy sectors in the process.

The rise and disruption of plant-based dairy alternatives has been steadily building for many years. Most notable is the category’s recent evolution from a rapidly growing upstart sector to one with widespread availability and mainstream appeal. In a way, this signals the onset of a second generation of plant-based alternatives, beyond merely acquainting Americans with the idea of consuming plant-based products and focused on expanding the sector to new frontiers and diversifying its offerings.

In the minds of many, dairy alternatives remain associated with traditional cow’s milk. For generations, cow’s milk has been as much of a staple commodity for U.S. consumers as any food item can be. Understandably, soy-based milk alternatives were the face of this sector for many years. More recently, the most sector expansion has been a result of developing other popular milk alternatives from ingredients such as almonds and cashews. In fact, sales of milk alternatives other than soy-based varieties skyrocketed in the U.S. from less than US$100 million in 2008 to just under US$2 billion in 2018, according to Euromonitor International.

Competition has increased significantly as more players enter the market, and, much like other fast-growing industries, concerns have grown over the potential of an impending stagnation as a ceiling is approached. Considering these concerns, manufacturers of dairy alternatives have sought new growth frontiers, a pursuit that has influenced the evolution of new formats that are quickly gaining popularity. Free-from-dairy ice cream and yogurt products have rapidly proliferated. According to Euromonitor International, both categories achieved double-digit retail sales growth in each of the last five years behind strong consumer enthusiasm for products, surpassing taste expectations and carving out notable portions of the market as a result. Though much smaller sales, free-from-dairy cheese products and even coffee creamers have also seen promising recent developments, demonstrating the potential for plant-based products to thrive well beyond serving as a contrast to milks and instead functioning as a class of viable alternatives to dairy more broadly.

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Digestive health market flourishing

Digestive health used to be a taboo topic, but the times they are a-changin’. NMI’s 2019 Supplements/OTC/Rx Consumer Insights & Trends report revealed 46% of consumers managing digestive problems are using supplements to do so, reflecting 52% growth from 2011 to 2018. In fact, the market research firm named digestive health among 2019’s top trends.

Probiotics deserve kudos for the years it took to educate and penetrate the market. They paved the way for simple conversations around yogurt and fermented food and beverages contributing to “regularity,” to more sophisticated messaging on the key role of the microbiome in overall well-being. Probiotics also opened the door for a range of ingredients, including prebiotics/fiber, postbiotics and digestive enzymes—some of which are just starting to gain momentum.

Although the market is ready for new offerings, brands must be thoughtful in their approach. “With digestive health gaining more popularity by consumers, many me-too products on the market are popping up, where formulations are simply copied and do not offer either a true unique point of differentiation, or nutrients in levels that have been supported in science to actually have a true benefit to the user,” noted Kara Landau, founder at Uplift Food. The nutrition advisor to the Global Prebiotic Association added, “I always recommend brands think about how their products can be developed with a unique spin to ensure they have a strong message that speaks to consumers, as well as one that incorporates ingredients in levels that can really bring about a positive effect on either digestive or gut health.”

To her point, a 2017 review pointed out only 5% of adults consume the recommended level of dietary fiber—and that although fiber supplements appear to provide a concentrated, convenient source of fiber, most do not provide the health benefits associated with it (J Am Assoc Nurse Pract. 29[4]:216-223). The review authors noted, “Not all fibers provide a laxative effect or regularity benefit, and some can even be constipating.”

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Finished product innovation give sports nutrition consumers more options

Finished product innovation give sports nutrition consumers more options

The global sports nutrition market is, in a word, massive. And it’s only going to continue to grow.

Different research firms will give you different dollar figures, but the consensus is the market is huge and only getting bigger. Grand View Research predicted the global sports nutrition market will reach US$24.43 billion by 2025, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.7 percent. Market Research Future is even more bullish, predicting the global market to reach $39 billion by 2020; Zion Market Research predictions go even further, estimating the market will reach $45.27 billion by 2022.

Not long ago, this market consisted mainly of two things: electrolyte-filled sports drinks and ready-to-mix protein powders. And while these products still make up the largest parts of the sports nutrition market—Euromonitor International expects those two subgroups to account for more than $7 billion each in 2020—they are hardly alone in today’s sports nutrition market. Supplements, bars, sweet and savory snacks, spreads, baking mixes and more now inundate the sports nutrition market as consumers seek new and innovative ways to obtain the benefits they seek.

With an ever-growing consumer base, the key for brands who wish to take advantage is to be sure they have a product for everyone.

Brands like Kodiak, IDF, Natural Force and others all understand this changing landscape. As the sports nutrition market continues to expand from athletes and body builders to the population at large, supplementation should continue to take new forms.

As Grand View researchers put it, “[A] growing consumer base…[and] widening base of health-conscious population are anticipated to foster the growth of the market over the coming years.”

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Personalized nutrition for the supplement industry

Personalized nutrition for the supplement industry

Personalized nutrition is the future. Currently, the model for pharmaceutical companies is treatment that will work for most patients, while modern wellness is moving toward a model that determines if a treatment works for an individual patient. Personalized nutrition equips consumers with the knowledge and power to make choices about desired actions as it relates to customized individual health and wellness; the making of “the citizen doctor.”

Major disruptors exist in every industry. Firms such as Uber, Spotify and AirBnB have turned age-old industries on their heads. We should expect the same in the health space. However, the health industry faces unique challenges. For one, the market is highly regulated, making it slow to change. Second, the lack of shared data hinders growth. Third, quality assurance (QA) is key. These roadblocks to progress are set to ensure the highest level of care and privacy for consumers.

This empowerment to the patient is now occurring because consumers can analyze their DNA at a reasonable cost, which was unheard of a few years ago. The tools of personalized nutrition can be evaluated in five major areas that can be innovated using data:

  • Gene sequencing
  • Brain mapping
  • Vitals tracking
  • Big data
  • Genetic customization

These tools rely on the advancement of technology and the complexity of computers to lead the charge. On the surface, taking this approach to developing new ingredients is costly and time consuming. However, it quickly becomes clear that personalized nutrition is not only better for consumers, but is also great for nutrition brands’ returns on investments (ROIs). Personalized nutrition allows patients to be treated to their own specifications, rather than in a generalized way, which may not be effective. Imagine being able to use exactly the right amount of a nutrient, and thereby reducing the amount of waste and ensuring efficacy.

An example is with curcuminoid as a personalized supplement. First, one’s personal situation is analyzed. Then, genome sequencing adds additional information. DNA-based variations in the genes or enzymes impact different consumers in a variety of ways. Knowing ahead of time if a patient will have an adverse reaction to treatment allows doctors and consumers to make a better-informed decision on the optimal dose or treatment. The curcuminoid is analyzed using rapid separation liquid chromatography (RSLC) technology, and other fingerprinting technology. This step is key. Rather than assuming each each plant is perfectly uniform, it assumes imperfections are in the system. This testing allows for quality control (QC) at the end product, not at the origin. The end game is efficient and cost-efficacy. Both the consumer and the supplier will see the upside of this.

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Demand for natural sweeteners continues to rise

Demand for natural sweeteners continues to rise

More consumers are embracing health and wellness and seeking out better-for-you products, resulting in tremendous innovation in the food, beverage and supplement industries that deliver novel products to feed and fuel the mind, body and soul.

This new paradigm in consumerism also includes a desire for products formulated with ingredients consumers can pronounce, as well as products with shortened ingredient lists. Nowhere is this more apparent the food and beverage industry, where increased numbers of consumers are demanding transparency about how ingredients are sourced and how products are manufactured.

According to the 2018 Food & Health Survey from the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation, most Americans think about the healthfulness of the foods and beverages they consume. When asked to choose between two versions of the same product—an older one with artificial ingredients and a newer version without—69 percent chose the product with no artificial ingredients, while 32 percent opted for the one containing artificial ingredients.

When asked to identify the healthier of two products with the same Nutrition Facts Panel, 40 percent perceived one labeled “non-GMO” (genetically modified organism) as healthier versus 15 percent for one with genetically engineered ingredients, and 33 percent believed a product with a shorter ingredient list was healthier than one with more ingredients (15 percent). What’s more, 62 percent of consumers said they would pay up to 10 percent more for a product without artificial ingredients, while 42 percent said they would pay 50 percent more.

IFIC data also revealed consumption of and opinions regarding sugars have shifted over the years, with 33 percent of Americans pointing to sugar as the most likely calorie source responsible for weight gain. The findings aren’t surprising given sugar content in foods and beverages has been a politicized issue because of its association with several chronic illnesses, chief of which include obesity, diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

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