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Getting Ahead of the Curve: Consumers Seeking Specialty Nutritionals

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As the variety of supplements, functional foods, ingredients, and bioactives continue to diversify to meet an ever more sophisticated list of health/wellness issues, it’s not surprising that
consumers are beginning to worry if they’re getting enough of the specialty nutritional ingredients they perceive important for their needs.

While 20% of adults don’t think they get enough basic vitamins/minerals, even more consumers—30% of gen Xers, 27% of millennials, and 24% of adults overall—don’t believe they get enough specialty nutrients, according to FMI’s 2018 U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends. Women (26% vs. 20% of men) are more likely to be concerned about their intake of specialty nutrients; one in five boomers and 16% of matures.

After vitamins/minerals, specialty supplements are the most used category of dietary supplements, taken by 51%; followed by herbals/botanicals (41%), sports nutrition (32%), and weight management supplements (20%), according to the Council for Responsible Nutrition’s2018 Consumer Survey on Dietary Supplements.

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Ad spend in the dietary supplement category

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Advertisers have spent nearly US$900 million on vitamin, mineral and supplement products over the past year, including $239 million on advertisements for vitamins and minerals and $640 million on advertisements for nutritional supplements, according to Kantar Media’s 2018 MARS Consumer Health Study. The study also reviewed digital and connectivity trends among consumers, coinciding with higher digital ad spend in 2018 compared to 2013.

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The relationship between sleep aids and stress management

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Sleep aids are rapidly growing in popularity across the globe, posting a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.5 percent between 2012 and 2017 to reach retail sales of US$2.3 billion in 2017, according to market research firm Euromonitor International. Driven by an increasingly stressed and sleepless consumer base, particularly in the developed world, sleep aids are expected to continue growing through 2022.

Stress and sleep management are essentially one in the same when looking at consumer response: lack of sleep leads to increased stress, which results in an increase in reported sleeplessness. As a stressed consumer base turns to over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aids for relief, products positioned to address both conditions will continue to grow in popularity.

Sleep Aids Among Fastest-Growing OTC Categories

Though retail sales of sleep aids amounted to just $2.3 billion in 2017—far below cough, cold and allergy remedies, which is the largest OTC category—sleep aids experienced strong growth over 2012-2017, second to emergency contraception, which posted a CAGR of 9.4 percent over the same period. Looking forward, sales of sleep aids are expected to post a CAGR of 2.6 percent globally through 2022, according to Euromonitor.

Sales of sleep aids are heavily affected by demographic and epidemiological factors, particularly in the developed world as consumers increasingly report higher levels of work- and family-related stressors as well as a decline in number of hours slept each night. As stress levels continue to increase, consumers will likely continue to turn to OTC sleep aids for relief.

Increasing Stress Levels

The most common sources for consumers’ increasing stress levels are their jobs, familial obligations and, often, pressure from peers or society to work harder and accomplish more to achieve perceived success. Surveys of consumers’ attitudes toward work/life balance and stress management activities indicate across global markets (though largely excluding the developing world), consumers report being more stressed and under more perceived pressure in 2016 than in previous years, and there is every reason to believe these attitudes will persist and strengthen in the coming years as well.

Since the market for sleep aids is tied so closely to stress management, any discussion of retail sales of products to promote sleep must necessarily include a discussion about the psychological health of the consumer base and their motivations for buying sleep aid products in the first place.

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Body boosting ingredients for the serious athlete

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Branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) are incredibly popular with hardcore athletes and body builders. BCAAs include leucine, isoleucine and valine, which are essential amino acids that humans only get from food and beverage because the body doesn’t make them on its own. Among the benefits of BCAA products  are stimulation of muscle protein synthesis (MPS), prevention of muscle breakdown and delaying of muscle fatigue.1

There are hundreds of BCAA products on the market, and some of the most popular brands include Cellucor, BPI Sports and Dymatize. BCAA supplements are most often sold as powders with sweet and citrus flavors, but brands such as Optimum Nutrition and Scivation have developed ready-to-drink (RTD) beverages, as well.

Collagen is the most abundant protein found in the human body and is the basis of connective tissues that help give structure to tendons, ligaments, skin, bones and teeth. It is also sold as a supplement in products that are rapidly growing in popularity. The ingredientworks with endogenous hyaluronic acid (HA) to improve joint health,2 enhance hair,3 skin4 and nails.5 As a bonus, it may also help repair muscle tissue, although whey and casein are generally regarded as more effective for that purpose.6

The source of the collagen isn’t quite so sexy. It comes from animals such as cattle, fish, turkeys and chickens, which means it is not vegan and can cause issues with a product’s kosher status. Allergenic concerns also need to be taken into consideration for sensitive consumers. Formulating with collagen can be challenging because it can have solubility issues, but brands such as Eviva Collagen Elixir, Beauty & Go and Pure Gold Collagen have successfully developed RTD collagen supplements. Many collagen protein powders are on the market, as well, including in  brands such as NeoCell, Ancient Nutrition, Vital Proteins and Sports Research.

Micellar casein is an up-and-coming ingredient for active consumers and is generally regarded as the most effective form of casein compared to similar ingredients like calcium caseinate. It is the slowest digested caseinate protein and is a source of high-quality BCAAs and glutamine.

“The mechanism of action is a stark contrast to hydrolyzed whey, which is known for fast-acting, quick absorption into the body,” explained Jason Dompeling, beverage scientist at Imbibe. “Micellar casein is known for very slow absorption. The casein micelles form a sort of ‘clot’ in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract that slow down the protein breakdown and amino acid absorption.”

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Probiotics provide a competitive edge in sports nutrition

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The gut flora performs a variety of functions that are important for health. In fact, 70 percent of the body’s immune cells are located in the digestive tract, making gut health critical to overall health. A healthy and well-balanced gut flora facilitates digestion, protects against pathogens, provides vitamins and nutrients, and helps form the immune system. For athletes and fitness enthusiasts, optimizing digestion and immunity are major factors as they strive to improve performance. As research advances, probiotics will play a leading role in shaping the sports nutrition supplements of tomorrow.

Athletes and active individuals have high nutrient needs, which are best met when digestion is well-functioning. Healthy bacteria in the gut aid in the digestion of macronutrients, allowing for optimized nutrient uptake from an athlete’s diet. They also aid in the digestion of macronutrients, allowing for optimized nutrient uptake from the diet. Some probiotic strains can play a role in the use of protein for muscle growth and human recovery by promoting the absorption of key amino acids. Being able to absorb more of the amino acids from protein can help increase muscle growth. In addition, probiotics can support immune health by adhering to the gut epithelium, thereby enhancing the “gut barrier” function of those cells by preventing the adhesion of pathogens.

Working out is all about breaking down and rebuilding muscles to become stronger and faster. With such activity, inflammation and free radical production are normal, expected and necessary—but the body’s response to these reactions will determine how quickly an athlete can recover and get back to his or her regimen. The two main areas of focus while doing strenuous activity are providing the right nutrients to build muscle (protein) and recovery (reduced inflammation). Probiotics can help in both of those areas; for example, the strain Bacillus subtilis DE111® (from Deerland) produces many enzymes to help break down protein, and recent research supported its role in reducing markers of inflammatory compounds that arise during exercise (Sports. 2018;6[3]:70).

According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), there are more than 480,000 NCAA student athletes who compete in 24 sports every year. And of course, this is only a slice of the physical-competition pie. Add professional sports, athletic trainers and serious fitness enthusiasts like marathoners and cyclists, and the number of individuals who could benefit from probiotic supplementation is significantly higher.

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Powders dominate key sports nutrition categories

Powders Dominate Key Sports Nutrition Categories

Powder-based formulas are all over the lists of best-selling sports nutrition products at top retailers including Amazon, Walmart and Bodybuilding.com. Powder products dominate certain categories more than others. For instance, Amazon’s protein, pre-workout and post-workout/recovery categories are mostly owned by powder products, specifically ready-to-mix (RTM) formulas.

Mixable powders more popular in sports nutrition compared to other sports nutrition formats, including capsules, bars and ready-to-drink (RTD) products.

Capsules have the advantage of more easily hiding off flavors and not having to contend with liquid from consumer mixing before use. However, consumers increasingly seek more food- and drink-like experiences rather than a litany of pills, so RTM powders offer a way for consumers to drink their sports supplements in a range of palatable flavors. Further, RTM powders often involve “scoops,” each of which delivers anywhere from 5 g to more than 30 g of ingredients. It would take many capsules to deliver an equivalent amount of product.

For ingredients such as protein, which is typically dosed at 20 to 30 g per serving, powders are the primary delivery format, followed by RTD and bar products. RTD sports nutrition products can deliver the amounts of protein sports nutrition consumers want and offer pleasurable convenience, but they cost more to ship (no water content) and have a shorter shelf life than RTM products, especially with high-protein products.

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Nitric oxide for sports performance

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Nitric oxide (NO) is a critically beneficial molecule for sports nutrition due to its role in cardiovascular function. Previously viewed as a noxious atmospheric gas, research in the 1980s began to illuminate the role NO plays as an important chemical messenger. Named “molecule of the year” in 1992 by the journal Science (1992;258(5090):1861), NO received mainstream recognition in 1998 when three scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize for their discovery of the molecule’s benefits to cardiovascular health.

The principal benefits of NO are related to its function as a vasodilator. The production and release of NO in cells along the interior vascular wall triggers a complex set of metabolic reactions that result in vasodilation—the relaxation of smooth muscles, allowing for improved blood flow and delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the muscles. Vasodilation contributes to health by reducing platelet aggregation, inhibiting molecules that promote vascular inflammation and reducing blood pressure(Current Vascular Pharmacology. 2012;(10):4-18)

The vascular endothelium is made up of a layer of cells along the interior of our blood vessels, directly above the smooth muscle layer. Agonists such as acetylcholine can activate receptors in this vessel layer to prompt synthesis of NO from arginine.

Choline helps to optimize NO in several important ways, the first being in triggering localized production in the vascular membrane. As free circulating acetylcholine in the blood, it stimulates eNOS production by activating the receptors on the endothelial wall (J Appl Physiol. 2005 Feb;98(2):629-32), thus contributing to higher NO levels(Clin Hemorheol Microcirc. 2003;29(1):41-51). Additional studies have suggested a novel role for cholinergic signaling mechanisms and acetylcholine release in regulating vascular function and endothelial cell migration and proliferation (J Physiol. 2016 Dec 15;594(24):7267-7307).

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Natural products industry eyes exclusions, new sources for China tariff relief

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The Trump Administration has approved the latest round of superimposed tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports, including many dietary ingredients. The move places an immediate burden on the supply-side of the natural products industry, as companies scramble to figure out pricing and availability, while hoping for relief via an exclusion process. The effects, including any price increases, are not expected to impact retailers and consumers until a later date, possibly in mid- to late-2019.

President Trump announced the move Sept. 17 and set Sept. 24 as the effective date for this round of tariffs, known as “List 3.” Two previous rounds of tariffs were levied on a total of $50 billion worth of imports, primarily steel, aluminum and equipment.

After much speculation, Trump kept the List 3 tariffs at 10 percent, but this figure will rise to 25 percent on Jan. 1, 2019, if the trade war with China persists.

“We are taking this action today as a result of the Section 301 process that the USTR [U.S. Trade Representative] has been leading for more than 12 months,” Trump wrote in a statement published on the White House website. “After a thorough study, the USTR concluded that China is engaged in numerous unfair policies and practices relating to United States technology and intellectual property – such as forcing United States companies to transfer technology to Chinese counterparts.”

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A newcomer’s guide to the supplement industry

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According to the Council for Responsible Nutrition’s (CRN) Economic Impact Report, more than 750,000 Americans are employed by the dietary supplement industry in the United States. The industry is an eclectic bunch, spanning all age groups and backgrounds, specializations and skill sets, but one common trait exists: a desire to make an appreciable difference in people’s lives.

The hard work is paying off. Data from Nutrition Business Journal (NBJ) show the industry grew by 77 percent between 2005 and 2015—and it’s still growing! Thanks to industry’s commitment to product integrity, sound science and consumer safety, dietary supplements have become an integral part of health and wellness regimens across the nation, and the demand for more product and next-level innovation means the industry’s workforce is expanding.

For those who may have just entered the space, whether new to the workforce or a seasoned executive joining from a different industry, there’s a lot to learn about dietary supplements.To all the fresh faces feeling overwhelmed, a few things to know:

Dietary supplements are regulated. In 1994, Congress passed the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA)—a law Steve Mister, president and CEO, CRN, once called “industry’s permission slip to exist.” DSHEA reaffirmed that supplements are regulated as a category of food—not drugs—and provided FDA with regulatory authority over the industry. With DSHEA serving as the law of the land, extensive regulations cover all facets of dietary supplement manufacturing, labeling and marketing.

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Sports nutrition retail shift offers growth opportunities to brands taking new approaches

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Let’s face it: the world feels like it is changing faster and more aggressively than any other time in recent history. In the sports nutrition industry, iron-clad brands are now showing cracks in their armor. This is especially true for legacy sports nutrition brands.

These brands are feeling the squeeze to stay relevant against an onslaught of emerging competitors that have entered the market due to today’s lower barrier of entry. Over the past decade, the increasing popularity of e-commerce has made it easier for brands to sell their products directly to consumers. This direct connection has given rise to a plethora of sports nutrition startups, that are in turn fragmenting the market and fundamentally changing how consumers purchase products.

Gone are the days of generating a reliable, perpetual growth trajectory through the previous sales and marketing models that fueled decades of industry success. These legacy sports nutrition brands now face pressure as consumer behaviors shift and the channel landscape changes. To win in the coming years, sports nutrition legacy brands need to reduce their reliance on and diversify their offline channels. Despite sports nutrition products being a relatively difficult category for consumers to shop for online without prior product knowledge, online sales continue to dramatically increase.

This increase of the self-directed consumer has given online retailers like Amazon a further cognizance to invest in the category. Simply put, the main question pondered by most legacy sports nutrition brands is not whether they should have an e-commerce presence, but rather what level of presence they need to grow. Regardless, the sooner legacy sports nutrition brands start building an e-commerce strategy, the better they will be able to compete with more agile, digitally native challengers.

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