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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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Recent research on brain-boosting nutrients

Everyone wants the best brain they can have. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defined a healthy brain as “one that can perform all the mental processes that are collectively known as cognition, including the ability to learn new things, intuition, judgment, language and remembering.” Several dietary ingredients have recently shown promise for safely improving human cognition.

In these studies, “significantly improved” indicates superior benefit, with a probability (“P value”) of at least 95 percent that the finding is real. Animal studies are not covered because they do not consistently predict human benefit.

The brain makes and consumes huge amounts of energy, for which it needs supplies of nutrients out of proportion to its small size (Frontiers Mol Neurosci 2018 Jun 22;11:216. DOI: 10.3389/fnmol.2018.00216.) But the current food supply falls far short of being sufficient for brain (or body) health. Based on ongoing findings from large CDC surveys, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans listed magnesium; vitamins C, D and E; and choline among “underconsumed nutrients.” All are vital to cognitive performance.

This gives consumers a good reason to take a good multivitamin. Analyses of the national U.S. population survey data established taking a daily multi vitamin-mineral helps offset the nutrient gap in the U.S. food supply (Nutrients. 2017 Dec 22;10(1). pii: E4. DOI: 10.3390/nu10010004 and Nutrients. 2017 Aug 9;9(8). pii: E849. DOI: 10.3390/nu9080849).

Taking a multivitamin formulated with the most proven ingredients provides a steady supply of the nutrient “nuts and bolts” needed by the enzymes that make cognition possible.

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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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All natural products imports from China face higher tariffs

An already tariff-weary natural products industry will face elevated tariffs on nearly all ingredients and materials sourced from China, if a fresh 10% increase on the remaining US$300 billion in imports from China goes into effect Sept. 1, as promised by President Trump in his ongoing trade war.

The Trump Administration proposed the tariffs earlier this summer and held public hearings in June. However, the tariffs were put on hold after Trump and China President Xi Jinping met at the G20 Economic Summit in Japan in late June.

The tariffs would include the remaining imports from China not on the earlier three lists of punitive tariffs, some of which have elevated from an initial supplemental 10% to 25%.

The challenges for industry include how to deal with the elevated costs and possibly find non-Chinese sources of ingredients, whether another country or creating domestic supply. However, finding new sources can be nearly impossible for some ingredients, especially agricultural items that grow in certain climates and conditions. Further, it can take years to develop domestic sources of materials and ingredients that were almost exclusively imported for years and decades.

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Astaxanthin and healthy aging

The aging process is accompanied by numerous health challenges, which will vary from individual to individual due to several factors, including genetics, lifestyle choices, environmental factors and life events. Premature aging is also closely linked to oxidative stress.1

Reactive oxygen species (ROS), otherwise known as pro-oxidants, are formed as by-products of normal metabolism in our body when food is converted into energy. Immune cells fighting bacterial infections also release ROS. High levels of ROS can initiate harmful alterations in key biomolecules, such as lipids, proteins and DNA in a condition called oxidative stress.2

Aging is typically accompanied by a reduction in cellular energy production and increased free radical production. This leads to an overloading of defense systems and oxidative damage. From a biological point of view, aging involves the accumulation of oxidative damage in cells and tissues. Younger people are naturally better protected from free radicals and other ROS through balanced activity of the mitochondria, efficient antioxidant and DNA repair systems, and active protein degradation machinery. Aging, on the other hand, is generally accompanied by mitochondrial dysfunction leading to increased free radical production that, in turn, leads to an overloading of the defense systems and oxidative damage of cellular components.1

The study of oxygen-free radicals has been going on for many years, but within the last two decades, the research into their effects on human health has really taken off. The evidence shows that oxidative stress plays a significant role in the aging process, as well as the development of chronic and degenerative illness. This, in turn, has spurred tremendous interest in finding out more about the effects of antioxidants in neutralizing free radicals, and the health support benefits they provide in the human body.

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USDA announces time frame for adopting hemp regulations

Montana now leads country in hemp acreage

USDA on Wednesday announced its plans to promulgate regulations in fall 2019 regarding the commercial production of industrial hemp in the United States.

Under the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018—otherwise known as the 2018 Farm Bill—states and Indian tribes have the option to primarily regulate the production of hemp. That’s provided USDA approves their plans. But states and Indian tribes don’t need to submit plans until the agency adopts its regulations, according to USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service in a notice to industry.

USDA will hold onto a submission if a state happens to submit a plan before the regulations are promulged. The notice proclaimed: “USDA is committed to completing its review of plans within 60 days once regulations are effective.”

At least one state acted immediately in response to the 2018 Farm Bill. The Kentucky Department of Agriculture submitted its regulatory plan for hemp production the same day President Donald Trump signed the bill.

“Kentucky is emerging as an epicenter for the American rapidly-growing hemp industry,” Ryan Quarles, Commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, wrote in a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

For the 2019 planting season, states, tribes and institutions of higher education can continue operating under the 2014 Farm Bill, USDA said.

The 2014 Farm Bill authorized institutions of higher education and state agricultural departments to grow or cultivate industrial hemp under certain conditions. The scope of that bill—including whether it authorized commercial production and sale of hemp and hemp-based products—was long debated.

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Bill to limit certain dietary supplement sales to minors resurfaces in Massachusetts

mass state house

Massachusetts Rep. Kay Kahn, a Democrat from the Boston suburb of Newton, refiled a bill in January that would restrict sales of certain weight loss and muscle building dietary supplements to minors, requiring retailers to post dire warnings of potential injuries and even death, as well as placing these supplements behind the counter.

Introduced in the Democrat-controlled House last week, the new bill (H.D. 2883) is unchanged from bill H.1195, which Kahn introduced in the 2017-2018 legislative session.

It would require retailers to limit access of weight loss and muscle building supplements to any consumer under the age of 18, essentially putting the products under lock and key and permitting access by store manager only.

The bill also proposes a requirement that retailers of such supplements post a warning on the counter “that certain over-the-counter diet pills, or dietary supplements for weight loss or muscle building are known to cause gastrointestinal impairment tachycardia, hypertension, myocardial infarction, stroke, severe liver injury sometimes requiring transplant or leading to death, organ failure, other serious injury, and death.”

The state’s Department of Public health would determine the exact warning language and partner with FDA and key stakeholders, including the eating disorder community, to determine which weight and muscle products would be restricted for sale.

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Experts debate pros, cons of mandatory product registry for dietary supplements

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A veteran lawyer in Washington supports a requirement that companies register their dietary supplement product labels. The general idea—incorporated in legislation introduced in previous years on Capitol Hill—could lead to reform of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA).

“I really believe that this movement has picked up speed this year,” said Scott Bass, an attorney who heads the Global Sciences team at Sidley Austin LLP.

Based on his discussions with myriad groups, the lawyer revealed, the idea’s “time has come.” He said it was possible to see “activity on this front as early as the fourth quarter” of 2018.

“And I don’t mean activity in the sense of the law passed,” Bass acknowledged, “but I mean serious legislative attention.”

In an interview during an annual symposium in California for the dietary supplement industry hosted in October by the Council for Responsible Nutrition(CRN), Bass laid out his support for a mandatory product registry.

“Unless we have a system where FDA can say, ‘We know what’s on the market in the list’ [of registered products] and then can easily find out what is not on that list and can easily enforce, we’re not going to be able to stem the rising tide of illegal products,” he asserted. “There really is no choice because FDA can never enforce against outliers unless they know what’s on the market legitimately.”

Added Bass: “Second, how can a company offer a product to consumers that is supposedly a health product and then say, ‘But I don’t want the government to know about it.’ It just makes no sense.”

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Product offerings grow for the anxiety, stress, mood and sleep category

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Qualifying and quantifying the market for products that address anxiety, stress, mood and sleep is a little like trying to nail jelly to the wall or define “obscenity.” Regarding the latter, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously remarked in 1964 that “I know it when I see it” to describe his threshold test in Jacobellis v. Ohio. To some extent, this also applies to the market for products that address anxiety, stress, mood and sleep.

Products addressing anxiety, stress, mood and sleep are scattered all over the marketplace. No longer are innovation opportunities limited to over-the-counter (OTC) medications and dietary supplements.

GlobalData identified product innovation oriented around anxiety, stress, mood and sleep that spans nearly 30 different product categories. Product manufacturers are addressing these needs in categories as diverse as fruit, chocolate, yogurt and beer, to air fresheners, fabric conditioners, facial-care products and more.

Companies far and wide want a piece of the pie because the pie is big—and growing. GlobalData puts the global market for sleeping aids (classified as OTC health care products) at $US1.36 billion as of 2016. GlobalData expects this market will grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of just over 4.1 percent for the period from 2015 to 2020. GlobalData puts the U.S. market for sleeping aids at just under $375 million as of 2016, and projects that this market will expand at a CAGR of 3.5 percent for the period from 2015 to 2020.

But trying to measure a market like sleeping aids is not as easy as it used to be, as a growing amount of sleep-related product innovation is taking place outside of OTC health care products and supplements. It is not unusual today to see functional drinks, milk, tea, food products and even facial-care products promote enhanced sleep. Even within OTC medications, sleep aids have become a moving target as companies attempt to monetize interest in more natural and holistic formulations.

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