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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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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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Higher intake of linoleic acid may reduce type 2 diabetes risk

Linoleic acid, a polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acid (PUFA) found in nuts, seeds and most plant oils including soybean, canola and flaxseed, is one of two essential fatty acids (EFAs) humans must obtain through diet. The findings suggest swapping saturated fats, trans fats or carbohydrates for linoleic acid is inversely associated with risk of type 2 diabetes.

For the study, researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in China used data from 83,648 women participating in the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS; 1980-2012), 88,610 women from NHSII (1991-2013), and 41,771 men from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study (1986-2012) to examine the association between intakes of n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and type 2 diabetes risk. There were 18,442 type 2 diabetes cases during 4.93 million person-years of follow-up.

The researchers found dietary n-6 PUFAs accounted for an average of 4.4 to 6.8% of total energy and consisted primarily of linoleic acid (at least 98%). When extreme n-6 PUFA quintiles (highest versus lowest) were compared in multivariate-adjusted models, the hazard ratio for type 2 diabetes risk was 0.91 for total n-6 PUFAs and 0.92 for linoleic acid. In a model allowing for isocaloric substitution, type 2 diabetes risk was 14% lower when linoleic acid isocalorically replaced saturated fats (5% of energy), 17% lower when substituting for trans fats (2% energy), and 9% lower when substituting for carbohydrates (5% energy). There was no impact on diabetes risk when n-3 PUFAs or monounsaturated fats were replaced with linoleic acid.

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Coming soon to a supplement label near you

Coming soon to a supplement label near you

Food and dietary supplement labels will be changing right in front of consumers’ eyes. Some already are. And that’s a good thing—but brands must be ready.

In 2016, FDA announced its Final Rule requiring both the Nutrition Facts and Supplement Facts boxes on product labels get updated to reflect new scientific information and to help consumers make more informed choices. It subsequently extended the compliance deadline, mandating that most manufacturers complete these changes by January 2020, although small producers get an extra year to comply. The labels on store shelves already are changing as manufacturers begin phasing in these new requirements.

Some of these revisions were welcomed by the industry. One of the primary changes is new percent Daily Value (%DV) for some essential nutrients to replace outdated science that was 20 to 30 years old. These updated values reflect what we know now about how much average consumers need of these nutrients and what their daily diets are likely to provide. It turns out, we need more of some nutrients than previously thought and less of others.

In some cases, the new label requirements have led brands to reformulate rather than relabel. Some brands want to be able to declare 100 percent of the DV or continue to market their products as “good” or “excellent” sources of a particular nutrient (terms that are tied to the Daily Values). So rather than change labels, manufacturers chose to change ingredient levels. New formulations mean new safety analyses and new stability tests to keep the claimed percentages constant.

FDA also is mandating additional label information and changing the required vitamins and minerals that must be disclosed on the label. For example, the amount and percent Daily Value of sugars added to a product must be disclosed. Vitamins A and C will no longer be mandatory on the label, but vitamin D and potassium will be declared along with calcium and iron. Still other changes include changing units of measurement for vitamins A, D and E from International Units, or IU, to more common measures of milligrams and micrograms. And folic acid—an important nutrient before and during pregnancy—will be listed as folate and be measured in micrograms of dietary folate equivalents (DFE).

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Joint Health Supplements: Steadily, flexibly forward

Joint Health Steadily flexibly forward

As the global joint health market grows a steady 7 percent over the next three years, the category’s staple dietary ingredients and products are giving way to a fresh wave of botanicals and specialty compounds, bringing researched joint and inflammation management to a wider, active audience than those with aging bodies.

Beyond Relief. “Consumers want products that improve their health, not products that mask their symptoms,” explained Tim Hammond, vice president of sales and marketing, Bergstrom Nutrition. In fact, as joint health and function is something consumers want to preserve over a lifetime, they are looking for customized joint health solutions that are safe for long-term use. For many, this means a small, daily supplement dose—but for others, including the younger generations, alternative delivery formats are the way to joint regimen compliance in busy lives.

Herbs on the Rise. Persistent local inflammation is a recognized key driver of wear and tear joint problems, including osteoarthritis (OA). Inflammation is typically a short-term consequence of activities, but chronic or persistent inflammation can have a lasting damaging effect on joints. Turmeric has reached superfood status and is on the rise in joint health, owing largely to its primary anti-inflammatory constituent curcumin. Additional botanical ingredients offering anti-inflammatory and other joint-related researched benefits include ashwagandha, ginger, Boswellia serrataTerminalia chebulaBacopa monnieri and Kaempferia galangal, which has the cool nickname of “resurrection lily.”

Animals to the Rescue. Despite the growing use of botanicals for inflammation and oxidative stress control, joint health still relies heavily on supplying naturally occurring compounds found in cartilage and synovial fluid, which are commonly derived from animal sources. A popular trademark in this category involves collagen, a critical cartilage component. Research has shown undenatured collagen from chicken and collagen peptide ingredients derived from animal skin and bones deliver key amino acids crucial to improving the structure and function of cartilage and connective tissues, including inflammation management. Also, glucosaminoglycans (GAGs) and other compounds found in healthy cartilage are commonly supplemented through popular ingredients like glucosamine and chondroitin from shellfish, but eggshell membrane has emerged as an alternative animal source that also delivers keratin and collagen, as well as anti-inflammatory compounds.

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