Calcium sales on the rise - but will bad press crash the party?

Calcium sales on the rise - but will bad press crash the party?

Will the BMJ study ultimately tilt the scale, pushing consumers away from calcium supplements and into the possibly safer option of calcium-fortified foods? Unless you have a direct line to Madam Cleo, you'll have to check back next year to find out.

A president has got to be the calcium in the backbone. If I weaken, the whole team weakens. If I'm doubtful, I can assure you there'll be a lot of doubt."

—President George W Bush, 2002

Say what you will about the intelligence of the 43rd president — Dubya knew his calcium. Who doesn't? It's the No. 1-selling mineral sold in America.

According to SPINS, sales of natural calcium rose 11 percent between August 2009 and August 2010, from $135.95 million to $150.91 million in the FDM channel. A similar growth rate was seen in the natural channel, where calcium sales rose 12.34 percent from $31.92 million to $35.86 million. By comparison, in the previous year period, calcium ingredient sales only rose eight percent in the FDM channel and four percent in the natural channel.

But the question on everyone's mind is this: Will sales continue at this clip in the coming year, in the wake of a British Medical Journal study, widely reported in July, that showed calcium supplements may cause more cardiovascular events than the number of fractures they prevent?

The study was a meta-analysis of 15 randomized trials on calcium supplements conducted in the last 20 years. From analyzing the data on 12,000 people, the researchers found that calcium supplements increase the risk of heart attack by about 30 percent.

The researchers wrote: "The likely adverse effect of calcium supplements on cardiovascular events… and its modest overall efficacy in reducing fracture… suggest that a reassessment of the role of calcium supplements in the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis is warranted."

The quick answer on sales: There was a slight, apparently momentary dip.

No worries here

For its part, natural calcium supplier Marigot isn't worried. The Ireland-based company produces a seaweed-derived ingredient called Aquamin, which is rich in calcium, magnesium and 74 other trace minerals.

"We had seen some commentary from the industry on the recent BMJ article, and we don't see that it will damage sales to calcium-rich products, as the report looked at straight calcium supplements and not calcium-rich foods or unique natural plant mineral sources like Aquamin," said David O'Leary, commercial manager of Marigot.

"The study made clear reference to the fact that a high-calcium meal is natural, whereas a concentrated calcium tablet is not. It does not, however, acknowledge dietary sources of calcium, such as our Aquamin ingredient, which cross this divide. Aquamin is classed as a food and recognized as such by nutritionists, but it can be used in a capsule delivery system. Given that no study has found that high intake of food stuffs containing calcium can lead to an increased cardiovascular risk, this is an important distinction to make."

The study also did not take into account the contribution calcium in combination with trace minerals makes to bone health, O'Leary said. "In fact, it actively excluded trials where calcium was administered in dietary form or as a complex nutritional supplement," he said. "By focusing on calcium-only supplementation, the study ignores the positive synergistic effect of calcium when consumed with minerals."

Category shift ahead?

According to the SPINS data, however, it is precisely calcium supplements — and not calcium-enriched products — that consumers are choosing.

By far the most popular product categories for calcium in the FDM channel, in total dollar sales, were three categories of dietary supplements. Consumers snatched up 21.5 million units of vitamin and mineral products containing natural calcium, at a $149.5 million price tag, between August 2009 and August 2010. This is a 10.82 percent increase over the previous year period.

Supplements with natural d-glucarate calcium came in a distant second, with 192,000 units sold worth $2.08 million — a 250.94 percent increase. Coral calcium supplements came in third, with 131,000 units sold worth $1.3 million, a decrease of -27.86 percent over the previous year.

Outside of supplements, the biggest drivers in total dollar sales were digestive aids and enzymes with natural calcium ($624,858); followed by energy bars and gels with calcium ($466,655); and hot cereals with natural calcium ($132,235). But within those three product categories, sales were hardly static.

Digestive aids sales slipped 5.7 percent over the previous year period; hot cereals sales fell 14 percent; and energy bars took a meteoric rise of 191.7 percent.

Calcium drinks, but not water

Also worth noting are the sales of refrigerated nondairy beverages containing natural calcium, which emerged for the first time as a sales category with 41,443 units sold worth $108,178.

According to Mintel's Functional Beverages report, issued in May, women are far more likely than men to look for calcium-enriched beverages, 63 percent vs. 54% percent respectively. "The greater demand for calcium-rich drinks among older adults is clearly driven in large part by demand among women who seek calcium to mitigate the risk of osteoporosis," the report said.

These seniors do not, however, appear to be looking for this added calcium in their water. According to SPINS, calcium-fortified waters seem firmly bound for posterity, with sales falling 95 percent over the previous year.

So will the BMJ study ultimately tilt the scale, pushing consumers away from calcium supplements and into the possibly safer option of calcium-fortified foods? Unless you have a direct line to Madam Cleo, you'll have to check back next year to find out.

Chart: Calcium sales chart

2010 calcium sales

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