Size (of the joint-health market) matters

Functional Ingredients spoke about joints with Paul Dijkstra, CEO of InterHealth Nutraceuticals, supplier of UC-II collagen, a native type-II collagen derived from chicken-sternum cartilage.

FI: How is the joint-health category as a whole? Growing? Innovative? Stuck on glucosamine/chondroitin?

PD: According to Nutrition Business Journal, the joint-health category has been growing more than eight per cent to more than $1.5 billion in 2007. The Arthritis Foundation estimates that there are currently 27 million people with osteoarthritis alone. With an ageing population in which 45 per cent of consumers are ages 55-64 and 58 per cent are age 65+, the joint-health category is expected to continue to grow.

Given the concern about joint health among numerous age groups, and the consumer's desire to turn away from OTC and Rx products that often come with significant side effects, the market for dietary joint supplements and functional foods and beverages is almost certain to grow substantially over the next several years. Driven by the sheer size of this category and growing consumer demand for safe and more effective products, this category has spurred increased product innovation on the ingredient side that allows manufacturers to differentiate their products.

FI: What's your competition? (eg, ignorance of UC-II, other UC-II suppliers, fish oils, glucosamine, etc.)

PD: Joint health underlies a complicated system of various mechanistic processes that require a variety of nutrients that support pain-free joint mobility and flexibility. Various nutraceuticals have been used in nutritional intervention to promote joint health. Some provide necessary joint lubrication; others like glucosamine and chondroitin provide the molecular building blocks for the structure and repair of the joint cartilage. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to help reduce inflammation.

Rather than playing a typical functional role as building block or lubricator, UC-II reduces the inflammatory process at its source by triggering the deactivation of destructive enzymatic processes to slowly prevent the breakdown of joint collagen, allowing the body to rebuild cartilage and healthy joints.

FI: Is there enough UC-II research to convince manufacturers to use it?

PD: InterHealth's patented UC-II undenatured type-II collagen is backed by clinical data that not only show that just 40mg of UC-II a day increases joint mobility and flexibility, but that 40mg UC-II is more effective than 1,500mg of glucosamine + 1,200mg of chondroitin in promoting joint health in people with osteoarthritis. The small daily dosage of only 40mg is a distinct benefit for many consumers, especially older individuals who may have difficulty taking larger pills. In addition, UC-II offers a unique mechanism of action, is natural and is made in the United States under GMP-certified manufacturing conditions.

We will see UC-II added to existing popular joint-health formulations as manufacturers start to explore 'new and improved' strategies for their glucosamine and chondroitin combinations as it increases the effectiveness and, at 40mg a day suggested dosage, it will not increase current pill size. We will also see it as a stand-alone product, as one of the major attributes of UC-II is its small, once-a-day effective dosage.

FI: Is there a trend growing in the joint-health category away from supplements and to functional beverages/foods to address joint health?

PD: The functional-foods and beverages market continues to experience almost double-digit growth rates, with beverages topping the list. The mass-market channel grew by 9.5 per cent in 2007 and generated $30.4 billion in functional-foods and beverages sales. Natural and speciality retailers saw their functional-foods sales climb 8.5 per cent to $3.4 billion in 2007, according to the 2008 NBJ annual report.

Nutritional supplements represent a cost-effective and, for consumers, affordable way to address health concerns. They are likely to continue to play an important role in managing health issues. Functional foods and beverages have been embraced by consumers as an alternative to supplements or in addition to taking supplements since they seem to fill some important gaps. A recent Mintel survey indicated key reasons for consuming functional foods and beverages are to make up for less-healthy eating habits, supplement healthy eating habits or address specific health issues. Consumer convenience and increased understanding of nutrition concepts along with improvements in organoleptic products by manufacturers have helped improve product taste and drive the growth of the category.

According to Mintel, while new product launches are dominated by supplements for joint health, new product forms find their way onto retail shelves, including beverages, juices, meal replacements, bars and dairy products. Short-term and post-processing tests completed in June 2009 demonstrated UC-II's stability during various food and beverage processing conditions. Based on these results, UC-II seems a feasible addition to a range of beverage products such as orange juice, RTD beverages, dairy products and fruit juices.

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