Vitamins & Minerals Update

Given recent controversies in other nutraceutical categories, taking a look at vitamins and minerals seems like a “walk in the park.” Although some experts refer to the vitamins and minerals categories as mature, new research on additional indication areas and nutrient forms will breathe new life into these segments and pave a road for future growth. In addition, the trend in fortification is stronger than ever, as consumers demand alternative delivery mediums for their favorite, most respected nutrients.

Market Data and Trends
According to Nicholas Hall’s Insight report, published by Nicholas Hall & Company, Southend-on-Sea, U.K., the market for vitamins and minerals continues its upward trend, benefiting particularly from the strong performances of multivitamins and the major mineral categories. In addition, it says that multivitamins has been the category responsible for the strongest growth, mostly due to increased promotion of condition-specific formulations, such as those positioned for weight loss and eye health. “The boom in multivitamins is expected to continue as consumers become more educated about the benefits of proper nutrition,” the report said. “New scientific studies and doctor support for multivitamin use and its benefits are also likely to continue to attract new consumers.” However, the report also noted that while overall sales of vitamins and minerals increased by 2%, the mature vitamin C and E categories again both registered declines. (To get a better idea of the performance of vitamins and minerals over the last few years, see Table 1.)

Table 1
2001- 2003
$=million 2001 2002 2003
Multivitamins $1,171 $1,230 $1,268
Vitamin B $190 $198 $199
Vitamin C $234 $215 $212
Vitamin E $366 $333 $291
Other Vitamins $36 $34 $33
Calcium $383 $409 $451
Iron $74 $78 $78
Other Minerals $98 $96 $103
Total $2,551 $2,593 $2,634

Source: Nicholas Hall’s Insight, sales via all retail outlets, 12 months to October 2003

The trends proliferating vitamins and minerals center on condition-specific products and fortification. Discussing the latter was Harry Bille, sales and marketing coordinator, The Wright Group, Crowley, LA. “Fortification of convenience products—cereals, sports and meal replacement bars, low-carb products, low-fat products—is the hottest trend right now,” he said. “We are also seeing a large number of beverage formulations, in particular clear beverages. In this medium the function of the beverage is not noticeable, which is important because the retail consumer is very sensitive to any type of product that has a strange look, smell or taste.”

Although fortification represents another opportunity to grow the vitamins and minerals segments, companies must still be cautious of putting too much of a good thing in products. The key to fortification today, Mr. Bille said, is balance. He added, “Companies used to go with 100% RDI of vitamins and minerals but that has changed. Now that a lot of consumers are purchasing and consuming fortified foods, companies have lessened the amounts of vitamins and minerals used in fortification under the assumption that consumers will be consuming a variety of these products and companies want to avoid overdosing.” On the bright side, Mr. Bille said, lower fortification amounts in foods may be smart from a cost perspective for both the companies doing the fortification down to the consumer purchasing the product.”

Barry Fitzsimons, business development manager, Marigot, Corrigaline County Cork, Ireland, discussed the developments with obesity and kids nutrition. “The governments in Europe and the U.S. are actively researching obesity and the potential nutritional solutions. As a result, minerals such as calcium have come to the fore again in a completely different health area than before,” he said. “Kids products are also a growing area, as consumers become more aware of the risk of mineral deficiencies later in life, which may lead to chronic diseases and conditions. Osteoporosis is no longer an issue specific to the elderly population.”

Mr. Fitzsimons also talked about the quest for the right mineral form and how important that has become to companies. “Consumers want ‘invisible’ consumption with ‘visible’ results,” he said. “There has long been a gap between what the manufacturers wanted to do with adding vitamins and minerals and what was possible at the lowest cost. As a result of companies’ disregard for efficacy or enjoyment of product, consumers missed out on quality, which is why functional foods have yet to be successful.” Today Mr. Fitzsimons feels that gap is slowly closing, as companies realize the need for higher quality ingredients and in turn, better tasting, efficacious products.

Brent Hagen, vice president, Technical Services, Kelatron, Ogden, UT, expressed a similar point of view. “In the past, a lot of products, more so in foods and less in the nutritionals area, wanted to be able to claim that they had certain minerals in them. Companies weren’t really concerned about the form of the mineral, how it interacted with other nutrients or whether or not it was bioavailable,” he said. “Thankfully things are changing and companies are asking the right questions and resolving the issues.”

Another trend that has kept suppliers busy has been the work with large food companies in the battle against nutrient deficiency. For example, Albion Advanced Nutrition, Clearfield, UT, according to Rick Harnish, sales manager, Atlantic & Southwest Region, has been working with companies like Parmalat, Danone, Proctor & Gamble and Unilever to enhance the mineral content of foods due to nutritional deficiencies occurring in various parts of the world. “In developing countries it is not very common to supplement one’s diet with nutritional supplements, therefore mineral deficiencies must be addressed through the food supply,” he said. “With over 100 patents, Albion Advanced Nutrition’s three divisions—human, plant, animal—have been able to effectively fortify the food supply through crops, livestock and dietary supplementation.”

Kathleen Moran, global market segment manager for dietary supplements, Cognis Nutrition & Health, La Grange, IL, focused on condition-specific formulations. “Consumers are asking more and more for products designed for a specific health concern,” she said. “Because dietary supplements are so mainstream now, we really have to inform consumers about how a supplement functions and its benefit. We can no longer be coy with the packaging and key messages.” A part of Cognis’ mission these days is to examine the major condition-specific formulations of interest. Its research has prompted it to focus on three key areas, including heart health, body composition and eye health.

Consumers are picky and when they get bored they tend to move on very quickly. With respect to vitamins and minerals, dietary supplements and fortified foods and beverages have become the norm and now it is time for something new. As a result, companies are exploring unique delivery systems, from vitamin gumballs to effervescent products to quick-dissolving strips. This is precisely what prompted Amerifit Nutrition, Bloomfield, CT, to go to market with its Vitaball product. While initially positioned for kids, this vitamin gumball seems to have garnered the attention of all age groups, according to Rick Dietz, director of marketing. The company assures the delivery of 100% of 11 essential vitamins plus biotin in each gumball. It also claims that the user can attain these vitamins in five to 10 minutes of chewing just one gumball per day.

Also discussing new delivery systems was Jennifer Thomas, market development specialist, PURAC America, Inc., Lincolnshire, IL. “The latest application for fortification revolves around dissolving strips,” she said. “Several companies have been looking into this delivery system for vitamins and minerals. Although there may be some difficulty getting enough vitamins and minerals into these strips to make a claim, there are still many companies exploring this area.”

Research Perspectives
The research on vitamins and minerals has always been solid compared to other nutraceutical segments. In fact, it is safe to say that it is this basis, which made vitamins and minerals “nutrition superstars.” The good news is that the research in only getting stronger. Ram Chaudhari, senior executive vice president, Research & Development, Fortitech, Schenectady, NY, said, “The fact that research is increasing in this field allows for scientific support systems to be put in place. While most companies are familiar with vitamins and minerals, they are constantly trying to understand more about them, especially with respect to their application. As a result, the negative perception of supplements is clearing up due to the emerging, positive research on vitamins and minerals.”

Barry Kaufman, product manager, Human Nutrition, BASF Corporation, Mount Olive, NJ, agreed. “The latest clinical and scientific evidence on many ingredients has been positive, which has helped stimulate consumer sales,” he said, adding, “A few examples are particularly noteworthy. For example, a recent study indicated beta-carotene supplements might increase survival rates in patients with head or neck injuries, while another showed that vitamin D might help reduce the risk of schizophrenia in males.” Mr. Kaufman also mentioned a recent report on vitamin E, which indicated its role in protecting smokers from pneumonia. Yet another, he said, focused on the combination of vitamins E and C and beta-carotene and their benefits to eye health; the study specifically pointed to the combination as being able to help reduce the risk of macular degeneration by 25%.

Mr. Hagen of Kelatron said research presently falls into two categories. “The nutrition companies are more interested in treatment type applications, while the large multinational food companies are focusing on addressing deficiencies,” he said. “In developing countries there are a lot of health related issues that result from certain deficiencies, so there is a lot of work going on along these lines. This is different from the nutrition world, however, which is researching nutrients for prevention and risk reduction of certain diseases and conditions.”

Offering his perspectives on health claims, Marigot’s Mr. Fitzsimons said, they are good for showing that a person reaps the benefits expected. However, he said, health claims can have a bad connotation when they appear on the package because some consumers will assume the product tastes bad.

Mr. Fitzsimons also pointed out that there must be a balance in terms of health claims. “Presently in Europe the whole area of health claims is being stifled. In the end, it will not be the food industry that loses out but the consumers in the long-term. Most likely this is being done in the interest of consumers—obviously it’s necessary to protect consumer health and welfare—but if you stifle innovation completely, it could be disastrous,” he explained. “If this had been done 10 years ago there would probably be no market for probiotics. The legislation sometimes goes too far and misses the balance between what is right regarding consumer protection and what is necessary to facilitate innovation for manufacturers.”

There is also the issue of whether or not health claims drive research and development or visa versa. Mr. Fitzsimons offered, “If health claims are driving product development, I think that is wrong. I think that a core objective of a company is to deliver better nutrition to the consumer, with a health claim being a consequence of that. Health claims are not a means to an end.”

Hot Prospects
There are several standouts between both vitamins and minerals, whether it is calcium for weight loss or selenium for cancer prevention or vitamin C for eye health. But what is really catching the attention of consumers these days is their increasing knowledge of vitamin and mineral forms. Promoting the differences between different mineral and vitamin forms has certainly been a selling point for suppliers and manufacturers.

Marigot’s Mr. Fitzsimons weighed in on minerals. He said, “In my opinion I would say that calcium and magnesium are finding new momentum as consumers become more aware that not all sources are the same.” He also said there are a lot more niche products being offered these days. “For example, minerals like milk calcium are really making headway, whereas I would expect that calcium carbonate is decreasing,” he said. “Companies are moving away from commodity type ingredients toward other value-added ingredients because consumers are demanding more scientifically backed benefits and better quality in terms of taste and texture.”

Discussing calcium and magnesium in general, PURAC’s Ms. Thomas added, “Calcium remains the hottest mineral in the market. We’ve also seen a surge in our magnesium products because of it’s coupling with calcium.”

This is a common trend, according to Kelatron’s Mr. Hagen. “A lot of these minerals are interrelated. For example, if you are using calcium for a product, you will probably be interested in magnesium. A driver in one area usually ends up brining others along with it.”

The Wright Group’s Mr. Bille said his company is receiving several different requests. “We are seeing an increased demand for a clean label vitamin A and D or ingredients that can be certified organic,” he said, adding, “All of the B group vitamins are still very hot with formulations for energy; vitamin E is still popular for its cardiovascular benefits; there are still several requests for calcium in relation to bone health and folic acid is still going strong for brain health, particularly with expectant mothers.” Overall, Mr. Bille said, no one vitamin or mineral is driving growth, rather requests mainly stem from using several ingredients together, so that a multitude of benefits are being realized in one single product.

Adding her thoughts on the vitamin and mineral standouts was PURAC America’s Ellis Hogetoorn, senior market development specialist. “Mineral wise, consumer awareness of potassium is increasing, in addition to ingredients that play an antioxidant role, such as vitamins A, C and E and zinc,” she said. “For example, right now zinc is being linked to prostate health and the reproductive system, so it’s the perfect match for a men’s health beverage.”

Also discussing zinc was Stephen Ashmead, director of R&D, Albion Advanced Nutrition, who said, “I think zinc will be the next iron. I base this primarily on a report that was issued by WHO/UNICEF in March. Zinc deficiency is as widespread as iron deficiency anemia, but is harder to detect. In its recent report, WHO/UNICEF stated that this deficiency is prevalent and contributes to immunological, neurological, reproductive and mental development.” He continued, “In terms of vitamins, I think that we will continue to see the big four (A, C, D and E) as a standard, but I think that the marketing line will be blurred and nutrients such as lutein, zeaxanthin and others will become ‘vitamins’ in the eyes of the public, even though they are not scientifically classified as such.”

The Future
There are several factors on the horizon that will contribute to future growth of vitamins and minerals. First, the science coming forth daily remains mostly positive, not only in terms known benefits, but also in identifying additional indication areas. Furthermore, qualified health claims will soon be a reality and it is safe to assume that vitamins and minerals will be among the first dietary ingredients considered for those types of claims.

With the science constantly changing and getting stronger, Kelatron’s Mr. Hagen offered his future predictions. “I predict that the specific forms of minerals that are big right now may not be the big ones five years from now because hopefully we will have amassed the science and are creating better forms than before,” he said. “This is a really exciting time and I am excited about a lot of the initiatives going forward on a number of different fronts. There is ongoing recognition that minerals are vitally important to human health and understanding the results of deficiency and also the potential benefits of supplementing beyond that is being addressed. There is a lot to learn and a lot to look forward to.”

In light of increasing research, Leo Cullen, vice president, Buckton Scott Nutrition, Fairfield, NJ, also feels vitamin and minerals will continue to gain momentum. “Ten years ago 30% of the population was taking supplements and now almost 80% of the population is taking supplements,” he said. “I think there has been a tremendous increase in the awareness and I think it will continue to grow. Vitamins and minerals have the biggest role to play because these categories boast the largest body of evidence rolling forward. As the science develops further for broader use of these ingredients for specific conditions, the future looks very bright.”

Sooner rather than later, Ms. Moran of Cognis said the industry will witness an evolution, especially with suppliers. “We are designing complete packages for our customers, which include scientific support, health and structure/function claim substantiation and marketing support. We are pulling all of this information together for our customers, so that they don’t have to shoulder all of the responsibility for getting a product to market,” she said. “Suppliers of today need to do much more of that in the future.”
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