People want to take the weight off, of that one can be sure. North America — and the world — is getting fatter by the minute. The World Health Organization projects that by 2015 about 2.3 billion adults world wide will be overweight and more than 700 million will be classified as obese.
But as far as buying a weight loss supplement, that seems to be a purchase people can put off; some leading weight loss ingredients showed double-digit percentage drops in sales in the combined channel in the last 12 months according to SPINS.
The underlying demand is still there for targeted ingredients, said Mitch Skop president of Pharmachem Laboratories.
"Vanity is a big factor. People who can barely afford make rent might find the money to eliminate wrinkles or reduce fat," he said. Pharmachem offers three ingredients in the weight-loss category, Phase 1, a satiety ingredient, Phase 2, a white bean extract that is marketed as a carb controller, and Phase 3, a sugar controller.
"The established ingredients in this category are not fad-driven, and thus are somewhat insulated from trends. (Sabinsa's) LeanGard and ForsLean certainly fall within the established product category, so consumers know there is substance to the product," said Shaheen Majeed, marketing director for Sabinsa Corp.
And R.K. Venkatesh, managing director of Gencor Pacific, chimed in, saying, "Actually, over the last 12 months our ingredient Slimaluma has done well and sales have gone up." Slimaluma is a proprietary standardized extract of caralluma fimbriata, an edible plant used for centuries in India as a famine food and appetite suppressant.
So why the apparent overall depression in the marketplace?
The sector has been hit hard by dubious marketing and a veritable flood of counterfeit weight-loss drugs masquerading as supplements, principally products laced with knock-off versions of sibutramine.
"I really think that puts the consumer off," Skop said. "It's not as easy as it used to be; it's more challenging."
Majeed agreed, saying the category "has also suffered from some unscrupulous marketers who have outrageous made claims (eat pizza and lose weight while you sleep!). These bad apples have been subject to strong and very visible punishment by the FTC, which does not help consumer confidence. "Responsible companies with substance to their products just have to work that much harder to tell their stories," he said.
Another challenge to the category came in the form of a widely-ballyhooed Consumer Reports article called Supplements: The Dirty Dozen. Included in the report was bitter orange extract, a thermogenic ingredient with a history of both safety and efficacy.
Industry sources challenged the inclusion of bitter orange on the list. "(Bitter orange) is exceedingly safe, and the listing of this product by Consumer Reports among its Dirty Dozen supplements is clearly unjustified," said Sidney Strohs, Ph.D. Dean Emeritus of the School of Pharmacy and Health Professions at Creighton University Health Sciences Center in Omaha, Neb. "Consumer Reports either lacks understanding of bitter orange's chemistry or failed to carefully review the scientific literature," he said.
"This corroborates all the research that has been conducted on bitter orange over the past two decades," said Bob Green, President, Nutratech, which manufactures a proprietary bitter orange ingredient called Advantra Z.
Chart: Weight management channel sales
Chart: Top 5 weight management ingredients - global product launches