At first glance, it may not look like there’s much new happening with dietary supplements. There they are, those trusty bottles of pills—dutifully lining your store shelves, often doing the heavy lifting in terms of best return on shelf space. But inside these bottles, there’s a quiet revolution going on. We’re witnessing a seismic shift in the supplements aisle, powered by significant recent innovation.
Many of these changes stem from the relentless march of nutrition science, which continues to provide an evidentiary backbone for supplement nutrients. Some are driven by the new consumer age of demanding instant transparency; others stem from recent botanical discoveries the world over. Still other innovations can be traced back to the science geeks behind brands, who work hard to develop more efficient ways of delivering nutrients.
Each innovation in today’s supplements market signals a new opportunity to engage with your customers. After all, education has long been the difference between your store and that big-box retailer on the outskirts of town. By stocking products that embody the latest trends—and talking them up in the aisles—you’ll likely find that the person who buys that bottle today will become a customer for life.
Here’s a look at five major innovations to have on your radar.
Condition-specific supplements have long been the cornerstone of HABA department organization. Traditionally, this has made sense, given that most consumers first check out supplements in hopes of solving a health problem without having to rely on side-effect-laden pharmaceuticals. For instance, a man in his late 50s who has creaky joints and can’t recover from weekend warrioring like he used to might head straight to the joint health section.
But the new way forward isn’t predicated on any single health condition. Rather, it focuses on supplements that support whole-body health. Calling cards of this new trend include terms such as vitality and rejuvenation and claims like “enhances energy without stimulants” and “revives healthy energy and stress levels.”
Here are a few others:
Whole-food supplements. Once a niche pioneered by MegaFood, Garden of Life and Rainbow Light, whole-food supps are now taking the greater supplements world by storm. For example, Natural Factors has developed its Whole Earth & Sea line, showcasing nutrients extracted from crops grown on the company’s own organic farms. Consumers love the idea of supplement ingredients coming from whole-food sources instead of standard synthetic USP vitamins, so expect many more such rollouts.
Greens powders and kale. It’s no coincidence that kale’s popularity spiked right alongside the rise of nutritional greens powders. Despite lacking the flavor of spinach or romaine, kale gained sway because it’s the healthiest leafy green this side of chard (which, let’s face it, tastes too bitter to enjoy in a salad). So innovative companies dried and powdered kale, along with spirulina, cordyceps and other nouveau nutrient-dense fruits, vegetables and botanicals, and violà! Kale plus powdered greens plus high-end blenders equals serious millennial bait.
Adaptogens. Homeostasis is the idea that the body should be in balance, harmony and a state of ease (as opposed to disease). Adaptogenic herbs such as rhodiola, schisandra and ashwagandha promote homeostasis—if you’re stressed, they’ll relax you; if you’re tired, they’ll pick you up. Adaptogens don’t work on any specific organ but rather provide systemic wellness.
New, novel delivery formats offer pill-weary consumers different ways to get nutrients. We all know the chapter-and-verse of gummies—they’re not pills, they’re kind of fun to consume, they don’t carry as large a bolus of nutrients as a tablet might and they’re laden with sugar. Liposomes, on the other hand, facilitate true high-level nutrient intake and metabolism. These nano-sized bubbles have an outer shell comprising healthy lipids and a hollow aqueous center that can be filled with a variety of substances.
Lipsosomes are especially fitting carriers for large molecules such as curcumin, coenzyme Q10 and cannabidiol, which are notoriously difficult for the body to assimilate. Along with protecting nutrients from destructive gastric juices and liver enzymes, new clinical evidence shows that the outer layer of liposomes supports nutrient absorption.
Where do ingredients inside a supplement come from? Where are the botanicals grown? Is what’s listed on the label really inside the capsules? Nowadays, fueled by ready access to information, consumers want to know everything about a supplement—the nutrients within them, the non-nutritive fillers, even the brand’s business practices. They are demanding transparency, and now forward-thinking brands are eagerly supplying it.
The stalwart leader here is Gaia Herbs. The North Carolina company has a 350-acre organic farm that grows dozens of medicinal herbs, about one-third of the total botanicals used in its supplements. The rest are either grown on Gaia’s organic farm in Costa Rica or come from other validated growers. The company’s supplement production facility also sits on the farm, meaning capsules are filled with dried, extracted herbal medicines grown in the very same valley.
Gaia’s “Meet Your Herbs” program also stands out. There’s a unique code printed on every box that shoppers can type into the website to find out exactly where the botanicals within a supplement were grown. The site also discloses complete results of analytical tests on identity, heavy metal content and other metrics.
Consumers want a tangible experience when taking a supplement or sipping a functional beverage. Energizers (caffeine, niacin), stress relievers (green tea’s L-theanine, the patented milk protein Lactium, the African herb Sceletium) and workout aids like Nitrosigine are all promising ingredients when included in high-quality formulations.
Probiotics are hot and rife with innovation. Three specific shifts are transforming this space as we speak: For one, it used to be rare for a probiotic product to align with research showing a specific benefit at a specific dose of a specific strain. But now suppliers are developing and commercializing patented probiotic strains—and then conducting clinical trials on them.
We’re also seeing a shift toward mega-dosing. Not three years ago, the largest quantity of probiotics put into a supplement was maybe 10 billion strains. Now you can get 10 or even 20 times that. These are therapeutic doses, to be sure.
Finally, probiotics are migrating from pills into foods and drinks. Yes, probiotics arguably got their start in yogurt. But now there’s no shortage of functional foods and beverages with an added dose of friendly bacteria.