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The Weight Loss Market: Shaping Up its Image

With consumers no longer accepting empty promises when it comes to weight loss, companies have changed marketing tactics to instead encourage howscientifically sound products and a healthy lifestyle can help achieve realistic weight goals.

Marian Zboraj
Associate Editor

From an attitudinal perspective, consumers seem to be ditching the “magic bullet” approach to weight loss and adopting more well-rounded weight management/loss goals. This is likely the result of several factors—restaurants are offering reduced-fat meals on menus; snack companies are producing 100-calorie portioned controlled packs; popular children’s foods are reducing sugar content; and even chains like Starbucks will be switching from serving whole milk to low-fat milk in its U.S. and Canadian stores by the end of the year.

The bad news is the “battle of the bulge” continues to rage on. The latest projections from The World Health Organization (WHO) indicate that globally in 2005 approximately 1.6 billion adults (age 15+) were overweight, and at least 300 million were considered obese. Furthermore, and perhaps even more startling, by 2015 the WHO predicts approximately 2.3 billion adults will be overweight and more than 700 million will be obese.

While there are plenty of anti-obesity drugs that reduce waistlines, Dr. Jit Maheshvari, sales director, Gencor Pacific, Inc., Anaheim, CA, feels that current options have fallen short of expectations. “This is because obesity is a problem caused by various factors, which is why a single-dosage medical solution is not the answer,” he said. “For obesity and weight management, nutraceuticals and poly-herbal combinations seem to offer the best way forward.”

Bob Green, president, Nutratech, Inc., West Caldwell, NJ, agreed, but also said the industry must provide consumers with honest communication about what works, as well as advice on how to manage their weight effectively through diet products that have a proven track record, combined with healthy eating and exercise. “Right now, with so many people desperate to lose weight, they are swindled into spending money on ridiculously hyped products that do nothing,” he said.

The Psychology of Size

While obesity affects consumers around the globe, it is a particularly serious health issue in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 66% of U.S. adults are now considered overweight (33%) or obese (33%). And a new survey suggests these high figures may be related to how consumers view themselves. In March, the National Consumers League (NCL) conducted a study of 2000 adults, which found a disconnect between the way people perceive their weight, and what their actual weight category is based on their body mass index (BMI), the most common measurement for overweight and obesity. The WHO categorizes “overweight” individuals as those having a BMI equal to or more than 25, and “obese” individuals as those having a BMI equal to or more than 30.

NCL’s survey found that U.S. adults are much more likely to refer to themselves as overweight rather than obese. In fact, only 12% of survey respondents referred to themselves as obese, severely obese or morbidly obese. But based on actual BMI calculations using self-reported height and weight information, a whopping 34% actually fell into this category. Only one in five respondents even knew their BMI number.

Regardless of personal classifications, 64% of respondents in the NCL survey claimed to be unhappy with their current weight. This is probably because more than three-quarters (77%) of respondents have tried to lose weight at some point, and among these, 60% said it is one of the hardest things they have ever tried to do.

The main inspirations for losing weight among adults include: a desire to feel healthier (63%), long-term health concerns (50%), embarrassment with appearance (40%) and difficulty in buying clothes that fit (35%). Obese individuals are especially likely to be more motivated by a desire to feel healthier (69%), followed by long-term health concerns (59%), embarrassment with appearance (47%), and trouble in finding proper sized clothes (42%).

NCL’s survey also found that most adults have used diet or exercise to lose weight. But despite the attempts, many are unsuccessful at either losing weight or keeping it off. Less than one-third of those who have ever tried to lose weight report being successful, and about one-third have only been able to keep off the weight they lost for less than one year.

This may be because, as Sharrann Simmons, senior marketing manager, Cognis Nutrition & Health, LaGrange, IL, points out, diets don’t work. “After comprehensively analyzing 31 long-term studies, UCLA researchers recently concluded that diets don’t work.”

“You can initially lose 5 to 10% of your weight on any number of diets, but then the weight comes back,” said Traci Mann, UCLA associate professor of psychology and lead author of the study. “We found that the majority of people regained all the weight, plus more. Sustained weight loss was found only in a small minority of participants, while complete weight regain was found in the majority. Diets do not lead to sustained weight loss or health benefits for the majority of people.”

Ron Udell, president, Soft Gel Technologies, Inc., Los Angeles, CA, explains why diets that drastically reduce calories in a brief timeframe don’t work in the long run. “When you deprive your body of food, it goes into starvation mode—your metabolism slows down in an effort to conserve resources,” he said. “Skipping meals leads to low energy, overeating and temptation to eat the wrong kinds of foods. When you begin eating normally again after a period of fasting, your body continues to idle at a lower rate and you don’t burn calories as quickly.”

Women tend to be their own worst critics when it comes to weight loss, so TSC, a division of Yankelovich, decided to conduct a study—funded by Slim-Fast—to find out once and for all how women perceive themselves physically. Among the reasons women wanted to lose weight: to be healthy (80%), feel better (76%) and have more energy (74%). And even though more than three-fourths of all women (78%) are larger than they want to be, the survey found that nearly all women (89%) agree that losing some excess weight is always healthier, even if a person doesn’t reach their ideal size—a little goes a long way.

Market Trends

Citing data from Nutrition Business Journal, Scott Steil, vice president of sales and marketing, Humanetics Corp., Eden Prairie, MN, claims that the weight loss supplement segment is still one of the biggest markets in the entire supplement category with sales estimated to be close to $2 billion.

And right now, Peter Miller, director of product development, Integrity Nutraceuticals International, Sarasota, FL, says the current focus of the weight management category seems to have steered away from typical stimulants, which have been the basis for the products of the past. “We are seeing new trends into technologies, such as insulin management, fatty acid synthase inhibition, appetite control and non-stimulant thermogenics,” he said. “Science is rapidly expanding into new areas that address the multi-faceted approach to successful weight management. The science is going much more in depth into human physiology and the various pathways involved.”

One trend that seems to be diminishing is blaming portion size for weight problems, when in fact it’s not the size of a meal, but the meal itself that matters. Barbara Rolls, professor of nutritional sciences, University Park, PA, believes that portion size is not the issue, rather energy/calorie dense foods are the culprits for weight gain. According to Dr. Rolls, the key is to match calorie intake to calorie expenditure. She recommends consuming energy dense foods that are high in volume. For instance rather than eating a small-size, unfulfilling brownie, a large portion of salad can be much more filling.

Tim Van Der Schraelen, marketing and communications manager, Orafti Active Food Ingredients, Tienen, Belgium, concurred. “Well-balanced food products will focus more and more on limiting energy intake, reducing the hunger feeling and offering consumers low energy dense foods,” he said. “For this reason alone, products will gravitate further toward satiation and satiety.”

Speaking of satiety, Patrick Luchsinger, marketing manager, North America, Lipid Nutrition, Channahon, IL, claims satiety and appetite suppressant ingredients are on the rise due to higher consumer awareness about controlling caloric intake. “Satiety is referred to as a ‘feeling of fullness’ or the ‘disappearance of appetite’ after a meal. The feeling of satiation over a period of time can help in reducing future caloric intake. Appetite suppressants are ingredients that literally reduce your appetite before a meal and can also help in reducing your caloric intake,” he said.

Expressing a similar point of view, Hame Persaud, chief marketing officer, Triarco Industries, Inc., Wayne, NJ, said weight management no longer needs to be about suffering—it’s about satiety. “Consumers are seeking solutions that help them feel satisfied and healthy while losing weight,” he said. “They look to products that can help them to feel more comfortable and confident that they are doing something positive for their health.”

Products that address metabolism are also growing in number. “Given that all weight loss products must be associated with a diet and exercise program, it is essential that products address the natural tendency of the body to decrease metabolic rate in response to a decrease in caloric consumption,” said Mr. Steil.

Ms. Simmons of Cognis notices that consumers are becoming more educated about overall body composition—not just weight loss. “As baby boomers continue to age, they are learning about the importance of preserving and increasing lean muscle mass,” she said. “Preventing fat re-gain is another area of focus especially for yo-yo dieters. Monitoring the relationship between lean muscle mass and fat in your body is important to achieving your fitness goals.”

One of the biggest challenges in the weight management market, Mr. Persaud said, is the number of variables that play a role in weight gain and obesity, in addition to individual differences in metabolism, genetics and environmental stressors. “Consumers may face different challenges when it comes to weight management, and solutions may need to be multidimensional,” he said. “Several dieters, for example, struggle with depression or anxiety that can trigger overeating. Even the stress of our everyday lives can lead us to eat less healthfully than we would like.”

Also in support of this trend is Robert Veghte, general manager, Roxlor International LLC, Wilmington, DE, who said, “People are looking for a combination type product, where, for example, you use a thermogenic and also something to control hunger or to control blood sugar to create a sense of satiety, as well as burning calories.”

But perhaps the most important part of a weight loss formula is the dose, according to Deanne Dolnick, director of sales, Next Pharmaceuticals, Salinas, CA. “ Just because companies offer a multi-ingredient product, does not mean they can put less of an ingredient in that product,” she said. “Companies must put products on the market that contain clinically researched amounts of each ingredient.”

Realistic, Honest Weight Loss Claims

The increased activity of the FTC in the weight loss arena has put the industry on edge. Earlier this year, the agency recovered $25 million to settle allegations of deceptive marketing from four major weight-control supplement marketers: Xenadrine EFX, CortiSlim, TrimSpa and One-A-Day WeightSmart. FTC had filed complaints about these four companies, alleging that the various weight loss and weight control claims being used in marketing and promotions were not supported by competent and reliable scientific evidence.

In other news, attorney General Hardy Myers recently filed a lawsuit against LA Weight Loss Franchise Company (LA Weight Loss) and an Oregon franchisee, NWM, Inc. Among the accusations, the lawsuit claims that LA Weight Loss and its franchisee have no competent and reliable scientific evidence to substantiate effectiveness claims about their “dietary supplements.” The lawsuit seeks permanent changes in the way the companies market their products, requiring they use only competent and reliable scientific evidence to substantiate their claims.

Mitch Skop, director, new product development, Pharmachem Laboratories, Inc., Kearny, NJ, commented that these actions have had an enormous negative impact on the nutraceuticals industry. “Negative stories can destroy months of work spent on educating consumers about the effectiveness, safety and benefits of our products,” he said.

Part of the suspicion and distrust in the market stems from the fact that some ingredients are not what they claim to be. According to Antoine Dauby, marketing manager, Naturex Inc., South Hackensack, NJ, inexpensive Hoodia gordonii is a good example of where distrust is born. “I recommend HPTLC analyses to identify pure Hoodia gordonii from ineffective and impure Hoodia gordonii,” he said. “Alkemists is a truly independent testing laboratory that has analyzed over 700 botanical species and is recognized within the nutraceuticals industry as the natural choice for third party analysis and as partners in quality control.”

Natural products should be positioned as tools to aid in a weight control program, not magic pills. Marketers need to openly discuss and promote the need for lifestyle changes, which include promoting supplements as an adjunct to diet and exercise in order to increase the benefits of whatever weight-loss regimen the consumer is trying.

“Let’s face it,” commented Nutratech’s Mr. Green. “taking a pill is not going to cause you to lose 10 pounds in a week. The fact is there is no magic pill that will help consumers shed pounds if they don’t also watch what they consume and they don’t exercise. So it’s important that marketers and retailers work on breaking the myth that there could be a magic bullet out there for weight loss.”

Humanetics’ Mr. Steil says the first step for the finished product manufacturer is to build their marketing message and claims around proven science, which will allow the consumer to set realistic expectations and weight loss goals. “Realistic goals by the consumer will certainly help build credibility, increase product sales and maximize overall satisfaction levels,” he said.

Sharon Rokosh, business development manager, Glanbia Nutritionals, Inc., Monroe, WI, also points out that delivering a unique message, such as “target fat and retain lean,” can give companies a competitive edge. Having experience conducting its own consumer investigations, Glanbia highly recommends companies conduct the proper research in order to develop a favorable product message that resonates with consumers.

An example would be Slim-Fast’s new advertising campaign launched in tandem with the new TSC survey results mentioned previously. The brand’s new advertising campaign represents a new point of view called “Find Your Slim.” The campaign features women representing “real” body shapes and sizes with messages such as, “We believe in hips, not hip bones...” The message encourages realistic weight goals for healthier attitudes toward body image and weight loss.

The fact that people may become overweight for different reasons and have distinctive needs for weight management can also provide opportunities to make a product stand out. “Consumers middle-aged and older may have different concerns,” said Triarco’s Mr. Persaud. “They may have been told by their doctors they need to lose a few pounds, but not at the expense of lean muscle mass and strength, which becomes so important as consumers age. Remembering to acknowledge the unique needs of consumers inherently distinguishes your product and gives consumers their best chance at weight loss.”

In a similar vein, Mr. Luchsinger offered this advice: “Don’t duplicate...Differentiate.” “Typically what a company has to do is assess their products, the competition, the macro environment they compete in and ultimately themselves in the marketplace, and find areas of differentiation that they believe consumers will respond to positively,” he said. “They also have to look at the 4 P’s—product, price, promotion and place.”

Trina O’Brien, marketing manager, GTC Nutrition, Golden CO, says the topic of weight management can be a sensitive one for consumers. As a result, she believes they seek food products they can easily incorporate or blend into their diets. In the context of today’s increasingly competitive marketplace, she added, “One way companies are differentiating their product offerings is to co-brand on product packaging to call out the ingredient that offers a targeted health message and identify it as being truly unique.”

Side effects have also become part of the picture, especially in light of some of the weight loss drugs that are known to produce discomfort in the form of gas or bloating, or worse, anal leakage. “Consumers need to know that there are effective weight management products available that do not result in the unpleasant side effects that many products currently on the market have been shown to produce,” said Paul Dijkstra, CEO, InterHealth Nutraceuticals, Inc., Benicia, CA.

New Introductions & Supportive Research

Integrity Nutraceuticals’ Mr. Miller has noticed a surge in the variety of new compounds coming to market, which he feels is just the tip of the iceberg. “Technology in this area is a major focus for companies and we are learning so much on a daily basis in this expanding area,” he said, adding, “As we gain better understanding of all of the pathways involved, we will see some truly amazing products hit the market.”

Roxlor’s Mr. Veghte feels the future of the weight management market is highly dependent on the products that come out now. “The quality of the market is going to depend on the ingredient suppliers’ ability to come up with new and exciting ingredients,” he said. “The more novel and effective ingredients we find, the more diverse and successful the market will get.”

An example of a recent innovation is a new thermogenic dietary supplement launched by Ajinomoto, Tokyo, Japan, called Capsiate Natura. Capsiate Natura is sourced from a unique variety of chili peppers called the CH-19 sweet chili peppers, which are selectively bred to contain high levels of capsiate—one of the capsinoid family of compounds. Capsinoids, including capsiate, are non-pungent substances of capsaicin—the heat-producing compound naturally found in hot chili peppers. Ingestion of hot peppers has been shown to cause an increase in energy expenditure, or thermogenesis.

“The uniqueness of this pepper extract is that it is not hot to the taste because it doesn’t contain the very pungent capsaicin,” said Brendan Naulty, president, Ajinomoto Food Ingredients. “Yet it shares metabolic characteristics typically attributed to capsaicin.” According to Mr. Naulty, producing Capsiate Natura is an expensive process—it takes approximately 10,000 pounds of the pepper to extract just one pound of capsinoids. Therefore, the company is trying to determine if a synthetic version of the product can be developed.

Even though Capsiate Natura has been available in Japan for more than a year, it only just recently made its U.S. debut. “The dietary supplement is available in the U.S. through licensed healthcare professionals because health professionals are really in the best position to educate their patients on how to integrate Capsiate Natura into a healthy lifestyle,” said Mr. Naulty.

Another new pepper introduction is Integrity Nutraceuticals’ Dihydrocapsiate ingredient. Dihydrocapsiate is a non-pungent analog from peppers, which has been shown to enhance fat oxidation and oxygen consumption.

Roxlor’s newest weight management ingredient is called JamboLean, which is a proprietary extract of the Jambol Tree (native to Eastern India) and is geared toward weight loss and blood sugar control. According to Mr. Veghte, it helps maintain healthy blood sugar levels and block fat accumulation in the body.

Another botanical solution is Bio Serae’s (Bram, France) Cacti-Nea, which is a natural soluble cactus fruit powder that is rich in betalain pigments. It helps reduce water retention, detox the body and reinforce antioxidant protection.

Ultimately, Triarco Industries believes that products addressing both the issues of satiety and health will become increasingly important. Triarco is currently developing a yerba maté product for weight management, which Mr. Persaud says “may be able to help protect against cholesterol accumulation and inflammation, in addition to helping with appetite control.” “This combination of benefits would make our product ideal for consumers looking to support their cardiovascular and overall health while managing weight,” he said.

News from Glanbia Nutritionals confirms that its Prolibra whey-derived ingredient has been clinically proven to have a significant impact on fat loss and muscle mass retention. In a 12-week double-blind, placebo-controlled study, researchers found that adults consuming Prolibra lost 82% more fat than the placebo group, and retained twice as much lean muscle mass. According to the company, retention of lean muscle mass during dieting contributes to a healthy Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). This can eliminate the frustrating effects of yo-yo dieting, a common occurrence with traditional diets that fail to address lean muscle mass maintenance. Glanbia says the results of this study provide the basis for substantiated claims that can be used to support finished products containing Prolibra.

Consumers are searching for long-term weight loss solutions like CLA, which helps the “yo-yo” factor. “CLA has been shown to inhibit the activity of lipoprotein lipase—an enzyme involved in the uptake of fat into fat cells and thus may prevent the accumulation of fat during weight regain,” said Lipid Nutrition’s Mr. Luchsinger.

In fact, a new meta-analysis on the efficacy of CLA and body composition adds more evidence in support of its potential long-term health benefits. According to a paper published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 15 of the 18 clinical trials included in the meta-analysis used Tonalin CLA. The research suggests that Tonalin CLA could enhance overall health by effectively reducing body fat, and potentially preventing weight and fat regain commonly experienced by adults, especially yo-yo dieters.

After analyzing 18 eligible CLA studies that met their strict criteria (longitudinal randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled human clinical trials using validated body composition measurements), researchers concluded that among participants given 3.2 grams per day, CLA produces a significant but modest reduction of fat mass of .2 pounds a week or .8 pounds a month compared to participants in the placebo group. Although this effect is modest, it could be important if accumulated over time, especially in an environment where continuous, gradual weight gain is the norm in the adult population.

As scientists focus on the brain and gut to understand where appetite is perceived and satisfied, new studies are underway using prebiotics to encourage and improve the growth of beneficial microflora, which have an influence on good hormones that effect weight loss and satiety, according to Joseph O’ Neill, executive vice president of sales and marketing, Orafti-Active Food Ingredients, Malvern, PA. “Prebiotics are non-glycemic and non-insulinemic and therefore are key ingredients for formulations targeted towards blood sugar control,” he said. “It is believed that blood sugar control is also a key factor in weight management.”

Mr. O’Neill claims initial studies have shown that Beneo oliggofructose, made from chicory root, has a positive effect on reduced energy intake and a positive effect on satiety. The non-digestible oliggosacharides also have a calorie content half that of sugar.

Further studies are underway using Beneo prebiotics to explore their influence on good hormones—specifically leptin and ghrelin, which affect satiety.

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