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New delivery systems: stick packs, powders and straws, oh my!

One size does not fit all when it comes to delivering nutrients. Depending on your target market, and your particular ingredient, you can now choose from dissolvable tablets to stick packs, effervescent powders to chewies and more. Joysa Winter assesses the range of options available

According to the Natural Marketing Institute's 2009 supplement/OTC/Rx database survey, consumers still prefer traditional delivery formats. The top five preferred product forms were capsules, tablets, soft gels, liquid-filled capsules and chewables.

But even if those formats are the most popular, the rise of other novel formats in recent years is clear indication that innovation has come to the way people consume nutrients.

One of the newest delivery systems is a chewable dietary supplement by UK company Oxford Nutrascience. Based at Oxford University, the company has developed a chewable dietary supplement delivery system, Chewitab, which improves the solubility of prebiotic fibre.

"Chewitabs produce a light crunch when bitten and then form a soft chew that dissolves quickly in the mouth and therefore can be taken without water," said Nigel Theobold, chief executive. "They are particularly well suited for children and the elderly."

The tablets can be manufactured using standard tablet-compression equipment and come in a range of sizes to allow for different doses. It will also be possible to pack them in bottles or blisters. They will be available for global distribution by the end of 2010.

Stick packs
While not new to the market, one delivery system that has experienced a spike in popularity is stick packs — a skinny, flexible pouch that many consumers recognise from sugar substitutes.

Because the packs are small and produced on very fast, dedicated machines, their cost per unit is low, making them both efficient and cost-effective. They are also easy for consumers to transport.

Sabinsa launched its stick pack project in the fourth quarter of 2007, just as the company completed its new manufacturing facility in Utah. "Our equipment is set in place for powder stick packs, and we even package beadlets (pellets) into our stick packs," said Shaheen Majeed, marketing director. "Most of the projects we have done contained soluble material; however, it is not uncommon to see non-soluble powder/actives/pellets in these stick packs."

One type of nonsoluble ingredient often put into stick packs is protein powders, which need to be dispersed rather than solubilised. Other examples include certain instant drink formulations, where the customer has to pour it into a liquid, shake and drink right away.

Interest has been most strong in the US, Majeed said, simply because consumers are more familiar with the format. Still, many manufacturers don't know what to put inside them. "Sabinsa offers customers custom-based formulas that are ready to go. They are soluble, inexpensive and convenient formulas that cover a wide range of health conditions," he said.

Swedish probiotics manufacturer Probi entered the stick-pack market this year by partnering with NextFoods of Colorado to launch probiotic sticks with its Lp299v probiotic strain. Called GoodBelly ToGo, it is a portable powdered drink with a long shelf life.

"We have seen growing interest in the stick-pack concept everywhere, but the US was the first place we decided to launch one of our probiotic strains," said Michael Oredsson, Probi CEO.

"What we like about the format is that it offers exceptional clinical documentation coupled with great taste and a long shelf life in an ambient format. We believe stick-packs will continue to grow, although capsules still have a lower COGS (cost of goods sold)," Oredsson said.

Effervescent powders
A relatively new delivery format in the US is effervescent tablets or powders, which offer the benefits of portability, and ease of use and are self-mixing. They are also more economical than premade water products. The format has long been popular in Europe.

To many consumers, effervescents have become synonymous with one particular product, Emergen-C, which was introduced in 1978 by Alacer Corp. Championed as the "champagne of nutritional drinks," the fizzy drink mix offers 1000mg of vitamin C, vitamins and electrolytes, and became Alacer's signature formula.

Today, the brand constitutes 100 per cent of Alacer's business, and is primarily sold in the US and Canada. In April, Alacer added another effervescent formula, Vitamin D + Calcium Bone Health, which offers twice the calcium and 250 per cent of the daily value of vitamin D.

Amerilab of Plymouth, Minnesota, was founded in 1995 to specifically manufacture effervescent formats. Its first product was a flavoured tablet called Fizzies, and its portfolio quickly expanded to include the incorporation of minerals, vitamins and herbal ingredients.

"Our effervescent products now include powder and tablet dosage forms, with almost any supplement ingredient commonly found in tablets, which are normally orally swallowed," said Terry Wehling, vice president of business development. "Popular categories are sports supplements; weight loss; hydration; energy; and products containing botanical ingredients, for example, high antioxidant value ingredients."

It has taken time to work out the formulation challenges of this platform. "Achieving the combination of a good flavour profile, good solubility and appearance desired by the client is always challenging," Wehling said. "Generally speaking, achieving good solubility and flavour profiling are the largest challenges we routinely face." Working out these challenges is worthwhile, Wehling said, because most actives are much more stable in effervescent formulations than other formulations, due to their very low moisture level.

"All products manufactured are placed into environmental chambers to stress the formulations at high temperatures prior to beginning commercial production," Wehling said. "Testing is performed to confirm and verify potency through expiration or the 'use before' date found on products. We also perform incoming analysis on all actives and test each batch of products after production."

In January, Nordic Naturals ventured into the effervescent world with a powdered fish-oil supplement. Packaged in single-serve packets, the powder is simply stirred into water and offers 500mg of EPA and DHA per serving, as well as 1,200IU of vitamin D3.

"The biggest challenge in making our effervescent product was being able to extract the oil and preserve it in the minutes it takes to convert it into a powder," said Joar Opheim, CEO. "We also had to protect the oil in a shield in a water-soluble way so that when added to water, the shield is broken down to immediately make the oil available for absorption."

It took four years to develop the product, but the effort was worth it. "Some people will not take an oil and cannot swallow capsules," Opheim said. "We intuitively knew this delivery system would work well, due to our general market knowledge of individuals preferring liquid supplements."

Delivering probiotics: straws, caps, drinks, powders
Turns out, one of the greatest areas of delivery-system innovation is in the world of probiotics. BioGaia and its subsidiary CapAble introduced the LifeTop Straw in 2000 to contain its L. reuteri Protectis probiotic. Today, the company sells the BioGaia Probiotic Straw for a variety of probiotics.

"The format works best with single-serving Tetra packages containing any type of drink," said Staffan Palsson, managing director at CapAble AB. "The greatest advantage is that it can be used on UHT products to still keep the probiotic alive, since it is added to the package after sterilisation. The only limitation would be products containing alcohol or very warm drinks over 45°C."

If a probiotic is added directly to a beverage, and if it is kept refrigerated, it is stable for about 35 days. The LifeTop Straw offers a shelf life of 18 to 24 months.

At the same time LifeTop Straw was developed, BioGaia unveiled the LifeTop Cap, in which an alu-alu blister contains the active ingredients. The powder is released in the bottle when the top of the cap is pushed. The cap can hold about 250mg of powder, which can be probiotics, vitamins, minerals, flavours or even colour.

The first commercial product with the LifeTop Cap was launched in 2009 in the US. Called PHD (probiotic health daily), it is now being launched in Mexico in a probiotic water called BioScandik.

Danisco has taken a different tack in probiotics delivery. In September 2009, the French company unveiled a honey and lemon beverage containing its active ingredient HOWARU Protect, a patented probiotic. The concept is shelf stable for 12 months at ambient temperature.

"The powder format dissolves easily in warm water," said Peggy Steele, global business director — BioActives, Health & Nutrition. "The water should be a maximum of 45°C/113°F, which is equivalent to microwave heating for one minute at 900 watts."

Danisco also has recently begun adding its Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM and Bifidobacterium lactis HN019 probiotic strains to vanilla- and strawberry-flavoured chewable bears. Called HOWARU Probiotic Yogurt Bears, the concept was launched in November.


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