New Pullulan-based capsules offer unique benefits for supplement manufacturers and healthy lifestyle market worldwide.
By Missy Lowery, Marketing Manager, Americas, Capsugel.
It’s no secret that today, the market of health-conscious
consumers seeking natural, “green” products is booming.
When choosing nutritional supplements and pharmaceuticals,
this growing segment of very astute and discerning healthy
lifestyle consumers look for non-animal products with
no artificial chemicals, pesticides or preservatives. Both
health-focused consumers and healthcare practitioners
alike are demanding high-quality supplements that are well
documented for health benefits and safety.
To meet this rising demand, Capsugel recently introduced
Plantcaps™ capsules, plant-based hard capsule shells
made from pullulan, a vegetable-derived, water-soluble
polysaccharide. The new capsules are a more natural
alternative. Plantcaps are starch-free vegetarian capsules
made from tapioca, which is naturally fermented into pullulan.
As a result, these capsules offer a more extensive appeal
to healthy lifestyle consumers of nutritional supplements.
They also have unique features that benefit supplement
manufacturers, marketers and distributors.
Globally, more than 50 percent of consumers are willing to pay a
premium price for a natural product and nearly half say they are
willing to pay more for organic products.1 In the United States, 35
percent of supplement users say that a vegetarian or non-animal
source is important when choosing a supplement, up from 26
percent in 2006 – and this group is among the most frequent users
of supplements.2 In a recent study of supplement users in Europe,
more than 45 percent said they would be more likely to purchase
a supplement if they knew it was in a vegetarian, plant-based
Today’s healthy lifestyle consumers are discerning. Not content
to take labels at face value, they investigate everything they put
into their bodies, especially their supplements. And they want
to be sure each ingredient is safe and proven because they are
conscientious about maintaining their health. Their commitment to
a green lifestyle extends beyond diet and nutrition and permeates
every aspect of their lives. These consumers look for products with
attributes that fit their lifestyle, but they do not want to sacrifice
quality or performance.
Key Benefits of Plantcaps™
Plantcaps™ capsules are a clean-label product that provides all
the benefits of gelatin capsules while meeting the dietary needs of
vegetarian and vegetarian-aware supplement users. The pullulanbased
capsules deliver the product claims healthy lifestyles
customers look for when making purchase decisions, such as
starch-free, gluten-free, preservative-free, vegetal origin and non-
GMO (genetically modified organism). They also meet the dietary
needs and cultural requirements of certain consumer segments,
with Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS) status, Halal and kosher
certificates, and approval by the Vegetarian Society. Additionally,
the Plantcaps capsules are suitable for the Asian regulatory
environment, especially for use in Japan.
Plantcaps capsules provide an important option for companies
that distribute supplements made with organic ingredients in the
United States, which restricts organic labeling language on organic
ingredients encapsulated in various polymers. The capsules are the
only vegetarian polymer eligible for “made with organic ingredients”
label language in the U.S. Another advantage of Plantcaps
capsules is their elegant crystal-clear transparency, further evoking
a natural image. They also have a high luster, similar to that of
gelatin capsules, and maintain the attractive appearance of the
capsule fill materials. The appearance of Plantcaps capsules
extends their appeal to the healthy lifestyle market. To increase
marketing appeal, the capsules offer multiple branding options in
customized color and shine.
Providing a balance of performance and purity, Plantcaps capsules
offer robust performance with a wide range of ingredients. The
capsules also offer ease of formulation. An important advantage
of their pullulan base is that this vegetable-derived polysaccharide
is a very stable and well characterized raw material, matching the
performance characteristics of gelatin.
In vitro disintegration. Pullulan-based capsules have
disintegration times and dissolution profiles essentially equivalent
to that of gelatin. Their prompt in vitro disintegration is an important
feature for immediate-release or fast-acting applications. The
capsules disintegrate in less than 15 minutes in water at 37˚ C.
Oxygen permeability. Plantcaps capsules have very low
oxygen permeability compared to other capsule shell materials.
Recommended for encapsulating oxidation-sensitive ingredients,
the capsules provide enhanced protection of the contents from
oxidation and there is less need for anti-oxidants. They are also
highly stable, with low cross-linkage potential. Their excellent
oxygen barrier properties help ensure that the shelf life of products
Because pullulan is the best oxygen barrier compared with
gelatin and other capsule bases, Plantcaps capsules can help
mask pungent tastes and odors from some ingredients such as
Machineability. Like gelatin capsules, they offer excellent
machinability on all capsule-filling machines. The capsules are
manufactured by a process similar to the one used for hard
gelatin capsules under equivalent carefully controlled cGMP
conditions, with a certified quality assurance system for traceability
of raw materials. They are also compatible with a wide range of
Moisture content. The moisture impact of Plantcaps capsules is
similar to that of gelatin.
Spotting. Plantcaps capsules’ non-reactive shell can help
eliminate “spotting” concerns, called the Maillard Reaction, which
occur when vitamin C is encapsulated in gelatin.
Swallowability. Plantcaps capsules provide easy swallowability
with fast esophageal transit time, comparable to gelatin capsules.
Ease of swallowing is an advantage for many consumers,
particularly seniors, children and others who may have difficulty
Pullulan is a water-soluble polysaccharide produced from starch by
the fungus Aureobasidium pullulans. It is commercially produced
by a non-pathogenic and non-toxic strain of A. pullulans using
food-grade components. Available as a white powder, pullulan is
odorless, flavorless, and highly stable.
Pullulan has been used in Japan for more than 20 years in
various food and pharmaceutical applications. It is approved as
a food ingredient in Japan by the Ministry of Health and Welfare,
listed in the Japanese Pharmaceutical Excipient (JPE-1933 edition),
and is widely used in Japan as a pharmaceutical additive for
tablet bulking and stabilization. Capsugel manufactures Plantcaps
capsules from pharmaceutical grade pullulan as described
in the JPE monograph. Pullulan has the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) GRAS status (N˚ GRN 000099, August 1,
Pullulan Safety Information
The safety of pullulan is supported by 20 years of human
consumption in Japan and by the absence of adverse events in
human trials at doses of 10 grams of pullulan per day to evaluate
metabolism and digestion.
Pullulan has achieved broad regulatory acceptance around the
world with its proven safety record. Since Plantcaps capsules
are a universal solution for multiple world markets, supplement
companies will gain global leverage for their product development
Pullulan is approved in the U.S.A. and Canada, and approved
in Japan for all food and dietary supplement products. In Asia, it
is approved in Australia, New Zealand, India, Thailand, Malaysia,
Vietnam, Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines.
It is also an approved food additive for solid food supplements
in Europe at quantum satis, the appropriate amount needed to
achieve the desired results.
Additional Plant-Based Capsule Choices
Plantcaps capsules are the newest capsule shells in Capsugel’s
portfolio of plant-based products. Other non-animal capsule
options include Vcaps© capsules, the long-established best-selling
vegetarian capsules worldwide, and Vcaps© Plus capsules, both
high-quality, high performance hypromellose (HPMC) capsules.
Vcaps© and Vcaps© Plus capsules are strong and durable, even
in heat and humidity, and demonstrate excellent performance with
low moisture or hygroscopic ingredients. Vcaps© Plus capsules
have enhanced fast-release performance, are approved for organic
labeling if filled with organic ingredients in Europe, and offer
branding options with color, luster and shine.
Capsugel’s vegetarian DRcaps™ capsules delay disintegration
to protect against dissolving sensitive ingredients in the stomach.
They provide maximum taste-masking, and reduce the after-taste
and burping effect. DRcaps™ capsules are also acid-resistant
with no coatings, resulting in lower manufacturing costs. Capsugel
offers full manufacturing support, including onsite problem
resolution, for all its capsule products.
More than ever before, today’s health-conscious consumers are
focused on what they ingest. To meet the growing demand for nonanimal
products with specific features, supplement producers need
to offer capsules that satisfy a range of cultural, lifestyle and dietary
needs. Plantcaps pullulan-based capsules have all the advantages
of standard two-piece hard gelatin capsules, and meet the strict
dietary needs of customers worldwide who choose a vegetarian
lifestyle. They also offer robust performance with a wide range of
ingredients. Providing supplements in these pure, natural capsules
reinforces the overall quality of both distributors and their products.
1. Euromonitor Annual Study 2011 – Green Influences – interactive
survey of 16,000 respondents globally.
2. Natural Marketing Institute, Supplement/OTC/Rx Database
(SROD) Overview, November 2011.
3. Capsugel Non-Animal Portfolio Survey, US, UK, Germany,
France, & Italy, February 2012.