When looking at the nutraceutical marketplace from a global perspective, one realizes that it is just as fractured now as it was ten years ago, with some of these fractures becoming more pronounced with time instead of less. This is largely due to the regulatory environment in Europe.
As an example, let us consider probiotics, arguably one of the most trendy and most strongly growing ingredients. Increasingly backed by science, the benefits for the gut microbiome and, concomitantly, for immune health, are indisputable, which accounts for the rapid growth of the category in almost all parts of the global marketplace.
The sole – and ignoble – exception is the European Union. So far, all health claims regarding probiotics have famously been rejected. The reasons for this, according to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), are to do with lacking characterization of the bacterial strains and methodological weaknesses of the trials, while critics remark that the lack may really lie with EFSA and its insistence of using drug trial measures on a food and its effect on an environment as complex as the human gut microbiome.
Be that as it may, so far, not even the word “probiotic” (or “prebiotic”, for that matter) can be used on product labels, since they imply non-authorized health claims. As a consequence, the probiotic category is stagnating and even receding slightly in Europe while enjoying double-digit growth anywhere else in the world. And as long as EFSA insists on its (possibly inappropriate) measuring sticks, this is not likely to change.
The situation is distressingly similar to the prolonged state of limbo the botanical health claims are still caught in. This, too, is due to EFSA’s inability to resolve the paradox of the trials used for substantiating health claims (for foods!) being held to more exacting standards than those used for substantiating the efficacy of traditional herbal drugs. Here, too, the global marketplace is fractured, again with Europe being the weakest market in terms of innovation and market growth.
But speaking of innovation, there are some trends that do seem to be global. One is convenience. This trend has given rise to a number of recent innovations. One example is on- the-go convenience for food supplements that makes the intake of water unnecessary. One such innovation, the gummy formulation, has given the mature multivitamin category a much-needed booster shot while blurring the food-nutritional supplement demarcation even more than liquid supplements have done. Other similar innovations are expected to follow. Sustainability and clean label are two global trends that continue to gain traction. Both are related to the consumers’ increasing involvement with natural and environmental concerns that food business operators will do well to take into account in the near future. Some manufacturers are already offering bar codes and apps that allow the tracking of ingredients that went into a product. This trend is expected to expand.
Clean label and its implied natural claim is a “negative” claim about the absence of additives. For many consumers, the sight of the “E-number” on a label (even if it denotes a natural additive such as rosemary extract for preservation) is off-putting and may lead to negative purchasing decisions.
Packaging as well as supply chain logistics (food miles, transport packaging recycling etc) are most immediately affected by sustainability concerns, but also the choice of ingredients.
Speaking of ingredients, the baobab fruit is no doubt one of the trendy ones, not only due to its unique combination of nutrients (high vitamin C and mineral content as well as prebiotic fibers), but also because of the sustainability of harvest. Baobab trees grow to be ancient, much older than 1000 years, so each tree can contribute to the supply for at least as long as manufacturers are interested in it. This is something the consumer understands and can relate to.
Curcumin has also been an interesting ingredient for a while; this is not expected to change. Plenty of new science published in 2017 shows that there is still something new to discover about it. New formulations allow for better soluble ingredients, opening up new applications for this interesting ingredient.
Personalization is another trend that will affect the nutrition industry in the near to medium future. Some early products are already on the market, but personalization does offer its own challenges. It remains to be seen how much this trend will grow.
Joerg Gruenwald, Irene Wohlfahrt, Volker Spitzer,
analyze & realize GmbH