Clean Label Capsules: Harnessing the colors of nature to enhance the consumer experience

Today’s shopper is more demanding than ever before, and specific preferences vary depending on the target demographic or geography. From safety, efficacy and clinically backed ingredients, to traceability and a distinctive brand identity, manufacturers must take multiple factors into consideration when creating food supplements. Yet, one trend shows no sign of slowing down: the clean label movement. Natural, free-from, vegetarian and vegan products are moving from the niche to the mainstream, with a growing proportion of consumers now stating that a clean label is an important purchasing driver.

Innovations in both ingredients and delivery systems continue to support brandowners in developing trend-led, label-friendly supplement products. Plant-based dosage forms, such as Lonza’s Capsugel® Vcaps® Plus vegetarian capsules, can be used to facilitate a variety of on-pack label claims, including no additives, non-GMO and no preservatives. In an increasingly competitive market, however, there is constant pressure to ensure products stand out and appeal to consumers. With color commonly used to achieve differentiation, technological advances now mean that capsule shells can be colored without the use of food additives that need to be labeled as colorants or E-numbers.

The evolution of clean label

From clean to clear, the clean label movement continues to evolve as it gathers pace. A survey of 3,000 US consumers, commissioned by Lonza and conducted by the Natural Marketing Institute (NMI), has tracked this growth – the findings showed, for example, that 80% of dietary supplement consumers reported believing that knowing the source of ingredients is important when making a purchasing decision, up from 71% in 2013. Similarly, 77% of shoppers now look for supplement products that are ‘from natural sources’, compared to 66% in 2013.

In its infancy, clean label was typically associated with the elimination of additives and other unfamiliar ingredients from labels. These considerations are still relevant, with ‘gluten-free’ and ‘no additives’ the two most common claims to appear on new vitamin and dietary supplement products launched in Europe, Middle East and Africa from January 2012 to July 2017.

Now, however, attentions are shifting to focus on more consumer relevant attributes, such as natural or organic. Another Lonza/NMI study, carried out in 2018, found that UK shoppers respond well to products that are marketed using either of these positionings and that natural supplements are even more popular than those from organic sources. Similarly, consumers of all ages seek products that use sustainable or eco-friendly ingredients.

The clean label movement has had a universal impact on both the industry and consumer behaviors, but the data shows that some groups are particularly sensitive to certain claims. There are, for example, close links with the vegetarian trend – in the UK, eight out of ten shoppers who look for supplements with no additives also prefer animal-free products. Variations in preferences across different demographics are also evident; Millennials, for instance, are more likely to state that clean label traits are important than mature consumers – 43% prefer supplements that are derived from natural sources, compared to a third of older supplements users. The trend is also more prominent in sports nutrition than other nutrition categories. Four in ten of those purchasing sports nutrition supplements reported seeking sustainable ingredients, while over half want vegetarian products.

The clean label capsule experience

There are a number of important success factors to consider when developing a consumer-centric clean label solution. With free-from, natural and organic all increasingly important drivers for many consumers, it is clearly essential for a brand owner to know how its ingredients are sourced to deliver transparency and establish a network of excellence in the supply chain. However, the dosage form selection also plays a crucial role in supporting on-pack claims. Convenient and easy-to-swallow, 41% of UK supplement users prefer products that are in capsule format. For manufacturers, capsules enable the delivery of a wide range of ingredients, including liquids, solids and semi-solids. As the market leader in cutting-edge dosage form and capsule technologies, Lonza’s Capsugel® range of vegetarian capsules can solve a variety of technical formulation challenges while meeting the latest consumer demands. Its high-performance Vcaps® Plus capsules, for example, are already popular among brands looking to achieve a variety of clean label positionings and are made using plant-based hypromellose (HPMC) and water only, without any preservatives.

Yet, in an online world, image really matters. The demand for aesthetically pleasing, ‘Instagrammable’ products is growing rapidly, and many supplement brands are increasingly looking to add a vibrant color to capsule shells to achieve a unique visual appeal. To enhance the clean label experience for brands and consumers alike, Lonza recently launched a range of bright, clean label colorants for manufacturers to choose from when selecting its Vcaps® Plus capsules. The first of the next generation clean label solutions to be marketed worldwide is the Vcaps® Plus Purple Carrot capsule, following the successful introduction of the Vcaps® Plus Blue Spirulina capsule in Europe earlier this year. In addition to creating brand differentiation, the dark purple carrot color also provides masking capabilities.

Capturing the power of nature

The latest extensions to the Capsugel® portfolio are testament to the potential of coloring foodstuffs. Made from fruits, vegetables and edible plants, the manufacture of coloring foods may involve pressing, milling, extraction, filtration, concentration or drying. The primarily physical process that is typically used to extract the color means that coloring foodstuffs perfectly support a clean label strategy. From a regulatory perspective, coloring foods are not food additives, and therefore are out of scope of Regulation (EC) No 1333/2008 on food additives and so have not been assigned an E-number.

With many consumers stating that an easy to understand ingredient label is important to make an informed purchasing decision, the use of coloring foodstuffs to color the capsule shell gives supplement producers the opportunity to tell a positive story about how a product is made. Take Vcaps® Plus Blue Spirulina as an example — spirulina is a green edible algae that occurs naturally in freshwater and marine habitats. Spirulina has been used as food for over 1,000 years and is currently eaten around the world, proving popular as a rich source of protein. The presence of phycocyanin pigments results in spirulina having blue coloring properties, in turn giving the capsule a beautiful, non-homogenous blue appearance.

True clean label solution

The clean label trend is here to stay. Demand for natural solutions to maintain health remains strong, with seven out of ten supplement users in the US seeking products with no artificial colors. As a pioneer in vegetarian capsules, Lonza closely monitors consumer trends and continues to develop its Capsugel® clean label dosage form capabilities according to the latest preferences. The industry’s first line of clean label capsule colorants, launched as the result of significant R&D efforts, will enable brand owners to create visually appealing supplements that also resonate with consumers seeking improved supply chain transparency and a natural positioning.

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Stephane Vouche,
Marketing Manager, Consumer Health & Nutrition, Lonza

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