According to a May 2012 McKinsey & Company consumer shopper and insight report, the functional nutrition category—including vitamin nutrition as supplements and in fortified foods and beverages—is a $225–275 billion industry.
What’s more, a recent Nutrition Business Journal report indicated vitamin sales in the direct selling channel grew about 10 percent to $1.6 billion in 2011, accounting for about 35 percent of all supplement sales, which represents a huge market share. And condition-specific vitamin supplements are helping to lead the way. With one baby boomer turning 60 years old every 7.5 seconds, maintaining brain health has become extremely top of mind. B vitamins as well as other ingredients such as DHA omega-3 are just some of the nutrients used to support brain health. (NBJ, Volume XVII | No. 4 | April 2012).
The history of vitamins dates back to 1912 when the Polish-American biochemist Casimir Funk isolated the first vitamin (B1 from rice bran. At that time, European rice hulling machines were brought to Asia to process rice. However, the hulling process stripped the rice of vital nutritional elements. As a consequence, new health problems began emerging among people that relied on de-hulled rice as a staple food.
Funk realized that a compound inside rice bran was essential. He gave the newly discovered substance the name vitamine—a combination of vita (Latin for “life”) and amine (nitrogen compound).
For 100 years the word vitamin has been an umbrella term for a group of essential micronutrients that play a range of important roles in our bodies. Most vitamins must be obtained from the diet, classifying them as “essential.” When intake is inadequate, vitamin deficiency disorders occur. Vitamins are present in food in minute quantities compared to the macronutrients protein, carbohydrates and fat.
While the benefits of each vitamin remain consistent, the delivery methods are evolving, creating more and more opportunities for direct sellers. Innovation paves the way to make it easier and more convenient for families to get the recommended daily amounts of vitamins. There are new delivery applications, including:
- vegetarian softgels
- sprinkle packs
Vitamins can even be disguised in traditionally indulgent foods such as chocolates. For instance, there are chocolate truffles on the market fortified with folic acid (one of the B vitamins) for pregnant women. So, while not your typical delivery system for vitamins, fortified foods such as chocolates can help to increase consumer compliance and improve nutrient intake.
Consumers also want assurance that the supplements or fortified foods and beverages they buy are safe and effective and composed of ingredients that are sustainably sourced. With such high expectations, direct selling companies provide a credible competitive advantage and should look for innovative supplier partners that can develop new applications to help boost consumer compliance while delivering high-quality and traceable ingredients. Working with an ingredient supplier/manufacturer that is knowledgeable in the product development process adds value to the partnership, and most important, to the end product.
Consumers want assurance that the supplements or fortified foods and beverages they buy are safe and effective.
Direct selling companies considering capturing a share of this market should use the following checklist when partnering with an ingredient supplier to ensure development of a quality product:
» Traceability: It’s important to understand where the ingredients you purchase come from. Not all ingredients are produced with the same quality controls in place. » Bioavailability: Perform bioavailability studies or make sure the ingredient supplier can provide you with bioavailability studies on their ingredients. This will ensure that the ingredients can be efficiently absorbed by the body. » Technical Assistance and Scientific Support: Many ingredient suppliers have in-house technical and scientific support teams that are accessible to its customers. It’s important to inquire about technical assistance and scientific support so that you get the full benefits of your partnership. » Regulatory Knowledge: This area is critical and essential. Have a dedicated team focused on staying up to date on the regulatory environment. » Education, Marketing and Communications Support: Develop educational and other marketing material that clearly articulates the health benefits of your products.
As we celebrate a century of vitamins, we are cognizant of the tremendous scientific accomplishments that helped us get to where we are today in a relatively short period of time, but we also need to be motivated to increase awareness of the importance of vitamin intake on a global level. Nutritional supplements have certainly become a major category of products sold through the direct selling channel, which provides the opportunity to tell the story behind the products. The outlook for the future is very promising!
Michael McBurney, Ph.D., is Head of Scientific Affairs, DSM Nutritional Products—a global health and nutrition company, driving science, innovation, and supply of vitamin, omega-3 fats and nutrients throughout the world. DSM Nutritional Products features a dedicated supplements lab as well as dairy, bread and beverage labs. DSM has experienced marketing, scientific affairs and regulatory teams who are available to assist companies with label claims and offer insight into the global regulatory status of ingredients, as needed.