Marketers and formulators have numerous options to consider for functional ingredient delivery. Simple tablets and capsules often offer the best value for consistent, cost effective delivery of ingredients. However, customer appeal drives the desire to innovate.
Modern delivery systems include functional beverages, powder sachets, liquid concentrates, gummies and films. More complex than tablets and capsules and subject to greater formulation challenges, these systems create a wide range of new product opportunities that could significantly expand consumption of functional nutrients
Marketing companies often see delivery systems as another way to distinguish their products from competitive offerings. Ingredient manufacturers are supportive as they want to see as many finished product forms as possible to enhance sales. However, before reserving the domain name and drawing up the new product marketing plans, keep in mind that not all ingredients are suitable in all delivery systems. Knowing an ingredient’s full capability will help guide you through the decision process of which delivery system can be used to create a unique, stable and innovative finished product.
Adding an exciting new ingredient to a delivery system often takes some homework and forethought. Functional nutritional ingredients differ widely in their formulation characteristics and adaptability. It’s essential to know as much as possible about the formulation characteristics of the ingredient and the mixture—such as: Is it stable, soluble and bioavailable? Some delivery systems are quite forgiving and protective of sensitive ingredients (e.g., capsules and sachets), while others can be harsh and inhospitable (e.g., beverages and gummies).
Beverages, Smoothies & Juices
Functional beverages have been well accepted by consumers and consequently seen tremendous growth as a delivery system for nutritional ingredients. Traditional functional beverages of 300 ml or more include both dairy and water-based formulas, smoothies and juices. While these offer a refreshing alternative to tablets and capsules, a functional beverage can be a very challenging environment for delivering ingredients.
The process of ingredient preparation and evaluation requires significant resources and bench work to “characterize” each ingredient. Knowing solubility conditions, heat tolerances with regard to time and temperature and stability in low pH environments is essential. Also important are possible reactions to specific acidulates or other ingredients in a hydrated beverage. Ingredients that oxidize, precipitate to the bottom or leave a colored ring at the top of the beverage bottle are common and problematic. General instability can lead to continuing chemical reactions in the finished product, which often causes flavor and color issues soon after the product has been placed on the store shelf.
Heat stability is an important ingredient characteristic in these types of delivery systems. In order to control microbial growth during production, most beverages go through a heat process before bottling. The process may be “pasteurization” in dairy products or “hot filling” in the case of a juice or sport drinks. Temperatures can reach 180˚ F in a hot filling process and this may be enough to damage certain ingredients, especially in a low pH environment.
Preparatory “bench work” is important to characterize an ingredient before presenting it for evaluation to a beverage manufacturer. While we can’t test endless combinations of beverages, there are traditional juice, dairy and aqueous systems that will help a formulator understand what challenges they might face with a specific ingredient.
Powder Sachets & Effervescents
Single-serving effervescents and powder sachets (either packet or stick) are refreshingly different and well accepted by consumers. These two delivery systems are typically stable at room temperature, easily transportable in a pocket or purse, and can be used in a variety of beverages. While effervescents have limited applications, sachets are exceptionally adaptable and can be added to yogurts and other foods, which helps reduce flavor fatigue when faced with consuming a product that is part of a (recommended) daily routine.
Effervescents are generally limited to water or juice application and tend to be more sensitive to environmental humidity after opening, which can impact shelf life. Two nice benefits of both sachets and effervescents is they are friendly to high dose ingredients, and anecdotally, solubility seems less of an issue when consumers create the mixture themselves.
Like beverages, effervescents and sachets can be complex and cost sensitive. After overcoming the formulation hurdles of taste and compatibility, sachets require double packaging and large production runs. Effervescent manufacturers are few in number and production runs can also be excessive for new product start-ups. Both sachet and effervescent finished products are often sold in a small number of servings (7 to 10) to keep finished product prices reasonable.
Gummies, Soft Chews & Gels
Gummies and soft chews have quickly moved from niche product offerings for kids and athletes to mass market shelves as popular alternatives to tablets and capsules. These semi-solid forms include gummies, chews or blocks and gels, the latter being effectively marketed to sports and outdoor enthusiasts. Gummies are usually 3 to 5 grams in weight, while soft chews run slightly larger at approximately 5 to 10 grams. Each of these forms allows 25% to 35% of that volume available for the active ingredient(s)— perfect for large doses of ingredients. These forms can also accommodate challenging ingredients such as fats, oils and insoluble powders, along with taste-masking if unpleasant flavors or odors are a problem.
On the downside, moderate heat is required during the production of gummies and gels so heat sensitive ingredients are not ideal for gummy and soft chew applications. Microencapsulated ingredients are frequently used in soft chews for improved stability. Limited production facilities may require more planning and resource allocation, but globally, production capacity is expanding. Review packaging requirements and shelf life when considering soft chews as a delivery system. Transportation of finished product is an additional consideration with these finished forms.
Films (oral strips)
Films and oral strips are trendy but very niche delivery systems. To date this type of delivery system for functional ingredients remains in its infancy. Practically speaking, films are an expensive, high-tech delivery option for specialty, low-dose ingredients. A serving size for films tends to run between 40 and 110 mg in weight, with 30-40% of this weight available for the active ingredients. Formulators use polymers to “complex” and stabilize the active in the finished product matrix. Beyond formulation, high quality packaging is important for stability and, similar to sachets and effervescents, a 7- to 10-day supply is a typical consumer package versus a 30- or 60-day supply.
Film delivery does hold interesting potential and could be considered an effective application for children’s supplements and oral care products, as well as sublingual delivery. Limited production facilities and higher costs, however, require more planning and resource allocation than some of the previously mentioned delivery systems.
About the author: Dan Murray is vice president of business development for Xsto Solutions, Morristown, NJ. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org