The Weight Loss Market: A SuperSIZED Opportunity

By Lisa Schofield, Contributing Writer | September 1, 2012

Products positioned to meet several weight loss criteria will be successful.

Earlier this year, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg sparked heated national debate when he asserted he wanted a ban on all super-sized sodas sold in convenience stores and markets. He blamed consumption of such sugary drinks as a huge reason why so many New Yorkers are fat. Meanwhile, in Gotham, proliferating cupcake outlets remain safe.
A couple months later, FDA approved a brand new pharmaceutical weight loss drug. More specifically, Belviq, from Arena Pharmaceuticals, is the first new drug for long-term weight loss in more than a decade. It is geared toward corpulent folks who also have a complication, such as high cholesterol or diabetes. FDA was certainly on a non-buttered, multigrain roll, because in late July, it approved Qysmia (formerly known as Qnexa), which promises to deliver fast-paced and significant pound-dropping for obese people who have BMIs greater than 27. 
Laura Troha, Tonalin CLA product manager, BASF Nutrition & Health, Florham Park, NJ, observes that “the focus on obesity and overweight is triggering more interest in the weight management sector. The World Health Organization projects that by 2015, approximately 2.3 billion adults will be overweight and more than 700 million will be obese.”
On that note, Loren Ward, PhD, director of research and development, Glanbia Nutritionals, Twin Falls, ID, quipped, “Weight management is still a big issue.” In its report, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) noted that 35.5% of men and 33% of women are obese. “Consumers continue to seek solutions and as a result there is a significant demand for products and programs that help with weight management,” Mr. Ward commented.
Weight loss, obesity, diets and slimming solutions are constantly in the news; despite that there is only one 100% effective and proven way to lose weight (and gain health too)—calories expended must exceed calories consumed every day. At the same time, Americans are too impatient to obtain results and are loathe to give up instant gratification. These two characteristics galvanize the ever-increasing, overarching “weight loss” market. 
Perhaps impatience and the desire for instant gratification may be behind the late July lawsuit filed against Organic Liaison LLC, Organic Liaison Management and actress Kirstie Alley, who credits her most recent weight loss success of more than 100 pounds to the supplements called Rescue Me and Relieve Me. The plaintiff, Marina Abramyan, asserts that the supplements are nothing more than calcium and fiber, and, most important, did not help her lose any weight; she also argues there is no scientific evidence that those two supplements cause weight loss. For its part, a company representative defended its products, telling ABC News: “It is Ms. Alley’s persistence over 1 1/2 years on the Organic Liaison program, coupled with regular exercise, that led to her dramatic weight loss over that time period.”
A new consumer survey by HealthFocus International, St. Petersburg, FL, suggests that perhaps Abramyan may be in the 76% of consumers who still do not know how to eat properly to lose weight. There are some key perceptions of interest revealed by this survey, including: 68% of Americans say that “drinking more water” is the step they are most likely to take when endeavoring to shed pounds; meanwhile, only 20% of those follow a structured diet plan. HealthFocus International also keenly notes that there is more and more diet and health information available from traditional media, as well as throughout the Internet and social media. 
The social media and Internet information age has helped transform and accelerate this market sector, which has evolved swiftly during the past five years, spurring unprecedented growth. 

Mapping the Market

In the viewpoint of Reza Kamarei, PhD, vice president, Science & Technology, Sabinsa Corporation, East Windsor, NJ, the key growth trigger in the weight sector is “the over-arching” principle of supply and demand, or the “push/pull mechanism.”
On the demand side, he says the overweight (BMI 25-29.9) and obese (BMI >30) populations have risen to an epidemic level in the U.S.; demand by such an overweight/obese population creates a pull mechanism for weight loss products.
“On the supply side,” Dr. Kamarei continued, “there are many food and supplement companies that see a great business opportunity in this growing market. Supply of numerous diet plans and supplements and the natural competition among such companies create the push mechanism for products and services in this market. The growing obesity epidemic provides the pull. As a result, Americans spend an estimated $4.2 billion annually on weight loss foods, products and services.”
But that spending may often be wasted on slick gimmickry, especially in the recent past before the mandate of cGMPs and now NDIs, according to Bob Green, president, Nutratech, Inc., West Caldwell, NJ. “Our category has seen a lot of fad weight management ingredients making outrageous and unsubstantiated claims. In recent years, cGMPs and NDIs have become prerequisites. Therefore, many weight control ingredients have encountered regulatory problems and have had their safety questioned. Others have come into question because they lack adequate scientific support regarding their efficacy.”
Currently in latter 2012, observes Scott Steil, president, Nutra Bridge, Shoreview, MN, this market (and all supplement sectors) is weighing heavily toward ingredients that are well established with solid clinical trial data supporting efficacy and safety. “The latest ingredient to hit the weight loss scene might generate instant and excitable buzz, but that buzz often fades quickly if the ingredient doesn’t have the solid scientific force to sustain life,” he said. “Brand marketers need to weigh such ingredient purchases and use decisions heavily. “
And we cannot ignore the presence of FTC, which is valiantly trying to oust the riffraff that overpromise and underperform. Richard Cleland, assistant director, Division of Advertising Practices, FTC, explained, “Several years ago we conducted a survey on consumer fraud. Weight loss fraud was the number one fraud reported in this survey.” 
He blatantly warned that the FTC could bring individual actions to stop fraudulent claims and even obtain redress in some cases. “However, individual actions are not an effective way to regulate an industry permeated with fraud,” he said. “There has been some effort at self-regulation. The Council for Responsible Nutrition works with the National Advertising Division of the Better Business Bureau and the Electronic Retailing Association sponsors similar self-regulatory programs. These programs only work, however, when you are working with legitimate companies.”
Further, according to Chase Hagerman, business development and marketing manager, Chemi Nutra, White Bear Lake, MN, the 2009 recall of the original Hydroxycut formulation, “arguably one of the most successful weight loss products in history, occurred because it was deemed unsafe after two dozen illnesses and one death were linked to its use. This has led to an ever-increasing focus across the category to maintaining safety without hampering efficacy.”
Thanks in large part to efforts both by FDA and FTC, trade associations and self-policing companies, “Consumers have become suspect of outrageous claims and are beginning to question the cost benefit of these products, especially in this economy,” said Paul Dijkstra, CEO, InterHealth Nutraceuticals, Benicia, CA. However, he points out, long-term opportunities for weight management supplements remain vast because the heightened consumer awareness of the relationship between diet and health will increase demand for weight management products; consumers also want to stay out of hospitals and doctors’ offices due to complications.

There are other key evolutionary factors that have led this market to where it is now. From a marketing standpoint, said Mr. Steil, the impact of Dr. Mehmet Oz—who has one of the most popular health shows of all time—on the weight loss category has driven and will undoubtedly continue to drive significant category growth. “It is too early to assess the percentage of market growth that will result, but based on my feeling the impact of his teaching will lead to the best growth rates in the past five years. Dr. Oz has been exceptional at exposing new consumers to the best in class weight loss products.” 
Suzanne McNeary, president, Icon Group, LLC, Brattleboro, VT, believes the greatest factor characterizing today’s weight loss supplements is the research that has been undertaken to support the efficacy of ingredients and a greater knowledge and understanding of the mechanisms of action that accelerate weight/fat loss. “As the science and research has evolved so too have the ingredients,” she commented.
Speaking from the perspective of his company’s long-term ingredient niche, Mitch Skop, senior director of new product development, Pharmachem Laboratories Inc., Kearny, NJ, asserts that industry and consumers turning from “low fat” to “low carb” diets has had tremendous impact upon how Americans are now trying to lose weight, and this itself has opened up tremendous opportunities for brand marketers both in pill-form supplements and foods and beverages.

A similar observation was offered by Bill Levi, vice president of operations and business development, Nutrition 21, Purchase, NY, who said, “ There are now clear product trends toward [those] designed to help individuals curb caloric intake and reduce cravings for high-carb and high-fat foods.”
While accelerated research, stricter regulations and shifts in consumer habits have all characterized the dynamism of the past few years of the weight control dietary supplement sector, Benjamin Voiry, business manager-NAT life, Naturex, South Hackensack, NJ, envisioned where the category might soon be heading: “Once people have lost the weight, their main objective is to keep their weight stable. Currently there is very little to offer within the industry regarding this approach. Therefore weight maintenance is a category of importance and development.” 
Catering to Consumers
Currently, it appears, the market has segmented into choices that consumers can find more manageable. Thanks to research and innovation, the category now can comfortably provide more targeted support for specific problem areas, creating a more appealing customization.

Today’s weight control marketplace offers a variety of effective options to help consumers maximize their weight loss goals, according to Mr. Steil. “Each sector offers unique advantages to address the needs of each individual user,” he said. “Key growth sectors and science-backed ingredients in the weight loss arena include: thermogenics/fat burners (e.g. 7-Keto, fucoxanthin, green tea); satiety (e.g. fiber, saffron, carraluma); metabolism boosters (e.g. green tea, capsaicin, caffeine, 7-Keto); and blood sugar control (chromium, white kidney bean, InSea2.)”

Undeniably, consumers’ habits and desires are leading the trends. As one example, in general, they want more options than simply pills. “A positive trend has been toward introductions of functional foods,” Pharmachem’s Mr. Skop observed, adding, “and we expect it to continue at a faster pace as people look for healthy substitutes for comfort foods that may aid in weight control.”
Hip and waist reduction are also important to consumers, InterHealth’s Mr. Dijsktra contends, especially as they become more cognizant of belly fat, accompanied by waist size. “Excess belly fat is what they see in the mirror and what they notice when their clothes no longer fit. Consumers are not only unhappy with their belly fat as it affects their appearance, but many now also know that excess belly fat can negatively affect their health.” 
Caroline Brons, senior marketing manager, DSM Nutritional Products, Parsippany, NJ, points to inducing early satiety as a key consumer desire. “According to a 2011 Gallup survey, 74% of consumers think they could successfully lose weight if only they could manage their hunger. Hunger and appetite control (‘managing your satiety’) is one of the key strategies for a successful weight loss program,” she said. 
Icon Group’s Ms. McNeary agreed, noting that promotion of early satiety remains a very strong category for weight management for both dietary supplements and functional foods. She adds that many consumers find combo-action supplements appealing, such as products that “provide multiple weight management benefits such as leptin resistance, satiety and thermogenesis.” 

Still, for brand marketers to achieve long-term sales success, says Nutrition 21’s Mr. Levi, products must help consumers get through the very tough first few weeks—after which many “diets” are abandoned. “We know that many people who attempt to lose weight only stay on their diet for a few weeks. This is due to several factors, including cravings for the foods that got them in trouble in the first place, a lack of energy and changes in mood,” he explained. “Therefore, products that can help the dieter overcome these hurdles have a better chance of repeat purchase.” 
And yet, nothing has to be “new” to be appealing to consumers. According to Glanbia’s Mr. Ward, one of the trends that is being observed in the marketplace is the emergence of more products that have included proteins—delivering 5-15 grams of protein per serving. Many products are ready-to-drink and ready-to-mix beverages and nutritional bars. Mainstream consumers are not seeking large servings of proteins but supplements that provide between 5 and 10 grams of protein. “There is research to support that dietary protein can help increase satiety and reduce caloric consumption,” he said. “Dietary protein can also help preserve lean muscle tissue.”
Although it is easier for the consumer who wants to lose weight to find the products they deem most viable for their situations, Sabinsa’s Dr. Kamarei observes that such an abundance of weight loss and diet products and programs may potentially have an adverse market effect. “Consumers are getting somewhat confused with so many dietary plans and supplements in the market,” he said, adding, “And the situation may get worse before it gets better! Consumers wish for some sort of consolidation among these companies, which results in marketing several known products that are safe and effective for weight loss.” 
Overall, consumers’ desires—and their ultimate successes—will drive innovation in the weight loss products market. But no product can do it alone; it needs its “owner’s” commitment to complete the mission. As Mr. Ward says, “The biggest revolution in weight loss will come when consumers realize that in most cases it takes commitment, discipline, willpower and a conscientious effort to lose weight.”

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