Minerals Market Remains a Strong Bedrock

By Brenda Porter-Rockwell, Contributing Writer | January 1, 2013

Valid science, enhanced bioavailability and new taste-driven applications will help mineral products shine.

As a solid foundation in the nutraceuticals industry, minerals still offer a hotbed of possibilities. The category has been around for a long time and is backed by a long pedigree of science. However, in order to stay fresh and relevant, suppliers and formulators alike are looking at the functional foods and beverages category as the next big push for innovation.

“We believe that consumers are aware they need minerals, but do not clearly understand what they are or how they are beneficial,” said Tim Bray, vice president of sales & marketing at Pharmachem Laboratories Inc., Kearny, NJ. “Unlike many nutraceuticals and botanicals, minerals are just not ‘sexy’ enough to capture attention, and thus capture sales of mineral-focused supplements.”

That idea, however, is likely to change through a combination of compelling research, raw material processing and development. “Savvy, memorable consumer marketing will hold the key for greater use and sales of mineral supplements and mineral-fortified foods,” Mr. Bray predicted.

New Market Options
Some of the more recent developments in mineral nutrition incorporate minerals in functional foods where solubility, reactivity, color and taste play a major role, explained Sam Wright, IV, CEO of The Wright Group, Crowley, LA. “The use of minerals salts such as gluconates, lactates, citrates and ascorbates are escalating for this reason as are specialty forms of micronized and chelated minerals.”

Manufacturers using mineral ingredients from Albion Nutrition, Ogden, UT, are formulating more liquid type delivery systems, stick packs and effervescents, according to Max Motyka, director of sales & marketing for the company’s Human Nutrition division.

Essentially, he noted that manufacturers are looking for “anything that delivers nutrition in a way that is different from tablets or capsules, due to changing demands they are seeing from their customers. The influence of health problems, such as metabolic syndrome, has created a higher demand for minerals that relate to reducing insulin resistance. The same thing can be said for the area of cognitive function.”

Further, recent trends have included a variety of packaged goods fortified with minerals, including cereals, breads and even baby foods.

According to Patrick Luchsinger, marketing manager of nutrition with Westchester, IL-based Ingredion, Inc., there will likely continue to be high demand for and increasing interest in the intersection of convenience and nutrition. “Consumers are living a hectic, on-the-go life style. Anytime consumers can incorporate a functional food while on the go and get the health benefits, in this case a mineral health benefit, it’s a major plus.”

Formulating for the New Market
Expansion into new markets offers added possibilities, and challenges, for nutrient delivery. While the industry is responding to consumers’ requests for alternative delivery systems—exemplified by an increase in liquid minerals supplements—unique challenges arise in selecting the best possible minerals for these applications.

“When choosing a mineral for a particular application, formulators need to consider all the properties of a mineral, including taste, solubility, bioavailability, color, metal content and pH,” noted Patrick Stano, vice president of sales & marketing, North America, Dr. Paul Lohmann, Inc., Islandia, NY.  “Often, the most soluble minerals are the worst tasting, and often have the lowest overall metal content; so working with a knowledgeable mineral supplier that can help formulators choose the ideal mineral for their application is very important.”

In addition to taste, Nena Dockery, technical services manager at ESM Technologies, St. Charles, MO, rated price and dosage as significant considerations for a mineral supplement manufacturer when formulating a product. “For conscientious manufacturers and distributors, there is the need for a balance in pricing, taste and ease of dosing in order to retain repeat purchases. Since macro-mineral dosing can be quite high, gummies and chews, for example, can provide the consumer with a more pleasant means of ensuring an adequate dose.”

ESM’s Egg Shell Calcium is one example of a non-mined, renewable food source of calcium that is also cost efficient. Because of its derivation from a food source, Ms. Dockery said the taste is neutral and the dosage is smaller than other high quality, well-absorbed forms of calcium. “[It’s] a win-win for both the manufacturer/distributor and the end consumer,” she noted.

Picking up on Ms. Dockery’s thread, Cathy Arnold, supervisor and senior formulation scientist at Schenectady, NY-based Fortitech, said, unconditionally: taste is the bottom line.

“While a product can be fortified to address overall health and wellness, or formulated to address a specific health condition, such as osteoporosis, if it doesn’t meet the consumer’s perception of taste, then it is doomed to fail,” Ms. Arnold said.

Offering more detail, she pointed to the inclusion of calcium—a traditionally popular mineral in bone health products. A number of market forms are available to boost a product’s calcium content, she said. Food products, such as fruit juice, infant food, health food and sports beverages are most often fortified with calcium and other minerals.  

“The challenge for formulators is to select an appropriate form of calcium that delivers the desired level of the mineral without affecting flavor, solubility, bioavailability, sensory properties and the mouthfeel of the finished product,” Ms. Arnold said. “Calcium carbonate is perhaps the most cost-effective source of calcium, however, it has a tendency to provide a chalky taste and have a gritty mouthfeel, as does dicalcium phosphate.”

To overcome that gritty mouthfeel, formulators are considering microencapsulation techniques, or blending with different forms of the ingredient.

Fortitech offers a range of active forms of calcium that can be included in a market-ready pre-mix—a precisely customized blend of desired functional ingredients—in one single, efficient, homogenous mixture.

Dave Pfefer, category manager for fortification at Caravan Ingredients, a Lenexa, KS-based pre-mix supplier, noted that “In liquid beverages, soluble minerals such as the gluconates, lactates or citrates can facilitate easy incorporation and prevent the all-too-dreaded ‘settling out’ that can occur at the bottom of the beverage.”

“Historically, minerals have usually been included in general purpose vitamin/mineral pre-mixes or dietary supplements,” he added. “But increasingly, there is a drive by manufacturers to differentiate their products and to offer items with uniquely specific functions. Mineral blends can help do this by targeting a single benefit and then demonstrating why they are uniquely best at it.”

The most important considerations in the use of minerals are always safety and efficacy. “Minerals, often present in micro-doses, can have negative side effects if taken out of range,” said Shikha Patel, nutritional scientist, US PharmaLab, North Brunswick, NJ. “We control for these factors through the use of granular triturations and employing staged blending techniques.”

Mr. Arnold said that, in the end, “Food manufacturers must work closely with their suppliers to address product development issues that could dramatically impact nutrient delivery or alter the end product. The supplier can suggest appropriate market forms, interactions to avoid, and processing effects that will improve the chance of success.”

Highlighting the Research
Experts have highlighted what consumers look for in a product (good taste and good bioavailability), or what they don’t want (a glob of powder at the bottom of their beverage that didn’t dissolve).

Birkin Weith, vice president of sales & marketing, Kelatron, Ogden, UT, said consumers today are quite savvy and want to know their product is safe. According to Mr. Weith, manufacturers can do that by incorporating the results of scientific proof of efficacy into marketing materials. “There is … an ease of access to clinical studies and other pieces of research that offers confidence to try more products. And the science has gotten more credible. We’ve gotten away from the days of the ‘snake oil’ complex.”

Kelatron, which offers a multitude of chelates, complexes, trace mineral triturations and custom blends, is making heavy investments in funding its own clinical studies by partnering with research institutions. “This is so that our customers have even more of the most up-to-date information available,” Mr. Weith said. “They can then have a greater level of confidence with the ingredients they are formulating with. It helps consumers stay informed, too.”

For Biotron Laboratories, Centerville, UT, there is also an emphasis on supplying the most appropriate and truthful information surrounding science. Calcium, for example, has been in the news lately, because of suggestions it may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. As a member of the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) Calcium Working Group, Biotron executives said CRN has taken a proactive role in reviewing the literature and commissioning expert opinions.

“Overwhelmingly, experts in fields such as cardiology, epidemiology and nutrition reaffirm the importance of calcium in bone growth and maintenance,” said Gameil T. Fouad, PhD, president of Biotron. “At the same time, their work and others’ have concluded that the risk of cardiovascular complications from calcium (i.e., strokes, heart attack, coronary heart disease) is not supported by the preponderance of the evidence.”

This conclusion, he added, was recently reaffirmed by an article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (published online in November 2012).

“Investigators from the Framingham study found no association between calcium intake and coronary artery calcification,” said Dr. Fouad. “In our view, the evidence supporting the reasonable use of calcium supplementation to maintain bone health is so strong and has been so well received by consumers for so long that the sales impact of these controversies have been minimal. Consumers seem to understand the importance of adequate calcium intake and simultaneously understand how challenging it can be to get sufficient calcium from the diet alone.”

Dr. Chris Meletis, director of science and research for Ogden, UT-based Trace Minerals Research, cautioned that there is more to be learned from the initial study results, stating, “… It is no surprise that calcium metabolism under the right circumstances is linked to cardiac risk.”

The Framingham study, he said, has highlighted the need “in the eyes of those nutritionally minded healthcare providers” to remind consumers about the right combination of minerals. “Supplementing with merely one mineral, and in particular calcium, which has long been linked to participating in atherosclerotic plaque formation and development, is not wise. It is all about balance,” said Dr. Meletis, pointing, for example, to the relationship between zinc and copper, and calcium and magnesium.

“Ever since [we were] kids we have seen the commercials advertising milk and calcium as critical for bones,” he continued. “We have become a calcium fixated society. Yet, this has occurred at the expense of emphasizing balance and complementary minerals such as magnesium.”

For example, Dr. Meletis argued against society’s  “calcium and milk craze,”  which he said has been propagated by mainstream media in the presences of a continued vitamin D deficiency epidemic, when vitamin D is essential for the proper deposition and metabolism of calcium. Additionally, he said, with only 11% of American’s eating their vegetables—an essential source of vitamin K—another essential nutrient for calcium regulation is lost. Trace Minerals offers a balanced liquid Complete Calcium Magnesium 1:1 in tablet form.

Another well-studied mineral is chromium for blood sugar management. For instance, ChromeMate brand chromium from Benicia, CA-based InterHealth is backed by comprehensive safety evaluations demonstrating a wide margin of safety for human consumption based on an array of toxicological studies. Among extensive, published, peer-reviewed studies, a leading, independent toxicological group reviewed ChromeMate safety research in a thorough, critical evaluation and concluded the ingredient is safe for human consumption, and was determined Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS), noted Paul Dijkstra, InterHealth CEO.

New Ingredient Trends
Nearly every woman understands the link between calcium and a reduced risk of osteoporosis. Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination survey (NHANES) show that multivitamins/multi-minerals are the most commonly used dietary supplements, with approximately 40% of men and women reporting use during 2003-2006. More specifically, use of supplemental calcium increased 28% during the period between 1988–1994, hitting 61% during 2003-2006 among women aged 60 and older.

Retail sales of calcium supplements in the natural channel were up 1.4% for the 52 weeks ending October 27, 2012 from the same period one year ago, according to data from SPINS, a Schaumburg, IL-based market research and consulting firm for the natural products industry. Sales, in the same period, were down 7% in the conventional channel. Overall though, retail sales appear strong for calcium, as it does for the entire combined vitamin and mineral product category, which was up nearly 8%.

Calcium, found primarily in teeth and bones, contributes to their hardness. The mineral also plays a role in blood coagulation, controlling activities of many key enzymes, and stabilizing cell membranes.  

Magnesium, too, plays a major role in many of the body’s functions, including helping to stabilize calcium compounds in teeth and bones, as well as helping muscle cells to convert chemical energy into mechanical energy during muscle contraction.

New applications and new forms are driving the mineral market forward. The magnesium market is likely to grow in 2013 thanks to the mineral’s role in cognitive health, along with its contributions to bone health. Magtein, a new brand of magnesium l-threonate from AIDP, City of Industry, CA, is said to be the only form of magnesium to cross the blood-brain barrier effectively.

Targeting the cognitive health market, Magtein has demonstrated promising results in animal studies conducted by MIT scientists that showed improved memory, recognition and learning.

According to Dr. Jennifer Gu, director of research & development with AIDP, most cognitive products on the market target over-stimulating the brain function. This action can be effective only when all brain cells are healthy, and will lose its effect when brain cells are dying. Over-stimulation of cells may not be the best approach for the brain’s long-term health.

Alternately, Magtein works to increase brain neuron density, which has been shown in published research to improve memory, reduce anxiety and increase working memory. In addition, Magtein may be able to assist in energy, relaxation and sleep. Magtein, self-affirmed GRAS, is suitable for both the nutraceutical market and the food/beverage channel. It has a clean taste, is odorless and highly soluble.

Iron is also well understood as a necessary mineral. A growing interest in iron and iron compounds has risen due to their effectiveness in improving energy and stamina in all age groups.

“It is involved in the transportation of oxygen to the lungs and other organs so it is critical to humans, especially those who are iron deficient due to their age, pregnancy, menstruation, sports activities or post surgery,” said Dr. Paul Lohmann’s Mr. Stano.

Further, there is a trend toward more use of trace elements such as selenium, chromium, molybdenum, boron, strontium and vanadium where there are condition-specific rationales for incorporating them.

By Land or By Sea

To date, much attention has been paid to the rock-derived mineral market. But plant- and marine-based minerals offer consumers added choice in absorption and bioavailability. The basic difference between minerals that are plant-derived and those found in inorganic minerals derived from rock, like calcium carbonate, oyster shell and limestone, is chemical. The chemical form of a mineral is an important factor in its absorption and bioavailability. Minerals are influenced by the nutrient make up of the soil in which they grow.

According to Ingredion’s Mr. Luchsinger, marine-based minerals, such as Ingredion’s AQUAMIN calcified mineral source, is derived from red algae, an organic plant source. Marine-based minerals, he said, have a higher mineral content—between 10% and 20% compared to land-based plant minerals. Marine-based minerals also have a smaller particle size and benefit from the nutrient makeup of the soil under the sea and the influence of the seawater, which surrounds them for a better mineral matrix.

Whether a company decides to formulate from rock-, plant- or marine-based minerals, there is no shortage of options from which to choose. But the discerning consumer wants a product that tastes good, dissolves well and does what it claims it will.

Today, thanks to the available science that is making news headlines daily—or even found on company websites and product labels—consumers are also looking for proof of bioavailability and absorption in the body.

“Manufacturers are increasingly avoiding ‘one-size-fits-all’ nutritional solutions,” Mr. Luchsinger noted. “Consumers are interested in ‘self-managing,’ so the opportunity is ripe to present unique, targeted benefits delivered by minerals to varying demographics; claims will be different for children growing bones versus mature adults trying to preserve bone mineral density.”

The Wright Group’s Sam Wright said minerals are “bullet-proof” when used in proper amounts and that, combined with their relatively low cost, proven science and foray into emerging markets will lead to solid future growth.

“I often say that minerals are the ‘bedrock’ of the ingredient world,” noted Biotron’s Dr. Fouad. “Intakes of these valuable nutrients have been shown to be insufficient—not only in the developing world or in economically disadvantaged populations, but across the developed world.”                 

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