Recent Growth Figures
The “Digestive Aids & Enzymes” category is worth nearly $94 million in the natural channel, growing more than 8% during the last year, while in the conventional channel it has grown to $172.5 million in sales, representing a 23.5% jump over the last year, according to SPINS, a market research and consulting firm for the natural products industry, which is based in Schaumburg, IL.
Within the Digestive Aids & Enzymes category, “Miscellaneous Enzyme Products & Digestive Formulas” specifically grew 1.5% in the natural channel and 5.5% in the conventional channel to $25 million and $43 million, respectively. (See Table 1 on page 50.)
Offering an historical perspective on the enzymes category, John Davidson, a formulations expert with Miami Lakes, FL-based Nutrition Formulators, commented, “Enzymes and digestive formulations have come a long way since Dr. Howell’s Genuine Enzymes in the late 1920s. While research on new enzymes has been very limited, historical use continues to provide strong support as to their efficacy. The biggest challenge to developing the category further is to find convenient delivery methods for consumers to support compliance with every meal.” Mr. Davidson actually worked directly with Dr. Howell and has been formulating enzyme-based products for more than 26 years.
Digestive Health Dominates
The digestive health category in both the natural and conventional channels is aided heavily by the growth of fiber products/laxatives, a $78 million category, and pre/probiotics, a $120 million category. However, enzymes are following close behind at $69 million (see Table 1).
To take advantage of the popularity of the digestive health market, many companies are leveraging the strength of all three—fiber, pre/probiotics and enzymes—to deliver the ideal formulation.
“A new trend is combining probiotics with enzymes,” said Maday Labrador, MS, director of scientific affairs, Enzymedica, Port Charlotte, FL. “Enzymes combined with probiotics are being used for optimal digestive health.” For example, Enzymedica has a new product called Digest Gold + Probiotics. This product combines high potency enzymes with 500 million cultures of specially coated (TherActive) probiotics.
Driving the growth in this category is the widespread awareness created by mass market advertising, along with education. “Support for general digestive health is definitely still the largest enzyme market and this segment of the market continues to grow as people become more aware of the benefits that a digestive supplement can provide,” said Nena Dockery, scientific and regulatory affairs manager, National Enzyme Company (NEC), Forsyth, MO. “However, increasingly more often, people are recognizing that select enzymes can be supplemented to target more specific digestive challenges.”
Ms. Dockery went on to say that specific niches within the digestive health category are starting to gain traction. “This segment of the market is expanding beyond providing lactase to treat the known enzyme deficiency responsible for lactose intolerance,” she said. “For example, deficiencies in key digestive enzymes needed for the complete breakdown of gluten are the subject of ongoing research and development.”
Ms. Dockery also pointed out that digestive enzyme supplements continue to make up a relatively small segment of the nutritional supplement market in general. “Their use as digestive aids must compete with OTC (over-the-counter) antacids. And even though their benefit extends beyond their use as a safer choice for relief of occasional indigestion, knowledge about how they work, and more importantly what to look for on a label when purchasing them, is still very limited.”
But the good news (or bad news, depending on how you look at it) is that the number of consumers with occasional or chronic digestive complaints is growing, as is the quest for non-pharmaceutical ways to address those complaints, opening the door for the market for digestive enzyme supplements to experience substantial growth.
What will also expand the application of enzymes is their growing versatility. “Formulas are still predominantly represented as encapsulated or tableted products,” Ms. Dockery explained. “However, novel delivery methods are just on the horizon, as better methods to protect the enzymatic activity are being developed.”
Moreover, she said the use of enzymes for non-digestive issues such as supporting cardiovascular, joint or tissue health continues to grow as well. “These ‘systemic’ uses are becoming better known and understood for the beneficial effects they provide.”
While enzymes are well established in dietary supplements, they have not been widely incorporated in functional foods and beverages. However, as companies continue to advance the technology around the protection of enzymes, many experts predict they will gain recognition in the functional food and beverage market in the near future.
“Enzymes are still administered most often in capsule or tablet form as this provides the best means for protecting the enzymes and ensuring enzymatic activity throughout the gastrointestinal tract,” NEC’s Ms. Dockery explained. “However, new methods of coating will likely open the market substantially to new applications, including their use in conventional food and beverages.”
Brian O’Neill, business development manager, Nutrition Formulators, agreed. “Currently, encapsulated or tableted enzymes are the standard, as those applications protect activity of the enzymes,” he said. “Development of microencapsulation technologies to use digestive enzymes in functional foods or prepared foods is a logical next step.”
Another area of new product development focuses on the use of enzymes to enhance digestion and bioaccessibility of specific food components, according to Ms. Dockery. “As we continue to learn more about active components in food, ensuring those components are available to the body will become increasingly more important,” she said, adding, “This is already recognized in the sports nutrition market where custom enzyme blends are used to provide better bioavailability of the protein needed to maintain and build muscle tissue.”
“This market is beginning to understand the involvement of specific micronutrients in facilitating optimal athletic performance, providing an ideal market for custom enzyme blends to maximize nutrient delivery,” she continued.
Enzymes are also gaining visibility in systemic applications. “Enzyme blends that are formulated to address non-digestive functions are also becoming more popular,” Ms. Dockery commented. “This category of enzyme use has been around as a small market for a long time, but continues to slowly expand as people learn more regarding how certain enzymes can help improve cardiovascular and tissue health.”
Mr. O’Neill also commented on the use of systemic enzymes. “In terms of systemic applications, enzymes are especially effective for soft tissue recovery, with multiple clinical trials supporting that application”
Some of the more novel delivery systems include sprinkles. Ms. Labrador of Enzymedica explained.
“Microencapsulation of enzymes allows for a convenient sprinkle delivery system. This delivery is excellent for individuals who have trouble swallowing capsules. Enzymedica uses microencapsulation in our products Digest Sprinkles and Pet Digest. Due to microencapsulation, the enzymes maintain their stability on wet food and do not interfere with the taste of the food.
For the future, Ms. Dockery believes that as general knowledge of enzyme supplementation expands, their benefits in other areas will grow as well. “Many joint, cardiovascular and sports formulas are already incorporating enzymes as primary ingredients and this utilization of enzymes will likely see substantial growth as more and more people determine to stay healthy and active throughout their senior years,” she said.