Sales of weight loss supplements, including meal replacements, are expected to near $7 billion by 2022, according to estimates from Nutrition Business Journal (NBJ). With 157 million (69%) U.S. adults overweight or obese, not surprisingly, weight control tops the list of health benefits consumers would most like to get from foods/beverages.
Overall, the market for functional nutrition products continues to evolve, especially as research unravels the role the gut microbiome plays in health and weight, said Juliana Erickson, senior marketing manager, Lonza Consumer Health & Nutrition. “Keto and paleo diets, as well as vegan and vegetarian lifestyles, are also becoming increasingly popular with health-conscious consumers due to their perceived health benefits.”
The challenge with exclusion diets, however, is that individuals may miss out on beneficial nutrients, Erickson added. “While they cannot be used alone to address nutritional shortfalls, dietary supplements can play a role in helping consumers get the nutrients they need. Whatever the dietary plan being followed, dietary restrictions also create the opportunity for manufacturers to develop supplement solutions with targeted nutrients that provide specific health benefits, which consumers can incorporate, in a convenient format, into their daily routine.”
Overweight and obesity are linked to more deaths worldwide than underweight, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), noted Julie Imperato, marketing manager, Nexira. “In the U.S., more than 68% of adults are overweight and 36% are obese. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 42% of Americans will be obese by 2023. So weight management is a real public concern.”
Consumers, and particularly millennials, are moving away from strict dieting and calorie counting to a more holistic approach that links diet, exercise, and supplementation, Imperato said.
While modified criteria for what classifies as “obesity” now includes a greater portion of the population than decades earlier, more people are also “embracing their curves and celebrating a healthier attitude toward body image,” said Shaheen Majeed, president worldwide, Sabinsa. “That said, there are still a lot of people who would like to or are trying to lose some weight.”
Historically, the weight loss/management category has been driven by dieting trends, he noted. With the popularity of diets such as Keto, Paleo, Mediterranean, low-FODMAP, and Whole 30, brands are quick to market products that align with those lifestyles.
“There are less consumer products promising miracles,” Majeed noted. “Responsible companies base their marketing claims on research.” Some are also incorporating consumer feedback. For example, he noted, people following Intermittent Fasting and Keto diets often report more energy, which may indicate a possible gut-brain connection.
“Technology and personalized diets are likely to become a bigger trend as consumers take more responsibility for their health,” Majeed said.
In the past, dieting was very “outcome focused,” as if weight was a magic number that would lead to better health, noted Maxine Weber, global director of marketing, Health & Wellness, Ashland.
“Now people are aware that there’s a variety of dimensions to health including blood pressure, cholesterol level, and lifestyle choices,” she said. “Weight is just one part of that picture, and the process of being healthy is important to maintaining a healthy weight.”
Lifestyle-focused diets like Keto, Paleo, vegan or Whole 30 are mostly centered around positive nutrition, Weber added. “People may lose weight by following one of these diets but that’s not their only motivation. Following a lifestyle diet is about being healthy in a way that people are able to eat real food—not just living on celery sticks—and following a diet that they can maintain for an extended period of time.”
Weber also said data from Statista showed the top motivation to change eating habits was to lose weight, but the second reason was to protect long-term health, and third was to have more energy.
Consumers are generally more proactive in looking for natural, clinically-validated approaches to weight loss, according to Chase Shryoc, vice president of sales and business development, Gencor.
“In the past, we saw many new products come and go reasonably quickly—products with little science behind them, limited efficacy, and sometimes substantial safety issues. Mostly they did not last and were rapidly replaced by the next false hope. A product which succeeds to pass today’s higher barriers to market entry are ones with better safety and evidence-based efficacy. These products have the potential to last longer in the market because the consumers’ experience is that they genuinely do work.”
Consumers are also less prone to believe in miracle diets and programs, and are more realistic about weight management, said Shyroc. “People are now looking for natural, whole foods. They are more likely to turn a package around and read not only the nutrition facts but the actual ingredients and the order in which they are listed. This transparency has clearly translated into the dietary supplement industry. With better education and the increase in retailers selling supplements compared to the past, the demand for whole food, effective, clinically validated, and sustainable products will continue to drive this category.”
Denisse Colindres, manager of nutrition communication, BENEO Inc., said there have been innumerable diet trends over time—some proven effective and many simply fleeting fads. Consumers today are more likely to look for real, whole food with balanced nutritional profiles than quick-fix weight loss programs or pills, she noted. “It is well known that consumers believe that fibers and proteins are key ingredients to support weight management. For example, 69% of consumers believe that fibers keep you full for longer.”
Additionally, research is uncovering the role the gut microbiome plays on feelings of hunger and satiety. “A HealthFocus International Global Trend Study (2018) indicated that two in five consumers are very or extremely interested in the gut microbiome. The same study found that 69% of these consumers reported an understanding that a healthy microbiome can impact physical health and 60% indicated that it can impact mood.”
The interest in managing blood glucose levels as a tool to manage weight is also growing, said Colindres. “This is reflected by the increasing number of product launches with a low/no/reduced glycemic claim. According to Mintel’s Global New Product Database, there was a 56.1% increase from 2013 to 2018 globally. Also, a consumer survey by Ipsos shows that U.S. consumers are looking for ingredients supporting balanced energy.”
With newfound knowledge and media attention, consumers have become much more savvy about methods (i.e., diet and exercise) that contribute to health, fitness, and well-being, said Colindres. “In turn, manufacturers have responded to consumer demands for healthier and clean label food and beverages by seeking out natural and non-GMO ingredients that contribute to healthy weight management.”
The rise of social media has also helped redefine parameters for a “healthy weight,” said Diyanah Roslan, nutritionist, ExcelVite. “It’s not a surprise that diet plans like Keto, Paleo, Whole 30, etc., have started to trend worldwide. Even though these diet plans differ from one another, they have one thing in common: preference for natural/nature-derived food.”
Health professionals have helped to better educate consumers about diet, supplementation, and lifestyle choices that determine wellness, “informing the public that skinny does not always mean healthy and plus size is not taboo,” said Rob Brewster, president, Ingredients by Nature. “Instead of a focus on body size, consumers are learning that there are key health indicators such as low glycemic index, blood glucose levels, lipid levels, and antioxidant activity that give a better measurement of health than their waistline.”
Buyers & Sellers
It’s an exciting time to innovate in weight management because there’s so many opportunities to improve and expand, according to Brian Appell, marketing manager, OmniActive Health Technologies.
“I think we also need to look at the regulatory landscape around weight management as an opportunity to push our science and technologies to make better products that show that natural products can provide safe and effective solutions for weight management.”
The term ‘dieting’ is passé, said Appell, as consumers shift their motivations from just a smaller waistline to improving overall health and feeling and looking good. “This is how diet trends like Keto and Paleo are tapping into this consumer preference—highlighting overall health benefits and feeling good.”
Recent research commissioned by Lonza found that managing a healthy weight was very important to 28% of U.S. consumers when making a supplement purchasing decision, a 26% increase from 2013, according to SORD data from the Natural Marketing Institute. “A significant proportion of these consumers were people looking for nutritional measures to reduce the issues associated with being overweight later in life.”
Lonza’s research also found that 33% of consumers who take dietary supplements for digestive, cognitive, joint, and immune health, for instance, are also concerned about managing a healthy weight. “This approach to whole body health has driven the need for combination products, with consumers searching for solutions that can support their overall health, while also delivering weight management benefits.”
A 2016 research report from Technavio noted that North America is the largest weight loss management marketplace, accounting for more than one-third of sales. “Because we are living longer, the rise of health issues has also increased, and people are pushing toward a more active and healthier lifestyle,” said Shryoc. “The global weight loss supplement market is expected to grow at a CAGR of more than 5% by 2020.”
When it comes to weight management, no one size fits all, said Brewster. “Of course, there are consumers who are struggling with their weight and want to shed off some pounds yet are unable for various reasons to exercise or even shop healthy. The ease and convenience of supplementation gives them a boost in the right direction and is motivation enough to try making changes. Baby boomers are realizing that their metabolism and overall health isn’t what it used to be and are looking to add weight management supplements to their daily routine for healthy aging. Millennials have also made a big push for proper nutrition and natural health and look to weight management supplements to be included, among other supplements, in their diet and exercise routines for the additional health benefits they provide.”
When asked about what influences their supplement purchases, despite nuances between age groups and regions, the safety and quality of supplement products were the top two overriding concerns among U.S. consumers in Lonza’s research.
“The highest quality and safety standards can be achieved through rigorous testing of raw materials and products throughout production, as well as good manufacturing practices (GMPs),” said Erickson.
Dietary supplements must also be backed by substantial scientific evidence to support any claims, she added. “Credibility can be built through clinical trials where, for instance, research is randomized, double-blind and placebo-controlled, published in a peer-reviewed journal, and has at least four months in duration to prove the effects observed are sustainable.”
Demonstrating safety and efficacy through ingredient research can help brands stand out in a crowd, said Majeed. “Going through one of the sports nutrition certification programs that test for, and certify against, adulteration with banned drugs is also a valuable point of differentiation.”
Ultimately, consumers want results, Appell said, like supporting metabolism, mobilizing stored fat, increasing thermogenesis, etc. “Consumers want to know how a product will help them be healthier. It must relate to their overall approach to a healthier lifestyle and ‘healthy weight’ is too broad of a claim.”
He urged companies to look for human clinical trials to support ingredients (are these claims supported by science), understand mechanism of action (how efficient and effective is the ingredient), dosage, and authenticity (is the ingredient tested and proven to include the active and activity levels as promised, and how has this been authenticated).
Establishing and maintaining consumer confidence is critical to staying in business, said Weber. “Historically, various types of dietary supplements had a credibility issue related to efficacy. Consumer perception was that many ingredients don’t work. Smart companies understood this and invested in clinical studies to prove their products worked. For example, our Phase 2 white kidney bean extract is an ingredient for carb control that is backed by 14 clinical studies. It is one of the most researched ingredients on the market. And, Phase 2 is a non-stimulant so it’s clinically efficacious without giving you the jitters or other side effects seen with stimulants.”
Jason Gorgone, marketing manager and business development, Health & Wellness, at Ashland said companies need to be sure that ingredients are sourced from reliable suppliers who have been audited. “Ashland has very strict standards for our material suppliers and we also welcome our customers to visit our facilities to audit us. We follow Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) when processing our materials and have a global effort to reduce safety incidents at all locations. Almost all of our plants are ISO9001 certified, which is a set of standards for quality and safety. This demonstrates to our customers that we are taking the utmost care when processing products.”
In a highly competitive market where social media has empowered consumers to share their successes and failures with brands, products that don’t work get filtered out of the market fairly quickly, said Shryoc, “and only those products which genuinely are effective can hope to survive.”
Conducting human, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials on ingredients will offer reliable scientific evidence to support health claims, he added. “Companies like Gencor help increase consumer trust, not only in the weight management sector but across all supplement categories due to its strict research protocols.”
For years, FDA has called out weight loss supplements for using untested and unstudied ingredients, including those that are potentially harmful, said Brewster. “Transparency and research are key to increasing and regaining credibility in a category that has come across as ineffective or dangerous. There are no miracle fixes and brands need to stop over-promising results that research cannot stand behind.”
As studies and human clinical trials are performed, a brand is able to build more credibility for its products, he continued. “Messaging also needs to reflect that supplementation alone is not the solution, but, as the name suggests, is to be added to proper diet and exercise for optimal results. As part of the messaging, certifications can also go a long way to improve perceptions and help a brand to stand out.”
Industry can regain credibility by addressing consumer demands and doubts, said Roslan. “It’s important to ensure that the weight loss product is formulated with ingredient(s) substantiated with clinical studies, and are verified natural, cruelty-free, and non-GMO. These are the important factors for brands to consider.”