A pill for all reasons

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Related tags: Dietary supplement, Nutrition, Vitamin, Eu, Uk

Despite lingering doubts about their efficacy, supplements appear to have a very healthy future, Nicola Cottam reports

European consumers have an insatiable appetite for dietary supplements despite widespread debate about the benefits - if any - of taking vitamin and mineral supplements, and they are supporting the €4.4bn Western EU market with renewed gusto.

Manufacturing costs have fallen in recent years as companies have moved production facilities into Eastern Europe and Asia. And a broadening of distribution channels - into supermarkets and over the internet, as well as traditional pharmacies - in some EU countries, especially the UK and Germany, is helping to boost the market.

According to Euromonitor, the industry grew by 4.5% last year with Ireland, Turkey and France experiencing the strongest growth. Ireland and Turkey are emerging markets where demand for nutritional and well-being products is increasing. As a result, both markets grew by 12%. France has a somewhat more established supplements market - predominantly within the beauty sector - however it managed to boost sales by an impressive 8% in 2006 following a raft of new product launches.

Euromonitor's manager for OTC (over the counter) healthcare, Adrienne Crossley says: "Every year there are more and more fads taking shape and, therefore, new products are being developed. At the moment there is a lot of interesting new product development coming out of France, particularly with products that aim to reduce stress and improve daily life."

There are clear distinctions between consumer trends in various EU markets: the French, for example, like to pamper themselves with beauty products, while UK consumers favour cod liver oil (the UK is the largest market for cod liver oil in Western Europe), Scandinavians can't get enough of fish oils in general, and the Germans go wild for artichoke supplements, which are said to aid heart health. Nevertheless, there are certain broader trends.

The beauty category is a relatively small part of the overall supplements market. However, it is showing dynamic growth as awareness of the products available spreads across EU borders.

IMS data for the year to January 2007 reveals that within the beauty sector weight management is the biggest market, followed by hair care, skin care and tan enhancers. As far as volume sales growth is concerned, France comes out on top - with a rate of 17% - followed by Italy (14%), Spain (5%) and Belgium (3%).

Lipid Nutrition specialises in developing weight management and heart health supplements and has won awards for two of its products: Clarinol, made from natural safflower oil, and Pinnothin - launched two years ago - made from pine nut oil, both of which target the weight management market. Global marketing manager John Kurstjens explains that the health and social implications of excessive weight gain are becoming increasingly apparent in the face of burgeoning obesity levels around the world. The net effect is that more and more consumers in the EU are turning to supplements to help control their weight.

He says: "Weight management is a huge market and has a lot more growth potential. In the UK, about one in three people are trying to lose weight and in the US one in five men and one in three women are on some kind of diet. Studies have shown that nearly the same number of people are trying to control their weight.

"Clinical studies demonstrate that even a modest amount of weight loss may prevent significant health problems - like type 2 diabetes."

Meanwhile, the cosmeceuticals sub-sector - which includes anti-ageing creams, moisturisers and tan enhancers that often contain active ingredients such as vitamins, phytochemicals, enzymes, antioxidants and essential oils - is established in France but it is only now beginning to infiltrate neighbouring countries. And major French brands such as Inneov, Oenobiol and Arkopharma are attracting customers.

"The beauty-from-within supplements market is growing by more than 10%, year on year," confirms Udi Alroy, marketing director at LycoRed. "There are more formulations because consumers want to take better care of themselves. Five years ago skin-care supplements were really only a French thing, but in the past two years other countries have really started to take note."

Omega-3 is also seeing double-digit growth, overall, but multivitamins and fish oils are still the heavyweights in the industry. However, plant oils, probiotic supplements and co-enzyme Q10 are garnering more and more approval. Glucosamine - an amino acid commonly used for the treatment of osteoarthritis - and SAMe - another amino acid used to treat a range of conditions such as depression, liver disease and osteoarthritis - have also started to appear on the radar as manufacturers concentrate on the EU's growing elderly population.

LycoRed's Alroy comments: "There is a lot of awareness among the elderly about health issues and how to stay healthy; they have time to read up about supplements and to educate themselves - which younger consumers often don't get time to do.

"They also have plenty of money and like to take care of themselves, so it is a huge market. As a result, the over-60s are being targeted and a number of dedicated products have emerged over the last 12 months, including powder beverage food supplements and multivitamins with formulations specifically catering for that age group.

"Products launched come in a range of formats, from tablets to nutritional bars."

At the other end of the scale are supplements aimed at children, a market worth €47.7M in the UK alone and €14.7M in Germany. "This is one of the fastest growing supplement areas in the UK," explains Euromonitor's Crossley. "We should expect to see more targeting of children - with more formats, flavours and marketing using cartoon characters."

But let's not forget men's health. This sector is showing double-digit growth, averaging 10-15% year on year; in 2005 the category grew by 18% and last year by a further 14%, driven by an increased awareness among men of health issues. Many products focus on supplements to aid recovery after a workout and then there are more products such as lycopene - a phytonutrient extracted from tomatoes claimed to protect against prostate cancer and hypertension.

DELIVERING THE GOODS

In an overcrowded market, supplements manufacturers are finding it increasingly difficult to get new products into circulation so they are turning to new formats to seduce consumers.

Fortifying food products with supplements is a technique employed by several food manufacturers such as Danone. It recently joined forces with an Israeli company to develop yoghurt portions that are said to contain the recommended daily dose of vitamins and minerals. Danone is also marketing Essensis - a yogurt that it claims hydrates the skin.

Lipid Nutrition's Kurstjens says: "We are seeing more dairy drinks that carry supplements coming on to the market. There are also bars available now. A lot of consumers don't want to take capsules, so a food application makes them available to more people. Also food companies have a larger marketing budget than supplement companies, so they can reach a larger audience."

LycoRed has experimented with several different formats, according to Alroy, such as chocolate fortified with supplements and gummy bears. "Customers want to offer products in unusual formats but they have to comply with certain criteria," he says. "Taking these into account, we have developed a chocolate format that is extremely tasty.

"However the manufacturer was concerned that consumers would over use the product, which could be dangerous, so instead launched a gummy bears range, which they found to be more effective."

A wide variety of formats are being tested across the supplements market.

Topslim, by Oenobiol, is a cap containing a soluble powder of green tea extract, extract of guarana, vitamin C and caffeine that can be fixed on to any still water bottle and comes in raspberry flavour. It works by generating the thermogenic effect (ie. it increases metabolic rate) and can, therefore, be effective as part of a weight-management programme.

Viactiv's calcium chews come in three different formats for women and Cellfood has launched vitamin sprays - an oxygen and nutrient supplement that contains 78 trace minerals needed on a daily basis for the body to function effectively, along with 34 enzymes and 17 amino acids, plus electrolytes and dissolved oxygen.

But despite all this feverish activity, a cloud hangs over the industry in the form of the new Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation, which could throw a major spanner in the works for the supplements industry if regulators are not prepared to consider traditional knowledge when assessing health claims about the botanical ingredients used in many of them.

Indeed, some observers fear that large proportions of the industry could be wiped out overnight if supplements manufacturers are forced to splash out on costly clinical trials to prove the efficacy of their products (see p7).