The Value of Veggie

Broad vegetarian supplements offerings give you a leg up on competitors.
Written By:
Kaylynn Chiarello-Ebner
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You’ve stocked your supplements aisles with thousands of items to meet the diverse needs of your client base: young, old, active, weight-loss focused, stricken a specific health condition, in good general health and beyond. Clearly, these offerings represent hours of thought, research and numbers crunching. But, how much time have you devoted to considering the needs of those whose lifestyles drive certain diet restrictions? Shoppers who follow a vegetarian, kosher-certified or halal-approved diet expect the same choices for their dietary supplements. Given the importance of these consumers in the natural products market, be sure to add options for them to your product mix.

Vegan Needs

A vegan diet can be very healthy, as it’s packed with fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, legumes and other nutritious foods. But, a lack of dietary meat, fish and dairy products may warrant some extra support from certain dietary supplements.

According to VeganHealth.org, an educational site maintained by Jack Norris, R.D., vegans should consider adding the following supplements to their daily routine:
* Vitamin B12 (3–100 mcg),
* Omega-3s (2.2–3.3 g) in the form of flaxseed oil or ground flaxseeds,
* Calcium (700–1,000 mg) and vitamin D (1,000 IU),
* Iodine (75–150 mcg every few days), and
* A high-quality multivitamin.

Veg Out
Experts say vegetarians tend to buy more supplements than other shoppers to the tune of three times the amount of other consumers (1). Their purchasing patterns indicate they are loyal to specific brands (54%) and purchase supplements for specific health claims (63%) (1). With nearly a quarter of all Americans looking for (and willing to pay extra for) animal-free or vegetarian supplements, this group’s strong buying power cannot be ignored.

Traditional capsules are often made with gelatin using a process that hasn’t changed much for hundreds of years. Gelatin is taken from collagen found in animal bone, skin, tissue, tendon and cartilage. Estimates suggest 55,000 tons of animal-derived gelatin are used every year to make capsules and tablets (2).

Though this substance doesn’t occur in plants, capsule specialists use plant cellulose materials like modified starches and plant gums to produce animal-free capsules. A few years ago, offerings of such vegetarian capsules were slim, mainly because of production difficulties. Now, however, softgel capsules experts have firmer, but easy-to-swallow products with much more variety in size, color and transparency. Two-piece, hard shell capsules also are available in vegetarian forms that are made from plant or other natural sources.

Aside from just the outer capsules, supplement makers are taking care to introduce vegetarian alternatives to supplements traditionally only made from animals and fish. For example, some DHA supplements are now sourced from microalgae as opposed to fish and non-meat eaters can find vegetarian glucosamine made from a corn fermentation process.

Sacred Supplements Market

Kosher-certified and halal-approved dietary supplements represent the core of the sacred supplements category. Such products must pass such rigorous standards that many consumers are drawn to these products for reasons other than religious. According to market research firm Mintel, “religion and religious traditions are not the major drivers of the sacred food industry. Rather, consumer concerns about the integrity of the food supply and the quality of the food they buy inspire the majority of sacred food purchases” (3).

Sales of sacred products are substantial. According to the non-profit Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America, more than $12 billion was spent on halal-certified foods in 2007 in the United States. And, it is estimated that 15–20 million Americans buy kosher products. Clearly, catering to the needs of buyers looking for sacred foods and supplements is bound to give you a leg up over competitors who don’t.

So, what does it take to be kosher or halal certified? Kosher supplements are made according to stringent standards dictated by Jewish dietary law and supervised by a kosher-certification firm. Most kosher supplements are vegetarian and do not contain any animal- or dairy-based additives. Likewise, halal practices are based on Muslim dietary law. With both, facilities must be inspected and meet certain standards.

Though the specific requirements are different, the preference of vegetarian capsules and tablets is common to halal-approved and kosher-certified foods. Since pork products are not consumed by strict followers of the Muslim and Orthodox Jewish religions, gelatin products are usually unacceptable to these consumers unless they are certified halal and/or kosher (4). Therefore, non-gelatin forms such as tablets (not coated with gelatin), vegetarian capsules, capsules made with fish gelatin and liquid forms may be preferable. Those looking for supplements that meet halal and kosher standards also should look out for any ingredients with forbidden animal origin (e.g., crivet oil), enzymes and glycerin (must be plant based) (4). And, those following a kosher diet must be careful about any supplements with added alcohol, vitamin B (which may come from pork liver) or any items that may be derived from shark or shellfish (like vitamin A and D, calcium from oysters, glucosamine/chondroitin from shark cartilage extract, or zinc from liver or shellfish) (5). Overall, vegetarian supplements are safe bets for those following a strict halal or kosher diet. WF

References
1. Capsugel, www.vegetariancapsules.com, accessed, September 23, 2008.
2. “Vegetarian Capsules: Biorefining Of Corn Brings Gelatin Production Into The 21st Century,” press release, August 23, 2007, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/08/070822184028.htm.
3. Mintel, “Sacred Foods and Food Traditions in the United States 2008,” http://www.researchandmarkets.com/reports/c83657, accessed September 23, 2008.
4. M.N. Riaz and J.M. Regenstein, “Nutritional Supplements for Halal and Kosher Consumers,” Prepared Foods, January 2005.
5. www.kosherquest.org, accessed September 24, 2008.