At SupplySide West 2022 and again at Expo West 2023, “experiential” was a major buzzword. Innovation is being fueled by consumer demand for products that help them quickly feel the effects. “There is a significant shift in consumer preference towards experiential products like gummies, drinks, and other formats that break out of the pill or capsule format,” says Vishal Shah, Whole-time Director, Nutriventia Limited. Making a case for this trend, Shah points to reports showing 70% of consumers are interested in functional foods and drinks that offer specific health benefits. “Another report showed the gummy market size was valued at USD $4.35 billion in 2020 and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 12.5% by 2026. These statistics point to increased consumer interest in experiential delivery formats.”

“Sadly, we are seeing consumers drop certain supplements because they are not seeing and feeling the benefits,” notes Lisa Miller, Communications Director, Aker BioMarine. “In order to deliver in the innovation arena, bioavailability/absorption needs to be a priority.”

Pill overload is another innovation driver. “Many consumers are drawn to dietary supplements and other nutraceuticals as a way to help maintain or improve their health, and this became particularly apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Nena Dockery, Scientific Affairs Manager at Stratum Nutrition. “However, a large number of these individuals, especially in western societies, are also taking prescription and OTC pharmaceuticals on a regular basis, and adding more pills to their regimen is not very appealing.”

As a result, Dockery says, nutraceuticals with food-like dosage forms are of interest. “The focus is on unique,
 consumer-friendly delivery systems that are appealing not only for their novelty, but because they meet specific needs such as ease of swallowing or convenience,” she explains. “Candy-like formats, such as chews and gummies, continue to gain in popularity, as do liquid delivery systems, such as shots and single-serve beverages.”

"There is a significant shift in consumer preference toward experiential products that break out of the pill or capsule format.”  —Vishal Shah, Nutriventia

Taking a closer look at gummies, Edward Shneyvas, VP R&D, Innovation, and Business Development at Best Formulations, says they recently overtook pills in market share, and have been driving the bulk of innovation in delivery formats for supplements. 

Oral strips, too, are growing. “Nuherbs loves the oral strip format because of the convenience that it offers and how quickly it works,” says Wilson Lau, President, Nuherbs. “The downside is that the amount of room on a strip is extremely limited, roughly 1/10th of a 500-mg capsule. It takes a lot of know-how to fit an efficacious dose in such a small footprint, but if you do, you will have a great product. On the opposite end of the spectrum, we love functional beverages and foods because the large footprint allows delivery of the sizable doses some ingredients need to provide the desired benefit. Of course, you have to figure out how to make the ingredients, especially if it’s an herbal blend, fit and perform like a food ingredient. We are strong believers in, and have the great fortune to work on, a lot of projects under Nuherbs Bespoke Extracts program to either deliver efficacious doses in very few mgs and also get to tackle how to incorporate function into foods. It’s a truly exciting time to be in this industry as we expand beyond tablets and capsules.”

In terms of the upsides for consumers, Lau adds that oral strips and functional foods help people deal with pill fatigue. “The oral strip format lets customers experience the supplement’s effects more quickly. Whereas with functional foods or beverages, it helps keep compliance high because it’s not ‘I have to take these pills,’ but rather you can give yourself a daily treat that is good for you, too. This is a good approach for things that take longer to work, like red ginseng; you won’t truly see the benefits until you take it for roughly 10 to 14 days. We want to make it effective and easy for the end user to experience the benefits.”

Sprays are another option that is gaining ground. “Sprays offer a convenient and quick way to take certain supplements, and can be used on the go,” says Shneyvas.

The many innovations in delivery formats meet consumer needs. 

Shah points to:

  • Convenience: Alternative delivery formats can offer a more appealing and easy-to-use option.
  • Immersive experience: Consumers are looking for more experiential options such as gummies, drinks, and other innovative formats.
  • Consumer compliance: Fulfilling the above needs leads to compliance, which is good for brands. By improving adherence to nutritional regimens, consumers experience positive health outcomes from products they take.

New and evolving technology

Along the path to innovative formats, ingredient suppliers have had to address, and work to overcome, certain limitations. “Offsetting the taste—which is often bitter—of many supplement ingredients can be a challenge if the ingredient is added to a more conventional food type of format, such as a chew, gummy, or beverage,” Dockery explains. “These alternative delivery formats can also have a considerably shorter shelf-life than capsules or tablets containing the same active ingredients, and they often can’t accommodate certain types of ingredients, such as those that are fat-soluble.”   

Manufacturers and formulators are constantly researching ways in which to provide consumers with additional new and innovative delivery systems for dietary supplements and functional foods that are also efficient and easy to produce, adds Dockery. “Tablets and capsules have been around a long time, so formulators and manufacturers are familiar with most of the challenges in working with difficult or unstable ingredients in these traditional dosage forms. Formulating these same ingredients into candy-like confectionery formats and beverages often requires more sophisticated technologies to protect the ingredients and ensure their efficacy throughout the shelf-life. Stability in these alternative formats, as well as the taste, texture and mouth-feel of the product, must be maintained throughout the shelf-life, which is often considerably shorter than that for tablets and capsules. This can be particularly challenging for companies producing organic and vegan products where manufacturing specifications for all included ingredients are more restrictive. But newer technologies including those designed to reduce added sugar content and improve physical properties and storage stability, have seen tremendous growth in the last few years, as have technologies that incorporate more plant-based components.”

Shah adds, “These formats require ingredients that are stabilized, can withstand high temperatures, and are palatable. Formats like gummies also bring the additional challenge of ensuring the active amount delivered is efficacious and safe. Technology platforms to achieve these format requirements, controlling the release pattern of the active ingredients, and taste-masking of bitter ingredients, are a few of the innovations in delivery systems required to meet this change in landscape.” And, Shah stresses: “It is imperative that ingredient manufacturers keep striving to lower the dose by improving bioavailability and substantiating the efficacy at the lowered dose with pharmacokinetic and clinical trials.”

Advances in delivery technology

“Nanotechnology has probably had the biggest impact on nutraceutical delivery systems, employing nano-composite, nano-structuration, and nano-emulsification to encapsulate micronutrients and enhance delivery and improve absorption in the body,” says Dockery, who notes that more needs to be learned regarding how nanoparticles function under different physiological conditions in the body.

Another delivery system gaining momentum in the nutraceutical world: liposomes. “Liposomes are extremely tiny, spherical, man-made nano-structures (< 100 nm) with a lipid exterior and an aqueous core that can be ‘loaded’ with an active ingredient to enhance its solubility in the GI tract and subsequent absorption into systemic circulation,” explains Bill Sukalar, Ph.D., Research and Technical Communications Coordinator at Pharmako Biotechnologies. “For example, a recent 2022 study found that liposomal vitamin D3 caused a rapid increase in the plasma concentration of calcidiol over five hours, whereas no effect was observed in a standard oily vitamin D3 formulation in the same time frame. The practical value of these findings is that liposomal vitamin D formulations in fortified foods and dietary supplements may help effectively address the ongoing global burden of vitamin D deficiency and inadequacy.”

More conventional techniques are also being expanded and improved to enable more diverse delivery options for bioactive ingredients, says Dockery. “For example, Stratum Nutrition offers VitaSperse and VitaDry microemulsion technologies, developed by Stratum’s technology partner, 3i Solutions. VitaSperse and VitaDry enable the addition of water- insoluble ingredients into water-based liquid applications, through a proprietary process that yields a uniform dispersion of actives that can stay suspended in water indefinitely. This technology enables the addition of oil-based ingredients such as CoQ10, curcumin, or astaxanthin, etc., to water-based liquids, like sports drinks. The VitaSperse technology can also help extend the shelf life of the formulation and can be used to provide a controlled release of actives in a topical formula. It may even help improve absorption of certain nutrients.”

The latest innovations in delivery systems are those which deliver two benefits to consumers and business: functionality and bioavailability, maintains Eric Meppem, Cofounder/Commercial Director at Pharmako Biotechnologies. “More and more consumers now recognize the importance of the absorption (bioavailability) of nutrients, but companies need to have clear, validated messaging about improved absorption. Pharmako Biotechnologies specializes in delivery systems and customizes formulations for clients to improve performance and stability of finished products. AquaCelle is the trade name for Pharmako’s micellar technology. Published human pharmacokinetic studies demonstrate improved absorption of key nutrients including omega-3s, lutein, and coenzyme-Q10. Omega-3s from fish oil absorption is increased by 600%, with absorption of ubiquinone increasing by 300% and also matching ubiquinol. Surveys and anecdotal feedback from North American brand customers demonstrate that AquaCelle with fish oil eliminates the fishy reflux or burp back.”

And new from Aker BioMarine comes PL+ Technology: “When it comes to innovations in delivery systems, we need to look at the bioavailability and absorption of ingredients,” stresses Miller. “Aker BioMarine recently launched PL+, a new, healthy delivery platform that aids in nutrient absorption. PL+ phospholipid-bound omega-3s support cell membrane flexibility and permeability, which is crucial to a cell’s ability to absorb ingredients. PL+ Technology helps improve absorption of less bioavailable ingredients to create superior formulations such as PL+ EPA/DHA Ethyl Esters. Furthermore, PL+ helps support healthy cells which deliver health benefits throughout the body.”

Functionality includes the ease to include ingredients into novel, convenient formats for customers, Meppem says. “Pharmako’s patented LipiSperse technology allows lipophilic ingredients such as curcumin, resveratrol, quercetin, PEA, silymarin, etc. to be included into Ready-to-Mix powders, effervescent powders or tablets and direct to mouth formats. Bringing ingredients into novel formats overcomes pill fatigue for consumers, and fast tracks innovation from a format perspective for brands and retailers to differentiate offerings and increase sales.”

Improving the functionality of an ingredient with a dispersion technology, such as Pharmako’s LipiSperse, allows for novel “on-the-go” formats such as effervescent tablets or powders, Meppem adds. “This meets the market trend /consumer demand of immediacy and convenience. It also facilitates the market trend of introducing novel formats to grow the customer base through line extension.”

Another innovation with growing popularity, especially with smaller brands: Pharmako’s CPO (Compressible Powdered Oils) range, says Meppem. “This technology converts oils into powders without the limitations of traditional ‘spray-dried powders.’ Smaller customers welcome this application for oil-based ingredients such as lavender oil, astaxanthin, and algal oil, as it allows their use in two-piece hard capsules. This suits those brands looking for vegetarian/vegan alternatives, and smaller batch/run/MOQ sizes than those usually associated with soft gel capsules.”

Sustained-release solutions are also in demand. “Nutriventia’s 40-year legacy in Novel Delivery Systems uniquely positions us to offer various solutions and to keep pushing the envelope for newer experiential formats,” says Shah. “We have been innovating by bringing to market ready-made solutions that are timed-release, taste-masked, stabilized, and customized for a variety of manufacturing processes. For example, Melotime from Nutriventia is a sustained-release melatonin with a small particle size that does not disturb the mouth feel of a gummy.”

Michael Courts, Business Development Project Manager and Interim R&D Manager at Lief Labs and Lief Raws, also points to Polar and Non-Polar Sandwiching Technology and Lipid Multi-particulate Technology as options that are gaining traction. These technologies help deliver unstable supplements to the body in a way to enhance bioavailability or create a sustained release mechanism.”

The final word: “Meet your customer where they are at, solve their problems, and address their pain points,” advises Lau. “If we look at our products and product innovation as something that is serving the greater purpose of helping people improve their lives, the question should be: How can we do this in a way that our customers will see the desired results?”

The latest on gummies

The global gummy vitamin market size was valued at USD $5.2 billion in 2019 and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 12.6% from 2020 to 2027, says Shah, pointing to a report by Grand View Research. “This growth is attributed to the increasing demand for convenient and tasty vitamin delivery systems.”

Taking a closer look at gummies, Shneyvas says they overtook pills in market share recently, and have been driving the bulk of innovation in delivery formats for dietary supplements. Recent innovations in the gummy space, as outlined by Shneyvas:

  1. Improved sensory experience of dietary supplement gummies with a broader range of active ingredients being successfully delivered in gummy formats;

  2. Gummies with improved physical and chemical stability, offering more consistent efficacy with the best possible sensory experience over longer shelf life;

  3. Cleaner label, non-animal, improved health aspects (caloric count, sugar content, etc.) without impact on texture or taste;

  4. Higher active loads, broader range of actives, without impact on texture or taste;

  5. Novel technologies/products (Liquid-centered, 3D-printed (Multi-layered), Multi-layer deposited, etc.), either new to market or becoming more mainstream;

  6. Some work on consumer-centered sensory experience, such as chewabilty, which is a major factor in consumer selection, with differing solutions for pediatrics and geriatric consumers.