In part 1 of this feature, titledThe Evolution of Contract Manufacturing,WholeFoodsasked contract manufacturers to identify the trends of today that will keep growing tomorrow—as well as what they see on the horizon that may take off in 2020. Here's a rundown of what's new and what's next.

1. Clean label:"We are seeing brands request clean label formulations for their consumers more and more," says Ned Becker, CEO, Columbia Nutritional. "This can be a very challenging proposition depending on the composition of the formula and physical properties of the ingredients being used. There is a certain level of technical engineering that is critical in trying to achieve this request." To help brands, Becker says Columbia Nutritional takes time up front to engineer the formulas correctly by producing pilot batches to insure there are minimal operational surprises when ramping to commercial production scale and insuring all Supplement Fact Panel information on the label can be met. "It takes a few weeks to do this correctly on the front end, but can save significant time during the production phase if the product does not run properly on the manufacturing equipment. Physical characteristics of the raw materials in the formulas can be a huge issue if not specified correctly."

Steve Holtby, president & CEO, Soft Gel Technologies, Inc.,also notes that consumers seek “natural” supplements—those without fillers or chemicals, products made with natural and/or hypoallergenic ingredients and gentle/buffered formulations. "Many avoid supplements with artificial colors/flavors. Whole food supplements are a growing segment in this supplement category."

2. Transparency and Traceability:"A conscious business [is one that] represents demonstrates character—it is authentic, transparent, proactive, and has a clear set of values," says Holtby. "Today’s consumers are interested in corporate environmental and social efforts. They demand purpose-driven products, meaning they want to buy sustainable and eco-conscious products from companies whose values are most like their own. There is a growing preference for these types of products and consumers are willing to pay more for them." That said, he stresses that it is the responsibility of dietary supplement manufacturers to ensure that their products contain the intended ingredients and are absent of contaminants. "This is achieved through a combination of extensive testing, thorough supplier qualification, and ingredient traceability. Traceability should be important to everyone as consumers of dietary supplements."

Related: Top Five Supplier Trends at Expo West

3. Condition-specific:From a product category demand, Becker says, condition-specific formulations in the digestive health, cognition and beauty-from-within will continue to gain attention. To help brands meet the consumer demand, he says Columbia Nutritional works with a variety of vendors that are continually launching new, science-based ingredients and can help support formulation development.

Holtby adds to the list: "Some of the top health conditions for which consumers will seek products targeted to improve their quality of life include healthy aging, anti-inflammatory, energy, sexual vitality, weight loss, sleep aids and anti-anxiety."

4. Healthy-made-easy:"It’s all about convenience and personalization. Consumers want an experience that’s seamless and meets their unique needs," says Steffi Neth, marketing communications director at Lief Labs. "It’s becoming abundantly clear that consumers want in-depth, but also more tailored recommendations."

Part of convenience when it comes to dietary supplements is getting the benefit without having to swallow a pile of pills. Consumers want healthy-made-easy. "Marketing companies seem to be targeting consumers whose supplementation needs extend beyond basic nutrition, and whose concerns include maximizing bioavailability," says Holtby. "The costs for manufacturing softgels are higher than that of most other formats, so the increased cost needs to have meaning. Depending on the ingredient in question, the softgel format has shown itself to have an optimal absorption profile. Other, more superficial benefits, such as visual appeal and ease of swallowing, are just icing on the cake." He also notes that softgel production is a unique and complicated process: "Not every manufacturer can do it. Tablets and two-piece capsules are much easier to manufacture than soft gelatin capsules." He notes that "a high-end soft gel encapsulator, like Soft Gel Technologies, Inc., with a top-notch R&D staff, can often work to solve problems" that may arise. 

Related: Exploring 5 Top Trends in Food Science

5. Nootropics:Matt Kaufman, business development manager at Paragon Laboratories, points to a report on Paragon'swebsitethat identifies trends. In terms of nootropics—aka “smart nutraceuticals” or cognitive enhancers—Paragon reports that the category is gaining buzz by improving executive functions, memory, creativity, and motivation in healthy individuals. Huperzine A, phosphatidylserine and antioxidant vitamins are a few trending nootropic ingredients.

6. Collagen:Becker and Kaufman both call out collagen as a trending ingredient with no signs of fizzling out.

7. Pre- and probiotics:“The increase in demand for probiotics and prebiotics in just the last five years has exploded,” Paragon CEO Jay Kaufman says on the company's website. “When a product continually delivers on its promise, the word-of-mouth impact on sales is considerable.”

8. Mushrooms: Paragon spotlights the perks of mushrooms, and offers a caution on their site: "With the popularity of mushrooms growing and the abundance of mushroom species available to contract manufacturers, brands have a real opportunity to create original formulations to serve this thirsty market. But getting into the mushroom business is reliant on a good partner. There are many mushrooms that grow in polluted environments with ample use of pesticides. Sourcing these ingredients can be tough, which is why manufacturers that focus on quality and hold the proper certifications can navigate the formulation process to ensure the mushrooms are both safe and effective."

9. Health-meets-beauty/nutricosmetics:"Our business development team seeks out trends internationally, not just on the U.S. market," says Neth. "A trend we are seeing right now is the demand of natural herbal, plant-based supplements merged with beauty, health and wellness." 

10. Eco-friendly packaging:WholeFoodscovers this topic in depth inThe Shift to Sustainable Packagingin the October issue. Matt Kaufman also calls it out as a top trend—and as noted on Paragon's website: "This movement towards sustainability is global, and dietary supplement brands must take notice." To that, Kaufman adds, "There is a continual focus on packaging design, and determining new ways to differentiate products. One of those include environmentally focused packaging, which appeals to an environmentally friendly consumer base. An option would be post-consumer recycled jars, which can be used in place of standard HDPE or PET jars."

Related: How to Reduce the Climate Impact of Packaging