Walter Zackowitz, managing director of international sales at US premix company Watson Foods, told NutraIngredients.com that a number of new projects will be commercialising during the first quarter of next year, driven by unexpected strong sales in the breath freshener and confectionery category and improved film design and technology.
Many of these will be more breath freshener strips but the delivery format is also likely to become more than a fad for the nutraceuticals industry, he said.
"The jury is still out on whether these strips are just a fad but I believe they will become like chewing gum for the confectionery industry, growing strongly over the next two years before stabilising."
"The real potential however is as a drug delivery system, although this is at least three years down the line," he added.
In the meantime, the nutritional products industry will offer an important testing ground for film makers adding active ingredients to strips.
The biggest UK vitamin maker, the healthcare retailer Boots, is thought to be the first to bring vitamin-containing strips to market, using technology developed by another US firm Aquafilm.
US manufacturers have also added herbal ingredients to film strips, including one company currently working on a European launch of its appetite suppressant strip.
But the real winner will be energy-boosting strips, predicts Zackowitz.
"Consumers of products like Red Bull tend to be young, innovative and keen to use convenient formats," he noted. "With strips you can dose yourself as often and when you like, they are easier to carry around than a can, and you meet the needs of people who have difficulty taking pills."
Thanks to the big marketers of breath freshening strips, such as Wrigley's and Listerine, the delivery system is becoming a very consumer-friendly option, he added.
Bringing strips containing more traditional products such as vitamins and minerals to market may require additional marketing however.
No-one at Boots was available to comment on product sales so far but Zackowitz noted that there are some technical difficulties with including vitamins.
"You can only fit 17mg of nutrient in a strip, so they are better suited to trace nutrients like B vitamins. And you can only put so much vitamin into a film before you get pH problems and the colour begins to change. We have found the maximum dosing to be about 12-14 mg of vitamin C to start with, making a claim of about 9mg on the pack, although we would like to improve this to 10mg."
Other major challenges for film makers include finding the threshold dissolution rate for the films - by nature they must dissolve on the roof of the mouth but they also need to survive some moisture to prevent curling and clumping together in the dispensers. The outer packaging is also key to the product's success.
But Zackowitz claims that significant improvements in such technology by US companies at least will allow for a number of new product launches in coming months.
"The early starch-based films were of poor quality and made with really crude technology. Also consumers didn't know how to use them, sticking them on the tongue with all its taste receptors, instead of letting them dissolve on the roof of the mouth."
The new developments have been largely carried out by US-based firms. Watson, with its core business in ingredients, has set up a new separate division to concentrate on the film technology, a result of demand from some core premix customers but there has been a lack of competitive reaction.
"We have seen no reaction from Asian producers to improve the quality and variety of flavours available. It is a little disappointing as competition would be healthy," commented Zackowitz.
Other companies making edible films include Aquafilm, recently bought by the UK-based company BioProgress, and MonoSol. Biofilm, a new venture set up by Scottish sausage casings firm Devro, is hoping to be the first European business making edible films although it is still some months away from producing a market-ready product.