Breakthrough technology

Consumers drive softgel technology

By Clarisse Douaud

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Soft gel, Gelatin

Consumer demand and the constant evolution of nutraceutical
ingredients are driving soft gel manufacturers to find new
technologies and sources for their products.

These innovations include trying to bring non-gelatin capsules up to par with the animal sourced originals, as well trying to hide or disguise the taste and odor of the functional ingredients within. Research and development of new ingredients combined with consumers' values and tastes steer formulators to look for new capsule technologies for their supplements - in turn spurring encapsulators to invent. "New ingredients often mean new challenges in how we would traditionally make softgels,"​ Stephane Barjolin, sales manager with Prime Nutrisource, told NutraIngredients-USA. "This makes us re-think or re-tool our product, and that's when a new technology is discovered."​ Canadian manufacturer Prime Nutrisource recently developed a proprietary soft capsule technology which allows the clear enteric coating to be placed on the inside of a gel instead of on the outside. The 'scentless softgel' is designed to entirely mask the negative smell and flavor of some dietary supplement ingredients such as those that are garlic or fish oil based. The see-through coating means the ingredients are visible, but also that it does not breakdown until the lower intestine - thereby averting unpleasant reflux. "Our scentless softgel technology was in direct response to our clients' request to make a fish oil softgel that would be odorless and reflux free,"​ said Barjolin. "We did succeed in our goal but in the processs, and certainly with a little luck, discovered a new and innovative way to enteric coat a softgel." ​At the same time as aesthetic and sensory motivators instigate soft gel technology breakthroughs, consumer values play a role in new research and development as well. "Consumers are becoming more knowledgeable, more demanding and more segmented,"​ Peter Houghton, general manager of EFA specialist Biodroga, told NutraIngredients-USA. "The challenge for companies is to satisfy and exceed those consumer expectations."​ BSE scares, religious convictions and an increasing number of vegetarian consumers have encouraged supplement formulators to seek out non-animal options. Over the past two years the size of the US vegetable capsule market has grown by 54 percent. The market for these softgels rose from $43.3m in 2004 to $66.6m in the year ending May 2006, according to natural products market researcher SPINS. "I think the market needs a non-animal soft gel,"​ said Peter Zambetti, Capsugel global business development manager. "To date there have been many attempts, but in the US there has yet to be a commercially viable alternative to animal gelatin."​ However, some soft gel makers say they have already done exactly this. California-based Best Formulations and Canadian companies Biodroga/GelCell developed branded non-animal sourced softgels - Vgel and CCaps - using FMC BioPolymer's patent-pending SeaGel carrageenan and starch blend. The makers of both the Vgel and CCaps claim that new technology has permitted their products to be as flexible and soft as gelatin capsules, while withstanding an even broader range of temperatures than the original version. Nonetheless, it seems gelatin-based capsules are still the most cost effective manufacturing process. "The new carageenan is more expensive than bovine/porcine, but you don't have to use as much of it in the formula,"​ Best Formulations's director of marketing, Eugene Ung said. "The bottom line is that the final price of the Softgel will be roughly 25 percent higher."

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