The company, which introduced its Vcaps Plus at the Supply Expo West in Anaheim, California, last week, said the line extension has been awaited eagerly by a number of dietary supplement firms. "We have had customers very interested in a capsule that was more attractive, with a glossy surface," explaines Capsugel marketing manager Missy Lowery. Composition Like the first version of Vcaps, which has been on the market globally for around a decade, Vcaps Plus is made from HPMC (hydroxypropyl methylcellulose). This is a plant-origin polymer, which is commonly used in the manufacture of vegetarian capsules. Capsugel said the source of HPMC for its Vcaps line is white pine. This is guaranteed non-GMO, it is permitted as a food additive and has GRAS status, said the firm. The product is also preservative-free, starch-free and gluten-free. The company is also in the process of receiveing Kosher (OU and Ko) and Halal (IFANCA) certification for its new product. Benefits According to Capsugel, a key benefit of Vcaps Plus is that it has a very low moisture content (5-6 per cent at 50 percent RH). This means that it is particularly suitable for use with herbals or other moisture-sensitive content. In addition, the low moisture content also allows the product to hold up well in manufacturing and storage, said the firm. The manufacturing process for the new capsule also eliminates the need for any gelling agent. The original Vcaps uses gellan gum as a gellng agent, whereas Vcaps Plus is made from HPMC and water alone. However, the major selling point for the updated version is that it is a glossier, smoother capsule than the original Vcaps, which the company claims is currently the best-selling HPMC capsule globally. In addition, the manufacturing process for Vcaps Plus makes it "extremely easy" to add colors to the capsule, thereby extending the more limited color range suitable for use with the original Vcaps. Vegetarian capsule demand Most capsules used in the dietary supplement industry are derived from non-vegetarian sources, such as bovine gelatin, fish gelatin and porcine gelatin. However, religious and dietary concerns have resulted in more and more Americans seeking vegetarian alternatives. While Capsugel contends around 70 million Americans - or a quarter of the population - regularly purchase vegetarian products, the market for vegetarian dietary capsules also presents a significant opportunity. According to natural products market researcher SPINS, the US market for vegetable capsules grew by 54 percent from $43.3m in 2004 to $66.6m in the year ending May 2006. Capsugel said its Vcaps Plus product has "some price difference with the original Vcaps", but maintained that the new version will still be competitively priced.