Finding true innovation in supplement industry requires some digging, expert says

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

Getty Images / Brian A Jackson
Getty Images / Brian A Jackson

Related tags Dietary supplement

Is the tide of innovation in the dietary supplement industry waxing or waning? An expert says that there is plenty of innovation happening if you are willing to look hard enough.

Tim Avila, principal in the consulting firm Systems Bioscience, said that he hears all the time that there’s not much innovation happening in the supplement industry. To some degree, he said that could be a facet of the maturation of the industry. Many players have been in the game for years. These executives walk the trade show floors and can come to believe that there’s nothing new under the sun.

I hear that all the time, that it all kind of looks the same,​ Avila told NutraIngredients-USA. I think to some degree that hesitation is warranted. Its the idea that, they promised us flying cars and all we got was 140 characters.’”

Finding innovation takes some digging


But look harder, and Avila said there is significant ferment under the surface. Some of these development stage companies require a certain amount of effort to find, he said.

You have to be willing to go out on the edge to find these companies,​ Avila said.

In some sectors high profile failures can turn a large segment of the market off. So development companies can fly under the radar as they help to reinvigorate legacy categories, such as the production of dietary ingredients from algae. Avila said he still believes these ingredients might be the future of omega-3s.

We had the high profile death spiral and eventual demise of Solazyme,Avila​ said. They had this innovation platform and they couldnt bring it to market.

So many in the industry started to look at algae as the proverbial big hat—no cattle scenario. Big promises, glittering vistas and nothing but financial losses and broken dreams at the end.

Its a question of perspective and how far are you willing to look under the covers,​ Avila said. Take Noblegen​. Here youve got an algae single cell producer of proteins, oils and other nutritional ingredients from a novel organism. Or take DSMs algae-based EPA and DHA. Its expensive, but its out there,​ he said.

Other recent innovation cited by Avila includes the bitter taste masking ingredients and proteins based on mushrooms developed by startup MycoTechnology. He also cited the ongoing work being done on stevia ingredients, and the  significant development of new processing technologies for dietary ingredients.

More innovation means more choices

Avila said one aspect of the innovation picture also relates to the maturation of industry in that as new ingredients and technologies come on board, others don’t go away. A few ingredients or production methods can get eclipsed because they are obviously inferior, but for the most part, the growth of the industry over the years supports more new players. So the chorus just gets louder and more cacophonous.

Another part of it is the finished goods brands marketers and formulators are overwhelmed because there are a lot of things now to chase. Then the bar gets raised and they start asking why your new ingredient doesnt have 10 human clinical studies, locked-down intellectual property and so forth,​ he said.

Free Innovation Leaders forum

Avila will take part in an Innovation Leaders online event on Jan. 30 sponsored by NutraIngredients-USA. Avila will join Paul Jarrett, cofounder and CEO of BuluBox and Sergio Radovcic, CEO of Styr Labs on the panel. The hour-long FREE event is scheduled for 11:30 AM Eastern time.  For more information and to register, click here​.

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