Special Edition: Innovation in dietary supplements

Machine mode of delivery helps beat pill fatigue, developers say

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

The Tespo delivery system allows users to switch between disks loaded with different products.  Tespo photo
The Tespo delivery system allows users to switch between disks loaded with different products. Tespo photo

Related tags Dietary supplement

While some say innovation in the supplement industry is trending toward simplicity, other companies have taken a different tack by applying technology to deliver on convenience.

Tespo and Güdpod are two companies marketing countertop appliances to deliver dietary ingredients in individual servings.  It’s a marriage of personalized nutrition and convenience abetted by technological innovation.

Tespo's head of innovation,  Ted Mills, said he and his cofounder Jeff Linton started their concept as a way to deal with pill aversion. It’s a pressing problem within the supplement industry with an estimated 38% of consumers saying they don’t like to take pills.  And a significant number of older consumers can’t swallow pills well.

Getting rid of extraneous ingredients

But Mills said many of the methods the industry has come up with as a way to deal with this issue—melts, shots and, most notably, gummies—contained many of the things they decided they didn't want in their product.

“We saw our pods as a bit of a white board solution,​ Mills said. He and Linton mapped out what they wanted to have in their solution, and what they sought to stay away from. The “don’t want” list included fillers, binders, and other artificial ingredients. The “do want” list included the solution being a comprehensive product that was completely recyclable.

Tespo is a table top appliance that has a month’s worth of servings stored within it.  All the user has to do is push a button, and the machine automatically mixes up that day’s serving.

Another way that dietary supplement innovators have sought to delivery on the single serve convenience idea is to package products in stick packs.  But Mills said that that delivery mode presents organization problems, complicates a consumer’s life while at the same time seeking to simplify it.

“We never saw stick packs as a competitive product.  There is this issue of having to organize and store 31 stick packs in the kitchen cabinet.  Our machine stores 31 servings right in the device,​ he said.

The product launched a couple of years ago, and Mills said he and Linton were on tenterhooks when it came to marketplace acceptance.  The dispenser debuted in 2016 at $129 a pop, and now retails for $99.  The individual disks, which hold the supplement servings, retail for $22 to $35 for a month’s supply.  The company currently offers men’s, women’s and children’s vitamins, condition-specific disks aimed at energy, sleep support and eye health and higher priced disksMills aimed at men and women recovering from bariatric surgery.

“When we first started we were somewhat doubtful.  Do people really want another appliance on their countertop?  Will they pay for something like that?”​ Mills said.

“I can now tell you there are a tremendous amount of people that view it is a very favorable way,”​ he said.

Mills said the concept has drawn interest from dietary supplement manufacturers who want to place their ingredients into the disks.

“2018 will be the year of partnerships for us,” Mills said.  In addition to new ingredient offerings, the company will be marketing a line of devices to gather information from consumers including wearable fitness trackers and WiFi enabled scales.  The countertop technology will drive greater compliance, Mills said, which will enable the company to track in real time how well the supplements are working for consumers.  Indeed, the high compliance idea is so compelling that Mills said the company has gotten interest from researchers who want to use the device in clinical trials.

“We have been contacted by a lot of brands and we’re being pretty selective about putting their products into our pods.  What we are going to be able to provide to those partners is data about the customer’s name, how often they use the product, what their experience has been and so on,​ he said.

“2019 is when we will roll out into other distribution channels.  Right now we can’t keep our stuff in stock, but that is going to fix itself pretty quick.  We will be closing our biggest financing round in March,​ he said.

Individual mixing pods

GüdPod, while similar in concept, has take a slightly different tack in design that focuses on higher dosage products.  The individual servings are packaged in pods that more resemble the Keurig coffee concept.  Each pod contains a mixing element that extends down into the liquid in the cup once the machine is engaged.  The active ingredients fall out of the pod onto the mixer. The machine, unlike Tespo’s (or a Keurig machine, for that matter), contains no liquid of its own. 

The machine and the pods launched at the Arnold Expo a couple of years ago and initially targeted the sports nutrition community.  The machine itself sells for $199 and currently features a whey protein pod supplied by Performix that sells for $37.99 for 16 servings.  But the plan is to feature other brands.

“The platform allows for other brands to offer their products,​ CEO Tasso Koken told NutraIngredients-USA in 2016. “It’s an open platform.

At least one brand has taken him up on the offer. Quebec-based  cranberry ingredients developer Fruit d’Or has developed a prototype of a cranberry juice gut health product to go into the pods.

Big dosage capability

Stephen Lukawski, director of global sales director and product development for Fruit d’Or, said the attraction of the system is its ability to deliver dosages of ingredients that would require a consumer to ingest multiple capsules if delivered in that form. The prototype supplement, which is not yet commercially available, contains 10 grams of organic cranberry juice powder, 6 grams of Sunfiber, a soluble fiber guar gum ingredient from Taiyo, and has 2 billion CFUs of LactoCran, a cranberry protein powder/Bacillus coagulans combination ingredient that uses Sabinsa’s Lactospore probiotic. It also includes Pretic X, a prebiotic ingredient from AIDP. Putting that all together in another delivery mode outside of perhaps a tub powder product would be impractical, Lukawski said.

Its the only delivery system that can serve up this kind of dosage,​ Lukawski said. The delivery system offers functionality, so we can deliver a woman-focused product that normalizes gut health and offers urinary tract support.

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