From the Editor's Desk: Separating fads from trends

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Innovation is the lifeblood of the supplement business, as it is with most industries. But can this thirst for ‘the new’ get out of hand, and lead to a mere merry go round of fad chasing?

This push for new products is of course common to other industries as well.  And also true of those other categories of consumer goods is the danger that it’s just newness for the sake of newness.  How often is “New and Improved!” just a doily on a label?

In an earnings call a while back, the then CEO of one of the publicly traded major retailers in the supplements space famously said something along the lines of “Everyone knows this is a churn business.”  Within that welter of new product development, which trends are actually moving the industry in a direction of more health for more people?

NutraIngredients-USA attended the Expo West trade show earlier this month where all of the latest trends were on display. Among the big trends we saw​ was a huge number of products containing CBDs, tons of collagen, lots of ‘keto friendly’ items, an upswing in products promising cognitive benefits and more.

So what separates a fad from a trend?  Fads are flashes in the pan—think green coffee bean or raspberry keytones here—that in retrospect had little underpinning in scientific evidence.  Trends are harder to spot at the beginning, but over time make a mark in the market.  This is usually because they have a solid underpinning in the research to which marketers can point to and which gradually takes hold with consumers.

When does a marketing message hold water?

Among the trends that hold both promise and warning are the plethora of new RTD beverages.  Pretty much every one of these products claims to be a game changer. I had a publicist working with a new beverage brand try to sell me on the product which was billed as a breakthrough.  Chief among its attributes is the packaging choice—an aluminum can instead of a plastic bottle—that the founders believe matches up better with current sustainability trends and the concerns about micro plastics in the oceans. So far so good.

Then came what goes into the bottle. Water. Very nicely, very carefully filtered water, but still just H20, the most ubiquitous (albeit necessary) liquid on the planet. So at the end of the day I was led to believe that canned water is going to change the world.

I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade. I know it’s a lot easier to sit on the sidelines and take potshots at someone else’s dream rather than to try to realize your own. But we are tasked here at NutraIngredients-USA with separating the wheat from the chaff.

Healthy beverage innovation

To return to beverages, there is plenty of healthy innovation in this space.  Bioactives delivered via a liquid is one of the oldest delivery forms in the industry, dating back to when traditional herbalists made tinctures and teas from their ingredients.  Ingredient developers are working on ways to deliver important nutrients, such as turmeric, that heretofore weren’t suitable for liquid delivery.

There are now even proteins that can be delivered in this way, including in clear sparkling beverages.  Which brings me to another subject, the addition of protein to new product categories.

A plethora of protein

There is a reasonable amount of science for ingesting a big dose of protein shortly after resistance training in terms of boosting muscle protein synthesis.  And there is a cogent argument to be made that some people find it hard to eat enough whole food at that time to get that amount of protein.  And there is some evidence, too, to support adding a bit of protein to a hydration beverage to delay the onset of fatigue.

But the argument becomes a bit less compelling when protein is being added to supplements and foods meant for other meal occasions, such as the trend of protein boosted cereals and snacks. Are people healthier for this than they would be if that protein were consumed in a whole food form, such as a chicken breast from a responsible natural manufacturer?  Has protein become a fad that has seen ‘with added protein’ become a synonym for simply ‘better?’

CBD: A fad turning into a trend?

CBD might be a trend some day, but at the moment seems to sit squarely in fad territory.  It seems clear to me that many companies are developing these products or are considering doing so solely to catch the coattails of this giant striding through the market. I have even heard rumblings of a major confectionary manufacturer that has made inquiries about lining up a contract manufacturing partner for a line of CBD products.

 The research in this area mostly pertains to the drugs that are on the market.  If future studies back indications that are more amenable to a dietary supplement-type claim, perhaps the CBD market will prove to have legs. At the moment, though, there is a gold rush mentality. It’s anyone’s guess how many of the hundreds (thousands?) of brands on the market today will still be here three years from now.

Collagen: Backed by significant research

Collagen products are on the rise, too, though not to the extent of CBDs. The benefits of this protein are backed with some well done studies, notably those done by German manufacturer Gelita on its collagen peptides. Unlike with some of the CBD products, the brands adding collagen to their SKUs are well established companies. These brands will still be around three years from now even if I suspect some of the collagen-containing products won’t stick in the market.

In the end the market will decide if any of these trends take hold. I don’t pick winners or losers, and in any case there may be innovations that I’m not at first keen on that subsequently turn out to have hit the market on the nose, in which case I’ll be happy to publicly eat crow. In the meantime, we here at NutraIngredients-USA will do our best to identify those that seem to have the most solid roots in science while painting with a lighter brush those that tend toward the trend chasing side of the coin.

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