From the looks of things, the health and wellness industry is having no trouble convincing Americans to take their collagen. Sales of supplements touting the structural protein as a primary functional ingredient were up an astounding 33.8% in the U.S., hitting $46.6 million, in the 52 weeks ending February 25, 2018, per research from SPINS LLC (Chicago).
So it makes sense that Google Trends tracked an all-time high in consumer awareness of and interest in collagen this year. And it makes sense, as well, that the ingredient was the talk of recent trade shows, with booths at March’s Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, CA, overflowing with collagen powders, teas, bars, and even baked goods.
And that underscores yet another development that could elevate collagen even further: that while dietary supplements and topical beauty products have traditionally been the protein’s home, foods and drinks are emerging as novel platforms for launching collagen to an even wider audience.
This indicates that many product developers feel like Annie Vo, R&D specialist, Vinh Wellness (Tustin, CA), does: that “collagen is on the verge of going mainstream as a bona fide food and beverage ingredient. It may currently be present in a small number of product categories, but its proven health benefits and ease of formulation will propel it into the spotlight.”
Until now, when American consumers thought of collagen—if they thought of it at all—it was usually in the context of cosmeceuticals, nutricosmetics, and beauty. But lately, says Lauren Clardy, president, NutriMarketing Group (Santa Rosa, CA), “Collagen has moved well beyond the beauty-from-within category and now has traction in the joint, bone and muscle support, sports, and digestive health markets. Brands in multiple channels are segmenting into these specific targeted end points.”
Clardy sees the evolution as a consequence of the category’s maturation, and a sign that the protein is “moving more toward the footprint that you see in the Asian market,” where collagen-containing supplements, topicals, and foods and beverages aimed at skin, hair, and nail support have long been commonplace.
As we learn more about collagen’s role in mobility maintenance and athletic performance, more consumers—and from a broader range of age groups and need states—are also turning to the protein. “In the coming year,” says Juliana Erickson, senior marketing manager, Lonza (Basel, Switzerland), “we anticipate that manufacturers will continue to account for a diverse demographic when developing joint-health products. And while it’s been traditionally seen as a market for the aging population, there’s a growing need for collagen ingredients and dosage forms to address the needs of younger active consumers.”
Breaking Down the Building Blocks
Another collagen driver: protein supplementation. For years, consumers and formulators dismissed collagen as a protein source because, lacking the amino acid tryptophan, it ranked as nutritionally “incomplete.” But given its presence—and prevalence—in everything from connective tissue and blood vessels to skin, intestinal walls, and the cornea, collagen, which accounts for roughly 30% of the body’s protein content, must not be all that shabby vis-à-vis our physiological needs.
And yet collagen achieves its physiological effects in a manner somewhat different from how other nutrients work. Whereas a compound like the long-chain omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) might go from a fish oil supplement through the digestive tract, into the bloodstream, and, ultimately, to its target tissues in, say, neural cell membranes, collagen—in its typical supplementary form—enters the system as a short peptide fragment rather than the full-length protein. When cellular receptors primed to detect the complete protein intercept these shorter fragments, they get the message that the body’s collagen is being broken down, and that it has to ramp up production to make more.
In other words, collagen supplementation doesn’t supply the building blocks for collagen regeneration, per se, but rather provides the body with an incentive for doing so. It’s a sneaky mechanism of action, but an ingenious one, nonetheless.
So while collagen sales in performance nutrition “began picking up speed in 2016,” notes Kimberly Kawa, SPINS’s retail reporting analyst, “a major shift in marketing collagen as a protein source changed the direction of growth in favor of the protein supplements and meal replacements category.”
Once again, that slight shift in positioning is roping in a larger consumer base for collagen, chiefly by tilting the functionality focus away from serious athletic and competitive performance to “a more general health-and-wellness protein boost,” Kawa says. Over the 52 weeks ending February, 25, 2018, in fact, sales of collagen products targeting the protein-supplementing crowd grew by 751%, earning the category $8.7 million in said sales.
Indeed, observes Vo, “The increasing need for proteins that are easy not only to digest but to absorb, that nourish the aging human body, and that are also pure and sustainable is the driving force for this trend. With solid scientific research proving its health benefits, and with ingredient technologies allowing for its easy breakdown and absorption, collagen has become the perfect choice to meet this need.”
Edible and drinkable applications are becoming the perfect vehicles for delivering collagen. As Heather Arment, marketing coordinator, North America, Gelita (Sergeant Bluff, IA), notes, “While collagen has been successfully used for years in topical beauty and personal care products such as lotions, face creams, and more, recent scientific evidence confirms that the highest efficacy can be achieved when collagen is ingested orally. This has created new opportunities for beverage, food, and supplement manufacturers.”
Yet because typical dose loads run from the roughly 2.5 g/day of type I collagen needed to see dermatologic results to the 7- to 10-g/day doses of type II collagen shown to promote joint improvement, any supplementary pill or capsule big enough to carry that much collagen would be a tough one to swallow, literally.
“That’s why it lends itself so brilliantly to delivery and packaging technologies such as RTD beverages, shots, jellies, chocolate chews, and more,” Clardy says. “We’ll see collagen in mainstream functional foods such as protein chips and snacks, bars, confections of various types, and beverages where it’s featured prominently and the brand value proposition will be centered on collagen.”
- Schunck M et al. “Dietary supplementation with specifc collagen peptides has a body mass index-dependent benefcial efect on cellulite morphology.” Journal of Medicinal Food, vol. 18, no. 12 (December 2015): 1340-1348
- Troitino C. “Ancient Nutrition Raises $103 Million from 100+ Investors to Heat the Bone Broth Market.” Forbes (March 10, 2018)