Bone and Joint Ingredients for Functional Foods and Beverages

June 1, 2012

Functional ingredients for bone and joint health have withstood the test of time, and better-known ingredients, like glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, may be as popular today as they were several years ago. But let’s face it: innovation needs to come from somewhere. In the absence of a lot of groundbreaking new research, and with a new generation of consumers entering the fray, bone and joint health ingredients will need to impress in fresh new ways.

If you need any motivation, just look at the omega-3 sector, where omega-3–fortified foods and beverages are eating up more market share, year after year.

Incentives for food and beverage manufacturers to launch bone and joint health products do exist. First, new bone and joint health claims are still a possibility. Last September, the European Food Safety Authority approved a health claim asserting that “Vitamin D may reduce the risk of falling…a risk factor for bone fractures.” Second, world-leading food and beverage manufacturers appear plenty eager to invest in the category. This April, Nestlé announced a partnership with the International Osteoporosis Foundation to raise awareness about the “silent epidemic” of osteoporosis. The company has continued research on essential nutrition for bone health.

Furthermore, bone and joint problems remain (and will remain) leading health ailments for consumers in the United States and abroad.

But tablets and capsules might not sustain the bone and joint health market alone—or any market for that matter. It’s 2012, people. For manufacturers eager to tap into bone and joint health or already focusing on the category, functional foods and beverages appear a logical option for the future. Take today’s ingredients and put them into drinks, nutrition bars—anything less likely to make you gag and more likely to make supplementing fun.

While we don’t yet see a great deal of chondroitin sulfate energy bars and glucosamine brownie bites, suppliers expect that we soon will. Because leading suppliers of bone and joint health ingredients are increasingly going GRAS, even in the absence of product launches.

Suppliers Are Ready

For Bergstrom Nutrition (Vancouver, WA), a developer of a patented methylsulfonylmethane called OptiMSM, achieving GRAS status was a no-brainer.

“Our GRAS designation allows us flexibility that many other dietary supplements just don’t have,” says Holly Harmon, Bergstrom director of marketing. “Case in point, [a manufacturer] can use our ingredient in a private-label joint drink because we have the actual GRAS designation by letter of non-objection from the FDA. A major benefit for the [manufacturer] is that our ingredient can be used in a product that contains a nutrition facts panel and sits on a mainstream aisle in the store.”

OptiMSM is currently used in a national grocery store retailer’s private-label joint drink. Other manufacturers are formulating with the ingredient, and even more have expressed similar interest.

Of course, formulating with innovative functional ingredients isn’t always easy.

Cargill Inc. (Minneapolis) says that many of today’s bone and joint health functional ingredients can be challenged by pH, dispersability, efficacious dosages, flavor, odor, taste, and mouthfeel. Yet those problems don’t seem to be the case for Cargill’s GRAS-affirmed vegetarian glucosamine (Regenasure), which can be found in multiple beverages and drink mixes in the United States and Asia.

Easy Transitions

As unfamiliar to foods and beverages as some of these ingredients may be, crossover potential may be easier for some ingredients.

Manufacturers have added calcium and vitamin D to foods and beverages for years, and most consumers have grown accustomed to this. This can give a jump to bone and joint ingredients that synergize with calcium or vitamin D.

AIDP’s (City of Industry, CA) GRAS-affirmed KoAct is a calcium-and-collagen ingredient. Since calcium attaches to collagen to mineralize the bone, the company says its ingredient can allow for better utilization of calcium in foods or beverages, where applicable. (The ingredient has demonstrated its highest potential thus far in bar formats.)

Vitamin K2 is another example. This vitamin activates osteocalcin, a protein developed by vitamin D that moves calcium to the bones. Without K2, there’s a risk of calcium staying in the blood rather than reaching bones.

“In short, K2 is a new vitamin that reinforces calcium absorption and action of vitamin D,” says Siegbert Philipp, bone health platform expert for Dupont Nutrition and Health (Copenhagen), developer of ActivK vitamin K2 (in synthetic and natural forms). “Based on emerging knowledge about vitamin K2 functionality, products containing a combination of calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin K2 (MK-7) seem a logical step.”

Beauty, Bones, and Joints

As bone and joint health ingredient suppliers prep for functional foods and beverages, a few ingredients could succeed thanks to previously established consumer recognition in other health and wellness categories.

BioCell Technology LLC (Newport Beach, CA) has held GRAS status on its BioCell Collagen ingredient since 2010. Until now, functional food applications for BioCell Collagen have largely been reserved for the beauty sector. (Collagen is used in this category for its potential to support connective tissues in the skin.)

An established presence in beauty-from-within products means that the ingredient has been well received in non-supplement formats. The ingredient is also backed by studies (and, assumedly, customer purchases) demonstrating its efficacy when consumed as a non-tablet, non-capsule nutricosmetic.

“While the joint side remains to grow at a healthy pace, our recent human skin study helps increase traffic on the beauty side significantly at the same time,” says BioCell vice president of scientific affairs Joosang Park. “Furthermore, we see that in some markets, such as Korea and Japan, the populous has firmly believed in the ‘beauty from within’ mantra for centuries, and we are already seeing a paradigm shift in the American market towards this line of thinking.”