Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) may not be the highest-grossing ingredient on the block, but they have seen pretty impressive growth in terms of dollar change over the past year. According to market researcher SPINS (Chicago), during the 52 weeks ending October 6, 2019, MCT cross-channel sales growth—encompassing mainstream, natural, and specialty gourmet channels—was 95.8%, reaching $41.7 million. (For more insights on this cross-channel growth, click here.) In the natural channel alone, MCTs ranked among the channel’s bestselling ingredients, growing 22.3% over the previous year to $14.8 million.
MCTs are performing well in a number of specific market categories. Within the natural sales channel, MCTs were one of the 10 top-selling ingredients in the channel’s energy support and cognitive health categories, per SPINS; in the energy support category, MCT sales grew 19.2% over the previous year to nearly $3 million and in the cognitive health category grew 16.6% to nearly $3 million. Meanwhile, in the specialty gourmet channel, MCT sales grew 23.2% in the weight-loss category.
Much of the interest in MCTs centers on their ability to help the consumer sustain energy, says Nutiva CEO Steven Naccarato. “People [are] looking for an option for clean, sustained energy—whether that’s related to sports nutrition and among high-endurance athletes, or for the average person incorporating MCTs in their daily nutrition routine,” he explains. “MCTs are known to have many other benefits, like increased endurance, weight-loss management, and enhanced brain health and cognitive function, but we find that the biggest draw for people today is in MCTs’ ability to increase energy for any situation, as we’re always looking for cleaner replacements to caffeine.”
When MCTs first hit the market, they were predominantly in liquid oil form. Now, MCTs have proliferated in a number of delivery formats to fit specific needs—and, in many cases, combined with other in-demand ingredients.
“As popularity for clean, plant-based fuel has grown, we’ve seen MCTs hit shelves in powder forms and infused in other types of products and foods, such as creamers,” explains Naccarato. “We’re even seeing MCT products debut combined with other functional ingredients, such as collagen.” Nutiva’s new Organic MCT Protein product is another example, blending plant-based protein with MCTs.
One of the advantages of MCTs is that MCTs are versatile, and consumers can create fun and interesting recipes that taste good and sustain their energy in very effective ways.
“Both MCT oils and powders are great for blending into smoothies, shakes, and other beverages like coffee,” says Naccarato. “MCT-based products perform particularly well in coffee because the healthy fats slow down the absorption of caffeine, which results in more sustained energy.”
He continues: “MCT oil and powder can also be used in recipes for an added boost of clean fuel, including in overnight oats, keto cups and fat balls, homemade peanut butter, and more. Lately, more flavored MCT powder products and MCT powders infused with other functional ingredients are hitting the market to appeal to a wider variety of tastes.”
The soaring rise of the ketogenic diet has helped increase the use of MCT products because MCTs are seen as an efficient source of energy in the absence of carbohydrates.
“Because MCTs produce ketones when broken down by the liver, which are a natural source of clean energy that is used by the brain and body when carb intake is very low, keto dieters began consuming MCTs to support their lifestyles,” explains Naccarato.
While MCT demand has been predominantly for weight management and clean energy, the cognitive health benefits of MCTs are becoming more apparent—and a potential avenue of growth for MCTs.
“The biggest potential for MCTs is certainly with cognitive function and brain health, as research continues to show that supplying the brain with extra ketones, a clean fuel produced when MCTs are broken down by the liver, is beneficial,” says Naccarato.
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