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Tips from an applications specialist on formulating high-performance gummy supplements that also cater to today’s consumer preferences.
The dietary supplement market has seen an explosion of growth among consumers of all age groups over the last several years. As the general population has become more comfortable taking supplements, they want those supplements to fit better into their everyday routine.
The thought of adding another pill to their daily intake is not all that appealing to customers, especially now that other delivery options are available. The phenomenon known as “pill fatigue”—the stress associated with the need to take numerous, sometimes very large, tablets or capsules throughout the day—has driven formulation innovation. While solutions are available to decrease the size of tablets, for some consumers the thought of taking another pill, no matter the size, is still not a welcome one.
Supplement manufacturers are then faced with the unique challenge of continuing to provide the health benefits consumers demand, while also differentiating the dosage form experience. More traditional solutions, such as chewable tablets, do exist, although these can still invoke the same user stress as a traditional tablet due to their similarity in appearance to standard pills. Changing consumer preferences have forced supplement manufacturers to get a bit more creative to appeal to a wider variety of shoppers.
Enter the gummy.
A Fun, Tasty, and Portable Delivery Format
One of the most popular format variations is the gummy, which is continuing to gain market share. According to Nutrition Business Journal, in 2018 the gummy supplement market experienced a CAGR of about 16% in comparison to the overall supplement market CAGR of 6%. Gummies accounted for 12% of all dietary supplement sales that year.1 Supplement users continue to opt for the gummy format, with recent Council for Responsible Nutrition survey data indicating that 49% of supplement users switched from traditional delivery formats in 2019.2 In the U.S. in 2019, the largest category of gummy supplement launches included vitamins and minerals, with other categories like herbs/botanicals, probiotics, and melatonin gaining in popularity.
One of the main reasons for gummies’ growth stems from the consumer’s experience when taking a gummy. Not only do gummies not look like medicine; if formulated correctly, they don’t taste like it either. Gummies can provide a consumer with a fun, tasty, and portable way to take their daily nutritional supplements while still delivering the desired health claims. This change in perspective on taking a nutritional supplement can not only differentiate a brand; it can also attract new consumers to a company’s product line.
Formulating for Efficacy and Optimal Sensory Experience
When formulating a gummy, many factors need to be considered to ensure the consumer has a stable product with consistent efficacy and the best possible sensory experience. A manufacturer should also consider various consumer preferences, such as the desire for clean-label ingredients, non-animal-based options, and improved health aspects—from caloric to sugar content.
While many gummies are enjoyable because of their sweet, sugary taste, consumers have shown an increasing preference for low- or no-sugar options that are in line with their focus on personal health. Sugar has been connected to various adverse health issues, so low- to no-sugar gummy options can further attract consumers to the format. This preference creates an additional challenge for a formulator, however, as sugar substitutes can have a different taste profile and impart a different texture in the final piece.
Many hydrocolloids—such as gelatin, which is a familiar ingredient to consumers and formulators—can be used to create a gummy matrix. Gelatin’s low reactivity and ease of processability makes it a great starting point for formulators, although it does come with downsides. While gelatin’s low melting point of around 35°C gives it a unique sensory experience, gelatin gummies tend to melt if improperly stored during transportation and thereafter, which yields unappetizing lumps and imperfections in form. Gummy producers can overcome this limitation by formulating the gummy matrix with a combination of gelatin and pectin.
Meeting Consumer Dietary Preferences and Sustainability
As the global population trends towards more sustainable and non-animal options, gelatin—extracted from skin, bones, and connective tissues of animals—has fallen out of favor with many. To offer a vegetarian or vegan alternative, formulators can explore other hydrocolloids such as pectin and seaweed extracts, which can be used in combination or alone. Pectin may offer some familiarity to consumers since it’s a popular dessert ingredient and its derivation from citrus peels means it’s a sustainably sourced, vegan alternative. This familiarity with the ingredients can go a long way toward gaining consumers’ trust in new product launches.
Gummies formulated with these animal-free alternatives allow a wider population of consumers to enjoy the health benefits of the active ingredient, while aligning with their lifestyle preferences. These alternative ingredients also offer some technological benefits, such as an increased heat stability to maintain gummy structure during processing and transport, and a wider array of differing textures compared to gelatin’s elastic texture. As with any ingredient, however, they present their own challenges, such as sensitivities to different metal ions and pH ranges. Faced with these challenges, formulators may need to make a variety of changes to successfully produce a stable product, such as making process changes to the order in which ingredients are added; ensuring different formulation considerations such as using de-ionized water; or choosing a more acidic flavoring agent.
Delivering Stability Is Key
Regardless of the ingredient selected in formulation, stability is of the utmost importance in any gummy. Not only does the active ingredient need to remain stable to impart its health benefit, but the texture and taste of the gummy must be maintained throughout the shelf life of the product. Consumers expect gummies to taste, feel, and deliver the same health benefits, from the time they open the bottle until the time they’re finished. Formulators need to make careful decisions on ingredients added inside the gummy matrix to ensure each piece is built to last.
It’s clear that the dietary supplement consumer has evolved in the last 10 years. As new trends emerge and the demand for gummies increases, formulators are pressured to find new solutions to fit the demands of both processing the dosage form and the preferences of the consumer. Partnering with key suppliers who can assist throughout the R&D and production process is key to continuing innovation in this space.
Drew Mound is an application development and innovation scientist at DuPont Nutrition & Biosciences (Wilmington, DE). Drew received a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from The College of New Jersey in Ewing, NJ. Shortly thereafter, he started his career in various laboratory-based roles for FMC Health and Nutrition, before it was acquired by DuPont. At DuPont, he took the role of application development and innovation scientist, focusing on nutraceutical applications. Currently, Drew is the gummy project lead within DuPont, assisting formulators globally with making healthy and stable gummies.
1. Morton C. "The Analyst's Take: Gummy supplement sales double from 2014 to 2018.” New Hope Network. Published on June 6, 2019. Accessed at: https://www.newhope.com/market-data-and-analysis/analysts-take-gummy-sup...
2. The Supplement Roundtable event at Natural Products Expo West 2019. New Hope Network. March 6, 2019. Accessed at: https://www.newhope.com/sites/cet.com/files/expo-west-2019-supplement-ro...