Getting back to the needs of its core audience of older adults will help the category find the footing it needs.
It might be tempting to look at the data and make an assumption that the joint health supplement category is struggling—according to data from SPINS (Chicago), sales of supplement ingredients related to joint health decreased by 2.3% during the 52 weeks ending December 26, 2021. But this could actually be an indication of a market in flux rather than a market in crisis. SPINS intelligence notes that some of this decline is likely related to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic as consumers became focused on other health issues like stress relief, sleep, and immunity. Plus, as more seniors stayed home during this time, lower activity levels meant less of a focus on joint health supplements.
The truth is that trends actually point to a renaissance for the joint health market, especially when it comes to older consumers. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of U.S. adults over the age of 65 is estimated to nearly double from 52 million in 2018 to 95 million by 2060. “While anti-aging has become the norm for quite some time, the industry is shifting with the growing aging population to focus on embracing the natural process and all that comes with it,” says Jim Burkett, president of Great Lakes Wellness (Grayslake, IL). “More products are coming to shelves to support consumers on their journey, rather than fight it.”
Glucosamine and chondroitin, once the superstars of the joint health market, are not as popular as they used to be, thanks to some serious drawbacks, “including the high dose required for efficacy, the fact that they only seem to work for a percentage of individuals, the long length of time required to see a benefit (often three months or more of continued use), as well as the fact that they are often derived from allergens (in the case of glucosamine) or non-vegetarian sources (in the case of chondroitin),” says Irfan Qureshi, ND, vice president of product development and quality assurance at Healthy Directions (Bethesda, MD).
Instead, trends in the joint health market are shifting towards ingredients that are efficacious at low doses, which can help combat some of the pill fatigue expressed by consumers of a certain age. “Products that are effective when dosed just once per day are more attractive than those that need to be taken multiple times per day,” says Qureshi. “Given the number of other supplements and medications this demographic may be taking, having something that is dosed once daily will help improve compliance and, therefore, effectiveness for the consumer, as well as repeat purchase for the brand.”
Multifunctional products addressing one or more health issues (say, joint health and bone health) or multiple issues within joint health (for example, inflammation and cartilage support) will also find favor. “Multi-ingredient joint support formulas are popular with aging consumers because they provide a convenient way to get a range of nutrients and co-factors in a ‘one-stop shop’ solution,” says Eric Cohen, senior brand manager of private brands at The Vitamin Shoppe (Secaucus, NJ). “These joint support formulas may combine glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate with MSM, and may include hyaluronic acid, collagen, and herbs such as turmeric and boswellia.”
Another significant trend in joint health for the aging population is products that are easy for consumers to take and integrate into their health plan.
For example, says market researcher Spoonshot’s Senior Food Scientist Sayantan Paul, supplements in gummy and candy formats can be more enjoyable than pills, and jelly shots have the potential to help consumers who have limited chewing ability or prefer softer formats. There also is room in the joint health category for ready-to-drink beverages, protein shakes, snacks, and other functional foods and beverages.
It would be impossible to talk about trends in joint health supplements without talking about collagen. It’s undoubtedly the category’s hottest trending ingredient right now, for a number of reasons.
First, collagen is a flexible ingredient that can be offered in most supplement delivery formats, from powders and capsules to functional drinks. In response, Great Lakes Wellness recently launched its Daily Joint line of quick-dissolving collagen powders, formulated with additional ingredients to support joint health. “Consumers want products that they can seamlessly integrate into long-established daily routines,” says Burkett. “For some consumers, change is difficult or met with resistance. Collagen is an easy, ideal solution that can be made tasteless with unflavored varieties, or in flavorful options that mix in well with baked goods or coffee like Daily Joint’s caramel flavor.” Easy portions are another selling point for aging consumers, says Burkett, and powdered collagen supplements can deliver benefits with two easy scoops, or via pre-measured, on-the-go stick packs for water bottles or thermoses.
Collagen also delivers a range of benefits beyond joint health, including skin, hair, and nail support, as well as protein content when delivered in a powder format, giving consumers more bang for their buck. It also plays well with other joint health category ingredients like MSM, offering consumers a natural solution with multiple mechanisms of action.
What’s most important when choosing an ingredient, though, is that it’s clinically substantiated. “There are many product choices for joint health in the marketplace,” says Cohen. “Aging consumers are looking more closely at the products that contain clinically studied, trademarked ingredients. Products containing these ingredients provide the customer with the confidence in knowing that these ingredients have demonstrated benefits in clinical trials.”