Making over the Multivitamin

Nutritional OutlookNutritional Outlook Vol. 19 No. 3
Volume 19
Issue 3

Reinventing a consumer favorite, the multivitamin

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Multivitamins: they may not be as sexy, glamorous, or headline-grabbing as the latest exotic herb or plant-protein superstar, but they remain one of the most popular, trusted products in the dietary-supplement market. “Multivitamins continue to be one of the top-selling products within the supplements industry,” confirms Duffy McKay, ND, senior vice president, scientific and regulatory affairs, Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN; Washington, DC). “It is fair to say that the multivitamin is a product that really reaches mainstream America. When you consider that more than two-thirds of Americans take dietary supplements, we know that many, many of those individuals are using multivitamins as an insurance policy to fill nutrient gaps,” he adds.

Indeed, CRN’s latest Consumer Survey on Dietary Supplements, published late last year, provides some pretty solid, encouraging figures regarding multivitamin use in the United States. For instance, of the 68% of Americans who took dietary supplements in 2015, more than three-quarters took a multivitamin. Analyzed by demographic, 83% of supplement users aged 18–34 took a multivitamin, 80% of users aged 35–54 took a multivitamin, and 71% of senior supplement users (aged 55 and up) took a multivitamin. Examined by gender, the numbers are nearly equal at 79% of male supplement users taking a multivitamin and 77% of female users doing the same.

Perhaps most edifying for industry is the high level of trust Americans have in vitamins and minerals in general: CRN’s survey showed that 85% of Americans have overall confidence in the safety, quality, and effectiveness of vitamins/minerals.


Strong Sales

Recent sales of multivitamins, both in the United States and abroad, reflect their popularity and trustworthiness among consumers. SPINS natural products specialist Kimberly Kawa reports that multivitamins had a good year in the United States in 2015. Total sales through natural (excluding Whole Foods markets), specialty gourmet, and conventional multioutlet channels were calculated by SPINS at just over $1 billion, with overall growth of nearly 5% over the previous year. Significant gains were made in the sales of men’s multivitamins (14.5% growth in sales via all combined channels over the previous year), women’s multivitamins (7.9% over the previous year), and general adult multivitamins (2.1% over the previous year), according to SPINS data. “Self-care is becoming more prominent as more consumers are looking to steer away from the conventional healthcare paradigm,” comments Kawa on why multivitamins’ popularity seems only to grow. “Consumers realize that the standard American diet is probably not up to par with optimal vitamin and nutrient requirements, and they are seeking primary prevention methods [such as multivitamin use] for filling in dietary gaps.”

Kawa’s comment is in line with some statements made in the newly published 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which point to dietary supplements in general as being “useful in providing one or more nutrients that otherwise may be consumed in less than recommended amounts or that are of particular concern for specific population groups.” The guidelines identify vitamins A, D, E, and C, calcium, and magnesium (among others) as nutrients that are “consumed by many individuals in amounts below the estimated average requirement or adequate intake levels.” CRN’s McKay calls the newest guidelines “one of the strongest reasons for multivitamins’ popularity in 2015.”

Data-analysis firm Euromonitor’s methodology calculates the total value of U.S. multivitamin sales in 2015 to be $5.2 billion retail value, which accounts for roughly half of all sales in the vitamin/multivitamin category. Internationally, that multivitamin sales figure increases to $14 billion. A December 2015 Euromonitor report on vitamins and multivitamins attributes growth in multivitamins to “the sustained purchases and the unit-price increase” of the products. “The price of multivitamins continued to grow as more manufacturers launched new products with different delivery formats and condition-specific formulations tailored to a specific age, gender, and other characteristics” in 2015, the report reads. “By positioning, women, including pregnant women, were the largest target segment” for multivitamins. Euromonitor forecasts continued growth for multivitamins in 2016, both domestically and internationally.




Trends in Ingredients and Formulations

In an established, saturated market such as multivitamins, brands must continually innovate to stay competitive. Multivitamin brands are doing this in a number of ways, particularly in the areas of formulations and added ingredients. Tobe Cohen, vice president of DSM Human Nutrition & Health North America (Parsippany, NJ), says that “brand owners are optimizing formulas based on evolving science and understanding of nutrient gaps.” For instance, adds Charles Barber, technical applications manager, BASF Nutrition & Health (Florham Park, NJ), “customers are especially interested in adding high-concentrate omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B based on the compelling science around it, and vitamin D because more physicians are recommending it.”

Formulations for eye health are growing in popularity, point out Ayako Homma, senior analyst at Euromonitor International, BASF’s Barber, and DSM’s Cohen, likely the result of the Baby Boomer generation’s now advanced age. Lutein and other carotenoids are primary ingredients present in these formulations.

Ingredients deemed “pure,” “high quality,” and “more bioavailable” are trending, too, say analysts and suppliers. SPINS’s Kawa says that “whole-food-based multivitamins have a big following and usually come with additional superfood or herbal boosts.” (See page 54 for more on whole-food supplements.) Kawa points to coenzymated or methylated B vitamins as an example of a more-bioavailable ingredient, as well as minerals bound to citrate, glycinate, malate, and aspartate instead of oxide or carbonate. She also notes a “shift toward brands using less-questionable fillers and excipients.”

CRN’s McKay sees individualized multivitamin formulas aimed at more-specific types of consumers as a current trend. These formulas, he says, are made for active athletes, for instance, or men with prostate- and heart-health concerns, or older adults: “We see companies targeting multivitamins so that consumers can say, ‘This is my multivitamin.’”

Finally, organic-ingredients supplier Orgenetics Inc. (Brea, CA) reports continued interest in and demand for organic vitamins extracted from organic fruit and vegetable sources. “We have seen this specific organic-vitamins industry grow from a niche we created to a fully fledged industry,” says Saumil Maheshvari, marketing. “Organic-multivitamins demand has been just fantastic ever since we introduced it. This really shows the underlying consumer shift toward healthier alternatives and healthier lifestyles. More and more consumers are learning that organic food-based vitamins indeed are healthy.” (Turn to page 52 for more on this.)


Multivitamins that Deliver

Consumers desiring a tastier, “fun” way to ingest their multivitamin now have a wealth of options, as do multivitamin brands looking to distinguish themselves in online stores and on retail shelves. “Gummies have really taken off in the multivitamin category,” states CRN’s McKay. No longer marketed exclusively for children, gummies are winning over more young-adult consumers, as the products are “easier to digest and offer new and varied flavors,” says Euromonitor’s Ayako Homma.

One downside to manufacturing gummies, says McKay, is that they have physical and chemical limitations. “Some minerals don’t behave well” in a gummy matrix, he says. And stability can be an issue. “Innovation is ongoing within the gummy area to figure out how to make a more full-spectrum gummy multivitamin and better formulas.”

Euromonitor’s Homma also identifies non-gummy, tablet-style chewable vitamins as trending for senior consumers, “as their delivery format is not as likely to stick to teeth as gummies are, but is still easier to consume than traditional large pills.”

Outside of the gummy and the chewable-tablet formats, BASF’s Barber lists orally disintegrating tablets, emulsions, stick packs (for dissolving in beverages), powdered drinks, and “tablets or softgel capsules with integrated taste-masking or modified-release technologies” as trends in multivitamin delivery. He says his company is a leader in innovating novel delivery forms and technologies because it sees a “critical need to bridge the gap in healthcare resulting from low compliance and changing consumer demographics.”

DSM’s Welsh adds mints to the list of leading-edge delivery systems and says that “food-like forms” are an evolving delivery method. “Fundamentally, we see the convergence of food forms and nutritional technology,” he says.



A Long History and a Bright Future

Multivitamins have been manufactured and sold in the United States since the mid-1930s, but their ingredients, formulas, and delivery systems continue to evolve and improve, and their popularity remains robust. In 2015, such factors as the mention of a role for supplements in the most-recent revision of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, an aging population, a millennial generation raised by health-conscious Baby Boomers, increasing consumer interest in preventative health and wellness, and the increased accessibility of products through various distribution channels all contributed to the multivitamin’s strong demand and sales.

Formulations targeted to specific demographics, such as pregnant women, active athletes, and men with cardiovascular and prostate concerns, were popular and represented marketing efforts aimed at winning specific customer types. Likewise, novel, easy-to-consume, even whimsical innovations in delivery systems set brands apart from each other and included gummies for adults, flavored chewables for adults, orally disintegrating tablets, dissolvable powders, and more.

It seems that demand for multivitamins will remain high as long as scientists and medical professionals continue to identify nutrient gaps in the typical American diet; public interest in preventative and even alternative medicine continues to grow; and supplement brands continue to innovate in formulation, “purity” of ingredients, and delivery format. 


Sidebar: Why You Should Add Vitamin K2 to Your Multivitamin

Some multivitamins are formulated with vitamin K1; other multis contain no vitamin K at all. But suppliers of vitamin K2 (in the long-chain MK-7 menaquinone form of vitamin K2) continue to emphasize why vitamin K2, especially, should be a key ingredient in any vitamin mix due to its benefits for arterial and bone health.

Vitamin K2 supplier NattoPharma USA Inc. (Metuchen, NJ), along with its research partners at Maastricht University (the Netherlands) and the Vita-K supplement brand, is helping raise awareness of vitamin K2, touting its role in improving bone-mineral density, bone-mineral content, bone strength, and arterial flexibility.

“The awareness of and demand for vitamin K2 continues to grow,” states Eric Anderson, senior vice president, global sales and marketing, NattoPharma. “The publication of our three-year clinical studies showing that MenaQ7 vitamin K2 not only improved [bone health] but also inhibited age-related arterial stiffening while improving arterial flexibility have earned attention, particularly from respected practitioners.

“A growing number of compelling and groundbreaking studies showing vitamin K2 has long-term merit for all stages of life is the key force driving demand,” Anderson continues.

Sam Kwon, president of Vesta Ingredients Inc. (Indianapolis, IN), which supplies the NattoMK-7 brand of vitamin K2, says, “It is vital to emphasize that not all vitamin Ks are equal in regards to health benefits and efficacy. Consumers should be wary of this when deciding what vitamin K products they purchase.”

Compared to other vitamin K2 forms, ranging from MK-4 to MK-12 (the numeral designating the number of isoprenoid units on the molecule carbon), vitamin K2 MK-7 is “unique in that it has been shown to be more bioavailable and has a longer half-life in the bloodstream after oral intake, thus providing its benefits for a longer period of time,” Kwon says. MK-7 also outperforms MK-4, which is the other naturally occuring form of vitamin K2, he adds.

Of Vesta’s NattoMK-7, Kwon says, “Vitamin K2 (MK-7) derived from natto has been shown to be the most effective and [provide] longer-lasting benefits after supplementation due to its longer half-life in circulation. In addition, our product is 100% non-GMO, allergen free, and kosher certified.”

NattoPharma’s Anderson says that K2 is essential for the activation of K-dependent proteins that build strong bones and contribute to cardiovascular health, but that the Western diet has created a population, “particularly children,” deficient in this nutrient. “Without adequate vitamin K intake,” he warns, “calcium cannot be properly utilized in the body to build healthy, strong bones. As up to 90% of peak bone mass is acquired by age 18 in girls and 20 in boys, this is a most advantageous time to supplement with MenaQ7.”

Currently in the United States, a few multivitamins formulated with K2 are already on the market. These include offerings from Thorne Research, Pure Encapsulations, and NutriGold.

Consumer awareness of K2 is growing, says Vesta Ingredients’ Kwon. “The global functional food market has increased in vitamin K2 products, nearly doubling in number of products launched globally from 2008–2012, according to a study by Mintel. When we compare Google search interests over the past five years (January 2011–January 2016), we see a 16% bump in ‘vitamin K’ searches and an incredible 280% increase in ‘vitamin K2’ searches, specifically. All these trends indicate that the interest and acknowledgement of health benefits associated with vitamin K2 are taking off, from the consumer to the nutritional industry,” Kwon says.

“We anticipate that these trends will only continue to grow as further research continues to verify the vital role of vitamin K2 in maintenance of health and as the public becomes more aware/educated,” he continues.



Sidebar: Back to Nature: The Case for Organic Vitamins

For as long as most consumers can remember, the majority of vitamins and minerals used in dietary supplements have been isolates synthesized in laboratories-a trend that took off during World War II when soldiers needed a cheap and easy way to get the nutrients they needed on the battlefield. However, with the tide toward organic food and drink, demands and education around the benefits of organic, plant-based vitamins and minerals is growing, says Saumil Maheshvari, marketing, Orgenetics Inc. (Brea, CA), a supplier of vitamin, mineral, and antioxidant ingredients derived from standardized extracts of 100%-USDA-certified organic fruits, vegetables, and various other botanicals.

The difference between a synthetic vitamin/mineral isolate and a vitamin/mineral ingredient naturally occurring in plants is significant, Maheshvari says. For one thing, non-synthetic ingredients may offer faster and easer absorption into the body, with little to minimal stomach irritation.

“The body does not require synthetic isolates,” Maheshvari maintains. “What it requires is the entire, complex form. That’s why you could have as much nutrition as you need in the form of food and still be okay because your body can process it.”

Take a mineral like iron, which is crucial to prenatal health. Maheshvari says that while a synthetic-iron supplement, most often providing a high dose, is widely reported to cause stomach upset in many women, an iron supplement like Orgenetics’s Orgen-I (a nominee in last year’s NutraIngredients Awards), derived from leaves of the curry tree (Murraya koenigii), does not. “Because this iron comes in a plant-protein matrix, it allows for regulated absorption into the body,” he says. Or, take L-ascorbic acid, the widespread synthetic form of vitamin C still so popular in dietary supplements. Whatever the body doesn’t absorb is excreted in the urine, but a plant-derived form like the company’s flagship Orgen-C, comprising 50% vitamin C derived from amla fruit (Phyllanthus emblica), is more effective because of the accompanying cofactors and co-nutrients, such as naturally occurring non-citrus bioflavonoids, that “work synergistically with the vitamin C,” Maheshvari says.

“You don’t need 1000% RDA of a vitamin or a mineral,” Maheshvari says. “If you have an effective form of regulative absorption, your body will get exactly the amount that it needs.”

As more consumers become educated about the nutrients they consume, more are starting to look beyond synthetic vitamins and minerals and back to nature, Maheshvari says. “There’s really been a paradigm shift in the U.S industry, shifting to organic. It’s been seeing 10% year-over-year growth for the past 15 years…We’re very glad to be part of that paradigm shift,” he says.


Also read:

Vitamin Research Studies

All Hail the Multivitamin?

Where Does the Multivitamin Stand These Days?

Supplement Usage and Confidence Holding Steady in 2015 Consumer Survey, User Age Gap Narrows


Correction: This article formerly statedd, “CRN’s survey showed that 85% of supplement users trust multivitamins’ safety and effectiveness.” CRN’s survey did not measure the trust consumers have in multivitamins’ safety and effectiveness but rather the confidence Americans have in the safety, quality, and effectiveness of vitamins/minerals. The correct wording is: CRN’s survey showed that 85% of Americans have overall confidence in the safety, quality, and effectiveness of vitamins/minerals.Nutritional Outlook apologizes for the error.


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