Marketing: Joint Health Products

November 2, 2011

Joint health has yet to steer away from supplements.

Although there has been considerable interest in dietary supplements for joint health in a number of countries, particularly the United States, this category has yet to move into the mainstream food and drink market in any significant way. Product activity remains highly fragmented, with the Innova Database recording that food and drink launches positioned on a joint-health platform accounted for less than 1.5% of global launches on an active health platform (e.g., “fortified food” or ”food plus”) and just over 0.1% of total launches in the 12 months ending June 2011. Furthermore, the vast majority of this launch activity was in pet food, which accounted for over 80% of launches on a joint-health platform (up from 78% in the previous 12 months).

Behind pet food, beverages-including both soft drinks and hot drinks-was by far the largest sector in terms of joint-health launches. According to Innova Market Insights, the United States has seen the highest level of activity in this area, particularly in soft drinks, although many take a hybrid-type positioning as supplement-style products. Joint Juice is one of the earliest examples of this, having been on the U.S. market for some years in a powder format before becoming the first ready-to-drink glucosamine supplement in 2001. It contains glucosamine, chondroitin, vitamin D and C, and green tea extracts. The original drink was extended with a fitness water (later relaunched as a Performance Water) in 2007 and, more recently, a dose-delivery shot variation. A rival brand arrived in 2007 with the Elations Healthier Joints brand, marketed as a liquid supplement and containing glucosamine, chondroitin, calcium in CCM (calcium citrate malate) form, and boron. The Osteo Bi-Flex brand of supplements also has a liquid Joint Aid product on the market.

In the mainstream soft drinks market, there has been little activity, particularly since the rapid disappearance of the pioneering Minute Maid Active enhanced-juice product touting glucosamine, launched in the U.S. market by Coca-Cola in 2007. A review of recent activity on the Innova Database (www.innovadatabase.com) shows that a number of superfruit juice blends with glucosamine are also being launched, including the MonaVie Active juice blend with plant-derived glucosamine along with 19 body-beneficial fruits, including acai. The range was strongly promoted from mid-2010 onwards as contributing to healthy joint function by aiding mobility and flexibility. Similarly, Moab Rejuvenate Superfruit Blend, launched shortly afterwards, was marketed as an acai juice drink with omega-3 DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and plant-derived glucosamine for joint health (mobility and flexibility).

Apart from glucosamine, other ingredients promoted for joint health include collagen and a whole raft of botanicals. Collagen was first used in Japan in the mid-1990s for products with a joint-health positioning, as well as for skincare lines, but a recent European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) rejection of an EU health claim submission seeking to link collagen consumption and joint health may prevent collagen’s expansion into new markets.

Meanwhile, natural, traditional, and herbal remedies continue to be marketed in different countries, although often only via specialist outlets and in many cases supported by largely anecdotal evidence. In the hot drinks market, herbal teas have seen some activity in this area, with a number of teas for arthritis available, including the TooTeaz Arthritis Blend launched in Australia in 2010, containing alfalfa, meadowsweet, nettles, celery seed, devil’s claw, ginger, silver birch, and jasmine. Nearby, in New Zealand, the long-promoted health benefits of manuka honey resulted in the launch of Nelson Honey’s Nectar Ease Plus Special Manuka Honey with bee venom and glucosamine. South Africa has also seen a number of joint-health herbal lines come to market, with 2011 introductions including Herbal Power Arthritis Tea, Cayenne Pepper, and Black Sesame Strips.

Meanwhile, the market for joint health has extended beyond the antiaging sector and into the sports nutrition sector, where products are targeted at athletes and fitness enthusiasts interested in reducing wear and tear on joints and extending active lifestyles. Japan has seen considerable activity in this area, probably reflecting the size of its sports drinks market, with a number of amino acid drinks being launched with added glucosamine. In the United States, the sports sector has been targeted by ingredients such as MSM (methylsulfonylmethane), which is claimed to help control inflammation and cartilage degradation (although there has been controversy about its efficacy and some claims made).

While there has been ongoing, if fragmented, activity in joint-health food and drinks, it is clear that the market remains largely confined to supplements of various kinds. However, with an aging population and increasing interest in maintaining active lifestyles, there seems to be a clear opportunity for this kind of product to be developed, particularly with the relatively high and growing awareness of the relationship between glucosamine and joint health. Developing convenient products with a good taste profile may perhaps be the key to tempting consumers, particularly in the United States, away from dietary supplements and into food and drinks.