On Your Mark, Get Set… Gummies

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With the sports nutrition market on an extended winning streak, gummies are the segment’s rising star.

Photo © AdobeStock.com/Tania

Photo © AdobeStock.com/Tania

The era of active nutrition has arrived.

No longer a niche market for elite athletes, sports nutrition has hit the mainstream. From casual gym goers to weekend warriors, today’s health-conscious consumers are seeking solutions to help boost performance, increase energy levels and aid recovery, as well as support better sleep, focus and even immunity.

In a space conventionally dominated by bulk powders, drinks and bars, opportunities abound for novel, exciting nutritional supplement formats. And lately, a promising crowd-pleaser has gotten into the game: gummies.

Convenient, fun and versatile, gummies are among the nutrition space’s fastest growing formats. The back-of-the-card statistics don’t lie: Between October 2017 and September 2022, the number of gummy supplement launches grew by 54% and, in 2021 alone, one study found that gummies enjoyed 74.9% year-over-year sales growth, en route to claiming the largest market share among non-pill formats (21.3%).

But while the appeal of gummies is clear and the opportunities enticing, sticking the landing on gummy product launches brings a particular set of challenges. For example, balancing the need for great taste with demand for low-sugar positioning is key, as is ensuring bioavailability throughout shelf life. Evolving consumer preferences also play a role, requiring gummy brands to satisfy a growing set of climate-conscious, flexitarian consumers looking to reduce their consumption of animal-based products.

However, clearing these hurdles is well worth it – because the demand is there to be met. More than a third of nutritional supplement users cite gummies and jellies as their preferred format option, pointing to their growing appeal. Convenience is another point on the board for gummies, with over half of respondents in a recent survey cutting grab-and-go convenience as a key factor when purchasing nutritional supplements.

Gummies also hit a sort of sports nutrition sweet spot: the confluence of active lifestyle and comforting indulgence. As sports nutrition catapults from niche to mass market, gummies offer a highly customizable delivery system that consumers actually enjoy consuming – a departure from the sports supplements of yesteryear.

Consumers want supplements they can take anywhere without having to measure out doses from a large container: at the gym, before leaving the office, between classes. They won’t settle for chalky protein bars or sports drinks with metallic or off-tasting notes. Delicious flavors, exciting formats, endless application potential – gummies are the guilt-free treat that tick every trend box.

Let’s address some common misperceptions surrounding gummies and, from there, explore paths to entering the sports nutrition gummies space without striking out.

Dispelling the Myths

No best practices piece dedicated to gummies would be complete without addressing some of the stubborn misconceptions surrounding the format.

Myth 1: All gummies are unhealthy or full of sugar. While this might have been true in the past, particularly for confectionery gummies, production advancements in recent years have unlocked a whole new healthy side to the bite-sized format. Recent studies demonstrate that gummies can contribute to the reduction of post-meal blood glucose levels, known as glycemic response, owing to their sustained release of carbohydrates. When formulators opt for alternative sweeteners such as maltitol or erythritol, the impact on reducing glycemic response is even greater.

Supplement manufacturers and ingredients suppliers are driving nutraceutical gummy innovation, offering a wide range of formulation and sweetening solutions to create a balanced nutritional profile. The option to sweeten sugar-free gummies using natural prebiotic fibers, for instance, is a prime example of how brands can avoid artificial sweeteners and respond to demand for clean, clear labels.

Myth 2: All gummies contain animal products. In the past, most gummies were made using gelatin, a gelling agent derived from animal bones and skin. This has led to the perception of gummies as ‘animal-derived’ products; however, this image has started to shift with the introduction of plant-based ingredients for gummy production. Gelatin alternatives, like pectin – a gelling agent derived from fruit skin and peel – are well established solutions for making plant-based gummy production viable at scale.

Myth 3: Gummies bring an outsized risk of overconsumption. As with any nutraceutical product, it is possible to consume too much – and there are health risks associated with this, including upset stomach, diarrhea, and vomiting. Clear dosing guidance, as well as advice for parents on how to ensure supplements stay out of reach of children (who may view them as “just candies”), is readily available to help avoid overconsumption.

Myth 4: The active ingredients in gummies have too short a lifespan. Like virtually any other consumable product, gummies have a shelf life. To extend product expiration dates as long as possible and maximize consumer satisfaction, producers must maintain control at every step of the manufacturing process. Extensive testing should be conducted across gummy production lines – including temperature control and product handling systems – to ensure actives stay intact and effective.

Myth 5: Gummies are rarely as effective as powders or tablets. This misconception derives largely from the elevated stability issues gummies can present. While gummies can deliver the same amount of nutrients and efficacy as tablets and powders, stability must be a key consideration.

Gummy stability can be impacted by various factors – from the form of the nutrients to the combination of active ingredients – and poor stability can lead to nutrients losing their potency over time. Here, a manufacturing partner with technical know-how and experience is crucial to ensure quality isn’t compromised during shelf life.

Nailing the Pregame

OK, it’s X’s and O’s time. With the facts freshly entered into our playbooks, a sound game plan can be devised.

Gummies may look deceptively simple, but getting the optimal active ingredient payload in the right gummy format, shape, taste and shelf life can be far from easy. Following are some issues to consider.

Who is my target audience? There are many potential routes to success when developing a gummy supplement, but they all start with knowing the target consumer. It is crucial to consider the intended consumption time or occasion (i.e. before/during/after exercise), as well as whether the gummy will be formulated with specific disciplines in mind (i.e. endurance, recovery) or be more of a classic, multivitamin concept with broad appeal.

Perhaps the most critical question is this: Is this target consumer likely to appreciate the gummy format? As with most innovations, there are early adopters and others who are more resistant to change. However, active nutrition gummies benefit from having broad consumer appeal. Simultaneously novel and familiar; the format’s long-established popularity is a win for traditionalists, while their relative newness in the active nutrition space is alluring to trendsetters – especially when an interesting or unique formulation is on offer.

How important is low sugar? In short, a low- or no-sugar positioning is essential for addressing the needs of today’s active nutrition consumer. This group tends to be more health conscious than the general population, and better informed about the benefits and drawbacks associated with individual ingredients – especially sugar. Mintel research suggests that nearly half (46%) of consumers who use sports nutrition products avoid products that are high in sugar.

But while reducing sugar content is a central goal, doing so can create formulation challenges. Sugar substitutes impart a different taste profile and texture in the final product compared with conventional sugar. Balancing off-notes becomes a key consideration for ensuring the end-product is appetizing.

Am I up to speed on shelf life and stability? Gelatin plays an important role in offering gummies a unique texture and mouthfeel. However, gelatin's low melting point of around 35°C means gelatin gummies tend to melt if improperly stored during transportation, causing unappetizing lumps and imperfections.

At its worst, melting can lead to supplements sticking together and forming an unappealing and inconvenient mass at the bottom of the bottle or pack. Storage temperature and time also can have serious implications for active ingredient stability and efficacy.

Should I go plant-based? The market for vegan-friendly gummies is booming, but formulation is not as simple as replacing gelatin with a plant-based gelling agent. Alternative ingredients present their own challenges, such as increased sensitivity to the pH levels and metal ions present in some active ingredients. Formulators may need to make several changes to produce a stable product – including altering the order in which ingredients are added to a formulation, or choosing a more acidic flavoring agent.

Opening Kickoff: Starting Production

Bringing any new supplement from concept to final product is a major undertaking, but nutritional gummy production requires especially careful management from formulation to processing and packaging.

The gummy production process begins with ingredient selection and recipe formulation. Here, the central challenge is balancing considerations such as material properties, nutrient bioavailability, effectiveness and long-term ingredient stability against equally important factors like taste and overall consumer experience.

Once determined, the constituent parts of the formulation are mixed according to the recipe’s precise proportions. At this stage, accuracy and efficiency of both the weighing and conveying equipment are critical to assure optimal batch-to-batch consistency.

The next stage involves heating and blending the pre-weighed ingredients to create a homogenous gummy solution. Temperature control is critical to preserve the efficacy of the active nutraceutical ingredients, while still allowing the gummy mixture to be molded into a rainbow of shapes. Once fully blended, the solution is carefully maintained at a predetermined temperature range – a must for maintaining its rheological properties.

Next, the solution is poured into specialized molds – starch or steel - that determine the gummies’ final forms – be it a bear, heart, fish or a simple dome. Though a core priority throughout the manufacturing process, maintaining stringent hygiene standards becomes especially vital at this depositing phase, when gummies are most at risk from foreign contaminants.

Gummies are solidified and dried to reach the desired texture and consistency, then carefully removed from the molds. To track stock levels and avoid over-drying, effective batch management techniques often involve metrics-capturing smart monitoring systems.

Next comes after-treatment. The customization options for gummies do not end at the recipe or molding phases. Following the drying process, they can be oiled or coated in sugar and other texture-enhancing additions, depending on the desired look and feel of the final product.

Finally, the newly minted gummies are packaged and undergo strict quality control. Various tests are performed in the finished package to ensure desired specifications for nutrient content, taste and overall quality. The packaging platform is another important consideration, and often depends on the target consumers; handy blister packs are great for dosing on-the-go, while larger bottles with child-safe caps are ideal for families.

The Finish Line

Whether developing products that power performance, speed up recovery or strengthen joint or bone health, gummies offer a versatile, fun and effective solution. From innovative formats including center-filled, aerated and double-layer products to customizable shapes and sizes, gummies provide a fresh playing field of opportunities to help sports supplements stand out from the capacity crowd.

About the Author

Sara Lesina is General Manager, Europe & Americas for Sirio Pharma, a leading global nutraceutical contract development and manufacturing organization (CDMO) with extensive expertise in an array of delivery formats, including gummies, softgels, capsules, tablets, powders, functional beverages, probiotics, and other innovative dosage forms. SIRIO operates multiple manufacturing sites across the United States, Germany and China. www.siriopharma.com

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