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Jennifer Grebow is editor-in-chief of Nutritional Outlook.
The need for K2 supplementation is prevalent, and K2 suppliers are doing their best to increase the presence of K2 in the dietary supplement market
Each year, more research confirms that vitamin K2 is a crucial nutrient that people of all ages need but unfortunately are not sufficiently obtaining from the diet. Vitamin K2 plays a critical role in bone health and heart health, in people of all ages, ranging from children who need K2 for proper bone development to aging adults who are experiencing bone loss and increased arterial calcification.
Vitamin K2 supports bone and heart health on multiple fronts. First, it activates a vitamin K–dependent protein called osteocalcin, which binds calcium to the bone matrix, ensuring it is where it is needed for bone growth. Vitamin K2 also activates the K–dependent protein called matrix-Gla protein (MGP), which redirects calcium from being deposited in, for instance, arterial tissue, where calcification can otherwise occur, and instead shuttles the calcium where it is needed, such as the bones.
The need for K2 supplementation is prevalent, and K2 suppliers are doing their best to increase the presence of K2 in the dietary supplement market. To do so, they must focus on growing the awareness of consumers, manufacturers, and even retailers about the importance of K2 and the fact that they probably aren’t getting enough of it, in part because vitamin K2’s biggest dietary sources-natto (fermented soy), goose liver, cheese, egg yolks, etc.-are not consumed in large amounts.
Vitamin K2 leader NattoPharma (Edison, NJ) is hard at work on an extensive game plan that, at the end of the day, could help achieve those awareness targets. First, and most crucially, the company has set itself on a path of trying to get an official recommended dietary intake (RDI) value established for vitamin K2.
The achievement of an RDI would be monumental and would require many years to accomplish. NattoPharma is already making some important early moves to demonstrate why regulators and scientific bodies should consider K2 a critical nutrient.
First off, it helped see the publication, in February, of a review paper1 that explains the key differences in vitamin K1 and K2 and why K2’s health unique benefits-which extend to bone, heart health, kidney health, and more-stand alone.
The review paper was produced by the NattoPharma International Research Network, a NattoPharma-created research initiative, funded by European Commission grants, and with the work of academic researchers from Maastricht University in The Netherlands.
NattoPharma expects a second paper to be published soon, building on this first review paper establishing differences between K1 and K2. The second paper will focus on laying the argument for why vitamin K2 needs its own RDI. At SupplySide East, Kate Quackenbush, NattoPharma’s director of communications, said: “It talks more about the body of research, and particularly NattoPharma’s body of research, that shows that specific doses are of value.” For children, a dose of 45-50 mcg has been proven to improve bone mineral density and support bone development. For adults, 180 mcg is the dose studied in NattoPharma’s three-year clinical studies on heart and bone health.
All of this is building a “body of evidence” for why vitamin K2 needs its own RDI value, to help communicate to the public that they should be getting more K2, Quackenbush said. But it’s not enough. For, even as NattoPharma and its partners help to increase awareness in the scientific and regulatory community about why preventing K2 deficiency is important, there is still a need for education in the retail market. To this end, the ingredient supplier is also embarking on an extended mission to educate its customers-product marketers-as well as retailers, media, and potentially, at the end of the day, consumers, about vitamin K2.
In 2019, Quackenbush said, “We are now in the process of doing a one-year consumer outreach campaign in the UK. So, taking the basis of our model here in the United States, which was very successful.” Like NattoPharma did in its U.S. campaign, the company is recruiting partners-bloggers, influencers, and more-to spread the word about K2 and its importance.
It is also sharing information about K2 with media and has asked its customers, finished-product companies this time in the UK, to provide products to share with media. “Increasing consumer awareness increases consumer demand, which of course our partners love because it will help them sell product,” she said.
And, finally, the company is providing hands-on materials to help its manufacturer partners educate their own retail contacts-and, if they wish, retail customers-about K2. Quackenbush said that she and her team are in the process of creating a retailer/consumer brochure with comprehensive-but also entertaining and easy to understand-information about K2 that NattoPharma’s finished-product customers can share with their own retailers and customers. The brochure is also customizable so that brands can superimpose their own branding on it as well as edit the master copy to include only the portions of the brochure that they want to use.
“The idea is to arm our partners. Similar to our consumer outreach campaign, it’s just another level of customer support,” Quackenbush said. “We can sell all the K2 in the world, and we’d like to, but if our partners aren’t selling their finished product, nobody is receiving a benefit. It really is such a core part of our company that we support our partners. It’s not just delivering kilos and saying, ‘Good luck.’”
Quackenbush acknowledged that NattoPharma’s educational efforts will likely help lift the boats of all K2 suppliers in the market. Despite this, she said, the company believes that the importance of spreading the K2 message is more important. “The idea is: We can’t do nothing. It’s not an option,” she said at SupplySide East. “Nobody is going to benefit if nobody does anything. So, in typical fashion, NattoPharma is taking the lead role.”
Testing the Market
At SupplySide East, Garnet Pidgen, president of K2 supplier Kappa Bioscience USA (Oslo, Norway), also chimed in on what he thinks it will take to grow the K2 market.
“I think the key thing is for a large dietary supplement company to embrace K2 and advertise it,” he said. When you think back on the history of vitamin D3 and how D3 got to be so popular, certainly there was the medical community that was behind it…but beyond that, major marketers like Pfizer, Bayer, NBTY, and Pharmavite really pushed D3 into the market, and the awareness grew. The same is true with K2. K2 needs a sponsor like Pfizer, Bayer, NBTY, or Pharmavite to really educate the population.”
One of the things that Kappa Bioscience has done is to conduct market tests in which it will take the product labels of some of the biggest vitamin products on the market and then edit them, as a mock up, of what the label would look like featuring, prominently, vitamin K2 and K2’s label claims (e.g. “Now with K2 for better bone health”). Consumers are then surveyed to test their receptivity and likelihood of purchasing the new, K2-containing version of the product.
“What we’ve found, in the case of Centrum and Citracal and Caltrate and many others, is a significant increase in purchase intent and uniqueness when K2 is added as a differentiating ingredient to these established brands,” Pidgen said.
It’s all about showing the market what is possible if everyone were to embrace K2 and showing how K2 can help “the brand owner who is looking for opportunities to differentiate his product to bring more consumers into his fold,” he added.