Weight Expectations: The COVID-19 pandemic slowed weight-management supplement sales

Nutritional OutlookNutritional Outlook Vol. 24 No. 4
Volume 24
Issue 4

Are innovative ingredients the key to recovery?

Photo © Phatcha - Stock.adobe.com

Photo © Phatcha - Stock.adobe.com

Weight-management ingredient sales slumped last year during the COVID-19 pandemic. SPINS data1 on the 52-week period ending November 29, 2020, show that the mainstream weight-management ingredients category contracted nearly 11%. It seems that weight loss has taken a backseat to other health concerns as the COVID-19 pandemic prompted gym closures and took fitness off consumers’ minds.

However, experts believe this precipitous sales drop should be only temporary. The weight-loss market is expected to recover somewhat when consumers are once again able to go to the gym and participate in team sports without fear of contracting a deadly virus. As vaccinations ensue, and with a return to normalcy somewhat in sight, hopes are high for longer-term growth.

Annie Eng, CEO of HP Ingredients (Bradenton, FL), says the weight-management category is beginning to show signs of uptick. “People are looking forward to being able to roam around in the warm summer weather. Shedding the extra quarantine weight will become a priority once again.”

Until the market recovers, brands still invested in the weight-management space can prepare by promoting research and development. Here’s a look at some of the new studies emerging on weight-loss ingredients. Could these innovations prime the category for success?

Carob Extract Prevents Insulin Resistance in Overweight Mice

An April 2020 animal study showed positive effects of Pharmactive’s (Madrid, Spain) branded CSAT+, a patented carob extract, on blood sugar and cholesterol in mice fed a high-fat, high-sugar diet.

Julia Diaz, head of marketing for Pharmactive, says the company will be investing in a new in vivo study this year to demonstrate CSAT+’s efficacy for weight management. “Weight loss is no longer about calorie counting but about achieving optimum health,” Diaz comments. “Supplement formulators are moving away from quick-fix miracle solutions to more scientifically sound ingredients.”

Fiber-Mineral Blend

New weight-management ingredients are demonstrating benefits for multiple dimensions of well-being. One clinical trial2, a pilot study involving 11 overweight and obese female subjects between ages 22 and 56, examined the effects of the patented fiber-mineral blend SlimBiome on weight loss, mood, gut microbiota, and satiety.

All participants had a BMI between 25 and 35. For four weeks, all participants replaced their normal breakfast and lunch with a GoFigure shake containing 3 g of SlimBiome, a blend of agglomerated glucomannan, oligofructose, and chromium picolinate. Participants also consumed one GoFigure snack bar containing 1.5 g of SlimBiome twice per day. The subjects followed the Eatwell Guide diet, and their total caloric intake did not exceed 1,500 kcal/day.

After four weeks, participants lost an average of 1.9 kg in body mass, decreased their BMI by 0.7, and reduced their waist and hip circumference. The intervention also caused a 1.2% reduction in body fat and a significant increase in self-reported mood scores.

While this pilot study lacked a placebo group, the authors say its findings will inform a future double-blind, placebo-controlled trial on both women and men.

Study Links Genetics, Microbiome to Food Response

The 2019 PREDICT 1 dietary intervention study examined the effects of genetic variability on metabolic responses to food. This study4, involving more than 1,100 individuals, including identical and non-identical twins, found that genetics accounted for 54% of the variation in subjects’ glucose response.

Fiana Tulip, head of communications for ZOE (London, UK), a healthcare science startup leading the PREDICT studies, says this study also proved the value of personalized nutrition in weight loss. “Not all calories are created equal,” Tulip says. “Combining large-scale biological data with machine learning and microbiome sequencing has enabled us to predict personal nutritional responses to foods.”

More recently, PREDICT 1 researchers found a significant link between gut microbiome makeup and the way bodies respond to food.5 Researchers were able to find significant associations between microbes and specific nutrients, foods, food groups, and general dietary indices driven by the presence and diversity of healthy and plant-based foods. In addition, microbes in the gut were linked to biomarkers of metabolic disease.

Stephen O’Hara, CEO of OptiBiotix Health PLC (York, UK), SlimBiome’s maker, says a growing body of evidence shows that prebiotic fibers are effective for a wide range of functions related to weight management, including promoting gut and liver health. O’Hara says there is a growing subset of products that emphasizes a wellness-first, lifestyle-driven approach to weight loss, which is a perfect fit for multifunctional blends.

“Functional dietary fibers enhance the activity of bacterial groups to produce bioactive molecules that modulate gut health,” he says. “When used alongside prebiotic fiber, they feed the health of positive bacteria to increase microbiome diversity. Adding a trace mineral like chromium to the mix then creates an action that regulates insulin.”


New research points to the potential promise of adaptogens in the weight-loss market. A 2021 randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial investigated the effects of Gencor’s (Irvine, CA) branded ActivAMP ingredient, a Gynostemma pentaphyllum extract backed by multiple studies, on body composition in overweight male and female subjects over age 18.

Subjects received either 450 mg of ActivAMP per day, or a placebo, for 16 weeks. According to the company, the yet-to-be-published study found that ActivAMP caused statistically significant reductions in body weight, BMI, total fat mass, triglycerides, TNF-alpha, and alanine aminotransferase.

Botanical Blend Stimulates Fat Loss

In a soon-to-be-published randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial6 involving 81 obese individuals, HP Ingredients’ branded CitruSlim blend, a combination of Bergamonte-brand polyphenol extract (Citrus bergamia Risso) and LJ100-brand tongkat ali (Eurycoma longifolia), improved ghrelin/leptin balance, increased AMPK, and reduced cortisol levels.

Annie Eng, CEO of HP Ingredients, says this effect was found in both a high-dose and a low-dose group. The study authors concluded that CitruSlim is effective at stimulating weight loss in obese participants.

Maggie McNamara, marketing director for Gencor, says that while Gencor regularly invests capital in clinically researched ingredients, some other weight-management ingredients have shown side effects that could hamper their market growth. She urges weight-management brands to invest in clinically validated ingredients free of side effects. She notes that ActivAMP is supported by two human clinical studies, an animal study, and phytochemical studies showing weight-loss and anti-inflammatory effects.

“An increasing demand for weight-loss supplements has also led to tightened regulations around product safety, manufacturing, and efficacy claims,” McNamara continues. Regulatory bodies, including FDA, continue to keep a close eye on the weight-management supplements space and are known to take action against violative companies.

Chili Pepper Extract

Red pepper extracts and their active constituent capsaicin have long been present in the weight-management category. Recent research indicates that a proprietary ingredient could be hot in more ways than one.

A yet-to-be-published post-hoc analysis of a randomized, double-blind clinical trial found that Capsimax, a branded capsaicinoid extract, reduced body fat and fat mass by inducing thermogenesis, says supplier OmniActive Health Technologies (Morristown, NJ). Unlike generic capsaicinoid extracts, Capsimax contains concentrated forms of capsaicinoids encapsulated in OmniActive’s patented OmniBead controlled-release coating to prevent oral and gastric burning sensations, the company claims.

Kimberly Smith, chief marketing officer for OmniActive, says previous clinical trials have shown capsaicinoids may be effective at increasing metabolic rate, boosting lipolysis, and reducing caloric intake by curbing appetite. These three functions, Smith says, together form the key to weight loss.

“Capsimax has been shown to boost resting energy expenditure equivalent to 130 kcal/day,” Smith says. “It has also been associated with an increase in free fatty acid and glycerol levels in the blood, an indication of increased lipolysis. It may decrease appetite and reduce caloric intake.”

Chromium Picolinate

Effective weight-management strategies often rely on multifaceted approaches, including formulas that influence more than one biological pathway.

Elyse Lovett, vice president of marketing for Nutrition21 (Harrison, NY), says the company’s chromium picolinate ingredient, branded Chromax, has developed a solid research base after 25 years on the market. According to Lovett, Chromax has a more stable chemical structure and a superior absorption profile relative to some other forms of chromium, which enhances the ingredient’s bioavailability by a factor of 15.

“Weight management is a complex benefit area that requires multiple approaches,” Lovett says, “which is why you’re seeing brands pivot to targeting other aspects, like metabolic health. Chromax chromium picolinate is a highly bioavailable form of chromium supported by over 100 research studies, 35 of which are human clinical studies affirming its benefits for weight management, body composition, appetite control, insulin function, and more.”

An ingredient like Chromax offers numerous benefits. One 2018 literature review3 of weight-loss ingredients, diets, and strategies, funded by Nutrition21, found that chromium picolinate aided weight loss while preserving lean body mass. Lovett says Chromax promotes optimal insulin function, which in turn reduces caloric intake and improves carbohydrate metabolism. Recent research also shows Chromax can reduce carbohydrate cravings and has mood-lifting properties, she adds. These effects led Nutrition21 to position Chromax as a metabolic health ingredient early on in the product’s history.

Preparing for Recovery

The weight-management market is expected to recover when consumers once again prioritize weight loss. The category’s winners will be brands with scientifically proven ingredients as well as those that focus beyond just weight and on holistic concerns like metabolic health.

Weight-loss brands and ingredient suppliers should lay the groundwork for recovery now by investing in clinical research and seeking out safety, purity, and other certifications. When the pandemic ends, consumers will be looking for credible brands they can trust.

Also read: Vidya’s green coffee extract now GRAS

Also read: Polyphenol-rich ingredient improves quality of life for overweight subjects in recent study


  1. SPINS Conventional Channel data (Powered by IRI). “Dietary Supplements (Vitamins & Supplements and Herbs & Homeopathics).” Time period: 52 weeks ending November 29, 2020. Channel: U.S. conventional multioutlet comprising grocery, drug, Walmart, mass dollar, military, and club stores. Excludes private-label brands.
  2. Keleszade E et al. “A pilot study to assess the effect of a fibre and mineral formulation on satiety and satiation when taken as part of a calorie restriction diet in overweight and obese women.” Journal of Functional Foods, vol. 74 (2020)
  3. Willoughby D et al. “Body composition changes in weight loss: Strategies and supplementation for maintaining lean body mass, a brief review.” Nutrients, vol. 10, no. 12 (December 2018): 1876
  4. Berry S et al. “Predicting personal metabolic responses to food using multi-omics machine learning in over 1000 twins and singletons from the UK and US: The PREDICT 1 study (OR31-01-19).” Current Developments in Nutrition. Published online June 13, 2019.
  5. Ansicar F et al. “Microbiome connections with host metabolism and habitual diet from 1,098 deeply phenotyped individuals.” Nature Medicine. Published online January 11, 2021.
  6. “A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study to assess the efficacy of CitruSlim® on body composition as well as metabolic and hormonal factors in overweight and obese individuals.” Clinicaltrials.gov.
  7. Romain C et al. “Sixteen weeks of supplementation with a nutritional quantity of a diversity of polyphenols from foodstuff extracts improves the health-related quality of life of overweight and obese volunteers: A randomized, double-blind, parallel clinical trial.” Nutrients, vol. 123, no. 2 (2021)
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