Supplement delivery format evolution: Gels, chews, liquids and shots take over

Dive into the dynamic world of supplement delivery formats beyond capsules and tablets. Discover innovative gels, chews, liquids and shots reshaping nutritional consumption. Explore trends, technologies and market predictions driving the evolution of supplement delivery systems.

Peter Rejcek

May 20, 2024

9 Min Read

At a Glance

  • Can gummies stay at the top forever?
  • New smart chews contain as much payload as 15 old-school gummies.
  • Convenience and, face it — fun — is also driving innovation.

To steal a line from a famous venture capitalist bro: Gummies are eating the natural products world. No other non-pill delivery system for supplements has dominated the market like gummies in the last five years or so. Nutrition Business Journal estimated the squishy supplement now accounts for nearly a quarter of all delivery system formats. 

But can gummies stick around at the top spot forever? NBJ predicted that the days of double-digit growth are over, even after gummy sales were up 12.1% in 2022 to nearly $14.3 billion. Contract manufacturers, suppliers and brands are betting that innovations in tried-and-true formats like liquid supplements, effervescent tablets and chewables can eventually take a bigger bite of the pie. Ditto for more fringe formats like dissolvable strips and even more radical delivery systems — at least for Western palates — like konjac jelly out of Southeast Asia. 

“The problem with the chewable gummy is that the loading is small and it’s high in sugar,” said Bryan See, VP of PhytoGaia, a Malaysian company that supplies natural ingredient extracts made from sustainably sourced palm fruit. 

In 2023 at SupplySide West, See introduced several of his team’s latest delivery system innovations, including a solid jelly made from the konjac plant (Amorphophallus konjac) — specifically the starchy root, which is high in dietary fiber and naturally sugar-free. Featuring the company’s branded STGaia ingredient (a complex that contains squalene and super vitamin E in the form of tocotrienols/tocopherols), the 20-gram gels can be slurped down in slightly fruity flavors like pineapple and orange to support beauty from within and other functional applications. 

Related:Chew on this! Delightful delivery formats – digital magazine

“You can load as much ingredient as you want into a jelly,” See said. 

More is better 

The quest to deliver more active ingredients in a consumer-friendly format has led to other unique delivery systems from around the world. For instance, consider the technology behind ConCordix, a chewable delivery system developed by Vitux out of Norway. The company has designed a delivery format that mimics the way people chew and eat food, explained Marc van Maris, chief commercial officer at Vitux. 

ConCordix leverages a mechanical shearing process to create a stable, homogenized emulsion consisting of billions of microdroplets — like vigorously shaking oil and vinegar together until they form ever smaller droplets. “The net effect of that process is that you can basically put so much more active ingredient in one chew than you would ever do with a gummy,” van Maris explained. For example, one of the company’s Smart Chews can contain as much omega-3 fish oil as 15 gummies. 

Related:Delivery formats – digital magazine

The small droplets in the emulsion also boost the bioavailability of the ingredient. A 2011 clinical study comparing the emulsion against a softgel found a 43.3% higher concentration of active ingredient in blood plasma in the ConCordix Smart Chew. The product also features a unique packaging system that seals it under a nitrogen blanket during production, providing 24 months of shelf life. “There is no gummy in the world in a bottle that can give you that,” he said. 

The ability to pack more active ingredient into a single serving size was also part of the inspiration behind FZZR, an innovative delivery system that can be consumed as a fizzy beverage, as a chew or melted on the tongue with a sort of buzzy, Pop Rocks effect. 

“I have not seen anything out there that provides this hybrid approach,” said Patrick Antolak, global director of business development for product solutions at TSI Group, the company behind FZZR technology. “This would be probably the first delivery form that gives the consumer the choice of how they wish to consume their delivery form.” 

A sachet of the mini dissolvable tablets boasts 40% to 50% more active ingredients than a typical gummy, according to Antolak. The higher payload isn’t the only advantage, as FZZR can deliver up to a dozen ingredients in just one multifunctional dose, though the sweet spot is closer to three or four different actives. 

Related:We judged the best gummies at #ExpoWest — video

“This is probably one of my favorite benefits of FZZR, because this gives the brands a tool to compete against the rising threat of personalized nutrition platforms online,” he said, referring to the emergence of concepts like pill packs, which grew sales by more than 45% in 2022 to $840 million, per NBJ data. Another way to think about FZZR is that brands can bundle the most popular, complementary functions in a single dose, eliminating a shelf full of bottles with one convenient sachet. 

Less is more 

Convenience was one of the reasons Joanna Bacchus chose oral strips as a delivery system for her company, Biostrips, which sells a rapidly growing line of highly portable products around immunity, energy, hormone health and more. 

“I didn’t want it to be in a capsule form. I didn’t want it to be in tablet form,” Bacchus, the company founder and CEO, explained. She also maintained that oral strips contain 60% less fillers than the average capsule or tablet, as well as boast a proprietary technology that claims enhanced bioavailability as an oral supplement. 

“Consumers want more active ingredients, less added ingredients. That’s the same trend that has happened across food and beverage over the last 10 to 15 years,” noted Jack Mosca, VP of sales at Wellington Foods, a contract manufacturer that has specialized in liquid supplements for five decades. 

In liquid supps, the trend has also skewed to “less is more” in terms of size, as shelf-hogging 32-ounce bottles have given way to shot-size, grab-and-go containers. “We’ve seen a huge trend moving toward smaller package configurations, smaller retail shelving,” Mosca said. “We’re doing things with dropper tops and 1-milliliter servings instead of 30-milliliter — and then you have to innovate, because the product’s more concentrated, the packaging is a little different and so on.” 

Namik Soltan gravitated to shot-size bottles for his ginger-forward line of supplements focused on immunity and gut health when he founded GNGR Labs in 2019 out of New York. The packaging gives a better-for-you vibe, with products now found in 1,200 stores, including many neighborhood bodegas. Low in calories, the cold-pressed shots feature only all-organic ingredients such as turmeric and cayenne pepper in addition to the star of the show, ginger. 

Soltan said he considered other formats but shots made the most sense. “We kind of had a lot of ideas, but then we just realized that we really wanted to focus on one thing and build our brand with this drinkable format,” he said, adding that GNGR Labs sold more than 2 million bottles last year. 

A key takeaway is that consumers crave more simplicity from their supplements, said Dominic Kwiatkowski, VP of business development and sales at Primaria Nutrition, which manufactures a wide range of supplements in different delivery formats. He watched gummies evolve from being kid-centric to becoming candyceuticals attractive to adults who wanted ashwagandha or ginseng in a more palatable format. 

“We know that gummies have hit their ceiling, and we’re trying to figure out what’s the next phase, what’s the next behavior for consumers — and it’s ease of use,” he said. “That is absolutely primary No. 1: Ease of use.” 

Don’t give up on gummies 

Shoot it. Melt it. Slurp it. Stir it. Chew it. Buzz it. However competitors are gunning for gummies, they all take aim at the popular format’s sweet, soft underbelly and its limitations for delivering enough active ingredients without calorie overload. But not so fast. Gummy manufacturers are working hard to scale back the sugar, load up the active ingredients and prove gummies are more than just glorified candy. 

“More healthful sweeteners and bulking agents are being used, and gummy technologies are advancing to increase the amount of supplement ingredients a gummy can hold,” noted Crystal Webber, an industry veteran who recently founded Formulation Innovations Group (FIG), a nutritional technology company developing low-sugar, plant-based gummy formulations. 

FIG recently opened a 6,000-square-foot pilot facility in Pennsylvania for gummy R&D (research and development), with the lab specializing in sugar reduction and high-loading doses but capable of boutique formulations that fit within its NSF-certification requirements. Yet the new facility can also support production runs of up to 600,000 gummies at a time. 

The industry needs every bit of that capacity, according to Kwiatkowski. “If you were to launch a multivitamin gummy yourself tomorrow, you probably couldn’t get it manufactured for a year. That’s how taxed the contract manufacturers are in gummies,” he said. 

Few contract manufacturers on the planet have the technological capabilities to make gummies en masse like SIRIO Pharma. The Shantou, China-based company is in the midst of a 10-year, 100,000-square-foot expansion of one of its primary production facilities, which is expected to churn out 6 billion gummies annually. In 2023, SIRIO acquired California-based contract manufacturer Best Formulations to further expand its manufacturing and innovation capabilities in gummy production and other products. 

Karla Acevedo, marketing manager for SIRIO Pharma-Americas, said the company works with strategic partners like Cargill and EpiCor to leverage cutting-edge technologies and flavor-masking techniques to iteratively improve gummy performance. “These collaborations empower us to broaden the spectrum of ingredients we can incorporate into our gummies, ranging from essential vitamins and minerals to botanical extracts and bioactive compounds,” she said. 

A confectionery manufacturer founded 20 years ago, TopGum Gummiceuticals expanded to the functional gummy market in 2018. Since then, it has developed a patented fiber-based gummy that tastes sweet but with no added sugar. The company is also breaking the dosage ceiling, according to Charlotte Traas, VP of sales at TopGum. 

“The gritty texture you find by including so many minerals has a textural challenge in gummies that we have mastered by delivering up to 150 mg elemental magnesium in one gummy,” she said. “Our high-dose vitamin C won an award at Vitafoods for having 1,000 mg in one gummy. Elevating what is possible through innovation is changing the barrier that gummies can’t offer a meaningful dose.” 

Gelita, one of the pioneers in the gelatin manufacturing industry, has also evolved alongside the gummy market since the 1980s. The company has developed different delivery systems to meet changing consumer demands using its Hybrid Smart Technology platform. Less sugar? Look to Soluform, a next-generation gelatin format with less sugar and more protein. More active ingredient? Backed by six clinical studies, Verisol HST enables beauty-from-within brands to create efficacious collagen products with as little as 2.5 grams of active ingredient — or just three gummies. 

“The products also provide adjustable viscosity, gel strength, gel formation, and emulsion-forming and stabilizing properties, as well as adjustable foaming and foam stabilization properties,” said Angie Rimel, marketing communications manager for Gelita-North America. “By harnessing all of this in one ingredient, the need to order, transport and store multiple products becomes unnecessary, allowing manufacturers to create entirely new products or extend existing lines without the need for investment in new equipment.” 

From gummies and chews to gels and strips to liquids and more, today’s delivery systems are evolving alongside consumer demands for greater taste, less sugar, and better potency and bioavailability. It’s all pretty sweet. 

About the Author(s)

Peter Rejcek

Formerly the world’s only full-time journalist in Antarctica, Peter Rejcek is a professional editor and writer with nearly 30 years of experience covering science, technology, business and health, including the natural products industry. He also previously served as a senior editor for the supplements and health section of the Natural Foods Merchandiser.

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