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Choosing the Optimal Delivery SystemChoosing the Optimal Delivery System

August 27, 2007

4 Min Read
Choosing the Optimal Delivery System

Capsules, tablets, chewables, soft gels, powders, drinks, liquid gels and liquid sprays are just a few of the delivery systems available to dietary supplement formulators, meaning marketing companies are faced with the complex challenge of determining the right delivery system for their consumers.

Several factors drive selection of an appropriate delivery form, including cost target, consumer acceptability, distribution channel, nutrient optimization, physical characteristics of ingredients, manufacturability and desired packaging. The target market demographics and needs should drive the selection. Product cost should meet the established price target, delivery form should fit the daily lifestyle of the targeted consumer, the product should be fit for the selected channel of distribution, and the delivery and absorption of the nutrients should be optimized. The physical properties and blend of ingredients and the desired packaging design may also help dictate the most feasible delivery system for a high quality and consumer-desirable product.

Tablets are the most common delivery form and generally the most economical to manufacture. Tablets are convenient, easy to store and have a longer shelf life than liquids or powders. However, compression and heat during manufacturing may affect the activity of the nutrients. Tablets may not be the best choice for young children or the elderly, who may have poor digestive health. Products that require a high quantity per dose may be appropriate for tablet delivery. Generally, tablets hold more ingredient weight per pill than other pill delivery forms. Also, products with ingredients of granular characteristics may be more efficiently produced into tablet form.

Capsules are convenient and easy to store. After ingestion, they dissolve and release contents quickly. Capsules are generally more expensive than tablets; however, they are preferable to some consumers due to ease of swallowing. Clear capsule shells offer the consumer the ability to see the colors and textures inside the product, which is particularly desirable with herbal formulations. Capsules conceal or minimize the negative odors of some ingredients, such as fish oil and valerian root. The solution for products that are not appealing in appearance is encapsulation into an opaque shell or compression into a tablet with external coating.

Softgels are capsules with a soft gelatin shell. Both water- and lipid-soluble ingredients can be encapsulated into a softgel, but due to perceived increased quality and faster absorption rates, this form is more expensive than capsules or tablets. Moreover, lead times are generally longer with softgels than with other delivery forms.

Capsules, tablets and softgels can be enteric coated to protect the product as it passes through the gastric fluids of the stomach and into the intestine. Enteric coating protects nutrients that are suspectible to degradation by gastric fluids.

Water-soluble ingredients may work well in a liquid or powder. The load of actives in a powder or liquid drink can be much larger than in capsules or tablets. Powders, effervescent tablets, liquids and gels provide delivery options for consumers who have difficulties swallowing or difficulties with digestion. Chewable tablets, powders, liquids or sprays can appeal to these consumers. The negative attributes of chewables, powders, liquids or sprays generally include high sweetener content, artificial sweeteners and flavors, preservatives, emulsifiers and other additives.

Among the key questions to ask when choosing a delivery system:

  • What is the target cost of the finished product?

  • What are the consumer demographics and their product preferences?

  • Where will this product be sold?

  • How will the product be packaged for shipment to the distribution center or consumer?

  • Which delivery system (tablet, softgel, powder, etc.) optimizes bioavailability?

  • Are there negative sensory characteristics (odor, color, texture, etc.)?

  • Is the consumer interested in seeing the visual characteristics of the ingredients?

  • Do the formulation’s physical properties limit the delivery system options?

  • How will the item be packaged (blister packs, bottles, tubs, packets, cartons, etc.)?

  • How and where do you expect the consumer to store the product?

  • Is convenience a major concern of the target consumer?

Ultimately, an expert manufacturing partner can help determine the optimal delivery system for the best quality product. Depend on the marketing team to best understand market preferences because many times a compromise between these parties can ease the delivery system selection process. 

Stacey O’Reilly Petrey is the general manager at Missoula, Mont.- based Nutritional Laboratories International (www.NutritionalLabs.com), a custom contract manufacturer and laboratory services company serving the dietary supplements industry.

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