by Greg Thoren
Probably more than most industries, the nutraceutical industry relies on the introduction of new and exciting products for its growth. In fact, the question was echoing through the halls of the recent SupplySide West; have you seen anything new and exciting? Although everyone is constantly searching for that unique functional ingredient with solid, scientific support, such ingredients do not come along often. As a result, brand owners must look to alternative deliveries as a driver of innovation. Among the alternative delivery forms are chewable tablets, ready-to-drink (RTD) beverages, powdered beverages, effervescent tablets, shots, gummies and soft chews. Of these forms, soft chews offer many distinct advantages; yet, they have remained relatively untapped. Recently, it appears the soft chew is gaining its footing as a major nutraceutical delivery method.
The key advantages of confectionery deliveries are consumer compliance and the fun factor involved in consuming functional ingredients in a candy-like format. Both die-hard supplement users developing pill fatigue and occasional supplement users who dont like swallowing large capsules find confectionery deliveries a pleasurable experience, which translates to more sales for brand owners. In essence, confectionery forms are transforming supplements from something that is forced down in a morning routine to a snack or treat that can be enjoyed any time of day. Within the confectionery space, the primary options are gummies and soft chews. Both provide a similar compliance advantage, but soft chews have a broader appeal among different age groups; and, more importantly, allow formulators to incorporate much higher active ingredient loads as well as a wider array of active ingredients, including those that are sensitive to heat.
It has been over a decade since soft chews were first introduced as a delivery for calcium and then later multivitamin formulas. From a single national brand, calcium soft chews became ubiquitous, with most major retail chains carrying their own store-brand version. However, for the better part of a decade after calcium soft chews became popular, few soft chew products with other functional ingredients have been launched. This is beginning to change as brand owners are made aware of the enormous, untapped potential of soft chews and, in particular, uncooked soft chews.
The types of active ingredients being formulated into uncooked soft chews have proliferated recently. Aside from single vitamins, vitamin combinations and calcium, soft chew formulators have successfully loaded efficacious doses of a long list of ingredients, among them omega-3s from both marine and plant sources, fiber, enzymes, probiotic spores, coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), various superfruits, resveratrol, caffeine, green tea, various amino acids, glucosamine, chondroitin, quercetin, glucomannan, creatine and glutamine. The loading capacity of these ingredients will often be comparable to or greater than that of a capsule and typically three to four times that of a gummy.
Another development garnering more attention, especially from brands selling in the natural channel, has been the ability to formulate uncooked soft chews with more consumer-friendly base ingredients. Rather than the sugar and corn syrup that have long been the staples in confectionery, uncooked soft chew formulators are increasingly using evaporated cane juice and brown rice syrup as the primary ingredients. At the same time, partially hydrogenated fats, such as coconut oil, are being replaced with sunflower oil; and the colors, flavors and sweeteners are all natural.
Notably, soft-chew launches are not only coming from traditional nutraceutical brands. Functional beverage brands are also jumping into the fray, incorporating unique ingredient blends to mimic their beverages. For these brands, the transition to a soft chew is not as drastic since their consumers can more easily relate to a confectionery form of their product than they could to a capsule housed in the vitamin section. In that regard, soft chews also carry greater flexibility for in-store placement, not being limited to the vitamin section. Uncooked soft chews are the next frontier for customers tired of shots and large format, unpalatable energy drinks.
Greg Thoren is the national accounts manager with Nutravail LLC , Chantilly, VA. He has 15 years experience in the nutraceutical industry, working previously with companies including Optimum Nutrition and BI Nutraceuticals.