Full speed ahead for nutritional supplement product development

With more than 85 years of softgel formulation development and manufacturing under its belt, Catalent has built up a vast Product Library that is an invaluable resource for nutritional supplement marketers. Dr Kevin Robinson spoke to Jessica Cao, Vice President, Consumer Health Sales and Marketing, to find out more

Jessica Cao, Vice President, Consumer Health Sales and Marketing, Catalent

The Product Library enables the rapid development of products across a number of innovative forms that are convenient, enjoyable and available in a wide range of shape, size and colour possibilities. It includes product formulations developed across Catalent’s global network of softgel manufacturing sites and regulatory services, facilitating geographic expansion, and uses consumer research data to inform product development.

In a consumer-driven market such as dietary supplements, product differentiation is key. Alongside its “ready-to-market” product formulations, Catalent has developed specific dose forms to meet the needs of certain user groups and consumer preferences.

These include gelatin-free alternatives, softgels that are smaller than average and easier to swallow, EasyBurst chewables that use advanced taste-masking technology, dual-action lozenges intended to have a soothing effect around the mouth and throat, and Graphicaps inline printing, which offers an easy way of clearly marking each capsule — plus providing branding opportunities — to differentiate a particular product.

Says Jessica: “We proudly help to launch countless new products while driving brand growth and market share for a diverse portfolio of global clients with what we think is a pretty comprehensive service offering.” Wishing to delve deeper, I ask Jessica about how the Product Library can be used to speed the development of new products or line extensions in the nutraceutical and functional food industry, and what benefits could be achieved for both the marketers of such products and consumers.

“For us,” adds Jessica, “the dietary supplement sector is indeed a key area of interest and, according to recent market research data, is continuing to show signs of impressive growth."

"It’s predicted to increase at a CAGR of approximately 6% for at least the next 5 years.” She continues: “It’s a huge market with a lot of potential, particularly in geographies such as the US and Europe, which are relatively well developed. There are, however, still hurdles to overcome, particularly for brand companies who want to get to market faster and, at the same time, deliver a product that’s wanted and appreciated by an ever-more demanding demographic.”

“More and more sophisticated products are having to be researched and developed to meet these increasingly discerning consumer needs. In particular, personalised nutrition is a major market driver at the moment; and, end users are more frequently seeking out products that specifically address their personal heath requirements and are less likely to purchase commodity items. As such, there is a need among our customers to launch new products that address these specific needs,” she says.

So, what can the Product Library do to help these companies? “Well, to give you a little background,” says Jessica, “it’s essentially a portfolio of nutritional products that give customers a head start on those activities required to prepare for market readiness. As such, they are ready for us to sell to our customers."

"So, when a potential customer comes to us with a particular request, we can share with them the products that would fit within their brand range or platform, or match the material parameters they’re looking for. This saves them a great deal of time because, for example, we already have the 24–36 months of stability data that’s required to release products such as these into the market.”

“The benefit of the Product Library is that you can choose the formula that best meets your platform. And we can do a couple of things; we can either supply the product ‘off the shelf,’ as is, or we can customise it, which obviously involves a little more time to conduct the additional stability testing. The result is that companies are able to go to market a lot faster. In the fast-moving nutritional supplement market industry right now, that’s a huge advantage.”

The nuts and bolts

Currently, the Product Library comprises more than 500 formulations, which are available for a variety of applications, including more than 300 for nutritional supplements, more than 100 for the over-the-counter (OTC) market and another 100-plus that can be delivered using vegetarian twist-off capsules, for example for the topical beauty product market.

“In addition,” notes Jessica, “we also have an online tool that enables our customers to browse by category. Here, in just a few simple steps, you can investigate formulations for immune health or brain function, for example, or bone and joint health, skin health, etc., and discover a variety of ways to support potential health claim submissions.”

“Then, drilling deeper, you can select by dosage form, target group/gender and specific health interest, which will provide a whole list of formulations defined by the required product classification. For example, there are more than 50 options available under ‘cardiovascular.’ Once you’ve selected your product of choice and completed the contact form, you can talk to our expert staff who will be able to answer any questions and provide further information,” she says.

An evolving product

Asking about the timelines involved to develop the Product Library, Jessica tells me that Catalent has generated an enormous amount of data and invested a considerable amount of money to do so during the past 5 years. “And we’re not there yet,” she says, adding: “It’s a repository that’s constantly evolving, very much aligned to Catalent’s own growth strategy to become a leading contract developer and manufacturer of a wide range of consumer-target products, including nutraceuticals and dietary supplements.”

And, talking of time, I wonder how much shorter customer development times could be made by using the library. “In terms of time saved by our customers, it would of course depend on the specific requirements of the project, the stringency applied to the release studies (some clients require 6 months of data) and the time required to perfect the formulation."

"First of all, you’d want to define your target profile, develop a ‘paper’ formulation and do product concept studies in the lab. After that come the trials to establish consistency and stability, and moving from proof of concept to formulation development can also take 3–6 months. However, by using our Product Library and the readily available stability data that already exists, customers are usually able to reduce that timeframe by an average of 6–12 months,” says Jessica.

Real-world success

I ask Jessica whether she can discuss any particular examples and, although she explains that, in the nutraceutical environment, “it’s imperative that we respect our customers’ privacy,” she does cite one of Catalent’s achievements in the OTC space, a market leading branded analgesic. “Back in the late 1990s, we actually invented this formulation at Catalent and, following extensive research, were able to present the concept to a large pharma customer... who launched it to great success.”

“Just a few years ago, we were able to enhance the product and formulate it as a softgel capsule that’s approximately 30% smaller than the regular dosage form. Such innovation has been particularly well received by dysphagic consumers who have trouble swallowing and stimulated a trend toward developing smaller softgels — predominantly in the pharmaceutical industry and throughout the OTC and nutraceutical sectors,” she adds.

“In the nutritional space, we’ve had some notable success with our EasyBurst chewable softgels, which is an ideal platform — using our advanced taste-masked fills encapsulated in proprietary softgel shells — to deliver active ingredients without the need for water. Often used for fish oils, a client that’s very active in the Asian and Australasian part of the world used this technology to develop a product and now has an annual output of about a billion units. Essentially, the portability and convenience of the delivery form enable the client to go beyond simple manufacturing to actually create a market for the product.”

Future-perfect technology

In terms of the Product Library being a game-changer for companies in the dietary supplement space, Jessica points out that market success relies on much more than just the product itself. “The formulation needs to work, the end product lives or dies on there being an unmet consumer or patient requirement — and there needs to be a sustainable chain of supply and demand,” she explains.

She adds: “Catalent has 11 different manufacturing sites based on several different continents (three in North America, three in Latin America, three in Europe and two in Asia), which can make a significant difference when it comes to market access, depending on where you want to launch a product. It also means we can provide back-up production facilities, should anything happen at the primary site, and offer an extended reach through our supplier network. Reliability of supply is a huge advantage for any product, whether new or established.”

As consumers continue to get more sophisticated and look for more diverse products, different formats or condition-specific applications, building brand equity and awareness has become an absolute imperative. To address these needs, Catalent’s Graphicaps inline ribbon printing technology offers the high-quality precision incorporation of brand logos, product names or any other brand identifier on a softgel and helps to build brand awareness and recognition.

“This is quite popular in both the paediatric and geriatric markets,” comments Jessica, adding: “We’re also aware of the other major trends in the industry, such as clean label, non-GMO and the rise of veganism, and have to be able to accommodate all of these factors in the dosage forms we produce. Catalent’s mission is and always has been to put the consumer first.”

Successful consumer health products are built on the science of human nutrition and the art of superior dose form design and, as Catalent builds more partnerships with ingredient suppliers, it plans to add more ‘new-to-market’ products formulated with science-based premium nutrients in innovative dose forms to the Product Library, and play an integral role in developing, delivering and supplying superior products that help to improve people’s lives.

This article will appear in the May/June issue of Nutraceutical Business Review. To read a previous issue, click here.

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