Weight management: Nutraceuticals to the rescue

As the global obesity pandemic continues to increase and diet trends change, can nutraceutical NPD be leveraged to overcome the fundamental immutability of human nature? George Pontiakos, CEO and President of BI Nutraceuticals investigates

“The spotlight on weight management is because of the fact that the prevalence of obesity has reached new heights; it’s not simply a problem anymore, it’s an epidemic and one with no signs of hindrance. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 35.7% of adults and 16.9% of children and adolescents are obese.”

I made this statement in NBR back in 2013 … not knowing how true this would be six years later. In the CDC’s latest National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (2015–2016), the numbers I referenced related to obesity increased to 39.8% of adults and 18.5% of children and adolescents.

In that same survey, nearly 50% of adults stated they have tried to lose weight within the last year, an increase of 7% compared with 2007–2008. This does not come as a surprise! Consumer awareness of overall health and wellness has also increased during the past decade.

Although more Americans are trying to lose weight than ever before, weight loss products and regimens are nothing new; there have been countless throughout the past few decades. In the 1990s, during the peak of weight loss fads, there was ephedra and the Atkins diet.

The Atkins diet involves four phases: the first phase starts off with participants only consuming 20 grammes of net carbs per day … then it slowly increases to 100 g in the last phase, which is still considered to be a low-carb diet. The diet replaces the carbs with high-fat and high-protein foods. Fast forward from five years ago to the present day and there was the green coffee bean extract and the Ketogenic diet.

There are several variations of the Keto diet, but it typically consists of 60–90% fat and only 20–50 g of carbs per day. With this diet, the body goes into ketosis, which is a metabolic state that utilises fat for energy instead of glucose. Does this sound familiar? The Atkins diet may not be the “it” diet anymore, but one that parallels it is. In between Atkins and Keto, there have been several popular low-carb diets, which are essentially just variations on a theme.

Down with carbs

The continuing popularity of low-carb diets derives from consumer awareness that carbs, specifically sugars, contribute to weight gain and should be limited. According to the International Food Information Council Foundation’s 13th Annual Food and Health Survey, sugar is once again the most cited cause of weight gain (at 33%) with carbs following (25%), an increase of 5% since 2017.

In that same survey, it shows more than 30% of US consumers are following a specific diet or eating pattern, and they are increasingly cutting out carbohydrates and sugar. This is also because of a shift in the weight loss segment.

Time and again, individuals have been partaking of the “latest and greatest” weight loss product, such as green coffee bean extract, in the hope of finding “the one that works for them.” Owing to this incessant search for the perfect solution, a culture of exaggerated advertising and unethical businesses promising — the miracle weight loss product — has developed, resulting in an extremely trend-driven market plagued with controversies, fads, and unpredictable sales.

Interest in these weight loss products typically dies down within a matter of years or even months. For instance, according to Nutrition Business Journal, weight management pill sales grew by 10% in 2013 because of the popularity of green coffee bean extract, but the growth rate of sales was already in the negatives by 2015.

Even with nearly 50% of adults trying to lose weight, the sales of weight loss supplements are faltering. The “weight loss” segment has shifted to “weight management” and fad products have shifted to healthy diet and lifestyle changes, such as Keto.

A different perspective

For manufacturers of weight management products, this means changing the product development focus to meet these needs. Brands should always take consumer trends into consideration when developing new products; it is crucial to both defend existing business and initiate growth.

This includes dietary supplement/functional beverage-food producers and trendy diets. However, brands should also always do their due diligence in distinguishing if it is a passing fad (green coffee bean extract) or a longer-term trend (Keto); fruitlessly chasing a fad and capitalising on a trend can be hard to separate.

As with any product development, brands have to determine whether their products fit within the trend or develop a new product that does, which can be a complicated assessment. The former would be the ideal situation for a manufacturer … as adjustments would only be needed in terms of marketing and packaging, and not the actual formula. If reformulation is required, this is when the distinction between a passing fad and longer-term trend matters. Good formulation and market research take time — and a launch can easily be too late for passing fads.

However, manufacturers should not rush formulation; there are many hiccoughs that can come with a rushed development and production schedule. Manufacturers need to develop proper supply chains and manufacturing processes because, even if a product is on-trend, low quality results in a loss of brand equity.

In addition, when developing any product, not just weight loss or weight management products, it is vital to be extremely careful with claims made on the packaging as well as marketing. Be clear and honest; do not overpromise on any results. You’ll not only lose credibility with your customers, but also gain unwanted attention with regulators … especially if disease claims are made.

Also, keep in mind that regulators are not the only ones seeking out brands with unsubstantiated claims, consumer protection lawyers are too. Sometimes the simplest statements about the ingredients in a product are the safest and the most effective. For instance, for a Keto product, advertise that it’s Keto-friendly on the packaging.

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