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Collagen innovation reigns as bone and joint sector turns to anti-inflammation

A sector that was once confined to the aging population and athletes today encompasses a broader demographic. New approaches to joint health, using innovative forms of collagen as well as botanicals, are challenging the “classic” ingredients of glucosamine and chondroitin for joint health, or vitamins and minerals for bones. Due to collagen’s expansion across different applications and therapeutic areas, including beauty and sports nutrition, the market for bone and joint health is evolving.

Key suppliers on how they are adapting to shifts in the category, including new delivery formats to reduce pill fatigue, as well as animal-free ingredients for vegetarian consumers.

In recent years, more people are taking a proactive approach to health, which has significantly widened the target market to also include a young and healthy population, according to Cindy Dekeyser, Business Intelligence Manager at PB Leiner.

“People are more active – be it in high-performance sports or only as a weekend warrior – and thus want to adapt their nutrition to their active lifestyle,” reports Oliver Wolf, Head of B2B Marketing, Global Marketing & Communication at Gelita.

Additionally, groups such as the 40+ population and women experiencing menopause are also showing potential for this category. “Several studies demonstrate these groups commonly experience joint discomfort or mobility issues and are looking for ways to support mobility as part of a healthy lifestyle, according to Jaume Reguant, Healthcare Director at Bioiberica.

Lastly, infant nutrition is catching onto the trend too. “The infant/toddler and dairy categories are most innovative for bone and joint health, but NPD in sports nutrition is also growing fast,” Dekeyser adds.

In geographical terms, the main markets in focus are in Asia and North America. “The US is by far the largest market for joint and bone health, but is clearly very mature,” notes Dekeyser. “On the other hand, the most promising regions appear in Asia (mainly China and Indonesia) and Europe (mainly Poland, Turkey, France, Spain and Norway), based on innovation rate and value growth outlook.”

Lay Kwan Goh, Global Head of Marketing, BASF Human Nutrition echoes this notion. The fastest growing market is Asia, while volume is largely driven by North America, with the US being the largest growth contributor.”

Collagen calling

Suppliers note that the bone and joint health market has witnessed significant growth in recent years, with ingredient innovation playing a crucial role in the market’s evolution. One of the most promising ingredients is collagen.

“Collagen-rich foods, especially bone broths, are often promoted by celebrities such as athlete Tom Brady and social media influencer Kim Kardashian,” notes Dekeyser.

Indeed collagen is one of the fastest-growing functional foods worldwide, with a 20 percent increase in the global market between 2014 and 2018, according to Innova Market Insights. Reguant also affirms that collagen is now one of the fastest-growing ingredients in the functional foods space.

Collagen’s success can also be attributed, in part, to its versatility. “Collagen has become the hottest ingredient in the supplement market,” echoes Wolf. “Not only for joint and bone health but also for ligaments and tendons, muscles (promoting body toning) and finally for the beauty-from-within trend.”

“The most promising ingredients are bioactive collagen peptides,” states Wolf. These are known to increase health and mobility of bones and joints, he states.

As the collagen market evolves, innovative forms of collagen, such as native type II collagen, are increasingly in demand, notes Reguant. “Native type II collagen, requires a much lower dosage of 40 mg per day, thanks to its immune-mediated mechanism of action.” A lower dose makes it easier to formulate into convenient, on-the-go formats, he observes.

Fighting pill fatigue with F&B

While hydrolyzed collagen is widely used in joint health products, its use in food and beverage products can often be limited due to its physical and organoleptic properties. Reguant reports it is “only effective in high doses of up to 10 g per day and its incorporation can impact a product’s overall taste due to the presence of protein off-notes, as well as its texture, both of which consumers find unappealing.”

Food and beverages with active ingredients for bones and joints may increase compliance, suggests Goh, as well as be easier to incorporate into daily routines.

Wolf gives some examples for formulating with bioactive collagen peptides. “This could be a fortified gummy for those who have difficulties with swallowing. This could be a shot in a small vial or a beverage for those who like the ‘on-the-go’ approach. Maybe some would like to have it as a flavored or unflavored powder to mix with water or any other drink. Meanwhile, the traditional consumers might prefer tablets or capsules,” he says.

Dekeyser suggests that traditional capsules and tablets are losing their fan base. “Looking at the product delivery formats in the market, we have noticed that traditional capsule and tablet formats have clearly been by passed by powder supplements,” she reports.

Animal-free routes to joint health

While the market for collagen, joint and bone health seems to only be on the rise, supplements containing animal connective tissue leave out an important demographic – vegetarian consumers. “As collagen by definition is an animal-based protein, vegetarians will not be able to benefit from the health-promoting benefits of collagen peptides,” notes Wolf.

However, last month Evonik developed an advanced collagen platform produced via fermentation-based processes without any animal or human-derived ingredients. So far, the production of “vegan” collagen has been a challenge for the industry, but other major players including Gelita and Geltor are also making moves in the space.

Nonetheless, more traditional plant-based methods for improving joint health tend to focus on the reduction of inflammation, whether through botanicals or a healthy microbiome. One botanical that is gaining steam is called devil’s claw. This flowering plant is native to South Africa and has been used traditionally to treat arthritis. “The number of new product launches with devil’s claw is soaring,” reports Dekeyser.

Innova Market Insights reports that devil’s claw saw more than a 100 percent increase in the number of new product launches containing the ingredient (CAGR, 2016-2019).

Connecting bones and joints to the microbiome

Interest in the microbiome and gut health can also lend some clues. Barbara Davis, Head of Clinical & Regulatory Sciences at PLT Health says “the obvious connection here is inflammation. The initial links between microbiome and bones and joints came from work conducted on inflammatory arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis. However, we know that systemic inflammation and osteoarthritis may be linked.”

“There is also data showing that antibiotic use can impact bone mass and density and conversely that probiotics can regulate bone mass in a positive way. Again, connecting the gut microbiome to the musculoskeletal system,” she adds.

Goh also agrees that the microbiome plays a significant role in bone and joint health. The space of microbiome research linking the gut with other organs is surging with more evidence on direct and indirect links that could benefit bone and joint health. BASF is a strong proponent of this research field based on the basic notion of the gut being our first line of defense and the gut barrier integrity as key for the prevention of bone loss and joint inflammation.”

In contrast, Reguant believes there is little evidence to draw firm conclusions that an imbalance in the gut and pro-inflammatory conditions are linked, stating that the data collected to-date is mainly from preclinical models.

The newest innovations in bone and joint health today are seen in bioactive collagen peptides, as well as botanicals such as devil’s claw. Mediating inflammation in general in the body can be a route to promoting healthy joints, including solutions that target the microbiome. As the market and demographic for bone and joint health expands from cradle to cane, delivery is also being innovated in functional beverages, gummies, powders and various other formats.


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