Is the Dietary Supplement Industry Fighting an Uphill Battle?
Waking the Sleeping Giant
The Dietary Supplement industry, technically existing as early as the 18th century, has exploded in recent years. The industry surpassed the $37 billion mark in 2015 and is estimated to reach valuations of near $350 billion worldwide by 2026. This growth can be attributed to the increasing occurrences of obesity throughout the world, the vast commercialization of fitness facilities, and even the enormous influence of social media platforms. Although the products available have evolved from the cod liver oil produced and sold nearly 300 years ago, the goal has remained untouched; To provide a product intended to supplement the diet. However, as the demand for dietary supplements continues to soar, so does the time between production and consumption. Consumers are already beginning to notice a pattern similar to that of the food and beverage industry, the use of synthetic preservatives.
As many are aware, the intended purpose of a preservative is to slow the process of decomposition and prohibit unwanted chemical changes. Their use has been apparent since prehistoric times, when the process of smoking and dehydrating meat was utilized to delay spoilage. Caves and cool streams were used for freezing perishables until the introduction of the ice box, and eventually mechanical refrigeration. Humans also turned to natural additives, like oils and salts to accomplish this goal. Over time however the necessity for cheap, easily produced, and most importantly, calorie-free preservatives became more evident. The synthetic preservative was born.
When the dietary supplement industry experienced its first surge in popularity the majority of the products available were produced in the form of powder, due to its ability to maintain the products molecular integrity without the use of preservatives. In this form, it’s not uncommon to see supplements remain shelf stable for months, if not years. It wasn’t until the most recent demand that the industry began exploring new avenues to distribute “health” to their consumers. Today, favored products range from bars and ready-to-drink options, to chips and even cookies! But as the form of the supplement continues to evolve, so do the preservatives they now require.
Bigger, Faster, Stronger
As a society, we are moving faster than ever before. We can accomplish complex tasks with the touch of a few buttons and even conduct meetings while hundreds of miles apart using the computer in our pocket. The speed at which we consume supplements should be no different. Consumers can no longer tolerate purchasing a month’s worth of protein, driving it home, and distributing a single serving into a designated container before consumption. The supplement industry responded by introducing us to the RTD (ready-to-drink). This simple liquid-based option allows purchasers to consume their supplement immediately, but requires one of the most drastic changes in terms of preservatives. Just as a set of tools will rust when exposed to wet or damp conditions, vitamins and probiotics will degrade over time when exposed to water. This means, the longer an RTD sits on the shelf, the less likely it is to contain the same level of nutrients it had at production, even with the use of natural or synthetic preservatives.
…But at What Cost?
While these additives and their use are closely monitored by the Food & Drug Administration, there has been controversy over many of the most commonly used. Sodium benzoate, for example, one of the most prominent synthetic additives in liquid dietary supplements, is approved for use, but is still known to have negative side effects. When combined with vitamin C the two can form benzene, a known carcinogen. The possibility of this outcome is higher in some “diet” beverages due to their lack of sugar, which can help prohibit the formation. Studies have also shown sodium benzoate to increase risk of inflammation, oxidative stress and hyperactivity.
Whether it is due to the negative side effects listed above or others, most consumers seem to agree on their perspective of synthetic preservatives. Based on a recent limited sample, 89.4% of the participants polled said they viewed preservatives as unhealthy. Furthermore, over 92% of those polled said they would prefer a dietary supplement that does not contain preservatives.
That being said, the current and expected growth of the industry suggests that consumers’ opinions of preservatives is not enough to deter them from consuming their favorite products. It suggests that most consumers place the reward of meeting their nutritional needs above the potential risks of consuming preservatives. It suggests that most consumers will continue to choose convenience over health.
Perhaps the era of choosing between one or the other is coming to a close however. Go Mix, a Denver based start up, has launched onto the market seeking to fill this void in the dietary supplement industry. Led by a pair of founders with experience in professional sports and preventative medicine, they are confident their innovative packaging offers logical solutions to the current dilemma. By focusing on single-serving application and utilizing supplements in powder form, they are able to avoid unwanted preservatives while maintaining the level of convenience consumer’s demand. The dawn of this new technology has already allowed them to create several partnerships with key players in the industry, and indicates no signs of slowing down. Is it possible that this emerging brand, deviating from the previous limitations, has the ability to spark real change?
Industries will always respond to the demand of its consumers. Insist for greater convenience, and a product with less steps will be made. Call for variety, and new forms of your favorite product will hit the shelves. Demand, after all, is the lifeblood of the industry itself. Unfortunately, consumers are forced to choose from the options made available to them, that is, until a consumer decides to create an option of their own.