According to Mintel's Global New Products Database (GNPD), 2003 was the most fruitful year for new eye health products in the US, with a total of 30 seeing the light of day. More than half of these contained the carotenoid lutein in their formulations.
The figure receded to 18 in 2004, but this was still respectable and in line with 2001 and 2002, which had 17 product launches each - a huge leap from 2000, when only four products came to market.
In the first half of 2005, six new Mintel-registered products were launched.
Driving the trend is increasing awareness of the link between diet and eye disease in old age - something that the aging baby-boomer generation is keen to avoid.
More than 10 million adults in the United States suffer from age-related macula degeneration, the leading cause of blindness amongst over-55s. AMD is a progressive eye disease that affects the central macula of the eye leaving sufferers with only peripheral vision.
Lutein and zeaxanthin, another dietary carotenoid, are found in the macula and studies have indicated that dietary intake of 6mg of these can help protect against the onset of AMD.
Most adults, however, get only 2 to 4 mg per day of lutein and zeaxanthin from their diet - a factor that has led to the popularity of supplements containing these ingredients.
Around one in 49 Americans - 2.02 percent of the population - suffer from cataract, when the lens of the eye becomes clouded. Cataract removal - that is, the removal of the lens itself - is the most common surgical procedure carried out in the country. Consumption of certain nutrients, including the carotenoid beta carotene, is believed to help prevent cataract.
While seven of the products launched in 2004 or 2005 to date contain lutein, none contain zeaxanthin.
This is a marked difference from the previous three years: in 2003, 16 products contained lutein and four of these also contained zeaxanthin; in 2002 10 contained just lutein, two contained just zeaxanthin and one contained both; in 2001 seven contained lutein, two of which also contained zeaxanthin.
This drop off in the use of zeaxanthin may be due to Zeavision holding five US patents on zeaxanthin and on methods of using it to prevent or treat macular degeneration. In the past, the company has ferociously protected these patents.
In September 2003 the St Louis firm reported that it had settled a patent infringement case with two supplement makers, Geres Dengle and Vitamin Sciences, under which the companies signed consent decrees admitting the validity of ZeaVision's patents and agreed to desist from further infringement.
Last year it reached a settlement in its patent infringement case with DSM Nutritional Products, granting DSM a limited, non-exclusive license to its patents related to zeaxanthin.
It should not be long before zeaxanthin starts putting in an appearance in Mintel's database again however. ZeaVision is currently launching a new line of products for macular health called Eye Promise.
In April it signed a licensing agreement with Chrysantis, giving the Ball Horticultural subsidiary a limited, non-exclusive license to its patents on the use of zeaxanthin in supplements and food products.
Chrysantis has recently launched its EZ Eyes marigold extracts with a high natural zeaxanthin content, after developing plants with carotenoid profiles ranging from 75 percent zeaxanthin and 5 percent lutein to 50 percent zeaxanthin and 50 percent lutein.
In an area on which so much interest has been focused in recent years, it is no wonder that companies are eager to protect their intellectual property.
Bausch and Lomb has filed a string of lawsuits against companies it deems to have infringed its patent on the antioxidant and mineral eye formula which was used in the 10-year Age Related Eye Disease (AREDS) study by the National Eye Institute.
Data Source: Mintel's Global New Products Database