Yet “this is only the tip of the iceberg” for vitamin K2, Eric Anderson, senior vice president of marketing at vitamin K2 supplier NattoPharma, told NutraIngredients-USA.
“As the benefits become more well known, the number of products on the market will explode,” he added.
“We see continued growth from existing and new formulations and we see growth from new formulations,” said Dan Murray, vice president of business development for Xsto Solutions, a supplier of vitamin K2 MK-7. “This tells us there is plenty of new demand and room for demand creation. We are really only beginning the ride for K2.”
For comparison, the Mintel report noted that the better-known form of vitamin K, K1, posted a slightly slower 90% growth over the same 2008-2012 period. But out of all the food, drink, vitamin and supplement launches containing vitamin K1 or K2 worldwide, vitamin K1 was used in 96% of products, while K2 was used in just 4%. It’s unsurprising then, that suppliers such as NattoPharma often refer to it as the “forgotten vitamin.”
Oft-ignored K2 deficiency
“In the west, you don’t see a deficiency in terms of what you need to coagulate blood,” Anderson said. “But K2 has important functions outside the liver. It’s kind of amazing that we have this vitamin with these staggering benefits, but we’ve systematically reduced the amount of K2 in western diet and as a result, we are deficient.”
Vitamin K1, also known as phylloquinone, is found in leafy green vegetables, such as lettuce, spinach, kale and broccoli. Vitamin K2 (menaquinones) can be synthesized in the gut by the microflora, though menaquinones also occur in some foods. MK-4 can be found in animal meat, MK-7, MK-8 and MK-9 can be found in fermented foods such as cheese, and natto offers a rich source of MK-7.
The primary health benefits of vitamin K2 are its role in bone and cardiovascular health. It helps build healthy, strong bones through the activation of Osteocalcin, and regulates the mechanisms that inhibit incorporation of calcium deposits in soft tissue. Recently published studies also indicate that vitamin K2 supplements may prevent bone loss and improve bone impact strength in post-menopausal women, and that it could improve the body’s ability to utilize oxygen and reduce the risk of muscle cramping.
Moreover, vitamin K2 is absorbed better by the body than K1 and remains biologically active in the body for longer—up to 72 hours, “which should encourage the use of vitamin K2 over K1 when trying to correct vitamin K deficiency,” according to the Mintel report.
Vitamins, supplements leading the charge
Historically, the high cost and lack of consumer education (and resulting lack of demand) have kept vitamin K2 out of mass-market multivitamins and fortified foods and beverages.
Vitamins and dietary supplements led global new K2 product launches in 2012, with 76%, followed by baby formula (6%), beverage mixes (6%), flavored milk (6%), and soy-based drinks (6%). So far this year (January to August 2013), vitamins and dietary supplements are still the most popular launches (58%), but soy-based drinks (25%), drinking yogurts (8%) and cultured milk (8%) made some inroads in the marketplace.
Because the number launches of food and drink products containing vitamin K2 is still “very, very low, it is too soon to really see any real trends in the usage of vitamin K2 across countries,” but the U.S. and the Netherlands currently dominate in category-leading vitamins and supplements, said Laura Jones, global food science analyst at Mintel, in an email.
Xsto, on the other hand, has found that K2 product types vary by region. “Specifically, North Americans seem somewhat more comfortable with supplements whereas South Americans, Asians and Europeans often prefer fortified foods and beverages,” Murray said. “These are broad generalizations, but they seem to play out in the markets.”
He added that it will likely take a few more years “to reach the consumer awareness and demand level necessary to see K2 being added to food.” Once that happens, suppliers will get a better handle on how commercial forms will work in food systems.
Indeed, as markets mature and volumes increase, costs will come down and make vitamin K2 more commercially viable, Anderson noted.
Some of the potential targets for vitamin K2 inclusion are functional foods that have traditionally incorporated vitamin K1, as well as processed cheese (an untapped market with huge potential, according to Anderson) as well as fortifying dairy products, such as yogurt and milk.
“Vitamins are essential. We have to have them,” Anderson said. “If you don’t have enough vitamin C, within three months your gums bleed. K2, on the other hand, is a lifelong issue. It’s about growing and preserving healthy skeleton over the course of your life.
“We’re finally at the point where we have the data in hand to make these statements. Once the industry and consumers are cognizant of its role in bone and heart health, we’ll start seeing it incorporated into many more products,” he added.