Beyond beauty: Collagen wins wider appeal as performance nutrition ingredient

By Adi Menayang

- Last updated on GMT

Chicago-based Vital Proteins exhibited its many functional collagen powder and capsule supplements at the Natural Products Expo West show in Anaheim, CA.
Chicago-based Vital Proteins exhibited its many functional collagen powder and capsule supplements at the Natural Products Expo West show in Anaheim, CA.

Related tags Collagen Collagen peptides

With its associations to beauty and youth, collagen may be the answer to make the bone and joint category ‘cooler and sexier’ for consumers.

When we asked sports nutrition and marketing experts two years ago​ if bone and joint support as a category can be cool enough for sports nutrition, they said it was possible, though it may be “a tough road to travel.”

“Bone and joint are typically important after you have bone and joint issues. If you have a joint problem it becomes relevant, not before. So your target market is a sliver,” ​Steve Gaither, president of Chicago-based marketing practice JB Chicago, told NutraIngredients-USA at the time.​​

“The problem/opportunity is you need to build a category. Joint health to the masses becomes an education game, a tough road to travel. This can be done however,”​​ Gaither said. The secret is to “create internet real estate for the dietitians and nutritionists, and then hit the trade shows to get the brand R&D and marketing folks into it.” ​​

Collagen products targeting the protein-using crowd grew by 751% year-over-year

The route Gaither talked about two years ago mirrors the path collagen in performance nutrition has taken in the past couple of years. Google Trends data revealed that searches for ‘collagen powder’ in the US is at an all-time high, after it started steadily increasing in early 2016. The turning point? Performance nutrition.

“Appealing to a wider audience beyond hair, skin, nail and joint support, collagen sales in performance nutrition began picking up speed in 2016,”​ Kimberly Kawa, a retail reporting analyst at SPINS, told NutraIngredients-USA.

The collagen supplements market was worth $53,123,232 in the US in 2017, according to the latest data from SPINS.

It has been used as a core ingredient in beauty-from-within supplements, which makes up a large share of all collagen supplement sales, at $30,541,353. The US ranks seventh globally​ in sales for this category, behind East Asian countries Japan, Hong Kong, and China where the category thrives.

“But a major shift in marketing collagen as a protein source changed the direction of growth in favor of the protein supplements and meal replacements category,”​ Kawa added. “Over the prior year (52 weeks ending Feb. 25, 2018) sales of collagen products targeting the protein supplementing crowd grew by 751.0%, bringing the category $8.7 million in dollar sales.”


Interest for collagen has been rising steadily since mid-2016, based on Google searches for 'Collagen' in the US.

A shining star at Expo West 2018

Collagen was a star ingredient at the Natural Products Expo West show in Anaheim, CA earlier this month, appearing in everything from powders to cauliflower-based wraps.

Health analyst Carolina Ordonez from market research firm Euromonitor called it “2018’s hottest ingredient.”

“While collagen has been historically used as a beauty ingredient, it was clear that this year collagen is set to be an increasingly popular ingredient in supplements and vitamins to support joint health, bones, nails, skin, and hair health,”​ she wrote in a blog post about the finished products trade show.

Collagen specializing companies like Vital Proteins, Neocell (now owned by Clorox​), and Bulletproof gained a lot of attention with multiple booths sprinkled throughout the show. So did Ancient Nutrition, which recently raised $103 million from multiple investors.

Foraying into collagen powders

Then there were companies who used the show to announce their foray into the collagen category, like Orgain​ and Nordic Naturals​. The latter announced the launch of its Marine Collagen powder.

At the Natural Products Expo West show earlier this month, Nordic Naturals launched its first collagen powder product.

Consumer demand has definitely motivated product development in this space, as consumers are increasingly looking to the natural products channel to support all aspects of their health,”​ a spokesperson for the company told NutraIngredients-USA.

“Marine Collagen’s powder delivery form is a convenient way to give customers a biologically meaningful amount of collagen. With a hint of strawberry, this tasty powder mixes easily and dissolves completely into your favorite hot or cold beverage, or smoothie.”

Another example is the brand Primal Kitchen​, founded by fitness author Mark Sisson. Its portfolio includes mostly condiments and pantry staples, but also includes whey powder, collagen powder, and collagen bars.

“We’re not consuming enough of other parts of the animal, which is how our ancestors were able to repair their stressed out collagen components,” ​Sisson told NutraIngredients-USA. “We’re talking about cartilage, tendons, ligaments, skin, nails—these are composed mostly of collagen.”

Suppliers invest in research and marketing for collagen’s functional benefits

In sum, collagen comes from cartilage, bones, and hides of animals like cows and pigs. Traditionally it has been used as gelatin, a more structural and textural ingredient not touted for its health benefits.

Collagen bars, powders, were first foray into supplement space for condiment specialist Primal Kitchen

Collagen Primal Kitchen

Condiments and other pantry staples comprise most of Primal Kitchen's product portfolio. Last year it launched supplement powders and bars featuring collagen. Read about the company's meteoric sales growth not long after the company's launch on our sister site FoodNavigator-USA. READ MORE

In fact, Label Insight​, a Chicago technology firm that collects data from label packaging, noted that hot dogs and brats share the top five of categories that have many products featuring collagen, along with sports drinks and protein bars.

But collagen suppliers have invested in research and marketing pushes for the inclusion of bioactive forms of collagen in ingestible products, beyond  hair, skin, and nail supplements.

“The beauty of this increased consumer awareness and uptake of collagen supplements (pun, intended) is that it further positions collagen as an ideal ingredient for more than just skin health,”​ said Heather Arment, marketing coordinator of Gelita USA​, a subsidiary of the global, Germany-based gelatin specialist.

Her company offers five types of bioactive collagen peptides, each specialized for different functions from muscle mass building (Bodybalance) to joint health (Fortigel) to Verisol (skin elasticity).

“Today’s consumers and health and nutrition industry experts recognize collagen as ‘the body’s protein.’ Collagen is a major component of the human body–and about 30% of our total body protein is collagen,” ​Arment said. She added that there recently have been studies on Gelita's functional collagen published in peer-reviewed journals, such as one supporting Bodybalance's muscle mass and strength benefits for resistance-training elderly people​ published in the British Journal of Nutrition​ in 2015, and another on Fortigel's effect on improving joint pain in athletes​, published in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism​ in 2016.

“As such, Gelita is seeing consumers‘ attitudes toward collagen supplemention increase–and in categories like active nutrition, sports nutrition, performance nutrition, bone/joint health, muscle health and body toning and more.”

Juliana Erickson, senior marketing manager at Basel-headquartered Lonza​, echoed Arment’s sentiments.

“Lonza has seen an increase demand in undenatured type II collagen over the last several years. Joint items with [Lonza’s branded] UC-II undenatured type II collagen have annual growth rates seen only with items like probiotics and fish oil,”​ she said, citing Nielsen data for grocery, drug, mass, and more (except convenience) in the 52 weeks ending June 2017.

“No other joint health subtype in the US food, drug, mass segment is showing growth like this.”

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