How plant-based brands are riding on collagen’s momentum, without the collagen

By Adi Menayang

- Last updated on GMT

PlantFusion's Complete Plant Collagen Builder debuted at Expo West 2019.
PlantFusion's Complete Plant Collagen Builder debuted at Expo West 2019.

Related tags Collagen vegan plant-based

Collagen has no vegetarian alternative, let alone vegan. This hasn’t stopped plant-based supplement companies from jumping on the collagen bandwagon.

What these supplement companies are doing is formulating products designed to help with the body’s natural collagen production.

Collagen boosters, as they are called, were an emerging trend at the 2019 Natural Products Expo West show, where more than 3,000 brands in the natural food, beverage, and dietary supplements space exhibited their products to around 88,000 attendees.

It’s riding on the wave of collagen, the protein found in the connective tissues of the body, which was a star ingredient at last year’s Expo West show​.

Collagen’s boom last year in the consumer health and wellness space opened avenues for other ingredients like ceramides and botanical extracts to shine in the beauty-from-within category, according to Matthew Oster of Euromonitor International, a market research firm.

“You’re seeing beauty-from-within being very, very popular. This is moving from lifestyle and beauty brands into the more mainstream of the supplement space,”​ he told us.

Powders with amla, spinach, ceramides, and more

PlantFusion launched its Complete Plant Collagen Builder​ at the show. Certified vegan, it contains plant-based ingredients formulated together to boost the body’s natural collagen production, the brand’s co-founder and CEO Phil Vigeant told us.

Eating brains doesn’t make you smarter, he said by way of analogy. “What is really clear is that your body, with the right nutrients in general, can create its own collagen,” ​he said.

“Collagen formation in the body comes through a complex enzymatic process,”​ he added. To help with this, Collagen Builder contains phytoceramides, amla berry extract, and white tea extract. It also contains a vegan hyaluronic acid manufactured using a fermentation process.

We’re not just riding the wave of the popularity of collagen,” ​Vigeant said.

“Really, collagen has done a great service in a way where it’s on the frontlines right now for the standpoint of awareness, and it has created the opportunity for people to figure out the optimal way to support their collagen production."

Collagen builder Amazing Grass
Amazing Grass launched its Amazing Protein Glow series last summer. It was one of the Glanbia-owned company's highlighted products at this year's Expo West show.

Other companies that showcased vegan collagen builders were Amazing Grass with its Amazing Protein Glow line (which launched last summer​) and Fusion Naturals’ Vegan Collagen Booster​, which was a finalist for the Expo’s Nexty Awards.

Like PlantFusion’s product, Fusion Naturals’ Vegan Collagen Booster contains amla extract as one of its main ingredients. It also contains spinach, a leafy green which, according to a 1983 study in Biochemical Medicine​, contains the B vitamins linked to collagen production.

Uptick in beauty-from-within positioning

Oster at Expo West

There were noticably more beauty-from-within product claims at this year's Natural Products Expo West show, according to Matthew Oster, industry manager for consumer healthcare at market research firm Euromonitor International.


“It stimulates your body to produce collagen on its own,” ​explained Krista Neilson, VP of operations at Fusion Naturals. “It’s sold primarily online, but it’s rolling out into Vitamin World,, and we are rolling out with some larger retailers this year and distributors.”

The new beauty gummy?

While the gummy format has been popular for beauty-positioned supplements, such as 'hair, skin, and nails' biotin gummies, Canada-based Herbaland​is innovating in the space with the launch of a vegan collagen booster in gummy form at the show.

Collagen builder Herbaland
Herbaland launched a Vegan Collagen Booster gummy at the Natural Products Expo West 2019 show.

Collagen has been making waves as one of the industry's biggest buzzwords in the last year, and we realized that there weren't very many options for vegan, vegetarian, or halal members of the community,”​ said John Bentley, senior sales manager, North America, at Herbaland.

“We were eager to develop a product with these consumers in mind, option out of traditional collagen sources (bovine, fish) and focusing instead on ingredients that promote the body's ability to synthesize collagen naturally,”​ he added.

“Consumers are very familiar with the concept of collagen products, but ‘boosters’ tend to be on the new side for them.”

The gummy contains vitamin A, amla fruit, and the amino acid lysine.

Science behind the ingredients

As you can tell by now, amla extract is a popular choice among formulators developing plant-based collagen boosters. Sabinsa, an India-based company, commercializes a patented form of amla extract called Saberry. It is the form of amla used in PlantFusion’s product.

“There is increasing interest in the nutricosmetics application of certain ingredients, particularly in Saberry, Sabinsa’s amla extract, both from supplement manufacturers but also from the functional food sector,” ​said Dr Anurag Pande, VP of scientific affairs at Sabinsa.

In East Asian countries like Japan, Korea and China, the nutricosmetics market is quite mature based on the existing formulations in the market there, he said.

Amla is also known as Indian gooseberry. Photo: Sabinsa

“The US market is starting to show good growth, even though the market size has yet to reach to asignificant share of total dietary supplement or health foods sales.”

Researchers in India have linked amla to collagen production in human skin fibroblasts in a study published in 2010​. It corroborated results of a Japanese study in 2008​, which also linked amla extract to collagen production.

Another ingredient seeing an uptick of use among beauty-from-within formulators is phytoceramide, a waxy lipid molecule found in plants like wheat.

“As the Beauty from Within space grows, the challenge of brand differentiation goes up. Following that, we see an increased interest in Ceramosides,”​ said Sebastien Merchet, nutrition business development manager of North America for Seppic, referring to the branded name of the phytoceramide his company supplies.

“From the formulator standpoint, Ceramosides is very easy to incorporate. It’s important to remember that these plant-based collagen boosters are typically very sophisticated formulations that often have three, four, or five actives complexed to create the final product. Ceramosides stands out here due to its low dose (30 mg), allowing room for other ingredients,”​ he argued.

Brands that use this ingredient include Reservage and PlantFusion in their collagen builders, as well as beauty supplements by Now Foods and Irwin Naturals. One significant customer of Ceramosides is the Colorox Company-owned Neocell. "Even a collagen specialist uses this ingredient," ​Merchet said.

In 2017, an in vitrostudy published in Cosmetics​ linked phytoceramide supplementation to skin hydration.

"Ceramosides [was] shown to preserve collagen network integrity [and] induce the production of an inhibitor of collagenase, an enzyme responsible for collagen network degradation,"​ Merchet explained.

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