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Highlights from Vitafoods Europe 2024, part one

Article-Highlights from Vitafoods Europe 2024, part one

© Vitafoods Europe 2024 Siow-VFE-Conference-Vitafoods-580.png
From the impact of semaglutides to ‘exponential’ growth in eye health, we asked market experts and researchers at Vitafoods Europe about the top trends shaping the nutraceutical industry and nutrition research today.

Semaglutides ‘will benefit a lot of players in the supplement space’

A hot topic at Vitafoods Europe this year was the impact that GLP-1 drugs, such as Ozempic and Wegovy, will have on the health and wellness industry.

Demand for these drugs is on the rise: in May this year, Wegovy manufacturer Novo Nordisk said it was seeing at least 25,000 new US patients start on Wegovy each week – roughly four times more US patient starts compared with December 2023.

Brandon Casteel, vice-president of partnerships at market research company SPINS, which specialises in US retail data, said there were clear opportunities for the nutraceutical industry to benefit in two ways.

First, by offering natural alternatives for people who prefer not to use pharmaceuticals and, second, by ensuring that patients who are taking GLP-1s have sufficient nutrition.

I think that consumers' interest and adoption is absolutely there, but you are also seeing consumer interest in the potential side effects when taking these medications,” he said.

“You are seeing rises in TikTok searches for 'semaglutide and cancer' and 'Ozempic and pancreatitis'. So, consumers are maybe trying to look for safer alternatives and this is an opportunity for us in the supplement space.”

He added: “Berberine is a supplement that is known as 'Nature's Ozempic' and it is spiking in sales, [with] a 123% increase in growth year-on-year. It just hit an all-time [high] in sales in March.”

Another element directly related to the GLP-1 phenomenon from which the nutraceutical industry stands to benefit, according to Casteel, is the rise of “correlated products” that are intended to be consumed alongside semaglutide medications. 

“One such product – a protein shake by Abbott Nutrition called Protality – launched in January and it specifically says that this meal replacement shake is to be taken while taking GLP-1 drugs,” he said.

"A big prediction for us at SPINS is that we are going to see a lot more products like this. For example, people [will] take a green supplement because they are not eating vegetables because they are not hungry, but they still need that nutrient density in their body.”

Taking a systems biology approach to healthy ageing

Richard Siow, director of Ageing Research at King’s (ARK), a cross-university consortium of researchers taking a multidisciplinary approach to better understand the mechanisms of ageing, improving health-span, and the social and economic impact of ageing, spoke to us about how this field of research is evolving.

Asked what some of the most exciting developments in the field of longevity have been in recent years, Siow – who is also honorary secretary-general of the European Society of Preventive Medicine (ESPM) – said it was technological advances.

“We have smartphones, we have wearables, and we have smart devices to monitor wellbeing,” he said. “We also have advances in monitoring biomarkers such as blood markers, genetics, and epigenetics so it's the data sciences and the technologies that are advancing.”

Knowing how to apply this data will be crucial.

“How can we harness that information for better prediction of age-related conditions and also prevent decline in many different organ systems? We need to take a systems biology approach to better understand how all of these different areas interact and to harness the data we are collecting both from the clinical perspective, the workplace, and as a consumer,” he added.

“It’s really important that we understand the science behind longevity. We are here at [Vitafoods Europe] looking at many different nutraceutical supplements, but do we fully understand how this applies to us from a personal perspective all the way through to the societal impact of better nutrition, sports, and so on?”

All eyes on eye health: ‘We’re seeing exponential increases’

Rick Miller, associate director for specialised nutrition at Mintel, called out the area of eye health as “one to watch”.

He said: "I think there is a huge opportunity for brands when it comes to eye health, the reason being that it's absolutely clear from the health data that we're seeing huge increases – exponential increases – in eye-related conditions like macular degeneration and short-sightedness across the world and across different demographics.”

Miller said this is rising fastest amongst younger consumers for whom short-sightedness has increased at a high rate. Brands can, therefore, innovate with functional food and drink or other categories that contain ingredients to support eye health. 

While many people have heard of the gut-brain axis or gut-skin axis, the gut-eye axis is lesser known. However, this is “a really interesting area”, said Miller.

“Brands who are already operating in [the gut health] space – maybe they are doing gut health [products] or creating probiotics and prebiotics – can certainly play into this space,” he said.

Interesting research has been done around certain strains such as Lactobacillus paracasei with regard to the gut-eye axis. However, companies can also look to other “simpler” ingredients to support eye health, such as omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins A, C, and E, Miller added.

Sustainability: Derisking supply chains and creating level playing fields

Non-profit organisation Solidaridad is an international development agency active in more than 50 countries. It helps smallholder farmers improve their working conditions while reducing the negative environmental impacts associated with agri-food supply chains, such as coffee, tea, sugar, palm oil, soy, herbs, and botanicals, as well as extractive industries, such as mining.

As head of corporate engagement for Europe, Myrtille Danse helps connect these smallholder farmers to the European market via supply chain and sourcing partnerships.

Asked about the impact of upcoming EU sustainability regulations, such as the Corporate Sustainability and Due Diligence Directive or the EU Deforestation Regulation, Danse said: "We think it is great that these regulations are there. Regulation really helps to create a fair, level playing field for everybody and that is something that we applaud.

“Of course, from a corporate engagement point of view, I see also the challenges at the moment both for the corporate side but also for the [producers] because the requirements are higher than what the actors are used to doing in the supply chain.”

One of Solidaridad’s biggest concerns currently is that these regulations may lead to smallholder farmers being excluded if manufacturers see it as more attractive to work with bigger suppliers. The organisation is working with both parties to minimise this possibility.  

 “That is where we work together with companies,” Danse said. “We like to work together; we have a lot of technical capacity on the ground and we are really a good partner [because] we have the confidence of communities.”

As a result of mandatory EU sustainability regulations, Solidaridad has also begun to work more with financial actors in the supply chain.

“Risk has become an important topic so the [chief finance officers] CFOs are stepping into the sustainability agenda – and that is really interesting because it is touching the core business,” Danse added.