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The future of weight loss: How health-led brands can benefit from the GLP-1 boom

Article-The future of weight loss: How health-led brands can benefit from the GLP-1 boom

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The astronomical sales and impact of GLP-1 drugs have caused many players in the nutrition industry to feel like they have entered the next era of weight loss and lifestyle programming. We take a closer look at the new semaglutide reality.

At Vitafoods Europe 2024 in Geneva last month, a panel of experts and industry leaders agreed that the industry can seize great opportunities if it is ready to accept and understand the full implications of the rise of GLP-1s.

An ever-growing appetite for appetite reduction

As annual global sales forecasts for weight loss drug sales rise to $150 billion by the early 2030s – a jump from $24 billion today and significantly higher than last year’s estimates of around $100 billion – it is clear that glucagon-like peptide agonist medications like Wegovy and Ozempic have made a lasting impact on the market.

This is not surprising, considering that the glucose inhibitors are reported to reduce calorie intake by 20 to 30% every day.

According to Brandon Casteel, vice-president of partnerships at market research company SPINS, which specialises in US retail data, the rise of GLP-1 drugs has coincided with declining year-on-year sales in weight loss supplements.

One in eight Americans has used a GLP-1 drug, and this number is likely to rise rapidly once the much more consumer-friendly oral semaglutide medications – currently in final trial stages – are approved and hit the markets.

“This is something that's not going away. There are more than a billion people that are clinically obese in the world – more than double the number... that [suffer from malnutrition],” he said. “It's something that we all have to become very, very familiar with very, very quickly and understand how we position ourselves in the marketplace.”

Supporting the weight loss journey

The disruption of the diet supplement sector and adjacent industries does not simply mean a reduced interest in or appetite for anything besides GLP-1 drugs.

According to Grace Noboa-Hidalgo, director of product innovation and user experience at Walgreens Health, the crucial thing for anyone in obesity care right now is to understand how to help patients in their journey.

“There have been many publications that show that once you get off GLP-1s, you regain the weight,” she said. “[T]hat just points to the importance of implementing GLP-1 therapy along with other types of interventions, [like] lifestyle modification.”

While the new class of drugs has sparked an increased interest in managing obesity, with only one obesity specialist for every 20,000 patients, proper weight loss management is “a very hard problem to solve with specialists alone”, said Naboa-Hidago. “You need additional healthcare professionals and clinicians to step into this world of obesity, and really help patients make some behavioural and lifestyle changes,” she explained.

Supplementing the semaglutide diet

Susan Kleiner, the owner of High Performance Nutrition, a wellness and nutrition consultancy, sees multiple roles for those in her industry in the post-semaglutide era – including helping patients feel as well as they can while on the drugs.

This means helping those who are losing weight with aspects that are not necessarily regulated by semaglutide, ranging from hydration, electrolytes, and gut health; to adequate fibre, carbohydrate, and protein intake; brain health; and exercise.

“Those are golden opportunities for our industry, as well as clinicians, registered dieticians, anyone in allied health, that can help support… the physicians, [whose] role is to treat disease,” said Kleiner.

The types of supplements and foods that are poised to benefit from consumers on a semaglutide-fuelled weight loss journey are therefore likely to include products that support health and wellbeing and ensure that those with a reduced appetite are still getting a nutritious and complete diet.

SPINS data shows that protein supplements and meal replacements are up 12% in sales, while green supplement sales have risen 32%. Casteel explained this trend, saying: “[…W]hen appetites are low and diet awareness is up, more people are going to want an easy way to get the protein, calories, vitamins, minerals, the nutrients [they] need.”

Side effects – real and perceived – are another critical consideration. Casteel noted that social media searches for a wide range of side effects are up in correlation with Wegovy and Ozempic use.

“That publicity likely creates opportunities for brands … posing natural alternatives, he said.

One potent example is berberine, a functional ingredient often called “nature’s Ozempic”.

Casteel added: “In [SPINS’] datasets, berberine supplements hit an all-time high and sales volume on the data that we just released on March 24 [2024].

“I do think that there are opportunities in correlative supplements that are providing the same types of benefits.”