Though its benefits and health applications have been well-documented for years, collagen is still in the early stages of its emergence as a functional ingredient in food and beverage products. At SupplySide West 2017, held in September in Las Vegas, Project NOSH’s sister site, BevNET, caught up with several ingredient suppliers seeking to build the market for these proteins through innovative solutions and products, such as ready-to-drink beverages and supplements.
Collagen, a structural protein found in skin, tendons, joints and bones, accounts for about 25 percent of the total protein in the human body. It has long been associated with skincare and anti-aging regimens, but it has a much wider range of potential uses that CPG companies have been exploring.
In the beverage space, brands have embraced collagen as an ingredient on different levels. Functional beverage startup Dirty Lemon highlights marine collagen as the primary ingredient in its Skin+Hair SKU, while Elaine Morrison, founder of ready-to-drink collagen elixir Eviva, has used her story of overcoming an autoimmune disorder through a collagen-based diet as inspiration in creating the brand.
Earlier this month, Chicago-based Vital Proteins announced a $19 million investment from CAVU Venture Partners, which the company said it will use to finish a new production facility, expand retail distribution and reinforce marketing and consumer education efforts. In addition to various types of grass-fed collagen peptide powders and supplements, the company markets a line of collagen-infused flavored waters. The injection of new funding caps off a year of significant growth for the brand, which Vital Proteins CEO and founder Kurt Seidensticker said had grown by 250 percent year-over-year and 50 percent quarter-over-quarter.
With protein continuing to be one of the dominant trends across all beverage categories, the potential for collagen to be seen more frequently in drinks is high. The global market for collagen peptide was valued at $750 million in 2016, and is expected to grow up to $25 billion by 2023. According to data provided by Rousselot, 720 new products featuring collagen as an active ingredient were launched in the past year.
WHAT DOES IT DO?
On anti-aging, the chains of amino acids in collagen are believed to help to repair connective tissue and support joint function, something that’s particularly important for consumers in their 30s or older: the human body tends to stop producing collagen after your 20s.
Ingredient makers suggest that ingesting a hydrolyzed form of collagen gelatin through a food or beverage product is a cheap and fast way to experience the purported benefits of collagen, which may also include aiding muscle growth, increasing energy and boosting metabolism.
Still, the consensus surrounding collagen’s other reported benefits is less universally supported. Clinical studies that clearly establish a definitive link between ingesting collagen peptides over an extended period and improvement in gut health have been lacking; other functional claims, such as improving skin, have more substantial research behind them.
SUPPLIER SIDE DEVELOPMENT
At the end of the day, collagen is still essentially a protein. As such, ingredient brands are eager to position it as a natural fit in sports and fitness based products, such as bars and shakes.
During a presentation at SupplySide West, Rousselot, which manufactures Peptan collagen peptide, showcased the benefits of its product for elite athletes and bodybuilders. Similar to whey or any other type of protein, collagen can serve as an energy source and help repair and regenerate muscle after working out. Collagen can also assist athletes to recover from high intensity sports, such as biking and weightlifting, that produce significant stress on tendons, joints and tissue.
Bioavailability, or the proportion of a substance that has an active effect when introduced into the body’s bloodstream, is a critical component of collagen ingredient development. Reducing the time in which collagen can be digested and increasing the percentage of the ingredient that reaches connective tissues is one of the key innovation targets within the category. Collagen’s bioavailability can be affected by its source: according to the company, marine-based collagen derived from farm-raised fish has a higher bioavailability than the bovine-sourced variety because the smaller particle sizes are able to be absorbed faster.
Though its trajectory is strong as a category, in some ways collagen is going against some of the notable current trends in beverage. According to Rousselot, the product cannot be certified organic and is certainly not vegan-friendly. It’s unclear whether those constraints will result in larger obstacles for collagen-based products — although some companies are developing ingredients made with plant-based collagens.
“Customers are focused on protein content,” said Ana Espinosa-Simonson, account manager for Brazilian supplier company Gelnex, which produces the collagen peptide Peptinex. “That’s followed by benefits like improving skin and joint health. Mostly they are looking for the 90 percent pure protein.”
Espinosa-Simonson said that the company was seeking to develop studies in humans to build a larger knowledge base regarding collagen effects and potential applications.
“We are in development of a scientific study with actual people,” she said. “We want to use our product in a study so we can show the effects are there, but we are also investing in something that’s on the rise.