Denis Alimonti, Director, Maypro Proprietary & Branded Ingredients, Purchase, NY, www.maypro.com
Annie Eng, CEO, HP Ingredients, Bradenton, FL, https://hpingredients.com
Julie Impérato, Marketing Manager, Nexira, Rouen, France and Somerville, NJ, http://nexira.com
Kristen Marshall, Digital Marketing Manager, Verdure Sciences, Noblesville, IN, https://vs-corp.com
David Pihlcrantz, Technical Director, GCI Nutrients, Burlingame, CA, https://gcinutrients.com
Abey Thomas, Head of Global Marketing, Natural Remedies, Bangalore, India, https://naturalremedieshumanhealth.com
Trevor Wagner, Global Health Category Manager, IFF Health, New York, NY, www.iff.com
Brian Zapp, Marketing Director, Applied Food Sciences, Austin, TX, https://appliedfoods.com
Nearly a quarter of Americans over age 50 take cognitive-health supplements, according to a 2021 survey conducted by AARP. Without a doubt, brain health supplements—and the ingredients used to formulate them—are big business. Since this category encompasses so many areas—mental acuity, focus, attention, memory, mood and sleep—there is no shortage of ingredients and formulas geared to support them. Nutrition Industry Executive (NIE) turned to a panel of dietary supplement industry experts for some insights.
NIE: Describe the market for cognitive health ingredients right now—how big is it?
Thomas: The market has moved way beyond catering to older individuals concerned about developing dementia. Millennials, for example, are highly aware of promoting and prolonging mental acuity and extending focus, as well as sharpening and accelerating memory recall. Younger adults are seeking these brain- and cognition-support benefits to primarily improve and sustain work performance.
Eng: According to the “2021 Condition Specific Report,” the brain health segment exceeded $1 billion in sales in 2020, having experienced what it characterized as “steady but unspectacular growth.” One sub-category that showed remarkable growth was the brain multivitamin, which had grown by 14.7 percent in sales in 2020.
Zapp: Our particular domain of expertise at Applied Food Sciences is cognitive or nootropic energy. We see this premium segment of the energy market as one with great potential. It is the dawning of a new era for energy.
Marquee brands like Bang, C4, GHOST, CELSIUS, Reign, GFuel, A-Shoc, Gamer Fuel and others are ushering in the segment and showing growth that the energy category has not seen in decades. While they have leveled out to some extent, Bang alone went from $345 million in sales in the spring of 2019 to over $1.1 billion in just one year. Digging deeper into the emerging “Premium Energy” category, they nearly all have some form of cognitive function claim as a top-selling point.
Impérato: Brain-boosting supplements, also known as nootropics, are one of the most promising segments of the supplements market, with an expected annual growth rate of 8 percent from 2021 to 2028.
We’ve also observed the rise of botanical ingredients in this market, with omegas, mushrooms and adaptogens. For example, Nexira’s sales of ginseng increased considerably in 2021.
Alimonti: It’s booming. I’ve seen reports that the global brain-health supplements market is predicted to reach over $13 billion by 2028. In addition, the brain health category has expanded to include sleep, focus, mood and relaxation.
NIE: What are the biggest challenges for manufacturers who want to formulate with brain health ingredients—regarding science, claims or anything else?
Alimonti: Choosing proprietary branded ingredients that have published human clinical science behind them is critical. After that, it’s important to make sure that the formulas which are developed—whether single-ingredient or multi-ingredient—feature significant, clinically relevant levels of these ingredients.
Thomas: The biggest challenge is separating low-quality science or borrowed science from legitimate research, and this is true of all ingredient categories. But with brain support, target marketing to today’s older population (Boomers) is to convey brain health benefits (increased acuity) rather than the more fearsome “preserve memory,” which conjures fear of the onset of dementia disorders.
Pihlcrantz: Redundancy of key recognized ingredients and trying to find that unique angle that creates differentiation and separation from competitors.
The major challenges are to not exaggerate the benefits of any cognitive-enhancement formula. This will get someone in trouble with the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration). Also, the ingredients must be compatible.
Marshall: The brain and cognitive health space has been gaining so much interest from formulators and consumers alike that it can be challenging to stand out in a crowded space. Finished product formulators have sought out new and innovative approaches through product line differentiation and new delivery formats.
Eng: A significant challenge in both ideation in the product development phase and marketing of products is to keep in mind that the ingredients aimed at working in the brain need to be shown to cross the blood-brain barrier.
NIE: Ginkgo, vitamins, huperzine-A, Bacopa monnieri, phosphatidylserine, DMAE and vinpocetine do show up in a number of brain-health products. Which of these has the best science?
Thomas: From our perspective as a provider of a proprietary Bacopa monnieri (BacoMind), we feel this herb is cumulatively well-represented with research demonstrating its value in supporting healthy brain function.
BacoMind is a true full-spectrum Bacopa monnieri extract with nine bioactives that synergize to promote cognitive wellness and neurological health and is also the first bacopa to be GRAS (generally recognized as safe). In July 2021, it received two Natural Product Numbers from Health Canada.
Eng: From our vantage point, two botanical ingredients have powerful research demonstrating effective application for brain-support supplements.
IQ200 is a water-soluble, high antioxidant food-based herb, Persicaria minor (also known as Polygonum minus) to help improve memory and cognitive performance in young and older adults.
NeuroActin is a patent-pending and proprietary extract of Andrographis paniculata, standardized to andrographolide, 14-deoxyandrographolide and neoandrographolide. NeuroActin was launched in the market after the successful publication of two studies that collectively demonstrate increased cognitive function, memory creation and retrieval.
Marshall: Nootropics and adaptogens such as curcumin, ashwagandha, holy basil and bacopa, have been immensely popular in recent times.
Bacognize, Verdure Sciences’ standardized Bacopa monnieri extract, is a proprietary, clean-label extract standardized to bacopa glycosides for adaptogenic nootropic, support targeting cognitive wellness, memory, learning, focus, attention, mood, stress management, emotional balance and circadian rhythm support for improved quality of life and restorative sleep.
Pihlcrantz: Lion’s Mane, DHA, carotenoids, fulvic acid, PEA. Most research on herbs and other supplements use one ingredient, so research on combinations for cognitive enhancement is not as robust as it should be.
NIE: Speaking of science, which brain-health ingredients—or ingredient combinations—have the best science?
Marshall: Verdure’s Longvida Optimized Curcumin was developed by renowned university neuroscientists. Initially, researchers attempted to utilize market-available curcumin ingredients for cognitive health; however, they soon realized that these were not efficacious or reaching the brain. These elite scientists tested various ingredients on the market to find the one that best suited their needs. When nothing worked, they diligently worked to develop Longvida Optimized Curcumin.
It is important to understand that one of the biggest limitations in translating reported in-vitro effects for curcumin to clinicals, is systemic bioavailability of free curcumin. Longvida was developed to address this challenge of poor bioavailability of free curcumin. The high bioavailability of optimized curcumin was established by increased tissue absorption of free curcumin from system and lymphatic circulation, rather than glucuronidated or other curcumin metabolites. Further, research has shown that Longvida is able to circulate for 24 hours, which allows for once-daily dosing.
Alimonti: Maypro offers a number of powerful and science-backed cognitive support ingredients, including, but not limited to, proprietary branded ingredients such as ETAS asparagus extract, Neuro HD, MicroPQQ and VasoDrive-AP, in addition to other quality ingredients such as DHA, DMAE, GABA and phosphatidylserine.
Thomas: Natural Remedies’ BacoMind is supported by five human clinical studies in adults and children including a human clinical safety study. Benefits shown include improved memory acquisition and retention, extended focus and concentration, and improved verbal memory.
Impérato: Nexira’s Cognivia is a plant-based and organic nootropic that’s a unique synergistic combination of two sage species specifically developed for people wishing to improve their memory and concentration. Nexira has conducted two clinical studies on this ingredient and is the only supplier to offer a sage-based ingredient that is being clinically studied.
In addition, Cognivia has been recognized by the industry as the finalist for the Nutraingredients Awards 2020 in Europe and the U.S. and as award-winner in the NIE Awards 2021.
Zapp: AFS took a deep dive into researching one of our newest caffeinated ingredients, called AmaTea Max, that provides a more focused nootropic energy experience.
In a double-blind crossover study, subjects were given caffeine from AmaTea Max organic guayusa extract, a green coffee extract and a synthetic control. The study revealed that while the caffeine from AmaTea Max absorbs and lasts in the body similarly to other forms of caffeine, a distinct feature of AmaTea Max is that it stimulates a significantly lower increase in epinephrine.
To further explore the benefits of AmaTea Max, AFS looked to the University of Memphis’ College of Health Sciences to investigate the impact of AmaTea Max on gaming performance.
The study revealed that gamers supplementing with AmaTea Max had a reduction in mental fatigue while maintaining mental motivation and focus, similar to traditional forms of caffeine. However, only in the case of AmaTea Max did gamers report a significant decrease in feelings of jitters.
NIE: The understanding of the gut-brain axis has become a big thing—has this transformed the cognitive health category? If so, how?
Wagner: The modern understanding of the microbiota-gut-brain axis has definitely transformed the cognitive health category. Consumer knowledge around gut health is largely due to the dramatic shift to e-commerce during the pandemic—it’s changed the way consumers learn about and select a supplement.
The pandemic also led many consumers to focus more on holistic health and seek natural solutions. This trend seems to be driving the understanding and acceptance of the gut-brain axis as a vehicle to mental well-being, giving probiotics recognition as a viable brain health solution.
Online, there is opportunity for suppliers and brand owners to partner with healthcare practitioners to educate consumers on how to select an efficacious product.
Pihlcrantz: The gut-brain axis has brought a huge new area of the profound interrelationship of our physiology and cognitive functions have with the gut and our microbiome. The gut is termed “our second brain,” and for good reasons. This evolving understanding has brought new ideas and new market opportunities that are vast and unlimited.
NIE: The brain-health category has become somewhat segmented, in that there are cognitive-health products geared to mood, stress, sleep, e-sports and more. Comment?
Thomas: Life is quickening, becoming much faster-paced for everyone, including children. This tests brain function and can impede cognitive actions. Stress generated by worry about the current geo-political climate, inflation, pandemic morphology and our own personal finances, impact ability to cogitate clearly, short-term memory recall, and focus.
This leads to the opportunity to develop and market brain-health products that support cognition and memory during times of stress.
Zapp: Don’t sleep on esports. Gamers are an influential consumer base with tremendous purchasing power, and they are poised to draw more attention from the dietary supplement and beverage industry. How much more, you ask? With esports gambling said to eclipse $14 billion in revenue last year and sponsorships now reaching $655 million per year, it is clear that the dynamic demographic of gamers is worth more of our attention. Surprisingly, though, few brands are targeting this space.
Alimonti: It’s a good thing when science-backed ingredients are formulated to address specific aspects of neuro-cognitive health and targeted functional benefits. Wanting to have greater focus and attention is not the same thing as wanting to support sleep, for example, so it makes sense that different products are available to consumers.
NIE: What about delivery forms in this category—what are we seeing in terms of beverages, effervescents and others?
Pihlcrantz: People are getting tired of taking pills and capsules, therefore other delivery systems are in order, such as gummies and functional beverages. The problem with gummies is that you can’t get much in the way of effective quantities of your ingredients. So what’s wrong with 10 gummies per day?
Marshall: We have seen a dramatic increase in finished product diversity with innovative new offerings—from beverages to functional foods, gummies, sachets and ready-to-drinks to chocolates and candies and beyond. It has been a driving force to be adaptive and flexible from the point of an ingredient supplier and from that of a finished product manufacturer.
NIE: What do you believe lies ahead for the cognitive-health category?
Wagner: The brain health category is currently being molded. The global pandemic obviously amplified feelings of stress, leading many to search for natural stress-reducing solutions. In addition to the pandemic, people are generally living increasingly demanding lives—whether that be professionally or personally. While many brain health supplements can be targeted to e-gamers, professionals, students etc., all consumers can benefit from a natural boost in brain health.
As more clinical research emerges and people start using supplements with recognizable results, we see brain health supplements moving into the mainstream market.
Impérato: Botanicals are on rise. The herbal extract products are expected to register the fastest CAGR of 9.2 percent from 2021 to 2028. The increasing awareness and preference for herbal supplements among consumers, especially in developed countries, such as the U.K. and the U.S., is expected to boost the sales of herbal products [for brain health] in the upcoming years.
Eng: The opportunities lie in supporting a brain/mental refresh, enhancing cognition and processing speed, especially as we emerge from the pandemic, getting back to normal high-paced lifestyles. We believe that people are more apt to embrace new hobbies, take new classes, expand their life experiences and are very willing to take supplements that they feel will help their brain adapt to the quicker pace and increased mental tasks.
Esports continues to grow and become more complex and competitive. E-sports players know they need to coax optimal, enduring performance from their brains.
Pihlcrantz: The future is immense. Why? People are living longer and want their physical stamina, health and cognition as the highest priorities! With massive pollution of our environments with heavy metals, lack of oxygen to the brain and mineral and vitamin-poor diets, the sky is the limit in this category.
Alimonti: Continued growth is on the horizon, especially given the aging of the U.S. population. Manufacturers whose research and product development are guided by both solid science and technological innovation will continue to advance the sophistication and efficacy of cognitive health offerings. NIE