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Vegan and Plant-based Capsules

Albion Minerals®
Vegan and Plant-based Capsules Vegan and Plant-based Capsules

Delivering a standout consumer experience with the latest technologies.

There is a growing preference among consumers globally for vegan and plant-based products. The impetus for this varies. Some people are driven by personal health preferences, others by environmental factors. Regardless of their origin, vegan attributes are now an important purchase driver in the supplement market.1 In fact, 40 percent of supplement users state that “vegan” is an important feature in their purchasing decisions, and the number of supplement users who say that ‘plant-based’ is very important to them when buying grew by 25 percent between 2013 and 2020. Behaviors are also changing across demographics, with younger consumers strongly preferring non-animal-derived supplements.2

Consumers are also becoming more conscious of their health and wider ethical and lifestyle considerations.3 This broader awareness means that individuals are more informed about what “plant-based” means and how it overlaps with other purchasing priorities such as clean label, natural and organic. Lonza’s proprietary consumer research highlights that 52 percent of supplement users rate organic as “very important” in their purchasing decisions, with ‘from natural sources’ and ‘knowing the source of ingredients’ being a purchasing factor for 71 percent and 72 percent of consumers, respectively.2 At the same time, consumers are unwilling to compromise on quality, convenience and sensory performance—namely, their experience when taking a product.

To meet evolving product preferences and demands, brands are leveraging the latest dosage form technologies to drive innovation in plant-based supplements. Here, we explore common challenges when formulating with plant-based ingredients, the availability and importance of vegan dosage forms, and how brands can create a standout supplement experience for the plant-based consumer.

Plant-based Ingredients—Common Formulation Challenges

While plant-based ingredients offer opportunities for brands looking to develop products for an increasingly flexitarian, vegetarian and vegan consumer base, they often have unique physical properties that must be expertly managed through manufacturing and delivery.

For example, certain ingredients used in plant-based formulations are sensitive to many environmental conditions such as moisture, oxygen, light and acid. As such, the dosage form chosen should be carefully selected to optimize the formula—capsules, tablets, soft gels and ready-to-mix powders all have unique properties, with pros and cons when considering working with plant-based ingredients. These ingredients must be protected to prevent issues like degradation while also ensuring product efficacy. Vegan ingredients can also bring challenges that impact the formulation and consumer experience. Some common taste and texture considerations for plant-based product formulations include stickiness, objectionable odors or undesirable taste challenges, like earthy notes. Other delivery technologies, like lipid multi-particulate technology, can also help overcome some of these challenges by using clean label excipients and waxes, like calendula wax, to enrobe ingredients and mask challenging tastes and odors.

Selecting the right plant-based dosage form to pair with the ingredients is key to overcoming these challenges, ensuring an excellent consumer experience and ultimately repeat purchase.

Exploring Vegan Dosage Forms

Despite ever-changing trends in the supplement market, consumers’ preferred dosage form remains constant. Capsules continue to be the popular supplement delivery option for 50 percent of consumers globally, primarily due to their convenience.4

For brands, the choice of capsule during new product development or reformulation comes down to three main factors—the ingredient (or ingredients) being used, the intended product positioning and target audience preferences, and the desired release profile. Due to advances in capsule materials and polymers, many vegan capsule materials are available to help brands and manufacturers ensure ingredient efficacy and consumer appeal.

Pullulan is one such material. It is a polysaccharide polymer that is water-soluble and is obtained from fermented tapioca to create a vegan capsule. Pullulan capsules can help overcome several formulation and delivery challenges related to plant-based ingredients. Benefits include taste and odor masking capabilities and oxygen barrier properties to prevent the degradation of sensitive ingredients, such as botanicals.

Another capsule material well-suited to plant-based supplement development is hydroxypropyl methylcellulose or HPMC. This low-moisture, vegetarian material protects moisture-sensitive or hygroscopic ingredients while offering sustained flexibility and mechanical robustness when exposed to dry conditions.

Advances in plant-based capsule technologies can also help brands optimize release profiles to support ingredient efficacy and absorption. Designed release capsules created using vegetarian-based polymers can help protect acid-sensitive ingredients—like plant-based probiotics—from full release and disintegration in the stomach, allowing for dissolution in the small intestine, where they can offer maximum efficacy. Designed release capsules can also be used to overcome common vegan ingredient taste and texture challenges by masking odors and taste while minimizing the risk of reflux. This provides a positive sensory experience—critical in encouraging continuity of supplement consumption.

Creating a Standout Consumer Experience

The right capsule isn’t the only way to maximize product experience for the plant-based consumer. Flavor and aroma coating technologies on capsules can create ritual-forming taste and smell experiences. Think of a mint-flavored capsule right after brushing your teeth or a lavender-scented capsule before bedtime. These experiential technologies can be habit-forming, helping to bring consumers back again and again to a brand’s product. Additionally, food-colored capsules enhance visual experience. These natural colorants help brands stand out with more appealing-looking supplements and help create pill recognition in an over-crowded supplement drawer—all naturally. Plant-based food-colored capsules use tints naturally derived from fruits and vegetables, like purple carrots or red radishes, using a gentle, water-based extraction process.

When it comes to colored capsules, white-colored supplements are favored by 30 percent of consumers who are likely to purchase supplements with coloring.2 However, these capsules’ opacity and whiteness are often created using titanium dioxide (TiO2), which has recently been classed as an unsafe food additive by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).5,6 The classification currently applies to member states within the European Union and could trigger other regulatory bodies to follow suit in banning the additive.

Plant-based, TiO2-free capsules are emerging to meet consumer demand for plant-based supplements and ensure global compliance following EFSA’s recent classification. These can be used to boost the brightness and opaque properties of supplements without using TiO2. With information about the latest science and regulatory rulings more accessible than ever, consumers are making more informed purchasing decisions and are looking for supplements that are both vegan and free from any potentially harmful additives. Therefore, brands should consider TiO2-free options when creating new supplements to future-proof their portfolio in case of any further regulatory rulings.

Taking a holistic approach to creating vegan supplements

Vegan supplements are about more than just ingredients. They can play an important role in addressing consumers’ wider health, lifestyle and environmental concerns. Incorporating the latest dosage form technologies into supplement design or reformulation is essential to overcoming common plant-based formulation challenges and to deliver a variety of different supplement profiles. For brands, leveraging a deep consumer understanding—alongside scientific and technological advances in plant-based dosage forms—enables the creation of vegan supplements that not only create a great experience for consumers but truly stand out in the market. NIE


1 The Vegan Society. (2022). Why go vegan? www.vegansociety.com/go-vegan/why-go-vegan.

2 Natural Marketing Institute. (2020). Supplements/OTC/Rx Trends US and Global Databases (SORD)– U.S.

3 Future Market Insights. (2020). Vegan Supplements Market Report.

4 Natural Marketing Institute. (2020 & 2019). Supplements/OTC/Rx Trends US and Global Databases (SORD) – U.S., Germany, Italy, UK, France, Japan, Brazil.

5 Skocaj, M., Filipic, M., Petkovic, J., & Novak, S. (2011). Titanium dioxide in our everyday life; is it safe?. Radiology and Oncology, 45(4), 227–247. https://doi.org/10.2478/v10019-011-0037-0.

6 Titanium dioxide: E171 no longer considered safe when used as a food additive | EFSA (europa.eu).

Lindsey Toth, MS, RD is a registered dietitian nutritionist and Director of Global Marketing for Lonza Capsules & Health Ingredients. At Lonza, she is responsible for overseeing global product management for the nutrition portfolio, including go-to-market strategies, product innovation, and product lifecycle management. For more information, contact solutions@lonza.com.

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