Every year, Capsugel – now a Lonza company – produces over 200 billion hard capsules and three billion finished dosage units for more than 4,000 global customers. Dominik Mattern, business development manager, discusses the trends driving consumer healthcare, the ingredients that give products the edge and the need for ‘instagrammable’ capsules.

You’ve probably heard about probiotics, although never heard them described as the ‘divas’ of the supplement industry. "They are very sensitive to moisture, heat, stomach acids, pressure and combining with other ingredients – so probiotics need smart dosage forms to make them effective," says Dominik Mattern, business development manager at Capsugel. Probiotics began with a specific focus on good gut bacteria to aid stomach health, but are now marketed on a variety of platforms including intestinal well-being, weight management, and even cognitive and cardiovascular function.

Healthcare megatrends

Mattern lists probiotics as one of the four megatrends in consumer healthcare, along with healthy ageing, sports nutrition and clean label – the last being an "overarching theme" for the preceding three. "People are looking for easy-to-read labels with understandable information," he says. "They want naturally processed foods, without additives or artificial ingredients."

This has affected all markets. Healthy ageing supplements, for example, need to meet the desire to remain independent later in life by maintaining mental and physical health. Mobility, therefore, is a pressing concern, which is why supplements that improve joint health are so popular.

"UC II (undenatured collagen type ll) is a great product for joint health," Mattern says, as is market favourite Curcumin. "If you look at Google trends for the past two years, Curcumin is the rising star in the superfood business."

Mass appeal

One long-lasting trend is sports nutrition. With a wide focus on muscle building, promoting energy and recovery, and improving weight management, the market also incorporates sleep-management supplements. Popular ingredients include herbs and spices, caffeine, ashwagandha, green tea and choline.

While there are definitely moments in the market when certain ingredients spike in popularity, vitamin B12 has managed a sustained run at the top. This is due in part to the mainstream appeal of vegan diets, which may lack certain vitamins.

Three challenges

New ingredients bring with them three main formulation challenges: stability, convenience and efficacy. When it comes to delivering sensitive supplements, such as probiotics and vitamin K2 for bone, joint and cardiovascular health, these challenges often need to be met simultaneously.

Vitamin K2 is easily destroyed by magnesium or calcium. "You need a clever approach to formulating and designing the products," Mattern says.

Capsugel’s DUOCAP capsule-in-capsule technology comprises a prefilled inner capsule that floats in an outer liquid within a bigger capsule. The sensitive, oil-soluble vitamin K2 can be delivered in the outer liquid, while the inner capsule holds a typically incompatible ingredient such as magnesium or calcium, ensuring the supplement remains stable.

Smart thinking

Capsugel also offers other smart dosage forms. The challenge of ‘swallow-ability’, for example, is overcome by using sprinkle caps, which can be opened to pour contents onto food. Meanwhile, the delayed-release capsule (DRcaps capsule) is a vegetarian product, based on plant-based hypromellose (HPMC), and used for acid-sensitive ingredients such as probiotics or enzymes.

These ingredients are retained and protected in DRcaps capusles, which helps them pass through the harsh environment of the stomach towards the intestine, where they release the content.

Aesthetically pleasing

Capsugel’s lipid multi-particulates (LMPs) are another innovative means of overcoming formulation challenges. The spherical beadlets conceal smell and taste, while also enhancing bioavailability, stability and controlled release.

LMPs don’t require solvents during the manufacturing process, making them cleaner. This is important, Mattern says, but so too are the aesthetics of capsules. "They provide customers with a differentiator in the market to cut through the noise on the shelf," he notes.

Socially acceptable

It’s also effective for social media campaigns. "Our capsules are really beautiful," Mattern says. "The DUOCAP capsule is a liquid dosage form with an inner capsule holding a colourful substance. The LMP beadlets look unique floating in an outer liquid within the capsule.

"Many brands are using the dosage format’s visual appeal to make them ‘instagrammable’. A simple, white tablet is no longer a modern or cool dosage form."

Capsugel is at the forefront of new technology and it continues to work on providing cleaner products. For example, it is in the process of launching a natural blue vegetarian capsule coloured with Spirulina algae, as a way of replacing all artificial colourants with food-based ingredients.