As the line between supplement and candy continues to blur, what does this mean for consumers?
My Olly Sleep Gummies currently hide in a drawer next to my bed, only seeing the light of my lamp on nights I know it’ll be tough to fall asleep. Each time I reach for them, I slowly open the drawer, pull the purple packaging under my covers, unscrew the child-locked lid, and quietly pop one into my mouth. So far, my boyfriend, a perpetual thief of my sleep-inducing miracle worker, has yet to get his grimy paws on my latest stash, and I plan to keep it that way, as quietly as I can, for as long as the $14 bottle will last me.
I’m not sure if it’s the 100 milligrams of L-theanine, three milligrams of melatonin, two grams of added sugar or the fun gummy texture, but these violet godsends have the ability to lull me to sleep in 10 minutes flat, and have caused multiple arguments between my partner and me about who ate the most gummies and who will be purchasing the next bottle. It’s safe to say we are addicted.
The Olly Sleep Gummies were the first gummy replacement to my regular melatonin pills about a year ago, and since then, I’ve gradually, unconsciously begun incorporating other candy-like vitamins into my regimen — a part of my daily routine. My own increased supplement intake can be correlated to the major shift in the vitamin industry over the last few years.
“There are so many drivers [that contribute to the vitamin market explosion], but in our opinion, the main one is that consumers are increasingly making the connection between nutrition and their appearance,” says Walter Faulstroh, HUM Nutrition’s CEO and co-founder. After conducting a research study looking into consumer attitudes regarding vitamins, Faulstroh and his team found that future generations are even more likely to enter the category due to the rise of wellness. “Additionally, we think that the current state of the healthcare system is also reorienting people from reactive to proactive measures.”
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A lackluster healthcare system might be encouraging consumers to educate themselves on preventative health, including a formerly confusing vitamin market. “Speaking as a consumer, what has changed [in the vitamin market] has been communication, personalization and consumption options,” says Dawn Russell, founder of 8Greens, which recently launched a gummy form of its popular effervescent dietary supplement tablet. “Up until the last few years, vitamins were just generic tablets with very little explanation of the tangible benefits beyond ‘health’ — now they can be tailored to individual needs, individual benefits that people care about (particularly beauty), and you don’t just have to swallow chalky pills or need a PhD to understand the labels.”
Some vitamin companies, like Care/of, Baze and Persona, have taken personalization one step further, offering in-depth quizzes and blood tests to help personalize the experience, so you can be sure you’re getting the supplements your body actually needs. Others have even gone so far as to rely on DNA testing for a hyper-customized supplement experience.
What was once a crunchy, less-than-sexy vitamin market has transformed into an alluring, aspirational lifestyle — plain ol’ pills are getting an Instagram-worthy reboot, with trendy brands like Ritual and Care/Of showing up on everyone’s shelfie. “Vitamins have become more than a supplement to take to prevent from getting sick,” says Jessica Heitz, Olly’s VP of Brand. “From daily multivitamins to energy boosts, sleep aids or the increasingly popular beauty supplements, new product categories have expanded the vitamin market and become a staple of a holistically healthy lifestyle.”
Categorizing vitamins into a consumer’s specific need or problem has allowed the market to flourish, while pretty packaging has also been a huge driving factor. “Olly brings beautiful design to all of our packaging, so it feels like an extension of personal style, and we lead with the benefits consumers are seeking to make the category feel more accessible to new users,” says Heitz.
With an influx of new gummy vitamin brands flooding my inbox weekly, it has me newly pondering just how oversaturated the market has become. But according to Faulstroh, the vitamin industry has always been oversaturated. “There are few industries as fragmented as ours, which is great for the consumer and really stimulates innovation,” he says.
Apparently, innovation in the vitamin market means trading capsules for sugar and gelatin. “Gummy vitamins have found their place in a fast-paced society fixated on instant gratification,” explains Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, registered dietitian in New York City and author of The Better Period Food Solution. “Plus, with their cute packaging, targeted ads and kitschy marketing, it’s hard not to be tempted by their sweet appeal.” With health and wellness now on everyone’s minds, Beckerman believes that gummy vitamins may have been the trick consumers needed to finally get excited about taking their otherwise mundane, flavorless multivitamin everyday.
Thanks to their added, bold coloring, fun flavors and candy-like sweetness, gummy vitamins have become the antithesis of your grandma’s multi. Gummy vitamins are commonly made of vitamins or minerals, as well as gelatin, corn starch, water, sugar and added coloring. But there are some far more significant differentiation points worth focusing on, too: “Unlike usual dietary supplements and vitamin products, gummy vitamins are not regulated by the FDA, and thus nutrients may not match what is stated on the label,” says Beckerman. “Many companies even spray vitamins and nutrients on the outside as a coating, which may cause stability problems as vitamins can lose potency over time.” Despite this information, there is no conclusive research to confirm that a vitamin in a pill or a gummy form is better than the other, according to Beckerman.
While there may be no conclusive research between the benefits of capsule versus gummy vitamins, it’s the added sugars that leave me most skeptical about relying so heavily on gummies. “In the grand scheme of things, the insignificant amount of sugar in gummy vitamins is not something we need to be dramatic about,” says Beckerman. “While the sugar-coated gummies don’t have the ability to negate the health benefits of the smattering of vitamins and minerals in a gummy, it does have the ability to increase sugar and sweet cravings, and can also contribute to cavities. Plus, it can promote poor eating habits if consumers often substitute a well-balanced meal with a gummy vitamin.”
With America’s obsession over sugar and obesity rates on the rise, it’s no wonder we’ve discovered a sweeter way to swallow our nutrients. “A bigger concern is for kids (or even adults, for that matter) who are becoming conditioned to getting their nutrients in sugary-coated forms,” says Beckerman. “The serving size ranges from two to six gummies, and there are about one or more grams of sugar per gummy, which is equivalent to one Sour Patch Kid (1.8g sugar).”
Nostalgia was the idea behind Olly’s latest launches, the Collagen Gummy Rings and Kids Multi Gummy Worms, both of which are laced with three to four grams of added sugars per serving. “Delight is such an important part of our brand DNA — we truly believe that the easiest way to build a regimen is with something you look forward to taking,” says Heitz.
While these candies, uh, vitamins, may be delightful to the consumer, they won’t cancel out a crappy diet. “People believe that gummy vitamins are the quick and easy fix that will counteract their excessive and obsessive consumption of sweets, and low-nutritive processed foods,” says Beckerman. “However, the sugar coming into our bodies should not go unnoticed, regardless of if it’s disguised as a dessert or a gummy vitamin.”
Experts also warn that it’s important to not throw back gummy vitamins like candy, as overconsumption of vitamins can put you at risk of getting too many nutrients, especially if you already eat a well-balanced diet and foods fortified with vitamins and minerals. “This can result in vitamin or mineral toxicity, especially with fat-soluble vitamins which can cause harm to your body,” says Beckerman. “Companies that claim there are no side effects associated with their gummy vitamins are unethical and straight-up ignorant.”
Also, because the nutrients can be coated onto the gummies and stability can become an issue, some manufacturers put more vitamins than the amount labeled onto the gummy, putting consumers at risk for excessive intake or toxicity. “While taking the serving size (or even double) won’t likely impact you, eating too much in one day or eating the entire bottle is definitely not a good idea,” advises Beckerman.
Moral of the story: Don’t go crazy on the gummy vitamins, and do your research to find options that are lower in sugar content. “While gummy vitamins are not strictly regulated, opt for a brand that has lower-sugar quantities with third-party certification from groups such as NSF International, United States Pharmacopeia (USP) or Informed-Choice,” suggests Beckerman. “Plus, if the gummy vitamins squeeze in more than 1,000% DV of a specific nutrient such as biotin or vitamin A, it can pose as a health risk, so I would proceed with caution.”
Whether you’re an old-school capsule-popper or prefer the influx of gummy goodness, Faulstroh believes there will be an increase in market for both forms in the future. “We’ve witnessed exponential growth for gummies and more traditional formulations, such as pills and softgels,” says Faulstroh. “The future of vitamins will be determined by the companies that are rooted in clinical research, and we’re proud to be one of them. We’re particularly excited about potential innovations concerning the microbiome, as it has direct implications on the gut, skin, immunity, and mental well-being.”
Whatever happens with the gummy vitamin craze, Beckerman hopes that vitamins and candies stay in their own lanes. “There are many ‘health trends’ that combine a-not-so-healthy ingredient with vitamins or minerals at a high price to fool consumers into buying for the taste and health benefits,” she says. “Gummy vitamins are just another one of these products — a way to add a healthy twist to sugar, an otherwise not-so-healthy ingredient.”
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