Gummies: the candy-coated side of health

Whatever aspect of wellness you're looking to optimize, there's probably a chewable supplement for it. And, from Germany to the US, new brands are cashing in.
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Back in the sixties and seventies, the vitamin industry had a problem – nearly all of its products tasted bad, and making them even vaguely palatable wasn't easy. Supplement brand Haliborange had a significant foothold in the UK with its orange-flavored vitamin that disguised the taste of halibut liver oil – but only just – and was the first chewable of its kind. Later came the likes of Flintstones Vitamins, a line of nutrient-rich, edible Stone Age cartoon characters, and mail-order stalwart Sundown, a line of vitamins aimed at families. 

While chewy vitamins in fun shapes have been catering to children for decades, it's only recently that gummies have entered a grown-up space, promising a shortcut to wellness in a candy format – a visually appealing way to ingest extra nutrients like calcium, omegas and vitamins K and B12. New brands are taking the language, flavors and visual cues of candy and refining them for an adult audience. 

Whatever aspect of health you want to optimize, there's probably a gummy for it. Olly's Hello Happy Gummy Worms contain mood-enhancing saffron and vitamin D, while one line of CBD gummies by Charlotte's Web – the Colorado B Corp credited with bringing medical marijuana to the mainstream – claims to boost immune systems. US brand Twinlab's supplements even promise to protect eyes from blue-light damage. Plant-based gelatin substitutes like xanthan gum and agar-agar are catering to vegans, while flavors now go way beyond medicinal orange or blackcurrant – take Nerd Alert, nootropic (for mental focus) chews from wellness brand Goop, which taste like ‘café au lait’. 

US-based vitamin brand Grummies markets itself as part of ‘a widespread conspiracy to trick you into being healthy’. And the trick seems to be working. While the overall supplement industry grew around 3.6% every year over the past five years, according to market research company IBISWorld, analysis brand Euromonitor estimated that gummy vitamins leapt by as much as 15% each year. The market was worth $5.9 billion in 2020 and will almost double in value by 2025, predicts intelligence company ReportLinker. 

Organic, clean and naturally formulated gummies are widening the appeal for health-focused shoppers, and millennials and Gen Z in particular are the biggest consumers. Courtney Nichols Gould, the co-founder of US brand SmartyPants Vitamins, labeled her core market as the ‘Patagonia crowd’ – health-aware adults who like all things organic.

What's behind the rise? 

The global wellness industry was valued at $4.5 trillion before the pandemic. Since then, awareness of health – and the huge number of products out there to boost it – has deepened. On-the-go supplements in gummy form are yet another extension of consumer desire to take health into their own hands, and have fun – or at least experience pleasure – while doing so. 

Celebrities have been quick to jump on the opportunity. Musician Vanessa Hudgens, model Emily Ratajkowski and reality TV stars Kylie Jenner and Khloe Kardashian have all promoted US brand Sugarbear's fluorescent hair-growth gummies. Anser, a supplement range from US actress Tia Mowry, sells seven different gummies and almost tripled its revenue from 2020 to 2021. American soccer player Megan Rapinoe and her sister Rachael's CBD venture Mendi shoots for improved sports recovery, and even lifestyle and cookbook writer Martha Stewart has a gummy line

Melissa Snover, CEO of UK-based vitamin brand Nourished, says gummies have become so popular because they are seen as more acceptable than pills. ‘Our social mores around pill-popping remain,’ she says. ‘The enjoyment, ease and convenience of gummies integrates seamlessly into people's daily lives.’

Sales of non-pill products surpassed those of pill products in the supplement space for the first time in 2019, according to the Nutrition Business Journal. And the way they're packaged matters. Vitamins used to be reminiscent of people in old age and in poor health, but today's gummies have sleek packaging, strong branding and social media presence. A digital-only sales model also characterizes many of the new brands, which benefited from the online sales boom during lockdowns. 

At Nourished, which launched in the UK in 2019, consumers complete a quiz to generate a personalized combination of nutrients, which is 3D printed as seven-layered, grape-sized  ‘stacks’. The printing process takes five minutes. ‘You don't have to explain the concept of a gummy to anyone in the US, but doing it in the UK gives the ability to learn a lot of very hard lessons before going to the US,’ Melissa says. The brand began shipping to the US in November 2020. ‘Our US consumer base is growing about twice as fast as the UK,’ she says.

Global outlook

North America is currently the biggest gummies region – accounting for more than 65% of the total market share, according to research company Valuates Reports. This is closely followed by Europe and China, both with a share of around 30%. However, Asia Pacific is to take North America's sugar-coated crown to become the largest regional market by 2028. San Francisco-based brand Olly, which was bought by global consumer goods company Unilever in 2019, pre-empted this with expansion to Singapore in March 2020. 

The German market is expected to grow fast, too. Increased awareness of health and nutrition among younger generations, and a large elderly population, make it Europe's largest gummy market. It's set to grow by 6% each year until 2031, according to market research company Fact.MR. 

Big startup players include biotin beauty gummy brand Bears with Benefits. Marlena Hien and Laurence Saunier set up the company in Munich at a time when the German supplement landscape only catered to ‘fitness heads wanting to build muscle or grandmothers concerned about osteoporosis’. Originally stocked in drugstore chains, the brand pivoted to online sales in 2019, and Marlena and Laurence say they're now on track to sell more than half a million products. With an average price of €25, that's around €12.5 million in revenue.

Get the green light

Whereas wellness brands face the roadblocks of hard-to-access ingredient sourcing, supply-chain issues and accusations of false claims, working with CBD is an uncertified minefield. It's classed as a ‘novel food’ in the UK, and a drug in the US (where it's only legal in certain states), so manufacturers and sellers face intense, fluctuating regulation procedures and risk being shut down at any moment. Advertising is off limits, so brands like Sunday Scaries, Plant-Based Mary Jane and Lord Jones must rely on SEO strategy, word of mouth and affiliate and influencer marketing to reach new audiences. Rachael Wilson, who established her CBD shop Excite for Life in Bradford in the UK around six years ago, had her educational YouTube channel shuttered for three months. ‘It's frustrating – just as you start to grow and pick up, there's some entity that just slaps you down,’ she explains. 

Grand View Research analysts predict the popularity of low-strength gummies (1mg to 20mg) will keep climbing, but it's the high-concentrate kinds that will experience the biggest lift, particularly among those with sleep disorders. Rachael is seeing a growing number of parents buying CBD edibles to help with their children's behavioral issues, ADHD, anxiety and depression. Plenty of pet parents are experimenting, too, with brands like Honest Paws, DiamondCBD and The Anxious Pet offering full-spectrum CBD oil chews in furry-friend-approved flavors. 

Expert opinion: always read the label 

‘In most gummy adverts, we see happy and healthy people eating a gummy, leading consumers to believe that such glowing results will come to them, too,‘ says Uma Naidoo, MD, a Harvard-trained psychiatrist, professional chef and author of This Is Your Brain on Food. 

‘However, I always encourage starting our nutrition journey with whole foods. Rather than relying on supplements to get all of our nutrients, I advise clients to ask: how can dietary changes be made to establish a more well-rounded diet? After this, we can work on filling in any gaps with supplements but, in general, gummies wouldn't be an ideal way to optimize health. 

They contain a lot of sugar or sugar substitute, which creates a candy-like consistency and flavor. They may negatively impact gut health, increase gut and brain inflammation and even increase our stress hormone, cortisol. Making the healthier decision in terms of sugar, additives, preservatives, colorants or dyes in supplements is just as important as checking other food labels.’

This article was first published in Courier issue 45, February/March 2022. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

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