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Accommodating The Devout & The Curious

A 2008 “Vegetarianism in America” study, published by Vegetarian Times, showed that 3.2 percent of U.S. adults, or7. 3 million people, follow a vegetarian- based diet. Approximately 0.5 percent, or 1 million, of those are vegans.

More telling is that the study showed that 10 percent of U.S. adults, or 22.8 million people, say they largely follow a “vegetarian-inclined” diet, or eat very little meat in comparison to the average person.It also indicated that of the non-vegetarians surveyed, 5.2 percent, or 11.9 million people, are “definitely interested” in following a vegetarian- based diet in the future.

“The vegetarian sector is one of the fastest-growing categories,” said Elizabeth Turner, Vegetarian Times’ editor-in-chief.“It’s a dedicated group of consumers that is growing daily.”

Indeed, as Ryan Reisman, national product educator with Texas-based Himalayan Herbal Healthcare, has observed “a real mainstreaming of vegetarianism in the past decade.” “You’ll always have your strict and faithful vegetarians and vegans, but now add to that the countless and still-unknown number of people who are enthusiasti- cally exploring vegetarianism ‘on the side,’” he said. “They might eat meat three nights out of the week, but the other four, they’re really trying to widen their dietary horizons. They’re inventing a new set of food values for themselves … this evolution of ‘Vegetarianism: The Next Generation.’”

Before joining Himalayan, Reisman managed the independent health food store Basics in southern Wisconsin more than 20 years ago. He recalled vegetarian and veganism being such a niche or novelty category that supplement manufacturers didn’t really accommodate it, and that “as store buyers, we always carefully catered to the vegetarian crowd from a food standpoint, but the supplement department seemed to have its own rules and protocols.”

But in the past two decades, as vegetarianism and veganism have become increasingly practiced—by the devout and the curious—supplement manufacturers have stepped up their games to offer appropriate product presentation.

A Healthier View

But just as one doesn’t have to be identified as a vegan or vegetarian to sample the lifestyle, buying vegan or vegetarian supplements isn’t strictly reserved for vegans or vegetarians. Sometimes it’s the perception of these supplements that makes them a draw for shoppers across all demographics.

“We find that a large percentage of consumers correlate vegan and vegetarian formulations as ‘more natural’ and therefore consider them a better alternative,” said Mike Foitzik, director of marketing with Vibrant Nutraceuticals, a GHT Company based in California that started offering a vegetarian version of its Daily Vita Plus liquid multivitamin product in 2003. “The number has definitely been on the rise and will continue to rise further. It is not limited to strict vegan and vegetarian consumers.There is a lot of mass media messaging consumers are exposed to that promote the healthy aspects of vegan and vegetarian lifestyles, may be making some adjustments to adapt select aspects of those lifestyles.”

Marge Roman, manager of Stay Healthy!, a single store in Las Vegas, NV, echoed Foitzik’s observation, correlating consumers “feeling better” about vegetarian supplements to another trend she’s observed.“I think people perceive vegetarian supplements as ‘cleaner, more natural and safer.’ It has become more important, especially as people are more interested in whole food supplements, and that’s across the board agewise,” she said, noting that her store carries more than 300 SKUs that fit this category. “These have grown because of the ‘raw’ and whole food lines of supplements, proteins and meal replacements.”

It’s a similar situation at Lori’s Natural Foods Center in Rochester, NY. According to Buyer Donna Kay, the significant vegan/vegetarian population the store serves, in addition to those with dietary restrictions/allergies, is well accommodated.“We have customers who are looking for whole food-based supplements, which typically are vege- tarian or vegan,” she said.“[The store’s] owners are vegetarian, so we have always been sensitive to the needs of this population. We carry more than 20,000 products and the vast majority are vegetarian, and many are also vegan.”

Whole food supplements are a core concern for Texas-based Natural Vitality.

“Because whole foods contain the cofactors nature intended, more shoppers are realizing that, for example, taking a plant-sourced vitamin C gives them a more complete supplement than laboratory-isolated ascorbic acid,” said Ken Whitman, the company’s president. “Even if a person is a flexitarian, more education in the marketplace has resulted in a greater understanding of the value of whole foods.”

Natural Vitality’s most recent addition to the Foodceuticals line (products that have been certified by the Non-GMO Project and are based on high-quality ingredients) is its Plant-Sourced Minerals, which are sourced from Senonian Vegetate, a prehistoric plant deposit.It includes naturally occurring humic and fulvic acids, polysaccharides, lipids and other nutritional cofactors.”This supplement delivers a complex of more than 70 plant-based, small-particle, bioavailable trace minerals in an easily digested and assimilated form (naturally chelated),” Whitman explained, adding it is available in vegan capsule form or a liquid, which features an organic green apple flavoring.

Necessary Nutrients

When done correctly, vegan and vegetarian lifestyles can certainly add quality and health to one’s life, according to educator Jeffrey Burke, ND, MH, host of the Staying Healthy! Radio show.Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case.“Healthy living seems to be the main reason people are now thinking about pursuing the vegetarian and vegan lifestyle. The problem is that many of the converts are choosing to become a vegetarian on paper, but are not doing their homework,” he said. “Today, I see a lot of what I call ‘carbatarians;’ these people may consider themselves to be vegetarian simply because they have no animal products on their plate, but this group tends to eat a diet of carbs—and starchy carbs at that—and a steady stream of sugar. This form of ‘vegetarianism’ can be unhealthy and lead to major nutritional deficiencies and weight gain.”

Burke explained that true vegetarians make sure their diets are complete and all of their nutritional avenues are covered. Yet he’s observed that supplements have become a viable option for filling dietary voids. “I think we’ve seen many vegetarians and vegans feel comfortable using their diet to satisfy their nutritional needs for years, but today are supplementing to round out their programs,” he said, noting that even if someone has the knowledge to follow a well-balanced vegetarian or vegan diet, they are likely still facing the same lifestyle challenges unhealthy eaters face. “Environmental factors, stress, pollution and on-the-go lifestyles are part of all of our lives no matter what we are eating.”

Some of the core nutrients Burke has observed this segment seeking as supplements to eliminate deficiencies are: calcium; omega-3 fatty acids; iron; vita- mins B12, C and D; and protein.

The following are a sampling of products developed to offer vegans and vegetarians these nutrients:

Calcium:

Natural Vitality started offering vegan supplements with its very first launch, Natural Calm, 18 years ago.The product has been a strong seller since George Bosworth, purchasing agent with single store and mail order retailer Nature’s Warehouse in Philadelphia, NY, began offering it seven years ago.

“Two reasons this product sells well are because the brand is trusted and the formulation is offered as a liquid. It also contains trace amounts of calcium, which is extremely important for absorption, and often neglected in other brands,” said Bosworth.His customer base is comprised primarily of large agricultural families in the north-east and the heartland, as well as a growing and dedicated group whose religion specifically dictates a vegan/vegetarian diet. “We were anxious to carry a high-absorption form of magnesium, and they were the best we could find.”

Omega-3s:

California-based Nordic Naturals has been producing premium omega oils since 1995, but it began offering vegetarian oils in 2012 with the inclusion of Algae Omega and Nordic GLA into its product line.This decision was significant, according to Chief Medical Officer Kerri Marshall, because it meant that Nordic’s customers who favor a vegetarian diet can still obtain the daily expert-recommended amount of preformed omega-3s (EPA and DHA), and beneficial
Omega-6 fats like GLA, which are hard for vegetarians to achieve through diet alone. “Our customers spoke up and requested vegetarian essential fatty acid options, and we listened,” she said.

“In the past, most vegetarian and vegan omega-3 supplements primarily contained alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), and not preformed EPA and DHA.The majority of studies conducted to support the use of omega-3s have been done exploring amounts of EPA and DHA, and not ALA,” Marshall continued. “Now, with products like Algae Omega, these consumers have choices to help prevent omega-3 deficiency and to promote health by optimizing their tissue levels of EPA and DHA.”

Iron:

While Gaia Herbs’ entire line of products is vegetarian or vegan, the North Carolina-based company made a significant introduction in April of this year with its PlantForce Liquid Iron that delivers 10 mg of iron, which is 56 percent of the daily value based on a 2,000 calorie diet.With twice/day dosing, this product delivers the full daily value of iron based on the same daily caloric intake, according to Kathy Repass, the company’s new product manager. “Many of the ingredients in this supplement were chosen to provide a highly absorbable, liquid iron product in a vegetarian base of botanicals carefully selected and gently extracted to liberate their natural con- tent of food-bound nutrients,” she said.

Although liquid delivery of iron supplementation is considered ideal because it allows the mineral to be easily and rapidly assimilated throughout the body, Repass explained that many liquid iron supplements leave an unpleasant aftertaste.To that end, the company used organic elderberry juice, essential oil of sweet orange and extract of star anise in the formula. “As we’ve heard from some consumers, ‘Finally, there’s a great tasting liquid iron!’” she said.

B & C Vitamins:

Natural Vitality developed VITALITY B Complex and VITALITY C Complex as part of its Foodceuticals line because it believes in plant-based supplements including the co-factors nature intended, Whitman explained. The company uses Indian gooseberry (alma) for the vitamin C and guava, holy basil and lemon for the B complex. “These plants are organically grown, dried and capsulized in a vegan cap,” he said.

Vitamin D:

One challenge for vegetarian and vegan customers, according to Stay Healthy!’s Roman, is acquiring adequate vitamin D from a source they don’t find questionable.“The vitamin D issue is difficult, as D can come from lanolin and is often an objection,” she said, adding that this is a difficult issue to explain, especially with companies offering less printed materials.

Vibrant Nutraceuticals’ Foitzik sympathizes with Roman and believes his company’s most aggressive entry into the vegan market spacits exclusive vegan Vitamin D3 product line, launched in March 2012—is the answer to her concerns. “The benefits of vitamin D3 [are well known], but it is frustrating to vegans because most products on the market are derived from either lanolin (from sheep’s wool) or fish liver oil,” he said. The company currently offers four different Vegan Vitamin D3 products—a 200 IU and 400 IU spray, and 1,000 IU and 5,000 IU soft gels—where the key ingredient is its exclusive plant-based D3, which comes from a special organic plant source called lichen. “Our core Vegan D3 ingredient is only available from us in North America, and our manufacturing facility is NSF certified, which requires us to follow a very strict quality procedure protocol.

“When shoppers learn about our truly Vegan D3 ingredient, they’re ecstatic.”

Protein:

Although leafy greens, legumes and nuts often deliver valuable protein, many vegetarians and vegans seek out high-protein supplements or prepared foods as a way to vary their protein sources, access more convenient versions or find ones that better suit their palates, according to Frank Davis, CEO of Utah- based Activz. “Many vegetarians are concerned about getting enough protein in their diets. To meet this demand, Activz offers two organic rice protein shakes—in vanilla and chocolate—that are sprouted, resulting in a bioavailability even higher than in animal-based whey powders.”

Technology Advances

Since 2004, Activz’s main goal has been to provide a complete and truly beneficial supplement that addresses the entire nutrient needs of its consumers, in an optimally absorbable form. “Although we’ve never marketed our products solely for vegetarian use, our products (with the exception of our hormone-free whey powder sourced from grass-fed cattle) have been vegetarian- and vegan-friendly since day one,” said Michelle Bacarella, the company’s CSO. “Our philosophy is that optimal nutrition is achieved from plant sources, and thus we are a natural fit for those who follow predominantly or exclusively plant-based diets.”

Davis noted that new technologies that preserve nutritional quality throughout processing, like the ones Activz has put into place, are having incredibly positive effects on the vegetarian supplements market.“High-pressure pasteurization, for example, purges harmful microbes in freshly juiced produce to the standard mandated by food safety regulations, yet retains the nutrient compounds so the juices retain the same quality as the original food,” he said. “Infrared dehydration and ambient spray-drying, both of which are used to make Activz products, transform fresh juices and whole foods into nutrient-rich powders that have long shelf lives, original nutrition, vivid colors and flavors—all without needing synthetic additives.These are incredible advancements that increase the potential for supplement products to offer real nutrition from plant sources.”

Further, Himalayan’s Reisman pointed out that the trend to “strive toward clean” has made consumers aware of the inclusion of artificial excipients and magnesium stearate in their supplements. “Whether it’s a tableting agent, a machine lubricant or whatever, if it’s not natural, consumers are really growing weary of seeing it on labels,” he said.“Vegetarians and vegans are very discriminating shoppers.They read labels and they pay attention to what’s going on.It’s a big commitment in terms of time, money and speed of production runs to do things right and not let them down.”

With that consideration, Himalayan began offering its single herbs (Ashwagandha, Bacopa, Holy Basil, Turmeric and Garcinia) in either Vcaps or bound into tablets using the plant matter itself.

“We decided we didn’t even want to tablet our single herbs with artificial, non-plant binders, so Himalaya’s R&D team in India developed a patented process where we now use a sticky part of the plant itself—a gum resin from the stem, for example—to actually hold the tablet together,” he said. “So, unless you’ve got the time to run out in the woods and chew on some leaves, we’re making our pure herb tablets as vegetarian-friendly as we possibly can.”

Conclusion

A challenge for retailers in general is finding a way to better serve their customers. But vegan and vegetarians Come with very specific nutrient needs and concerns. Thankfully, according to Kay with Lori’s, manufacturers are actively working to help retailers meet them. She noted, for example, that omega-3s, B12 and D3 are areas where this segment hasn’t traditionally had a lot of choices. “But the rise in vegan/vegetarian customers has forced manufacturers to look at these customers’ needs, and they are responding in kind.”

With an increasing vegan and vegetarian population, including “dabbling” consumers, manufacturers push innovation to offer expansive supplement options

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