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Innovating Children’s Health

Children's Health Children's Health

From tasty gummies to “stealth health” products, providing quality supplements for children can pose a challenge. Here’s how manufacturers and retailers are catering to kids as well as their parents.

Children can represent a variety of different of meanings, such as innocence, love, joy and rebellion. Although the childhood phase only lasts a limited number of years, the goal of parents is to prepare their children for adulthood as well as they can by providing them with life lessons and the proper diet.

After all, one’s food choices can remain with a person for a lifetime, depending on the case. However, in the eyes of Jennifer Weinhardt, BS, MS, research and development specialist for Texas-based Bluebonnet Nutrition, there are more than 10,000 phytonutrients—“plant-based” nutrients with specific pharmacological benefits—known of at this time. The most popular ones include epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which is found in green tea and lycopene, in tomatoes.

With all of the environment toxins that exist, children’s diets are one of the groups that suffer in terms of nutrient deficiencies.

“It is no secret that most diets, particularly those of children, are severely lacking in phytonutrients and other whole nutritious foods. In fact, the traditional Western diet is based on animal foods, such as meat and dairy products,” she said. And to add insult to injury, children’s diets are typically comprised of sweets and junk/processed foods. These diets do not provide many plant foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains; therefore, the typical Western diet for both children and adults has been linked to many of the health issues Americans face today. Even prestigious research institutions, including the National Cancer Institute, are urging Americans to eat more varied, well-balanced diets that are rich in dark, leafy greens. This is due to the multitude of active components (phytonutrients) provided by green foods, fruits and whole grains grown locally, which have been shown in research to play an important role in the healthy maintenance of the human body. However, in today’s fast-paced world, adult and children consumers alike are on the go and rely on fast and processed foods and not on a well-balanced, nutritious diet … whole-food based multivitamin and mineral children’s formulas, which include super foods, help to bridge the nutrient gap in daily diets.”

Trends, Delivery Systems and Manufacturing Factors

Though products tailored for children have existed for years, there is always room for new trends (when it comes to product formulation) to develop.

In fact, a portion of popularity can be credited to methods that have been successful for adults.

“Food-based/food-grown options in multivitamins have become popular in the children’s segment, which mirrors what happened previously in the adult segment,” noted Marci van der Meulen, director of sales, retail division with Nordic Naturals in California.

“Gummy supplements continue to gain traction and grow as new products in the category consistently enter the market. In the last few years, inclusion of probiotics and digestive health ingredients into multivitamins has made a strong showing, and you can now find them in a number of products. But, many of the top sellers continue to be basic multivitamins, which are, in many cases, the same products that have been leading the pack for a while. For supplement oils, higher concentrates tend to do better, and you find that’s the case in both the children and the adult segments.”

However, this may not actually be a surprise to consumers, as a portion of the adult population consists of parents—the segment responsible for buying products for their little ones. Therefore, the challenge for manufacturers is twofold—products must not only undergo approval from parents, but from the children themselves.

This involves utilizing delivery methods that are convenient and simple to consume, while also verifying that the health benefits remain intact.

“For children’s supplements, manufacturers are faced with the challenge of developing innovative delivery systems that will draw interest from parents, deliver effective doses and be easy to take by children (who often struggle with taking capsules),” said Hannah Braye, technical advisor for Protexin in Florida. “Manufacturers often seek to develop supplements that taste good so children enjoy taking them (such as chewable gummies and lozenges). These are popular with children as they associate them with sweets and treats. However, it’s important to check the ingredients in products that have been formulated to be more palatable to children, as many have been sweetened and/or contain additives, which can take the ‘health’ out of the health product.

“Alternatively, products that can be administered in an undetectable way (‘stealth health’) are also popular. This option has the benefit of the child not knowing they are taking supplements and hopefully avoids them growing up believing that taking ‘a pill for an ill’ is the route to wellness.”

According to Jennifer Cooper, vice president of research and development and quality at Twinlab Consolidation Corporation in Florida, safety is the top priority during the entire manufacturing process.

“The primary factor when considering children’s products is safety,” she said. “Safety is always the predominant concern when developing products for children, and we like to see a wide margin for safety under a variety of usage conditions. As we see repeated concerns regarding safety of OTC (over-the-counter) products for children, natural alternatives are gaining popularity. We do not ever recommend that children take supplements instead of physician recommendations.”

Market Status

As a result of the trends offered in the form of children’s health ingredients and their products, retailers are seeing an increase in sales.

Jonathan Lawrence, director of vitamins, body care and general merchandise with Fresh Thyme Farmers Market in Illinois, noted that in the modern era, the game has changed; the current generation has spread its interest for supplements and has rediscovered an affinity for problem solving.

“We’ve seen a fair amount of innovation in the last few years, and the sales and general awareness have definitely followed suit. Our same store sales have grown over 30 percent from the previous year,” he said. “As more and more adults become supplement users, it only makes sense that they would share these benefits with their children. Being a ‘millennial parent’ myself, I think we’re not as quick to brush something off as quickly as previous generations. Instead of wondering if they’ll ‘grow out of it,’ we are more inclined to do research and see if we can provide a solution, whether it’s tummy aches or an odd rash that doesn’t seem to go away. With so many outlets of information available, online parents are more apt to want to find an answer.”

The overall growth has been a positive sign for the segment, but there’s also been a rollercoaster effect in between, which is not necessarily due to a drop off in interest.

“SPINS data indicates growth in the Children’s Vitamins and Minerals subcategory, with the majority driven by promotional activity as opposed to new skus hitting the market,” van der Meulen added. “However, some newer skus have climbed into the Top 20 of the subcategory, and are making an impact. In Children’s Supplement Oils, growth has been very modest. This segment has been struggling for several years, and our natural channel retailers believe this is due to families using more adult products, with higher omega-3 concentrations, for their kids, or perhaps buying one large bottle of Ultimate Omega for the entire family. Of those SKUs that are experiencing growth, about half are liquids, and half are soft gels. We feel there’s a strong need to educate parents on the important benefits of supplemental oil (mainly EPA [eicosapentaenoic acid] and DHA [docosahexaenoic acid]) for babies, children and teens.”

Ideas for Retailers

Although sales may be performing well, manufacturers and retailers alike will agree that that there is always room for improvement.

Precisely, parents’ concerns must continue to be met—a contributing factor that can help with this is the proper education of retailer employees.

“Children’s health products are purchased by parents,” noted David Johnson, CEO and co-founder of California-based Genexa Health, “so addressing parents’ needs and concerns when it comes to their children is the most important aspect of marketing these products. For products with new ingredients, highlighting the differentiators, including organic and non-GMO (genetically modified organism) certifications, and benefits is important to influencing purchasing decisions. Also, providing educational opportunities for retail staff will help them feel informed to better serve their customers and help them find the right products for their children’s health.”

Weinhardt agreed that being transparent about specific ingredients that are included in products eliminates any confusion and helps with concerns over safety.

She also provided recommendations to assist retailers in better marketing these items. For instance:

• Renovation of the children’s department, by making it attractive, interactive and informative for consumers—no matter their age. Displaying children’s books that focus on healthy lifestyles or by providing fun signage that encourages kids to play (i.e., physical activity) would attract both the parents’ attention, as well as the children’s. Another option for signage would be to display three quick facts about a new ingredient (i.e., probiotics) and how they benefit children’s health. Keeping it simple will help the parents retain the information.

• Avoid too much product redundancy. Focus on three popular items for an overall foundational approach to healthy living and then rotate on a monthly basis.

In fact, if retailers are able to follow these guidelines, their manufacturer counterparts, including Wiley’s Finest (Ohio) will assist them in various ways as well. According to Christopher Speed, MND, APD, vice president of sales with the company, they can help retailers by ensuring that “products are clinically validated to provide important health outcomes [and] producing enduring educational materials that show exactly why their nutrient/s ingredient is important and what it exactly does.”

Current & Future Research

Being that children’s health covers a wide range of topics, manufacturers have their respective preferences.

For instance, Jolie Root, senior nutritionist and educator with Carlson Laboratories in Illinois showed particular interest in a recent meta analysis1 which determined that “omega-3s especially EPA in doses higher than 500 mg daily were beneficial for improvement in inattention and hyperactivity. The analysis also revealed that children with ADHD had lower RBC levels of EPA and DHA.” Root also noted a University of Oxford (England) study that determined that after taking 600 mg DHA, children who underperformed in school showed improved reading and behavior.2

The interests are due to the evolution of the research process, as it has gone from seeking information on a macro level to the micro stage.

“Children’s health research has evolved from looking at macronutrients (i.e., protein, carbohydrates and calcium needs) to investigating more complex questions,” said Gretchen Vannice, MS, RDN, head of global nutrition education with Wiley’s Finest. “People eat food, not isolated nutrients, and the more we learn about nutrition science the more we learn the interrelation and interdependency between nutrients. For example, osteocalcin (a protein necessary for bone development) depends on sufficient intake of vitamin K2 (specifically menaquinone-7) to function; this information is newly discovered, not because it’s new to the body but because scientists are learning ways to study and measure this interdependency. Bones are living organs and they require a variety of nutrients during the window of development in childhood when both strength and mass are being formed. Further, it is because of this research finding that we produced Beginner’s DHA, a sugar-free formula that provides meaningful amounts of clinically validated EPA and DHA omega-3 and vitamin K2 (NattoPharma brand).”

As for Cooper, the idea of the ongoing development of research makes it that much more captivating.

“Research on children and supplements is still emerging,” she said. “We are also learning more about nutrition through the entire developmental process from pre-conception, pregnancy, lactation, infant and early childhood growth through the teenage years and their special dietary needs. Especially compelling are the studies on nutrition as it relates to optimizing brain function and protecting eye health in children.”

As technology is only continuing to develop, consumers, retailers and manufacturers alike must be aware of the impact that these electronics can have on children, including those who are being exposed to light at younger ages.

“We are especially excited about new research on the proprietary blend of lutein esters in Lutemax 20:20 and its ability to protect and improve the detrimental effects of high energy blue light exposure,” continued Cooper. “Children, even infants, are exposed to an unprecedented amount of blue light from phones, iPads, televisions and overhead lighting. This blue light can not only damage the eye, but new studies show that it can impact brain function, including the ability to focus, mental processing speed and other higher neural tasks. The very devices we use to calm or occupy our little ones, may also exacerbate the very behavior conditions we are hoping ameliorate.” VR


1 Neuropsychopharmacology. 2017 Jul 25. doi: 10.1038/npp.2017.160. Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids in Youths with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Clinical Trials and Biological Studies.

2 Richardson, A., Burton, J., Sewell, R., Spreckelsen, T. & Montgomery, P. Docosahexaenoic Acid for Reading, Cognition, and Behavior in Children Aged 7-9 Years: A Randomized, Controlled Trial (The DOLAB Study). PLoS-ONE 7, e43909 (2012).

For More Information:
Bluebonnet Nutrition, (281) 240-3332
Carlson Laboratories, (847) 255-1600
Fresh Thyme Farmers Market, (331) 251-7100
Genexa Health, (855) GENEXA-1
Nordic Naturals, (800) 662-2544
Protexin, Inc., (786) 310-7233
Twinlab Consolidation Corporation, (800) 645-5626
Wiley’s Finest, LLC, (855) 514-4088

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