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Building Teen Health

Phase 2

Health issues may change, but the multivitamin still rules as the best-selling supplement for teens and tweens. How manufacturers and retailers can appeal to these age groups is the challenge.

Recent headlines confirm some of the health issues facing young people: children reaching puberty at a younger age; struggles with weight gain and obesity; sweetened drinks linked to depression; and fast food diets being linked to asthma and eczema severity in kids. Other top-ofmind concerns during the older teen years may also include dealing with alcohol, body image, drugs, mental health, illness, relationships, smoking and sex. Today’s realities are daunting, even to a more mature audience.

Cathy Kolumbus, senior brand manager with California-based Rainbow Light Nutritional Systems, Inc., said ensuring that teens and tweens (aged 9- 12 years) receive the right amount of nutrition has always been critical but even more so with today’s overscheduled, fast-paced and demanding lives. “As teens and tweens move through the significant physical and emotional changes that happen throughout puberty, they have numerous nutritional needs to support these as their body systems develop and change,” she said, noting that SPINS market data supports this need as teen-targeted vitamins and supplements dollar growth is up five percent (SPINS Scan Data, four weeks through December 22, 2012).

At New York-based Nature’s Plus, President James Gibbons said while he can’t speak for the overall market, the teen and tween market is “absolutely booming” for his brand. “In fact, our Power Teen products are among our top sellers, with steady double-digit growth year over year.”

Changing Market, Growing Influences

Although still a small percentage of the overall vitamin and mineral supplement market, the rise of teen-specific multivitamins in general is evidence of the evolution of the category. “Rainbow Light was the first to innovate in this area and introduced our Active Health Teen Multivitamin developed specifically to fill gaps in teen diets plus provide nutrients and botanicals that support clear, healthy skin with nourishing vegetables. It has quickly become the No. 1-Selling natural teen multivitamin,” Kolumbus said.

She added that Rainbow Light is seeing more competitors enter the marketplace in both the natural and conventional channels with supplements targeted at common developmental and health needs for this age group. Due to this interest in teen-and-tween specific supplements, Kolumbus said the company has recently introduced Brain & Focus Multivitamin, which is ideal for tweens, teens and adults.

Jolie Root, nutritionist with Illinoisbased Carlson Laboratories, said the explosion of weight gain, metabolic imbalances, prediabetes, diabetes and heart disease is affecting this population because of the tendency for kids to love salt, sugar, soft drinks, fast foods and convenience foods.

“The challenge for parents is to teach teens the importance of a healthy diet and making better nutritional choices,” added Kolumbus. “A daily multivitamin is an easy, affordable way for teens to fill gaps in their diets to be sure they are getting the essential nutrients they need to build strong bones, support the body as it undergoes hormonal fluctuations, promote energy, manage stress and support healthy physical and cognitive development,” she said.

“The teen and tween market has evolved in parallel with the changes that social science and marketing researchers have been reporting for the past couple of years,” Nature’s Plus’ Gibbons pointed out. “It has long been known that teens and tweens represent the market segment with the absolute worst compliance (ability to continue taking a supplement or medicine, long-term) of all demographics studied,” he said.

Gibbons noted that what’s new is the rapidly increasing importance of peer acceptance in the decisions and preferences of this particular group. “Social media now empowers teens and tweens to connect with and feel connected to their peers to a far greater degree than any previous generations,” he said. “For past generations, teens and tweens interacted with one another in school or in small groups for a limited time after school. So the family nucleus made the greatest impact on a youngster’s likes and dislikes. So if Mom or Dad said a multivitamin is good, the teen/tween was likely to agree. Today, however, teens/tweens are connected to literally hundreds of peers, virtually every waking moment of every day. Mom’s and Dad’s opinions are becoming an ever-smaller voices in the chorus of a teen’s influencers.”

This development can clearly work against the success of any brand targeting this demographic, Gibbons continued, but it can also work toward it, if companies get their strategies straight. “No longer can a brand in this category rely on appealing only to parents. But what most fail to realize is that the explosion in teen and tween social connectivity can also work to enhance a brand’s success. You simply need to make sure that your product truly appeals to teens and tweens. If a teen likes your product, everyone in his or her online social circle will know about it.”

Another consideration is that teens are often reluctant to take children’s multivitamin formulas as they strive toward adulthood. Products that meet teen nutritional needs and that also address their specific concerns, such as promoting a clear, healthy complexion or supporting mental clarity and focus for studying, have greater appeal to this group than “generic” one-size-fits-all multivitamins, said Kolumbus.

Janet, vitamin and body care manager with retail store Essene Market and Cafe in Philadelphia, PA, said while parents purchase supplements marketed for tweens and younger teens, older teenagers (about ages 18 and 19) are buying their own vitamins and are looking for multis for adults.

Sarah Schissman, buyer for Big Bear Natural Foods in Langhorne, PA, agreed and noted that parents are buying mostly liquid and gummy multis for their younger children and teens. The family owned, five-location retailer doesn’t have a large offering for the teen and tween category: parents purchase children’s vitamins for tweens and older teens are buying adult multis, according to Schissman.

Ingredients & Product Types

Multivitamins continue to lead this category, and with the health concerns facing teenagers, it makes sense. “Teens often have difficulty consuming adequate intakes of the necessary nutrients through diet alone to support the intense growth period they are experiencing,” said Rainbow Light’s Kolumbus. “This is in part due to typical teen diets that consist of soft drinks, high fat, high sodium, convenience foods and sugarladen snacks. Many are concerned more about body image and physical performance in sports rather than disease prevention, so the message that they need sufficient nutrient stores to protect long-term health often doesn’t impact their food choices. Rather, they want to know what they can do to build muscles or lose weight. Teens also face an increasingly competitive climate at school, where they must balance academic demands with other activities such as team sports, extra-curricular lessons, study groups or clubs and, often, part-time jobs.”

“Since parents know all too well how difficult it is to get their teens or tweens to consistently take a multivitamin, we find that the greatest areas of success are in multi-vitamin products that have true ‘teen-appeal,’” added Gibbons. “Needless to say, these require great flavors. But, they must also be viewed as desirable by the teen/tween. Childish packaging offends most youngsters, and carries the potential stigma of peerdisapproval. But the packaging must also be designed so that it doesn’t offend or alienate parents, who will be physically purchasing the product. Likewise the ingredients must be wholesome and nutritious enough to win parents’ approval, but not to the extent that it impacts flavor. It is truly a narrow line on which to balance.”

Although teens may be focused on physical and social issues, parents should be aware of the health needs for this age group, Kolumbus noted. “Omegas, calcium, iron, vitamin D, B vitamins and folic acid are just a few key nutrients teens need to promote optimal heart, bone, connective tissue, immune and brain health and development.”

Other aspects that are often overlooked by supplements are skin health, energy, mood balance and natural digestion. Rainbow Light’s Active Health Teen helps promote managing these by including a proprietary DermaComplex Herbal blend that delivers potent acne skin-clearing action, along with energy, stress management, blood sugar and mood-balancing support. Digestive enzymes and 75 million probiotics support natural digestion without stomach upset.

New Offerings

Nature’s Plus offers Power Teen For Him Chewable Multi, Power Teen for Her Chewable Multi, and Power Teen Immune Booster Chewable, all in a Wild Berry flavor.

“The most effective trends In this category have to do with packaging that appeals to teens and tweens, as well as gender- specific, valueadded features in which young men and young women are each uniquely interested,” Gibbons said.

Carlson Laboratories offers a Carlson for Teens multivitamin that features small, easy-to-swallow tablets, and for teens who do not eat an oily fish diet, Smart Catch easy-to-swallow soft gelatin capsules contain 1,000 mg (1 g) of special concentrate of fish body oils from deep, cold water fish, which are especially rich in the important omega-3s DHA and EPA. “Mood stability, risk of suicide and learning deficits are all linked to low levels of the omega-3 fats EPA and DHA,” noted Root. “In addition to the soft gel forms of omega- 3s, Carlson offers Lemon- and Orange-flavored liquids that can be added to foods. Also appropriate for teens and tweens is Carlson for Kids Super Daily D3 supplement that provides 400 units of vitamin D3 per drop.”

Adults aren’t the only ones dealing with pressure and anxiety. “Because Rainbow Light understands that teens’ lives are often stressful, we have designed our Brain & Focus Multivitamin to help with stress,” said Kolumbus. “The product provides a complete multivitamin, plus a Brain Support Blend (L-theanine, choline, ginkgo and potent vitamin Bs) that specifically promotes focus, concentration and energy, while also supporting the nervous system. Brain & Focus Multivitamin is free of gluten, soy, yeast, lactose, dairy and contains no nuts, fish or shellfish, as is true for our Active Health Teen product.”

To compensate for shortfalls in teen diets, both Active Health Teen Multivitamin and Brain & Focus Multivitamin from Rainbow Light also provide a nourishing blend of vegetable juices, plant-source digestive enzymes and live probiotics for daily digestive and immune health.

Stacey Gillespie, director of marketing with New Hampshire-based MegaFood, said although not necessarily formulated for teens, energy and performance nutrientenriched drinks are garnering greater interest amongst the tween Set.

“Because many parents have difficulty getting their teen to routinely take a complete multivitamin, nutrientenriched beverages, powders and nutrition bars targeted to tweens and teens is gaining popularity,” Gillespie said. “Vitamin Water is a good example of a product that is perceived by tweens as being a healthy, convenient and delicious way to get the essential vitamins typically missing in their diet. However, these drinks have the downside of being high in sugar. I believe we will begin to see healthier versions of nutritionally enriched beverages targeted such as coconut water that are specifically marketed to teens to capture this market.”

Essence Market’s Janet said she finds older teenagers going to college are often interested in energy drinks, especially kombucha. “It is the biggest product in the category. It flies out for teenagers,” she said.


Kolumbus said off-shelf displays are always best, as they can help raise consumer awareness about specialized teen products. Rainbow Light often runs promotions on these products to help drive awareness and sales. The company also holds on-going trainings for store personnel and is in the process of producing several consumer videos that will soon be on YouTube and the company website (www.rainbowlight.com).

Nature’s Plus supports its Power Teen products with brochures, advertisements and educational literature to help parents and teens understand the products. “But most importantly,” said Gibbons, “we offer samples so that parents and children can experience the strong appeal of each product, firsthand.”

Teen Health Studies

When asked which studies are most notable to manufacturers, Nutritionist Jolie Root with Carlson Laboratories listed the following:

In one study involving 80 Omani children (40 children with autism spectrum disorders and 40 controls), significantly lower levels of folate and vitamin B12 were found in children with ASDs as compared to the controls. The importance of a multivitamin that provides B-12 and folaic acid cannot be overstated in this vulnerable group.

— “Low folate and vitamin B12 nourishment is common in Omani children with newly diagnosed autism,” Al-Farsi Yahya M, Waly Mostafa I, et al, Nutrition, 2013 January.

Vitamin D insufficiencies or deficiencies have consistently been associated with being overweight or obese. In another study involving 6- to 18-year old children, vitamin D deficiency was found to be prevalent in 21 percent of healthy weight, 29 percent of overweight, 34 percent of obese and 49 percent of severely obese children. Among severely obese children, vitamin D deficiency was found in 87 percent of African-American, 52 percent of Latino and 27 percent of Caucasian children. The authors noted that vitamin D deficiency is highly prevalent in overweight and obese children. The particularly high prevalence in severely obese and minority children suggests that targeted screening and treatment guidance is needed. Vitamin D supplementation easily corrects the low levels of vitamin D typically seen in young people.

— “Prevalence of Vitamin D Deficiency Among Overweight and Obese US Children,” Turer CB, Lin H, et al, Pediatrics, 2013 Jan; 131(1): e152-61.

Acne is a source of great dismay for teens and tweens. A study published in 2012 found that a high glycemic diet and dairy consumption were linked to acne development. There is some evidence that fish oil supplementation is associated with an improvement in overall acne severity, especially for individuals with moderate to severe acne.

— “Effects of fish oil supplementation on inflammatory acne,” Khayef G, Young J, et al, Lipids Health Dis, 2012 Dec 3; 11(1): 165.