Nutritional Supplement Packaging:Innovative Designs Meet Increased Demand

As more and more companies enter the nutritional supplement market to take advantage of increased consumer demand, suppliers are offering new packaging designs that help companies distinguish their products.

by Romina Shane, Contributing Editor

Not too long ago, many of the products sold as nutritional supplements were labeled by the mainstream media—and by much of the medical community—as alternative therapies. But today the term alternative hardly seems to fit these products as the number of consumers searching grocery, drug, and health food store aisles for dietary supplements is steadily increasing.

New companies are entering the market to profit from the increased demand, so to remain competitive, firms must package their products in creative ways to attract consumers. Some nutritional supplement makers are choosing packaging materials and styles new to the healthcare industry, while others are opting for proven pharmaceutical packages.

MORE PRODUCTS, MORE PACKAGES

The Freedonia Group (Cleveland) predicts that world demand for nutritional supplements will grow annually by 8 percent to $8.2 billion in 2002, and this burgeoning market is driving more manufacturers to enter the arena. Of course, more manufacturers lead to more products, which in turn lead to increased demand for related filling, packaging, printing, and labeling equipment and services. "When we recently introduced new capsule-filling equipment in the United States, the expectation was that almost all of it would go to the pharmaceutical industry," explains Bill Arden, marketing manager for Bosch/TL Systems (Minneapolis). "The surprise was that the dietary supplement business turned out to be a great market for us."



Ampules Courtesy of Fillab Inc.
 

Arden says that since the mid-1990s, Bosch/TL Systems has seen continued growth in the nutritional supplement segment, with more than half of the company's capsule fillers going to the nutraceutical industry. His experience is not unique. Glenn Edginton, president of All-Fill (Exton, PA), which manufactures auger filling machines, reports a similar trend. "The nutritional market is growing each year, and we're seeing a corresponding increase in business in that area."

Equipment suppliers aren't the only ones experiencing a noticeable upward trend in business. Anthony Gentile of Xela Pack Inc. (Bridgewater, MI) notes that both established as well as new nutraceutical suppliers are looking for innovative packages to gain shelf presence and a larger share of the market. The result is more business for the companies that offer new, creative packaging options. Take, for example, the Xela Pack. The 75%-paper packet primarily used for sample and trial-sized products is now the package of choice for the full line of Pocket Shot nutraceutical gels, introduced just six months ago by Natural Energy Inc. (Newport Beach, CA).

Among the package's key selling points are an air-tight vacuum seal that reduces the risk of contamination; protection against the effects of light, oxygen, and irradiation, thanks to the pack's construction of paper, foil, and poly; environmental friendliness; availability in either unit- or multiple-dose pouches; and a unique appearance. "You usually see a lot of liquids or thicker syrups packaged in glass bottles, which hold maybe a month's supply and lose their freshness once opened," explains Sharla Hughes, director of product operations for Natural Energy. "We were looking for a one-dose package for our gel, so that made it more difficult." Working closely with Xela Pack, however, Hughes was able to find a package that met the Pocket Shot's needs.

Another example of innovative packaging that's just now being introduced to the nutritional supplement industry is the Boxibag, a square- or rectangular-based stand-up bag made of a flexible, lightweight packaging material. Currently used for food packaging in Israel and Europe, the package has definite applications in the nutritional product industry, says Gidon Reichstein, vice president of sales and marketing for Boxibag Corp. (Miami). "The Boxibag can be filled with powders, tablets, capsules, or liquids," Reichstein explains. "And it provides the consumer with a very stable, flexible package that maintains its shape, even after some of the product is dispensed."

As the Xela Pack, Boxibag, and other innovative packaging options make their way into the market, more-traditional packages such as canisters and glass and plastic bottles are still widely used to package dietary supplements.

The composite canister, for example, "has been popular for decades," notes Steve Gendreau, market manager for Sonoco (Hartsville, SC). Canisters, he says, have long been a part of this market because of their ability to meet varying levels of product protection. "We have customers who have oxygen-sensitive products, and then we have those who are primarily concerned with moisture protection," he explains. "So we'll modify the inner liners and the opening features significantly, depending on what the customer needs from a product-protection standpoint. We can go from simply holding the product in the canister all the way up to providing a hermetically sealed package." Gendreau also notes that Sonoco is currently working with a nutraceutical company on a product that will be packaged in a nonround Linearpak composite canister. He says the unusual shape will be the first such application in the nutraceutical industry and will provide immediate product differentiation.

Another example of packaging that's been around for a long time—but hasn't historically been popular in the U.S. market—is the drinkable ampule. While Europeans have traditionally been the ones to use drinkable ampules for dietary supplements, Americans have long preferred pills, tablets, and the like. This may be changing, however. According to Denis Décarie, general manager of Fillab Inc. (Montreal), a manufacturer of glass and plastic drinkable ampules, the global demand for nutritional supplements is increasing rapidly. Along with this increase is a willingness for some companies to try new methods of delivery. "Every month, we have a new customer in the Southern California area," Décarie explains, adding that this may signal a trend toward future use of ampules in the overall U.S. market.

Use of the drinkable ampule isn't the only area where Americans lag far behind Europeans. Joe Bell, director of operations for Comar's contract packaging division (Buena, NJ), says, "The United States is 20 years behind Europe in packing nutritionals into blisters." But interest in such packaging is growing. "Several companies are giving up bottles and blister cards and choosing blister packaging," he says.

Switching to blisters may also offer savings. "You can save up to 40% in costs when you use preprinted foil in your blister. Use of preprinted foil allows you to include the same information on the blister as you would on an insert or a paperboard blister card, with the same clarity and readable text," says Bell.

SHOW AND TELL

Regardless of which packaging type suppliers choose, they need to ensure that their printing and labeling goals are also met. "Nutritional manufacturers have a difficult task," notes Margaret Polt, marketing manager at The Challenge Printing Co. (Wallington, NJ). "Their packaging needs to reflect the changes in the regulatory environment—which means the inclusion of more nutritional information—while still attracting the attention of the consumer."

Claudia Mace, account executive at The Control Group (Norwood, NJ), agrees. "Our nutritional clients need to find creative ways to get more space on the label," she explains. "So we designed a label called the Wrap-Around that provides the additional space needed to accommodate the text changes and additions required by FDA." The Wrap-Around label, which can be used on existing bottle sizes, creates additional space via an overwrapping process. The label can be lifted, allowing the consumer to read the additional copy underneath, and then resealed. The Wrap-Around has already proved successful for one nutraceutical company, which needed to add a warning statement to one of its products that was packaged in a 1-fluid-oz bottle.

A similar partnership between supplier and printer led to the development of Challenge Printing's Reseal-A-Tab label, which was designed to help nutritional companies provide information to consumers in a cost-effective way. "The label provides more real estate by allowing consumers to peel back one end, revealing important nutritional information printed on the label's underside," explains Polt. As the name implies, the label can then be resealed.



Xela Pack's paper packet keeps out oxygen.
 

In addition to space-saving features, elements such as eye-catching graphics, readable labels, and uniform appearance within a product line are additional key factors when it comes to nutritional supplement labeling. Another factor that some speculate may soon enter the nutraceutical packaging equation is the degree to which a package is environmentally friendly or biodegradable. "The types of companies that enter the dietary supplement market tend to look for a more environmentally friendly package," says Xela Pack's Gentile.

A HEALTHY FUTURE

If the past few years are any indication, the market for nutritional supplements will continue to expand at a rapid rate. In fact, those in the industry say that this segment will grow as it continues to be fueled by the rising cost of healthcare and growing consumer acceptance of these once alternative nutritional products. They also predict that, as the market grows, it will likely face increased regulation by FDA. But Challenge Printing's Polt doesn't expect supplement manufacturers to be caught off guard by this trend. Already, she says, they are anticipating the change in regulatory climate and "looking to their pharmaceutical counterparts and making the necessary adjustments [to their packaging] today."

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