Collagen was one of the buzzwords at this year’s Vitafoods Europe in Geneva – and many brands were exploring innovative delivery mechanisms, including soft chews and gummy confectionery, to make collagen more convenient and palatable.
FoodBev’s Alex Clere spoke with Marcelo Bravo, the chief executive officer of Oxford Pharmascience, which makes a range of novel collagen soft chews under the brand name Ellactiva. With three enticing flavours, the focus of Ellactiva is very much on making collagen supplementation effortless and as pain-free as possible.
Here, Bravo explains the demands on companies working with collagen and explores where the category might be headed next.
Can you tell us a little about Ellactiva and how it came about?
Ellactiva actually has been around for a long time. I launched Ellactiva as a calcium supplement in the UK in the soft chew format, which was novel at the time in Europe, and I had it on the shelf at Boots, Sainsbury’s, Holland & Barrett; I was exporting to Russia, South Africa, Australia – I was trying to create this brand that was a women’s health brand, starting with calcium and healthy bones. We then changed strategy at the company: I decided not to continue to put much effort on the food supplement and I actually licensed it. I did a deal with Bayer, I did a deal with the biggest pharmaceutical company in Brazil, and they took it under their brand basically. Last year I decided to pay attention to it again; I had this patent… the problem with this format is that it’s a soft chew and it’s made typically with sugar, so I actually patented the manufacture of this product, replacing the sugars with fibres that are naturally sweet and have the same texture. I had seen a product in the US that had been quite successful, which was a fibre supplement where they had developed a range of chewable fibre tablets with different functionalities, so you had your calcium, your immunity… it was a way of inducing people to get more fibre in their diet while they were also getting their supplement, so I thought it would be great to do it and I could use my soft chew format where I had a patent.
I went to research that, and we did consumer immersion work and to my surprise, it was very different to the US, where in the US if people say ‘fibre’ they immediately understand immunity and probiotic effects; in the UK, fibre meant constipation. So it’s just not the right concept. And one of the concepts I had developed was beauty, with collagen, and people are all over collagen. We were interviewing people, doing customer immersion and women were telling us that they may need beauty, energy, immunity in the winter and obviously healthy bones – it’s what we need and obviously it’s very important. So we put it all together and said, instead of doing fibre across the [range], we’ll do collagen peptides. We identified peptides that were clinically proven to deliver benefits at very low doses – 2.5g – and we managed to get the dose in this soft chew, so that’s where the concept came from. It was kind of like an iteration with consumers – it was quite crazy when we thought about it but actually it makes absolute sense where people are telling us ‘I’m totally confused, and I take 50 pills, I need to take calcium, I need to take spirulina, I need to take zinc and magnesium’. We’ve simplified it and given it a very rational and very emotional life in that, all of a sudden, you take a product that satisfies your main needs and at the centre of it is beauty from within.
You mention perceptions of fibre. Do you have any handle on how consumers see collagen and how they trust beauty claims?
Collagen is a phenomenon right now. Collagen a few years ago was just another protein. All of a sudden, people started waking up to collagen as a beauty ingredient and that is happening everywhere – I’m quite surprised, I’ve just been to Thailand and to Brazil and trying to read the markets in those places. In the UK, the same aisle in [health shop] Boots, you have a calcium supplement retailing at £6 for 60 tablets and then at the end of the aisle, predominant, at the top of the shelf, you have beauty from within – products that cost £80 for 60 tablets or a shot of collagen that retails at £4. And I thought ‘well okay, that’s a unique UK phenomenon’. But actually I went to Brazil, I went to Thailand, and you start seeing the same price points.
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We’re a very a novel collagen concept; we’re the first – we went from commoditised gelatines, collagen is gelatine, to peptides – peptides means you take the gelatine, which is peptides, and you cut it up into little pieces using hydrolysis, and it means it is absorbed very efficiently and you can use fractions at lower amounts and still deliver benefits – but even the most popular peptides were using 5g and 10g. This ingredient here was tested in four clinical trials at 2.5g and was proven to deliver benefits. These claims are not approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) – they’re approved in some countries like Canada, Singapore – but still they’re not approved by the EMA, they may not be approved by the EMA, but people get it – collagen delivers beauty from within benefits.
But it is a global phenomenon and the pricing is quite high – we see in a place like Ireland that the pricing levels are completely different but collagen – yeah, we’re talking £20, £30, £40, £60 per pack depending on what the execution is.
We developed a halal product; a lot of the interest we had was from people in Malaysia or Saudi Arabia, who were asking ‘can you make it halal?’ And I’d never thought about it when I was developing it.
Presumably companies will have to do things differently. They’ve tried things before in drinks particularly and it hasn’t really taken off.
Yes, it’s very expensive, it’s £4 a shot. Here we’re delivering the same benefit of the shot, possibly at a third of the price, with additional benefits.
And is reducing the cost the key to mainstream growth?
Within reason, yes. £4 per shot – that means £120 a month. It’s quite a commitment to collagen, just for the sake of collagen. We’re going at a reasonable price where we make our gross profit, the retailer makes their gross profit, our exporter and distributor makes profit. It’s a more sensible price point.
You’re mixing collagen with all manner of different ingredients…
That’s the multi-functionality aspect. Three of these chews, you get the dose for the skin benefits – so three daily – so you can mix and match, take two for calcium, take one for immunity or switch to energy depending where you’re up to. Yes, we’ve got three different products. They all have the same level of collagen, but they have different levels of fibre, different levels of other actives.
And three different flavours as well. How important is flavour?
Collagen doesn’t taste much – well, marine collagen may taste fishy. This product is all about taste: we have an orange energy product, we have a caramel bone health product, we have a blackcurrant immunity product. I can only use ingredients that I can taste-mask within the matrix, so if I were to try and use vitamin B, which is very bitter, it doesn’t really work. I have to be careful with what I use; it has to be compatible with the matrix. We’re trying to make products that people like to take, and they’re easy to take and convenient – but also that they’re nice to taste. Especially for calcium; with calcium people just quit because [they don’t enjoy the taste]. The other option is a tablet or a shot, so this is just easier and nicer – taste makes a huge difference.
Is there something to be said as well for an association between blackcurrant and immunity, citrus and energy?
That came from our perception but also from the research that we did. We’ve had female groups within consumer immersion, we asked them what flavour goes best with this one. That’s where all that came from. And then we matched that with what was viable. I do a calcium cappuccino that I sell in Brazil but for this concept I wanted to stay more with my feet on the ground I guess. I think this line will extend with the same concept: collagen and functionality. We may extend to other functionalities, we may extend to other forms. But the concept will be the same: easy to take, pleasant to take.
Where is the collagen category going to go in the next five years – will it fulfil the potential we see from it at the moment?
It’s exploding right now. The fact that there’s a shortage of collagen – there’s not enough collagen, there’s not enough capacity as everybody is waking up to. My wife is taking collagen and she never did, but it’s too bloody expensive. She was taking calcium tablets which she hated and she’s now enjoying it: she’s getting calcium and collagen, and I have to bring some supplements for her. She gets it for free!
I’m doing another project which also uses collagen as the basis – collagen is a perfect protein whereas all the whey proteins, all the plant proteins, they’re much [more] processed. Collagen is much simpler; you boil the broth and the collagen floats to the top, you skim it, and hydrolysis means boiling it so you change the pH, boiling it, it breaks up. So collagen is a very, very pure protein. Collagen is really the most perfect protein for humans – you know, we’re made of collagen.
Is there more opportunity for collagen products targeted at men?
Certainly. There’s always a market for men. I worked for Boots and we had the Boots Advantage [loyalty] card and something like 85% of those who shop at Boots was women over 45. So men – it’s a market, but it’s really niche. I don’t know. I’m doing a product now which has nothing to do with beauty; it’s more about wellness, where I’ve chosen collagen as the protein, and it’s a product that is both for men and women – but [with that concept] I’m not selling beauty. With this product, we’re thinking of women, that is our target market. Everybody who has worked on this project apart from myself is a woman.
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2019
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