Joint health is a concern for aging consumers. Declining health of joints may lead to a loss of mobility, which has the potential to bring about a host of issues that may diminish a person’s quality of life. Diet, exercise and a healthy weight all play a key role in maintaining bone and joint health, but consumers who are overweight or experiencing the early stages of arthritis or osteoporosis may be seeking solutions to improve their situation.

The challenge facing marketers of ingredients targeting joint health is encouraging consumers to be proactive, helping prevent problems. Greater benefits may be derived before an unhealthy condition emerges, but many do not seek a solution until ill health befalls them. This is true for many ingredients with functional benefits.

Data from the Natural Marketing Institute and included in a health and wellness study conducted in partnership with Nielsen that was published earlier this year shows that one-third of American adults believe functional food and beverages may be substituted for some medicines, and the trend is more pronounced among baby boomers. But a key to getting consumers to buy a functional food is making them understand the benefits derived from a specific ingredient, whether it is fiber and probiotics for digestive health, protein for weight management, and calcium for bone health.

Ewa Hudson, the director of health and wellness for Euromonitor International, London, said the market for functional, health-oriented beverages looks promising. On-trend products include those targeting such categories as general well-being, weight management, energy, endurance, and bone/joint health.

“What part of our (the consumer’s) soft drinks budget is spent on healthy drinks when in a retail outlet?” she asked during a presentation in early October at the SupplySide West trade show. “Thinking of the global consumer in 2013, 49% at this point is generated by health and wellness drinks. Consumers are looking for benefits.”

There are a number of functional ingredients that may have an impact on joint health. They range from glucosamine, chondroitin, eggshell membrane and even powders derived from the peels of apples.

“If you look at joint health, I hook my star on obesity,” said Michael R. Fleagle, brand manager of corn milling for Cargill, Naperville, Ill. “The No. 1 symptom of obesity is joint pain, because of the pressure caused by the additional weight. As obesity continues to be an issue, it will also mean joint pain will remain an issue.”

Cargill markets a glucosamine product branded as Regenasure. It is a vegetarian source of glucosamine that is generally recognized as safe, produced in the United States, and may easily be incorporated into food and beverage applications, according to the company.

“For us, it is a small product but significant,” Mr. Fleagle said. “We produce it in a plant in Iowa where we also produce citric acid.”

He said the market for glucosamine really started to take off in the late 1990s when several books were published about arthritis and various ways to deal with its effects.

“That’s when people really started to look at glucosamine,” Mr. Fleagle said. “Consumers would go to the store and buy it in a tablet or capsule form.”

The challenge Cargill and other glucosamine providers have faced is transitioning consumers from pills or tablets to food and beverage applications.

“There is an opportunity, because to get the appropriate amount the pills are pretty big,” Mr. Fleagle said. “Some consumers don’t want those. That’s where food and beverage applications enter the picture.”

The two most effective applications to date have been beverages and gummies.

Premier Nutrition Corp., Emeryville, Calif., is a manufacturer and marketer of the Joint Juice line of products, which feature such applications as drips, drinks and shots. The products feature glucosamine, chondroitin, vitamin D, green tea extract and vitamin C.

“Joint Juice was the first product that allowed consumers to make a choice between supplements and a beverage,” Mr. Fleagle said.

He believes the next wave of products will be in chews and gummies.

“The ingredient can be pretty salty and that can be a formulation challenge,” Mr. Fleagle said. “With chews there is flexibility when it comes to formulating. One of the benefits Cargill has is we have some really good applications people who have worked with our ingredients and understand them.”

More options emerging

During the SupplySide West trade show held in early October in Las Vegas, JOINThealth Soft Chews by Redd Remedies earned a CPG Editor’s Choice Award in the joint health category. The chews feature NEM, an ingredient manufactured from natural eggshell membrane that delivers hyaluronic acid, collagen and chondroitin. Based in Bradley, Ill., Redd Remedies markets a variety of functional products. The JOINThealth products are available in chew and capsule varieties.

The NEM ingredient is manufactured by ESM Technologies, Carthage, Mo. The ingredient is a natural source of chondroitin sulfate, hyaluronic acid and other glycosaminglycans with such proteins as collagen, according to the company.

In August, the company announced the publication of the results of a clinical trial conducted in Germany that evaluated the NEM brand ingredient. The study recruited 44 subjects with moderate, persistent knee or hip discomfort. The study participants were supplemented once daily with a capsule containing 500 mg of NEM for 60 days and were evaluated at 10, 30 and 60 days. The research found “statistically significant results” as early as 10 days. At the end of the study, 59% of the participants rated the ingredient’s efficacy as good or very good.

“We’re always pleased when an independent study is conducted that corroborates our own clinical results, particularly when it confirms NEM’s fast onset of efficacy,” said Kevin J. Ruff, Ph.D., director of scientific and regulatory affairs for ESM Technologies. “The German researchers did an excellent job of validating NEM’s safety and efficacy, as well as patient acceptance, in a European population.”

Another ingredient exhibited at SupplySide West was AppleActiv, which is manufactured by Leahy Orchards, Inc., Franklin, Quebec. Leahy Orchards is an applesauce manufacturer. The company has its own brand, but also co-packs for private label brands. AppleActiv is a Leahy Orchards brand that is marketed as a functional food ingredient.

While the flesh of the apples is used to manufacture applesauce, the peel is the source of the functional ingredient. AppleActiv DAPP (dried apple peel product). Apple peels contain up to six times more nutrients than the flesh does and by converting apple peels into powder form the ingredient may be used in nutrition bars, beverages, smoothies, snacks, marinades and supplements.

“The peel is a side product that is a part of our manufacturing process,” said Lorraine Leahy, director of the company’s functional foods division. “We are looking at the entire food and beverage market. The powder works well in viscous beverages, snacks and baked goods. It is also a source of fiber as well.”

AppleActiv DAPP contains a high level of polyphenol antioxidants that provide protection to cells, according to the company. The ingredient has been tested for its antioxidant content and has been found to be effective at addressing joint health.

Ms. Leahy said she sees initial opportunities in the sports nutrition category.

“It’s a group of consumers who may be more aware of their joint health,” she said. “But this is an ingredient that has many positives. It is natural, sustainable and effective.”