Soup-To-Nuts Podcast: How collagen moved from beauty cream to a superfood & what’s next

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Collagen has long held a place of worth in the beauty industry for its proclaimed abilities to reverse the signs of aging, strengthen nails and thicken hair, but now it is expanding into food and beverage where its restorative powers are quickly earning it revered superfood status.

As such, collagen is no longer restricted to creams, injections and supplements, but it is now turning up in everything from coffee creamers and cereal to soup and snack bars. As the ingredient’s delivery format changes, so too are its claims – evolving from simply preventing wrinkles to protecting joints and bones, soothing digestive ailments, managing weight and adding to overall wellness.

While the shift may seem sudden to some, it actually began in earnest about six years ago when, according to data from Innova Market Insights, global product launches with collagen as an active ingredient jumped from 268 products in 2011 to 398 in 2012. The trend continued up with 574 new products launched in 2013 and 672 in 2014. In this time, supplements held a significant edge, but cereal came in a solid second as the platform of choice, followed by sports nutrition, confections and soft drinks.

According to Grand View Research, collagen’s popularity shows no sign of slowing. It estimates the global collagen market is growing at a rate of 6.6% and by 2025 will reach $6.63 billion. Grand View Research adds the subset of food and beverage products with collagen is growing even faster at a rate of 7.2%.

To learn more about the ingredient’s potential in food and beverage, including what is driving consumer interest, what formats they prefer and what sources resonate best, this episode of FoodNavigator-USA’s Soup-To-Nuts Podcasts catches up with three players using the ingredient as a top selling feature in their product, including the founder of Primal Kitchen, the marketing director of Country Archer Jerky and the founder of Eviva collagen protein water.

What makes collagen so special?

As with many fast-rising superfoods, there is a lot of conflicting information about collagen, including not just what it claims to do, but also at a more basic level – simply what it is.

For starters, it is a protein – and a very prevalent one at that, accounting for a third of the protein in our bodies. Now one might wonder if we already have so much collagen in us, why do we need more?

Mark Sisson, the founder of Primal Kitchen, and an early adopter of adding collagen to snack bars and drink mixes explains what makes collagen so special and why modern consumers need more of it in their diet.

“Collagen … is the structural component of tendons and ligaments and cartilage and connective tissue and fascia and skin, hair, nails, bones … and a critical component of linings of the arteries, intestinal walls and so it is a really prevalent form of protein that requires the same sort of maintenance that muscles require,”​ he said.

The problem, however, is that most people do not consume the building blocks for collagen the same way they do for muscles, he said. These components are in the skin and cartilage and bones of animals – parts people today tend to avoid. These also are the key ingredients to bone broth – which is booming currently.

Sisson explains that as much as likes bone broth, which can have high collagen concentrations, he doesn’t want to drink it every day in order to give his body the collagen he believes it needs. So, he created Primal Kitchen’s Collagen Fuel – protein shakes that can be blended with water or added to coffee, to more easily incorporate the ingredient into consumers’ everyday diets.

Why is collagen gaining traction now?

Collagen’s connection to on-trend diets, such as low-carb, keto and primal, help explain the ingredient’s rapid rise in popularity, but it isn’t the only reason, according to Country Archer Jerky’s marketing director Mathew Thalakotur.

He explained that emerging research has strengthened the appeal of collagen.

“There are some key players in the collagen place … who have done a really wonderful job of elevating the benefits of collagen and there is also a lot of supplement grade research that is completed and becoming public that is making people aware and giving a basis for why you should include collagen,”​ he said.

While research supporting collagen’s benefits is building, much of it so far, as Thalakotur noted, has been funded by manufacturers, which some argue casts doubt on the veracity of the outcomes. Critics of this research also note that many studies are done on animals or only a small group of humans for short period, which makes it less generalizable.

Despite these shortcomings, consumers are eager to embrace the idea of collagen as a panacea of sorts because it fits neatly within another emerging notion, which is that food is medicine, and prevention the best remedy.

Thalakotur explains, “There is a macro shift happening in the consumer mind space where they are starting to realize if I eat carefully, I won’t have to use drugs or medicines to make me feel better. My food can be my medicine.”

He adds this idea that the food can help prevent problems as well as fuel a healthy lifestyle, was part of the imputes behind Country Archer Jerky’s collagen peptide infused grass-fed meat bars.

The line includes three collagen peptide infused bars. The first is a grass-fed beef bar “with a little bit of bacon because bacon makes everything better,”​ Thalakotur said. The second is a turkey herb-citrus blend that tastes like Thanksgiving and the third is an uncured bacon. All three have 15 grams of protein and 3 grams of sugar from dates.

Not all collagen is the same

As with other fashionable ingredients, such as probiotics, not all collagen is the same and it doesn’t all deliver on the same claims – making it essential that manufacturers carefully source their collagen and review the clinical studies about it.

Elaine Morrison, who founded Eviva Collagen Protein Water, explained that collagen comes from all types of animals, but she uses marine and avian collagen in her lightly flavored beverages because she said the supplier could share sufficient clinical research to support the claims she wanted to make.

According to Grand View Research, bovine is the most commonly used source of collagen, but that in the future marine collagen will drive the segment.

Other drivers of collagen’s future growth will be expanding beyond sports enthusiasts and beauty influencers to reach the mainstream. A logical bridge to do this is to target healthy aging consumers who not only want to look younger, but feel younger as well.

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