With more than 70 years in the confectionery space, the Skokie-based, family owned company is now exploring dietary supplements, with products containing a range of bioactives either already commercially available, close to launch, or in development.
According to 2015 data from the Nutrition Business Journal, almost 10% of the $39 billion dietary supplements market are gummies (with pills about 50% of the market and softgels about 27%). Gummies contributed about $60 million in absolute dollar growth for the category in 2014, according to Sloan Trends, Inc.
“The gummy market is the target,” said Kurt Thorsen, VP of business development at the Georgia Nut Company, during a recent visit to NutraIngredients-USA Chicago office. “What are the options for consumers with pill fatigue? You can go for gummies or you can eat delicious dark chocolate – which has its own health halo – with these actives.”
While Georgia Nut did produce its own branded products in the past, the company these days focuses on contract manufacturing and specialty ingredients. This strategic change has led to a doubling of the business over the last seven years, said Thorsen.
The move into supplements, and the specific demands of dietary supplement regulations, has required an investment: The company has hired a quality manager (from a supplement manufacture ), and it has invested in the facility, processes and R&D, said Thorsen.
The results are now market ready. “I don’t think anyone else is doing this,” he said.
In addition to interest in turmeric, caffeine, melatonin and a couple of letter vitamins, Thorsen said there is significant interest in probiotics (the company has worked with Ganeden for close to two years on researching and developing innovative probiotic products).
But how do you go about formulating chocolate products with these ingredients? Richard Hauber, the company’s innovation manager, explained that chocolate is a unique combination of decadence and perceived health benefits with low water activity and limited heat processing. “Georgia Nut has developed a unique way to mix, form and finish these dietary supplements,” said Hauber.
“The first step is to thoroughly blend and ensure complete mixing of all the ingredients. Georgia Nut has developed a unique process in order to achieve this. The molded chocolate dietary supplement is processed further either by adding chocolate and polishing, or by sugar shelling,” explained Hauber.
“If chocolate is added and polished this adds decadence, helps masks off flavors, and provides tempered chocolate to provide good appearance and shine during shelf life. Common size units are 1.5 to 5.5 grams per piece.
“Some dietary supplements are also sugar shelled to give extra heat resistance during distribution. We have developed methods of sugar shelling that use natural vegetable extracts, turmeric, and spirulina. While avoiding processing aids and titanium dioxide. Common sizes here for sugar-shelled items are 1.0 to 3.5 grams,” added Hauber.
“Because of chocolate’s low water activity and relatively low processing temperatures it is an excellent vehicle for heat sensitive vitamins and probiotics,” he said. “We are completing a two-year shelf life study on chocolate sugar shelled probiotic gems and can demonstrate excellent stability to 21 months and very little die off during processing.
“Chocolate is able to hide many off flavors. And those that are difficult – acids, such as citric acid, or very high doses of caffeine, can easily be hidden by conventional encapsulation technologies. We have had good success to date working with B vitamins, vitamin C, melatonin, probiotics, vitamin D, turmeric, and many more.
Hauber has encountered some issues along the way, but those cases have mostly occurred when the dose required is higher than about 500 mg, he said.
Thorsen said that the reception from customers (potential and actual) has been hugely positive. “Almost everyone I’ve shown it to at the bigger players has loved it,” he said.