Ingredient Sales Surprises of 2016

By Michael Crane

We’re still a few weeks away from Nutritional Outlook releasing our predictions for 2017’s top ingredients to watch, but there’s still plenty in 2016’s ingredient sales to marvel over. We asked market researcher SPINS to identify some of the ingredients in vitamins, dietary supplements, herbal products, and homeopathic products that experienced some of the most notable sales shifts in the past 12 months,* either for the better or for the worse.

Whey Protein

Despite still being a dominant force in the protein space, whey protein, when appearing as the sole protein source in products, actually experienced a decline in percent growth over the last year. Compared to October 2015, standalone whey protein sales declined by 5.6% to reach a total dollar sum of just over $329 million in 2016.

“Whey protein, when not found in combination with another protein source such as casein, egg, or plant, has been leveling off and is now in decline this year, cross channel,” says Scott Dicker, natural products researcher for SPINS. He adds that “this may, in part, be due to evolving standards, as grassfed whey protein is showing an increase, although accounting for a much smaller market share.”

Indeed, whey protein (when used as the only protein source) carrying a grassfed claim had growth of 13.9% over the last year, rising to almost $9.7 million in 2016. Combinations of whey protein and other milk proteins also experienced 68% growth (reaching more than $68 million), and milk/whey protein combinations bearing a grassfed claim grew by 315% (reaching nearly $1.3 million).


Anyone following ingredient trends in recent years probably won’t be surprised to see that turmeric continued to post strong growth last year, with sales climbing by 45.3% to reach $72 million. But some of the categories where turmeric is achieving stellar success may be a little less expected.

For instance, teas featuring turmeric grew by 160% in the last year, with even more impressive growth seen in bagged herbal teas with turmeric (204%). Shelf-stable juices with a turmeric boost also saw sales grow by 110% year-over-year, and turmeric-enhanced beverages in the refrigerated juices/functional beverage category grew by 49%. Kim Kawa, senior nutrition researcher for SPINS, notes that kombucha beverages featuring turmeric are starting to crop up as “an innovative player to the market,” but it’s not the only high-potential area for turmeric growth.

“Some of the smaller niche segments that retailers and manufacturers should keep an eye on are refrigerated RTD tea, chocolate candy, and wellness bars,” says Kawa.

And in terms of the best health areas for turmeric, the ingredient is up across the board, with triple-digit percent growth seen in the immune health, mood support, and cold and flu categories.

Collagen Products

Although it is perhaps best known as an ingredient in products for beauty or joint health, collagen expanded to a variety of other health focuses this year. Overall, collagen grew by 39% to reach a sum total of nearly $40 million, with 27% growth seen in hair, skin, and nails (reaching $23.5 million), as well as 96.3% growth in joint health (reaching $9.1 million).

Other strong emerging categories for collagen this year were bone health (29.5% growth to reach nearly $1.9 million) and energy support (913% growth to reach $392,504).


In both natural-channel and multi-outlet retailers, valerian “appears to be losing market share,” according to Kawa. Overall, valerian sales declined by 11.6% over the last year, hitting a sum total value of $28 million.

But while valerian sales appear to be falling in products for sleep support, melatonin, also commonly used for sleep support, remained a popular option last year (16% growth).


While some of the major joint-health ingredients had a tough year, boswellia saw joint-health sales jump from $6.1 million to more than $14 million (132.2% growth) in the last year. The same cannot be said of glucosamine and chondroitin. Glucosamine saw sales decline by 15.3% last year (reaching $109.6 million), and combinations of glucosamine and chondroitin declined by 12.3% (reaching $345 million).

Kawa suggests the decline of glucosamine and glucosamine/chondroitin in recent years may be due to consumers looking for alternative joint-health ingredients, such as boswellia. She also note that boswellia and curcumin are increasingly being featured in research together, “which may be bringing more attention to boswellia and potential synergistic effects when used in combination.”

Branched-Chain Amino Acids

Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) had one of the most notable sales jumps this year, growing by 231.4% to reach $10.6 million. The majority of that growth took place in the performance-nutrition category, where BCAAs grew by 538.1% over the previous year.

“Perhaps this jump could have some connection to expanded marketing of sports-centric ingredients/supplements to non-athlete consumers,” says Dicker. “The heightened interest in protein may have been the gateway to BCAAs, preworkouts, and thermogenics gaining popularity for non-athletes. For example, these products are appealing to the more average gym-goer. Marketing for BCAAs is now also targeting the weight-loss crowd, not just for the endurance-/strength-gain customer. This application may help explain the dramatic broadened reach of the category.”


With sales reaching nearly $9 million and 66.5% growth over the year prior, theanine experienced solid growth in 2016. That’s especially true in multi-outlet retailers, where theanine sales were up 166.3%. Theanine is also doing especially well in gummies, where it is up 338% cross channel.

As far as the top health areas for theanine, the ingredient saw 38.3% growth in mood-support products, 457.2% growth in cognitive-health products, and 138.3% in energy-support products.

Ashwagandha, Charcoal, CBD, and More

SPINS points out a few other ingredients with standout sales numbers in 2016, including ashwagandha, which grew by 58.9% to reach approximately $9.3 million. And after a decline in multi-outlet retailers in the previous year, ashwagandha sales were up 25% in multi-outlet stores this year, suggesting “a growing interest in the ingredient in more mainstream retailers,” according to Kawa.

Additionally, strong sales growth found its way to caffeine (29.8% growth to reach $131.9 million), charcoal (43.6% to reach $9.3 million), pea protein (64% growth to reach $7.4 million), and hemp cannabidiol (CBD; 776.6% growth to reach $1.7 million) over the past year. (Photo Ó

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