Are gummy vitamins any good?
We’ll send you a myFT Daily Digest email rounding up the latest Wellbeing and fitness news every morning.
Melissa Snover knows sweets. In 2010 the Birmingham-based entrepreneur founded Goody Good Stuff, a vegan confectionery brand. Then she invented a 3D food-printing machine – the first in the world to be FDA- and FSA-compliant – that created candies resembling people’s faces or landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower. It makes sense that the moreish treats from Nourished, her latest venture, resemble a supercharged Haribo. Only you won’t find these gummy bites in the confectionery aisle: they are vitamin supplements.
Each vegan, sugar-free “stack” has seven layers of nutrient-rich ingredients – such as tart cherry for brain performance, ginseng for energy or maca powder for libido – and is tailored to individuals’ preferences: customers fill out a questionnaire, pick a flavouring (such as strawberry or cola) with a sweet or sour coating, and their bespoke stack is 3D-printed. Two years since launch, Nourished is today delivering 15,000 subscription boxes a month across the UK and US (and selling pre-made options at Selfridges), has 100 employees, £8mn in funding and has just opened its third factory. The combination of “‘personalisation’ and ‘gummy’ seems to be hitting a sweet spot with consumers”, says Snover, whose clientele is aged primarily between 30 and 50 and skews slightly female.
Nourished is one of the hottest players in a gummy-supplements sector that is growing faster than you can say “spirulina”. The sector is projected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 12.6 per cent for the next six years, globally, reaching $42bn by 2028, according to Grand View Research. And in the US, the most established market, a 2020 report from Mintel found that gummies have overtaken capsules as the number-one way for under-35s to consume vitamins. At Selfridges in the UK, sales are up by 900 per cent year on year. “We are currently selling more gummies than any other type of supplement,” says the store’s food buyer, Adrian Boswell. Industry giant Optibac has also launched a vegan gummy range in recent years.
Gummies are a good “entry point” into supplements, says David Huggins, co-founder of GreenBox, an online vegan supplement retailer. They appeal to those who don’t love the thought of swallowing capsules each morning and are more child-friendly, too. “A lot of people buy [capsule] supplements with the best intention, then they sit in the cupboard,” says Huggins. “Because [gummies] taste good, you remember to take them, and it becomes a habit much more easily.”
Every vitamin can now be consumed as a gummy. Take your pick of B12-enriched apple-cider vinegar chews from Goli for energy and digestion; cherry-flavoured prenatal gummies high in folic acid from Nutriburst; and tasty berry-shaped bites for healthy hair, skin and nails from new London brand Manifesto. GreenBox says its orange-spiked omega-3 Vegums chewables are a hit. And at Nourished, the most requested ingredient in the past six months has been HD-BPL1, a postbiotic that is scientifically proven to reduce the visceral fat around your stomach, says Snover. Outside the UK, there are an abundance of snooze-inducing melatonin gummies from brands including California’s Nordic Naturals and Hims. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, there’s also been a spike in calming CBD-infused gummies with ingredients like L-theanine, says Boswell.
Are they any better that normal digestible capsules? Some research suggests that certain vitamins are better absorbed when consumed in gummy form: a 2019 peer-reviewed study in the Nutrients journal, for instance, found this to be the case for vitamin D. And it’s argued that the act of chewing jellies puts the body into digestion mode in a way that swallowing tablets – without food – does not, says Snover. But the verdict is still out on most gummy research. “Yes, it’s possible that chewing may help absorption,” says Daniel O’Shaughnessy, director of nutrition at The Naked Nutritionist. But, he adds, more research is needed “with bigger populations and more vitamins” before he’ll make any firm conclusions.
Even if absorption levels are found to be improved, there are other factors to consider. Many gummies have a lower concentration of nutrients than tablets, says Dr Rabia Malik, a GP and holistic aesthetic doctor in London, and “most” are loaded with between 3g and 8g of sugar, and other additives such as citric acid or titanium dioxide.
Some innovative brands are using alternative, non-artificial sweeteners to ensure their products are sugar-free. Nourished’s stacks swap sugar for erythritol, which has “basically no impact on glycemic reaction”, says Snover, while Manifesto’s beautifying jellies use inulin, a sweet, chicory-root-derived fibre. They contain just 0.6g of sugar: “Less than a cherry,” says founder Anna Marcovici. You want “as little sugar” and “as high a nutrient concentration” as possible, confirms Malik, who recommends the omega-3 blend and vitamin D gummies from Nordic Naturals.
When it comes to taking gummies, the benefits might well trump the costs. “Something is better than nothing,” says Malik. In fact, Huggins has noticed that many customers are viewing gummies as their daily treat, subbing them in for “the bag of Haribo” that they might have had otherwise. If you’re going to indulge in a mid-afternoon pick-me-up – and we’re all human after all – it might as well come with a side of selenium, milk thistle extract, or libido-boosting ashwagandha.