Collagen is the main structural protein in various connective tissues in the body – and as such it is the most abundant protein in mammals, accounting for 25-35% of protein. Consumption of collagen peptides has been linked to various health benefits, primarily associated with healthy ageing.
A strong body of evidence demonstrates supplementation with collagen is positive for skin, hair and nail health. For instance, one study concluded collagen consumption ‘significantly’ improved skin hydration. “The oral supplementation with collagen peptides is efficacious to improve hallmarks of skin aging,” the research, published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, concluded.
Collagen peptides are also linked to joint and bone health. As another study, published in Agro Food Industry Hi Tech noted: “Collagen peptides are a highly efficient nutraceutical to improve joint health which can help to maintain an active lifestyle throughout ageing.”
Sports recovery is another area that collagen peptide supplementation has proven its efficacy. For instance, research published last year in journal Amino Acids, demonstrated ‘notable changes’ in muscle recovery between a group that supplemented with collagen peptides and the control group, who did not.
“There are different benefits. If we talk about collagen peptides like Peptan, one of our brands, it is mostly known for beauty from within benefits. But recent science in this field has provided solid evidence on their efficacy on restructuring skin collagen networks, improving skin hydration and hair health. There is also science demonstrating efficacy in reducing joint discomfort, improving joint function and bone health. These mobility benefits make collagen peptides especially suitable for groups like ageing consumers,” Pauline Huang, product and branding manager at Rousselot Health and Nutrition, told FoodNavigator.
These positives have allowed collagen peptides to become a mainstay of the nutraceutical space, where they are primarily sold in powder, pill or bar form.
But, as awareness grows, the market is developing and collagen is moving into more everyday food categories, according to Rousselot.
“We are seeing that this is a trend – collagen - is moving towards consumers beyond a specialised functional space. We have observed collagen peptides have moved from being niche ingredients targeting specifically beauty and dietary supplements to more essential items in consumers' kitchen cabinets,” Huang said.
The popularisation of collagen
Huang believes that this shift is a reflection of the efforts of the collagen brands, who have produced powders that consumers ‘have in their kitchens’ ready to incorporate into a ‘smoothie or cereal’.
“This is thanks to the popularisation of collagen by leading collagen brands, they are now becoming almost like household names.”
Social media influencers, too, have played a role: “There are a lot of social media influencers behind that, pushing the popularisation.”
And as awareness has grown, it has become easier for consumers to access collagen products. In the past, Huang reflected, collagen supplements were only available from chemists and health stores. Now, they are more readily available through supermarkets like Whole Foods Market and via e-commerce channels.
All this activity has attracted the attention of large food corporates, Huang observed: “In recent years we have observed that big manufacturers of food are now stepping into the collagen peptides arena.”
Danone, for instance, has launched a collagen enriched yogurt in North America, Light & Fit earlier this year. According to the company, this innovation is the "first packaged yogurt with collagen”.
Meanwhile, late last year Hershey’s popcorn brand, Skinny Pop, developed SkinnyPop +Collagen popcorn. Announcing the development, the brand said the product delivered the benefits of adding collagen peptides to your diet and came as an alternative to taking powdered supplements or collagen-infused snack bars.
Swiss food giant Nestlé revealed this week that it is entering the collagen space through the acquisition of Vital Proteins, which has a presence in both North America and Europe.
Announcing the move, Greg Behar, CEO of NHSc, commented: "This is an exciting opportunity for Nestlé Health Science to enter a growing area of nutrition with a successful brand.”
Unlocking formulation benefits
While collagen peptides are best known for their functional benefits, less known perhaps is its potential use in product formulation and reformulation efforts.
“In terms of including collagen in product formulations – what it can mean for taste and texture?” Huang pondered.
“Based on years of experience from our applications specialists in our expertise centre in Ghent, we know formulating with collagen peptides can give different functionalities. For example, collagen peptides have a small molecular weight in comparison to other proteins. This gives them really high solubility in cold water.”
This makes collagen peptides well-suited to use in ready-to-drink powders. The lower molecular weight also makes it easy to integrate collagen peptides into items like protein bars.
As well as the positive health messaging, collagen peptides also offer potential uses in sugar or fat reduction efforts. “In foods such as bakery, collagen peptides can be used as a bulking agent, replacing things like sugar and fat. In case of fat replacement, the mouthfeel is comparable to a full fat product if collagen peptides are used,” Huang elaborated.
Collagen peptides also tick some other important boxes: they are a clean label ingredient with a high stability – meaning they can actually be used to help extend shelf-life and reduce spoilage.
“Collagen peptides allow better texture and it keeps the products on the shelf for longer because of their high stability.
“It is a protein from a natural source so it can help to increase the protein content in these products. It is clean label, so the manufacturers can market on that. That helps to add a lot of value.”
Huang believes that this unique combination of benefits – from positive health claims to functionality in product formulations – can be leveraged to allow manufacturers to differentiate their finished brands, a trend she ‘definitely’ expects to accelerate.