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Serve a demographic, fill a whitespace: Vitafoods Europe 2024 demonstrated women’s health is the new vanguard of opportunity

Across the show floor and in session halls, the need to better serve women at every life stage was the hot topic on everyone’s lips. It’s safe to say that women’s health was the dominant trend at Vitafoods Europe 2024, reflecting a growing recognition from the nutraceutical and dietary supplements industry that women have been underserved by specific health products and research – despite being the largest consumer demographic for nutritional solutions.1,2  Now, it looks like companies are increasingly focusing on addressing the disparity between demand, supply and clinical evidence, by addressing women’s unique needs across all life stages.  

Women: underserved by research, hungry for solutions 

“If you walk around the floor, it is exploding with women’s health products, but there’s not as much research,” noted Sudipta Veeramachaneni, President of SV Scientific, during the talk ‘Research essentials for powHERing success in formulating and marketing food supplements for women’. Her statement highlights a long-standing issue in the industry, where clinical studies have traditionally focused on male patients, with the findings then being generalized to women. While the industry is now making efforts to bridge this gap, there’s still progress to be made in ensuring that the increasing number of products marketed towards women are backed by robust, female-specific research. 

This lack of research isn’t limited to women’s health products. Women have been dramatically underrepresented in clinical trials across all health areas. “One of the challenges that we have had – not just here in the EU but globally – is that there has been a dearth when it comes to studying the effects of ingredients and finished products in women – and I’m not just talking about women’s health, I’m talking about anything,” explained Veeramachaneni. 

This lack of female representation stems in part from protectionist policies, like FDA guidelines in the 1990s that banned using pregnant women in clinical trials. While well-intentioned, this exclusion was broadly interpreted, leading to an overall lack of female participants. Between 2014-2020, a paltry 6% of sports and exercise science studies focused solely on women, with 63% using only male subjects.3 

Why sex-specific studies are necessary 

Experts emphasized the critical differences between male and female physiology that necessitate female-centric studies. “Women are not just smaller in size than men – our metabolic system is different. There are different hormones, we absorb things differently. We metabolize and excrete things differently,” said Veeramachaneni. This stark difference in how women’s bodies function underscores the urgent need for targeted research that takes female physiology into account, rather than simply extrapolating findings from male-dominated studies. 

Susan Kleiner, PhD of High Performance Nutrition, pointed out in her talk ‘Optimizing nutrition for female athletic performance’ the enormous white space and market opportunity, with women’s health as the fastest growing supplement category and only 3% of sports nutrition products currently targeting women. She stressed the importance of female-centric research to power tailored solutions. “Having female centric data is really important because as a dietitian, it’s hard for me to ask someone to spend dollars on a supplement when I don’t know if it’s going to work,” she explained. 

The menopause market opportunity 

An area in dire need of research is the menopause transition and post-reproductive years. Women in this life stage are one of the biggest supplement consumer groups, with supplement usage increasing with age and being highest among women aged 60 and over at 80.2%.4 Despite this, they lack products to address their needs beyond hot flashes and night sweats. According to Kleiner, there are over 38 menopause symptoms while only six or seven are currently addressed by the market. There is huge untapped potential for ingredient suppliers and brands to collaborate on solutions.  

“We know almost nothing about women in their post-reproductive years,” said Kleiner. “I’m telling you: there is so much whitespace. Pick any menopause symptom you want, research it and it will either never have been done or it will only have been done on one or two women and the rest men.” 

How B2B businesses can empower B2C partners to fill whitespaces in women’s health  

The opportunity for nutraceutical brands and ingredient suppliers extends beyond developing products for women. There is a crucial need for these companies to invest in research that addresses the significant gaps in our understanding of women’s health, particularly during the post-reproductive years. 

Despite women being the largest consumer demographic for supplements, especially those in the 60+ age bracket, there is a concerning lack of scientific research on their specific health needs and how they change across life stages. This is where B2B brands have a vital role to play. By conducting rigorous clinical studies on previously neglected areas such as the full spectrum of menopause symptoms, these brands can equip B2C companies with the evidence-based insights they need to develop truly effective solutions. 

Several major consumer brands are already recognising the importance of this B2B-to-B2C knowledge transfer. Holland & Barrett’s ‘Your Hormone Health Guide’ initiative, featuring in-store coaches delivering personalised advice, is a prime example of how retailers are seeking to collaborate with ingredient suppliers to better serve their female customers. By partnering with B2B brands that can provide the latest scientific research and insights on women’s health, Holland & Barrett is able to offer their customers evidence-based guidance and product recommendations tailored to their specific needs at different life stages. Similarly, Neutrogena’s “Skin Stack” supplement packs, developed in partnership with a food company, demonstrate the demand for science-backed products that target women’s wellness concerns.  

By leveraging their scientific expertise to address the specific needs of women at every life stage, B2B brands can empower their B2C partners to create not just in-demand solutions but also engaging educational content that drives further interest. The potential impact is immense – by catering to women’s oft-ignored health concerns, these companies can tap into a vast and motivated consumer base while simultaneously elevating the industry’s capacity to support women’s well-being at every age. This approach meets (currently unmet) demand for solutions that address negative symptoms associated with the female hormonal cycle and creates more demand by educating consumers.  Seizing this opportunity requires advancing science to meet the need of a loyal demographic – and will ensure that every woman gains access to the evidence-based solutions she deserves. 

  1. Reinert, A., Rohrmann, S., Becker, N., & Linseisen, J. (2007). Lifestyle and diet in people using dietary supplements. European Journal of Nutrition, 46, 165-173. ↩︎
  2. Dickinson, A., & Mackay, D. (2014). Health habits and other characteristics of dietary supplement users: a review. Nutrition Journal, 13, 14 – 14.
  3. Hagstrom, A., Yuwono, N., Warton, K., & Ford, C. (2021). Sex Bias in Cohorts Included in Sports Medicine Research. Sports Medicine, 1-6.
  4. NCHS Data Brief No. 399 February 2021. 

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