Jen Berliner remembers noticing consumers tagging her organic beverage company Medlie in Instagram posts. The images and videos showed people pouring packets of collagen into their blended vegetable drinks, mashes and shots — so she decided to make it easier for them.
In what Berliner calls a "consumer-led decision," the company partnered with Whole30 to launch its Kale Avocado Protein Drink with Collagen in the summer of 2018 and on the first day it debuted, it was already a hit.
"We, candidly, didn't know how it was going to do and that day remains one of our single biggest sales days ever, it has basically stayed as our No. 1 SKU ever since then, and we've introduced a number of other collagen SKUs and products," the CEO told Food Dive. "It's something that we really continue to lean into and respond to the consumer demand."
But it is not just Medlie getting in on the collagen trend. The ingredient — one of the most abundant proteins in the body — is poised for growth in 2020 as more people look for greater functional health benefits in what they consume. The global collagen market is projected to reach $6.6 billion by 2025 with an annual growth rate of 6.5%, according to a new report by Grand View Research.
"Everything that we're seeing on our side is certainly no signs of slow down here. We're only seeing more and more demand for collagen products."
Made popular in the U.S. in the 1980s as a pricey injectable filler to plump lips and soften lines, collagen has been finding its way into a variety of foods and beverages, from bars to salty snacks.
In more recent years, studies have shown that ingesting collagen for several months can improve skin elasticity and signs of aging as well as joint, back and knee pain. Other research, however, has said those health claims are exaggerated. So despite the increasing popularity and its reputation for health benefits, there are still many questions about its impact.
"It’s definitely among the top three products people ask me about, and I believe it does hold promise in some diverse areas of medicine," Mark Moyad, director of the complementary and alternative medicine program at the University of Michigan Medical Center told WebMD. "It’s also one of the most wacky and controversial."
But those questions haven't stopped collagen manufacturers from developing ingredients and integrating the product into more food and beverage as demand increases.
Last year, InterGanics launched a new high-purity product, called PeptPure Collagen Peptides, and a re-engineered process that they say delivers higher levels of purity, traceability, sustainability and transparency.
Felipe Chaluppe, president and CEO of InterGanics, told Food Dive collagen is still in an early stage of its lifecycle, but with more CPG companies getting into the space in the last five years, it has "exploded."
“It became very popular and ... everybody understands the benefits of collagen and what it does, and I think it is just going to continue to grow because more applications are coming up, more delivery systems are being developed,” he said.
"You couldn't really tell if they were selling popcorn with collagen or collagen with popcorn because of the packaging," he said. "It was eye-catching."
He said that product is an example of the evolution of consumer awareness, as well as increased availability and more delivery technologies for collagen, which signals that this ingredient will be a big part of the industry "for many, many years."
Kamal Elamri, co-founder of Zeebar, told Food Dive that his company’s protein bars contain the highest amount of collagen per bar in the market at 14 grams each.
Elamri, who is originally from Morocco, said he noticed that bars in the U.S. had many additional and artificial ingredients so he sought to develop a bar with "a pure list of ingredients." He wanted to combine argon oil, a popular ingredient in Morocco, with a protein to make his company's products.
While researching non-dairy proteins that were good for digestion, Elamri said they came across collagen and decided to use it because of its reported positive effects on skin, joints and fighting inflammation.
"We like collagen because it is a really good way to get your protein intake and to also get health benefits from it," Elamri said. "All those other protein supplements, like whey, they just have protein in it and nothing else really."
He said more consumers are looking to have added benefits from their food, which is a current trend across the industry. A white paper from ingredients company Kerry found that 65% of consumers seek functional benefits from their food and drink.
Medlie's Berliner said 2020 could bring more products that combine that functionality with convenience by offering more foods and drinks with collagen already infused. The ease of ready-to-drink appeals to consumers, she said, because of the convenience of not having to scoop, mix and shake collagen into products.
"Something that people really love about our products is that we're delivering ... all the protein and benefits of collagen in a bottle that they can grab from the fridge and walk out the door," she said. "Everything that we're seeing on our side is certainly showing no signs of slow down here. We're only seeing more and more demand for collagen products."