Nutraceutical companies shift to HPMC capsules in response to gelatin shortage

For over two decades the encapsulation of nutraceutical products has been moving away from gelatin capsules towards HPMC capsules. Until recently this movement was primarily driven by consumer demand. Many health-conscious consumers—the primary target market for the vitamin and supplements industry—prefer vegetarian products. Now this health market trend towards vegetarian capsules has an additional driver: a global gelatin shortage.

What is causing the shortage of gelatin?


To understand what’s going on you must first understand the gelatin market. Gelatin is an animal-based product made from collagen. Collagen is derived from the connective tissues and bones of animals. For pharma and nutritional use, the source is largely cattle (bovine) and pigs (porcine).

The gelatin shortage is being caused by both increased demand and decreased supply. Of course gelatin is the primary ingredient in gelatin capsules. Aging populations are fueling an increased demand for both pharmaceutical products and nutritional supplements; this increased demand also impacts the gelatin capsules that many of these products use. In addition, gelatin is used in other industries as well. As a food additive, gelatin is growing in popularity because of its antioxidant, cyroprotectant and food-stabilizing properties. In the skincare market, cosmetics manufacturers often use collagen and gelatin for their perceived anti-aging benefits.

All of this demand was already straining supplies before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Now things have simply gotten worse. In the past the industry saw gelatin shortages when the swine flu killed millions of pigs in China. More recently, many countries shut down meat processing facilities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This shut down severely limited the availability of the collagen used to make gelatin, which in turn had a critical effect on the manufacturing of empty capsules. Indian capsule manufacturers, for example, were forced to cut production of gelatin capsules by 30 to 40 percent.

Today the COVID impact is not yet over and the impact of future outbreaks remains to be seen. Gelatin capsule manufacturers that do not own and control their own gelatin supply chain are likely to continue to struggle to provide their customers with a reliable and safe capsule supply.

HPMC capsules provide an excellent alternative

The on-going gelatin shortage is causing brands in the health care market to reassess their dependence on gelatin. For many the solution is obvious: Switch to HPMC capsules.

If your company is considering making this change, there are some important things that you need to know.

First, these capsules offer some less-than-obvious benefits. HPMC capsules work very well with moisture-sensitive ingredients, such as probiotics, because the low moisture content in the shell doesn’t interfere with active ingredients. They are also more resilient to fluctuations in temperature and humidity during transportation, storage and manufacturing.

Second, HPMC capsules can be a little harder to run than gelatin capsules—and in this area, not all vegetarian capsules are created equal. In fact, the quality differences between empty capsule options can mean the difference between a successful switch-over and a production nightmare.

When assessing capsule quality, be aware that the grades and quality of the raw materials HPMC capsule suppliers use are critical factors, as well as the details of the capsule (pin) design. The adage “you get what you pay for” certainly is true in empty capsule supply. A simple manufacturing trial comparing one brand to another may show significant differences in product throughput and yield, and can highlight where cost savings are more significant.

Thanks to their exceptionally high quality, CapsCanada’s K-CAPS® HPMC capsules are a very popular choice. K-CAPS® are made in the Americas from a custom source of HPMC in a dedicated state-of-the-art manufacturing facility. In terms of capsule design, K-CAPS® are dimensionally optimized for all industry standard filling machines. Their precise capsule-to-tooling fit minimizes defects and waste.

Their excellent separation properties reduce problems with dirty filling equipment, wasted filling materials and increased down time. Their strong domes hold up better than competitors’ capsules when “overstuffed” with filling material. And their extremely consistent quality gives you optimal performance from one batch to the next.

Third, if release rates are important for your product, be sure to consider this as well. The release rates of K-CAPS® are close to that of gelatin. However, this might not be the case with all vegetarian capsules available.

Finally, just like gelatin capsules, K-CAPS® are fully customizable. Size, colors, finish and printing can all be customized to meet your needs. You can even choose a natural pigment such as annatto or spiruline, to make your brand more “natural” and therefore more competitive in the supplement market.

The global gelatin shortage has caused many nutraceutical brands to rethink their reliance on gelatin capsules and move towards HPMC vegetarian capsules instead. K-CAPS® is here to meet that demand with the number one HPMC capsule in the U.S. nutritional products market.

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