Brands must ‘do better’ to meet maternal nutrition needs6 Jun 2023
Brands in the health and nutraceutical space must work harder to overcome common challenges and meet the nutritional needs of pregnant and post-natal women, says Caroline Munari, global R&D platform lead for maternal nutrition at Nestlé's specialised nutrition unit.
It is a commonly cited statistic that the first one thousand days of an infant’s life are essential to their development, health, and wellbeing. Yet, where nutrition is concerned, what happens in the preconception and pregnancy stages are equally as influential on infant health as the post-birth period, said Caroline Munari, global R&D platform lead for maternal nutrition at Nestlé's specialised nutrition unit. Nestlé’s maternal nutrition portfolio encompasses a range of brands providing specific supplements for mothers, such as Materna.
The industry is failing to meet maternal nutrition needs
A study conducted this year by the University of Colorado revealed that 90% of parental supplements on the US market fail to provide adequate nutrition for pregnant women and babies. Of the total affordable dietary supplements on offer, only 1% contain appropriate doses of key micronutrients that are needed for pre-pregnancy, the same research found.
To address this imbalance, affordable and convenient products that fill the gap between food-based intake and the estimated requirements of pregnancy, are needed to support pregnant women and their offspring, Munari said speaking at the Vitafoods Europe Conference in Geneva last month.
“As an industry, it is really important to understand this [imbalance]. I think we can do much better to adequately support pregnant women with their nutrition,” she said.
“We need to do better in caring for the health of our women and empowering them to take charge of their body and their health.”
A lack of safety evidence and clinical research for certain health groups is one major challenge the industry currently faces. Increasing investment in the femtech and women’s health sectors, as well as investing in scientific research into maternal and infant nutrition, are two ways the industry can begin to bridge this gap.
Brands must understand changing women’s needs
During pregnancy, the body undergoes a series of major physiological changes ranging from metabolic and hormonal transformations such as increased insulin resistance, to immune system changes such as a higher risk and severity of contracting health conditions and complications. Weight gain, for example, is an essential physiological change that is key in sustaining pregnancy. The recommended body weight gain varies between women based on their pre-conception BMI from five to nine kilograms for obese women, to 12 to 18 kilograms for those considered underweight.
A series of nutrient recommendations for pregnant women currently exist, such as those published by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in 2019, which include increasing the intake of water, calories, and certain vitamins and minerals, throughout the natal period. These recommendations, however, are often misunderstood and are not sufficiently represented by the maternal nutrition products that are on offer today, Munari said.
“We really need to stop the myth that you need to eat for two during pregnancy […] women should consume around 10 to 15% more calories per day than non-pregnant women and no more,” Munari said.
The maternal supplement sector is diversifying
As well as achieving adequate gestational weight gain per the pre-pregnancy BMI categories and adhering to healthy dietary patterns and food safety recommendations, pregnant women also require appropriate and timely nutrient supplementation to meet their nutritional and foetal needs. Supplements that are often required to meet these nutritional needs include iron (27 to 45 mg), omega-3 (at least 200 mg), folic acid (up to 40 mg), vitamin D, and calcium.
To fulfil this demand, an increasing number of brands including traditional established players and new dynamic startups are innovating in the maternal supplement space.
© AdobeStock/Светлана Волынкина
“The industry is moving towards a staged approach,” said Munari. “[A lot of] women focused small players that generally have female founders and are talking to other women and telling them a story are booming now.”
The consumerisation of the category over recent years has also transformed the delivery formats of supplements from traditional pills to more diverse formats such as cereal bars and gummies. Products that score high on purchase intent and credibility, as well as ease of adoption are performing best, according to research conducted recently by Nestlé which indicated signs of pill and tablet fatigue, Munari explained.
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