What are adult nutrition formulas? Types and health goals 

Maastricht, 26th April, 2024

Adult nutrition formulas represent a category of functional food products that is gaining growing popularity these days. Though such powder products were originally designed as meal replacements for weight management, adult nutrition formulas have found new relevance among adults to reach a broad range of health and nutritional goals due to their convenience, versatility, and nutritional value.

adult nutrition formulas

What are adult nutrition formulas?

These products encompass a variety of supplemental foods aimed at providing consumers with a complete and nutritious meal. These formulas typically come in ready-to-drink shakes or plant- or milk-based powders that can easily be solubilised in water or other liquids [1].

While milk-based powders have traditionally dominated the market, plant-based formulas are gaining traction and are expected to gain market share.

Typically, these formulas are fortified with functional ingredients such as vitamins, minerals, fibers, and proteins to address specific consumer health goals, such as weight management, sports performance enhancement, or diabetes control [2]. Due to the popularity of these customisable supplements, new formulas are emerging rapidly.

Even though these products have targeted health aims, many of these formulas offer a comprehensive nutritional profile suitable for any individual seeking a convenient and balanced meal option. The powdered form or the pasteurised shakes grants them an extended shelf life and versatility, making them ideal for on-the-go consumption. A typical example of the latter is breakfast drinks with prebiotic fiber like arabinoxylans which are both healthy and keep you satiated for a couple of hours.

These advantageous properties make adult nutrition formulas suitable for various lifestyles, including those with busy schedules or specific dietary requirements.

Advantageous attributes of adult nutrition formulas

Adult nutrition formulas offer numerous advantages, making them highly appropriate for various lifestyles. Below are additional beneficial attributes of adult nutrition formulas:

  • No need for cold storage: powders and pasteurised shakes are very stable and resistant to spoilage, mould, or other factors affecting shelf life. This eliminates the need for cold storage, enhancing convenience for consumers.
  • High solubility and dispersibility: the products have strong soluble properties, making them highly suitable for mixing with nutrients such as plant extracts and speciality fibers such as arabinoxylans. Their ability to dissolve and disperse easily in liquids ensures a smooth and uniform texture.
  • Low/no sugar content: powders or ready-to-drink shakes often contain little sugar, making them a healthy food choice for the average consumer.
  • Low allergen: many adult nutrition formulas are free of allergens such as gluten, dairy, soy, and nuts. This makes them suitable for individuals with food sensitivities or allergies, broadening their accessibility.
  • All natural: depending on the brand, adult nutrition formulas are crafted with all-natural ingredients, free from artificial additives or preservatives.
  • Nutrient-dense: adult nutrition formulas are packed with essential nutrients per serving, providing a convenient way to meet daily nutritional needs.
  • Tailored health attributes: due to their customizable properties, adult nutrition formulas can be adjusted to any health goal.
  • Carrier for health claims: given the pack size, there is ample space both in the powder and – literally – on the label to use ingredients with health claims.
  • Part of daily ritual: since adult nutrition formulas offer the possibility of a completely nutritious and healthy serving, consumers will be encouraged to include these products in their daily routines and rituals.

Next generation: benefits beyond general nutritional support

The emerging trend of adult nutrition formulas reflects a growing demand for functional nutrition beyond basic dietary needs. While initially designed to address weight management or ‘special medical purposes’ (medical nutrition drinks such as Boost and Ensure), adult nutrition formulas have evolved to incorporate functional ingredients tailored to meet diverse health goals, particularly among middle-aged and older consumers.

Young consumers are also drawn to this part of the functional food market, particularly breakfast drinks, which offer a complete nutrition profile and sustained satiation throughout the morning. The next step in breakfast drinks is to add speciality prebiotic fiber, such as arabinoxylans, which carries a fiber claim, a health claim and contributes to a sense of fullness thanks to its viscous properties. Health-conscious individuals integrate these breakfast drinks into their dietary routines as a mindful choice.

In addition, this on-the-go product can further be enhanced to support workout or endurance sports. For example, breakfast drinks enriched with electrolytes, caffeine, branched-chain amino acids or creatine.

Health benefits of adult nutrition formulas

The formulas are designed to serve various health goals, with formulations tailored to meet specific nutrition needs. The powders were originally designed to replace complete meals. However,  these formulas have evolved to incorporate targeted health benefits, particularly for middle-aged and older consumers. Below, common health benefits including corresponding ingredients are listed:

  • Weight Management: high protein and prebiotic speciality fiber (such as arabinoxylans), variety of vitamins and minerals, and low carbohydrate and sugar content. Weight management formulas have evolved from complete meal replacement products to targeted nutrition for reducing calorie intake or satiation.
  • Immune Support: rich protein content, variety of vitamins and minerals, and speciality fibres (such as beta-glucans and arabinoxylans [3]). Examples of immune-supporting formulas are Ensure Nutrivigor, and the new Actimel Plus in larger multi-serving bottles.
  • General Well-being: various vegetable and fruit extracts, fibres, protein and omega-3 fatty acids. These formulas are ideal for breakfast drinks, such as Weetabix on the go, UP&GO Breakfast Shake, and Naked Juice Core.
  • Sports Enhancement: classical formulas are high in protein and branched-chain amino acids (BCAA). More recent launches combine macronutrients with functional micronutrients such as citrus flavonoids, creatine, or beta-alanine. Examples of such products are ESN Perfect Pre and Shape Code Protein Shake.
  • Diabetes Control: high in soy and whey proteins, fibre (such as arabinoxylans [4]), and MCTs. Product examples are BOOST Glucose Control and FontActiv DiaBest.
  • Bone Health; high calcium, protein, collagen, magnesium, vitamin D, C and zinc. Popular product examples are ANLENE Gold 5X and Nature’s Way BoneHealth.
  • Digestive Health; prebiotic fibres (such as arabinoxylans [5]), probiotics, and omega-3 fatty acids. Examples of consumer products include MegaMucosa or Upfront Prebiotica.

The regulation of adult nutrition formulas

The regulatory status of adult nutrition formulas can vary depending on their intended use and formulation. In general, these products are classified as either foods, dietary supplements, or food for special medical purposes (FSMP), each subject to different regulatory frameworks.

Regulated as foods or supplements?

If the adult nutrition formula is intended to be consumed as a regular part of the diet, and does not make specific claims about treating or preventing diseases, it is typically regulated as a conventional food. In this case, it must comply with food labelling and safety regulations set by the relevant authorities, such as the FDA in the United States, or the EFSA in the European Union.

In the EU, supplements are regulated as foods and must therefore adhere to the food directives set by the EU. In the United States, however, dietary supplements must adhere to regulations set by the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA).

Many Asian countries will consider adult nutrition formulas as food products, which often means that no prior registration is required, but also that no health claims are allowed. This is notably the case in Malaysia, China and Korea.


Regulated as medical foods

Foods for special medical purposes (FSMP) include oral nutritional supplements and enteral tube feeding. The definition of this varies across regions of the world.

In the EU, these foods should adhere to specific legislation and are intended for consumers whose nutritional requirements cannot be met by normal foods. These products require pre-market authorizations before they can be placed on the market. There must be scientific evidence supporting the safety, quality, and efficacy of the product. Interestingly, if such scientific evidence is available, medical claims are allowed, without having to go through the EFSA health claim route.

In the US, medical foods are regulated under the Orphan Drug Act which provides incentives for the development of products for rare diseases or conditions. These products must adhere to specific criteria, requiring that the medical food provides a medically essential nutritional component that cannot be obtained through a normal diet. Moreover, medical foods need to be taken under the supervision of a medical practitioner.

Growing popularity of adult nutrition formulas

The growing popularity of adult nutrition formulas is evidenced by the significant market growth. Initially developed for infants to ensure adequate intake of essential nutrients, these formulas attracted older populations seeking convenient, nutritionally complete meal options [6].

To illustrate, the global adult milk powder market size was $7150.54 million in 2022 and the market is projected to double by 2031, exhibiting a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.09% during the forecast period [7].

Particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, demand is on the rise, attributed to factors such as ageing populations and concerns for bone and muscle health. This is, for example, shown in China, where a declining birth rate has led to increased interest in adult nutrition formulas [8,9].

This emerging trend in adult nutrition formulas holds great promise for the future development of these functional food products. The high demand for nutritious food, that is customisable to consumer needs offers great potential and promising plans for the future. For instance, breakfast beverages fortified with arabinoxylan fibres exemplify this potential.