Encapsulation, which is used for both medications and dietary supplements, is one of the most widely utilized processes by both pharmaceutical and nutraceutical companies worldwide. Two of the most popular types of empty capsules used by both industries are gelatin and HPMC (hydroxypropyl methylcellulose), which is more widely known as “vegetarian capsules.”Today the global demand for empty capsules is skyrocketing. According to the Global Industry Perspective, Comprehensive Analysis, and Forecast, 2018–2025 report, the world market, which was approximately $1.92 billion in 2018, is expected to grow to about $3.16 billion by 2025. This represents a compound annual growth rate of about 7.38%.
Beyond the impressive growth and current value of empty capsules in the human health and welfare industry, there is also a need to understand the characteristics and differences between gelatin capsules and plant-based capsules. Let’s take a look at each of these capsule types…
The long-popular gelatin capsules
Gelatin capsules are composed of gelatin manufactured from collagen derived from pork or bovine sources. Bovine hide is considered to be one of the best choices, as it enables the capsules to be certified Kosher and Halal to meet the religious and dietary needs of a broader range of consumers.
Gelatin capsules are commonly used in the global market. Their most notable features are:
- Most common type of capsule used in the pharmaceutical industry.
- Flexible option that works for a wide range of formulations and applications.
- With the addition of custom flavors, can mask the unpleasant smell and taste of the encapsulated drug.
- Recognized by most of the world's regulatory authorities as “Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS)” for human consumption.
- Do not contain GMOs, are completely natural, and are allergen free.
- Remarkable cost efficiency: the production cost of gelatin capsules is at least 30% lower than other alternatives.
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The increasingly-popular HPMC capsules
The other option we are examining today is HPMC “vegetarian” capsules. As their name indicates, these capsules are manufactured from 100% plant-based materials, including hydroxypropyl methylcellulose. HPMC capsules do not contain animal-derived ingredients; they were developed about 30 years ago during the search for an equally-efficient alternative to hard gelatin capsules. Since their introduction, HPMC capsules have acquired a market share in the global empty capsule industry thanks to their natural origin, an increased demand for vegetarian products, and the capsules’ excellent stability with a variety of API's.
Their most notable characteristics are:
- Provide health-conscious consumers with a natural, 100% vegetable-derived alternative to animal-derived capsules.
- Ideal for individuals with religion-based dietary restrictions.
- Offer the ability to address today's API challenges as well as the requirement for rapid product development.
- Can withstand high temperature and humidity conditions, protecting their content from all kinds of fluctuations; this makes them ideal for hygroscopic formulations.
The key HPMC consumption markets are located in developed countries with a market share above 52%, with North America and Europe having the biggest percentage in the market.
Which is best? Both are excellent choices
Thinking about the consumer has become a widespread mandate. For this reason, many capsule manufacturers have strengthened their product portfolios in both types of capsules. Today the decision to choose one or the other is based on a variety of factors, including the type of material to encapsulate, costs, target audience and supply stability.
Both types of capsules are available in a wide range of sizes, varieties, colors and designs, and can be tailored to meet any demand.
Both gelatin and HPMC capsules are durable if certain conditions are met. The shelf life for gelatin capsules is five years if the capsules are kept at the recommended storage temperature of 59°-77°Fahrenheit / 15°-25°Celsius, with a relative humidity between 35 and 65%. HPMC capsules also have a five-year shelf life, although they can tolerate greater heat and humidity. Here the recommended conditions are more forgiving: storage temperature of 59°-86°Fahrenheit / 15°-30°Celsius with a relative humidity between 35 and 70%.
Over the years, gelatin capsules have been the preferred choice of hundreds of pharmaceutical and nutraceutical industries and are forecasted to remain relatively popular. However, as more consumers are demanding “natural” products, vegetable-based capsules have begun to penetrate leading markets in Western Europe, Canada and the United States.
In addition, from the supply standpoint, gelatin shortages are affecting supply stability. For this reason, modern pharmaceutical manufacturers are beginning to include both options in their portfolios. In general, the healthcare industry knows that the globalized world is demanding twice as many medicines and alternative solutions. Therefore, the demand for a mixed portfolio of HPMC and gelatin is beginning to arise.
When it comes to one of the best gelatin capsules available, G-Caps® offer the extra advantage of being made by a company that owns its entire supply chain. This rare vertical integration is a great added value for pharmaceutical and nutraceutical manufacturers. It ensures the quality and availability of the gelatin and offers long-term and continuous support of the entire supply chain, from sourcing to distribution.
When choosing gelatin capsules it is important to get good quality gelatin from certified sources and traceable suppliers, especially with a pandemic, natural disasters and other issues affecting the global market. G-Caps meets this need.
When HPMC capsules are sought, K-CAPS® have formidable advantages that go beyond their vegetable origin. K-CAPS are free of preservatives, allergens and starches, and are NonGMO, Kosher and Halal certified. As a result they provide health-conscious consumers with a natural alternative to animal-derived capsules.
At the end of the day, when it comes to choosing one or the other, the final decision depends on the needs of each company. Fortunately, the market has evolved and is ready to satisfy industry and consumer needs with hundreds of products endorsed worldwide and a portfolio that is more robust than ever.