Photo/IllutrationThe research team headed by Kota Nakagawa, right, who was in charge of developing the formulation, compiles data after putting trial Visceral Fat Fighter supplements, artificial gastric liquid and water into a machine in Yokohama’s Totsuka Ward on June 28. (Yuka Nishimoto)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Visceral Fat Fighter (Naishi Support), a diet supplement targeted to both men and women, has proved to be a huge hit for natural beauty-care product company Fancl Corp., known for its additive-free cosmetics.

The Yokohama-based firm released the product in 2017, which Fancl says works to improve intestinal health by featuring two kinds of active bifidobacteria.

Bifidobacteria is sometimes used as probiotics, live bacteria in items such as yogurt that benefit health, particularly the digestive system.

The supplement was found to reduce obese people's visceral fat and subcutaneous fat in the company’s clinical trials.

The slimming supplement has been labeled a health food in the category “Foods with Function Claims,” a certification issued by the governmental Consumer Affairs Agency.

Taking preventive measures to fight obesity, which increases the risk to health is a global challenge.

Fancl won the hearts of middle-aged men looking to lose weight and 10,000 packs of the fat burner were sold within the first month it was available on the market. It was an unexpected boon for Fancl, founded as a cosmetics company, which had struggled to attract male customers.

Visceral Fat Fighter originally took in 400 million yen ($3.7 million) in fiscal 2017 when Fancl released it.

But after Fancl ran ads for it featuring a male actor, sales soared to 4.3 billion yen in fiscal 2018, more than double the expected amount.

“Studies of bifidobacteria, which increases short-chain fatty acids that improves the intestinal environment and facilitates fat burning, have progressed further in recent years," said Kota Nakagawa, 45, a member of Fancl’s research center of Foods with Function Claims.

Bifidobacteria has a poor defense against heat and acid. Consuming a lot of it just causes it to mostly die in the stomach.

Based on the company's policy stressing “efficacy in the body,” Nakagawa researched how to allow live bifidobacteria to reach the bowels so it can work there.

“It's meaningless if bifidobacteria doesn’t function in the body,” Nakagawa said.

In a trial using enteric-coated capsules, which don’t melt in the stomach, stomach acid entered the capsules and killed the bifidobacteria. A prior technique where capsules were coated also risked raising the temperature and killing the bacteria.

Nakagawa's breakthrough in figuring out the process came after he was drenched in a downpour while out riding his bicycle. He noticed that the bike’s chain didn't get wet since it was coated with oil. Oil rejects water. A simple truth.

Fancl then patented a pharmaceutical technique to coat bifidobacteria with edible fat and oil, and neutralize stomach acid entering it with calcium.

The supplement costs 3,888 yen, including tax, which covers use for a period of 30 days.

Yoshimi Igarashi, 38, a Fancl marketing division official, said that since bifidobacteria is expensive, the firm considered selling it for close to 5,000 yen.

“But in the 4,000-yen range it would give the impression of being a luxury as we are aiming to keep it affordable,” said Igarashi.

The firm was able to lower the price to under 4,000 yen by squeezing the amount of the bifidobacteria in the supplement's capsules made possible because more of the bacteria reaches the intestines.

Fancl then pitched the product, emphasizing its ability to retain bifidobacteria in the stomach.

Supplements to prevent obesity usually feature images of slim women on the package. But the Visceral Fat Fighter package bears a unisex character colored green, a look that the company hopes will set it apart from cosmetics the firm usually sells aimed at women.

“We hope men won't hesitate to buy it,” said Igarashi.

Fancl, founded in 1980, has two business pillars--non-additive cosmetics and nutritional supplements focusing on “efficacy in the body.”

The firm with 1,018 employees develops products domestically and outside Japan. It had sales of 122.4 billion yen in fiscal 2018.