One way to do that, of course, has been to use the on-hold claims. Legally, they can be used, provided certain requirements are met, but they remain in regulatory limbo, and food business operators wishing to use them are on legally thin ice.
A growing number of EU Member States are working on building national rules regarding botanicals, among them jointly Belgium, France, and Italy (the BELFRIT list). Italy even has its own list of botanicals and authorized health claims. This development is not generally regarded as a good thing though, since it directly opposes the regulatory harmonization efforts in Europe. On the other hand, the Italian botanical market is one of the most prosperous in the EU—worth just under € 1 billion (May 2015 to May 2016)—while innovation is stagnating in other markets.
However, there have been new developments on other fronts as well. Innovation in botanical supplements (and herbal medicines) may have stalled, but botanicals are not only used in dietary supplements.
Tea Leads in Wellness
The food sector has other options besides health claims, and the biggest category using botanicals is, obviously, the tea sector. Wellness teas are currently driving the botanical beverage growth as a whole, bolstered by consumer awareness. Euromonitor recently published new figures showing that fruit and herbal teas could boast sales of € 1.6 billion in Western Europe in 2016 (€ 591 million in Eastern Europe).
Herbal teas and fruit teas are widely viewed as healthy drinks, contrasted against soft drinks that are considered the culprits of the worldwide obesity epidemic. This latent consumer demand has led to the development of specialist teas and to the emergence of wellness claims and ingredients that had no place in the tea sector until recently.
Several brands are riding this wave, such as Yogi and Pukka. They are among the pioneers that are incorporating new botanicals into their recipes and creating new claims such as “wake up” or “rise and shine tea.” In this way, they are also creating new niches away from the Nutrition and Health Claim Regulation. In European markets such as Poland and Turkey, wellness teas are also growing in sales.
Among ingredients, turmeric is one of the stars, as it has only recently entered mainstream tea recipes. A popular ingredient in other categories such as dietary supplements, turmeric is a newcomer that has gone from zero to “through the roof” within two years.
Other Applications & Developments
But tea is not the only category in which botanicals can thrive. Another is superfood powders, increasingly endorsed by celebrities on social media, which again circumvents the regulatory framework.
Spirulina is an example in this category. Driven by consumer demand for specific spirulinas, there is now a choice of powders of various origins, such as New Zealand, South America, or China, with healthy sales for all of them, mostly due to celebrity endorsements.
Meanwhile, however, research in botanicals is still going on. Old favorites such as fennel, soy bean, and ginger have seen new papers published. The latter is currently being investigated for possible applications in allergic dermatitis or eczema, due to its shogaol content. Shoagols are a dehydrated form of the more commonly known gingerols and are mainly present in dried roots.
Soybean has had its anti-neuroinflammatory properties investigated in a recent study conducted in Korea, while fennel extracts are being investigated for possible preventive treatment of diabetic complications.
All in all, botanicals are known to consumers as a natural and bioavailable source of nutrition. However, they are more of a challenge for manufacturers due to their tendency to degrade, especially in multi-component formulations.
Vitamin/mineral products, long-established in the market, are still experiencing a boost from ingredients derived entirely from plants. The minerals derived from botanical sources are usually bound to organic compounds though, which poses a stability problem as well as the fact that the percentage of mineral contained in these compounds is lower than in inorganic compounds.
Encapsulation of the delicate compounds is one answer to these challenges. The advent of nanotechnology has even brought about the possibility of nano-coating the active components. This, however, is a balancing act with the “natural” image of botanicals and must be considered carefully.
Meanwhile, food business operators using botanical food products can still navigate within the grey area of the on-hold claims. In case of uncertainty, collaboration with experienced consultancies such as analyze & realize GmbH is advised.
analyze & realize ag
Dr. Joerg Gruenwald is co-founder of analyze & realize GmbH, a specialized business consulting company and CRO in the fields of nutraceuticals, dietary supplements, herbals and functional food, and author of the PDR for Herbal Medicines. He can be reached at analyze & realize GmbH, Waldseeweg 6, 13467 Berlin, Germany; +49-30-40008100; E-mail: email@example.com; Website: www.analyze-realize.com