While there's generally a lot of commentary about nutraceutical products and the need for more clinical trials, quantitative evidence and strong science, one nutraceutical segment poised at the entrance to mainstream America is antioxidants. Led by beta-carotene and vitamins C and E, antioxidants are becoming the rage in the general population and the potential remains huge.
With mainstream food companies such as Heinz, Lipton and Campbell's jumping on the promotion bandwagon (see advertising examples above and below), awareness will only grow; with these established food companies touting the benefits of and science behind antioxidant ingredients, acceptance should come along with it.
There are dangers, of course. Many ingredients can claim antioxidant properties and the market could become oversaturated with too many products touting benefits and lessening the effectiveness of the word. And there's still more work to be done on synergistic effects, supplement blends and consumer education. Nevertheless, the future looks bright.
Defining The Market
Basically, antioxidants fall into several categories-vitamins, minerals, herbs and phytochemicals. Antioxidants have been around a long time, introduced initially by Hoffmann La Roche, Basel, Switzerland. According to Lynda Doyle, Senior Marketing Manager for the Pharmaceutical Unit of subsidiary Roche Vitamins Inc., Parsippany, NJ, "The term 'antioxidant' was popularized by Roche many years ago to describe the emerging science of the similar functions of Vitamins E and C and the pro-vitamin beta-carotene. Now the term is used more generally and includes phytochemicals, herbals, minerals and other products, for example lycopene, pycnogenol, green tea, selenium and others."
Now that the term has become more mainstream, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is working to develop an official definition. A proposed definition from the Food Nutrition Board, which is part of the Academy of Science under the Institute of Medicine, is currently under discussion. The proposal is: "A dietary antioxidant is a substance in foods that significantly decreases the adverse effects of reactive oxygen species, reactive nitrogen species, or both, on normal physiological function in humans."
Although the official definition has not yet been established-and there is what one executive described as "a huge gap" between what antioxidants are and what the government says they are-category growth continues.
George Blasiola, general manager, Whole Herb Company, Sonoma, CA-which sells antioxidant extracts such as green tea and grape seed extract-commented, "People have heard the word 'antioxidant' for years, but now there's a lot more marketing going on and people are beginning to realize 'it's really important for my health to take antioxidants.' The medical community is also starting to catch up with science and when consumers see these experts talking about this in the media, they really start to pay attention."
The antioxidant movement has also been helped by the cosmetics industry, which has been adding antioxidants to its products since the 1980's. Vitamins C and E and various botanical extracts in particular have been popular as skin care products and many women recognize damage caused by the sun or environmental toxins can be prevented with cosmetics. "Anti-aging is the main concern now," said Gene Berube, Vice President-Sales at Bio-Botanica, Hauppauge, NY, which supplies antioxidant extracts to the cosmetics and nutraceuticals industries. "That's why cosmetics with antioxidants have done so well. Look at the demographics; baby boomers have disposable income and they have the knowledge about and willingness to try botanicals."
According to Roche's Ms. Doyle, in a recent Gallup survey, 73% of all adults are aware of Vitamin E. "While ten years ago E was thought of as one of the least important vitamins, the cosmetics industry had popularized it in skin care. Its cosmetic use combined with its antioxidant potential has substantially increased awareness in recent years" she said. In the same survey, there was a 65% rate of awareness for beta-carotene and 57% of adults cited cold/flu as the reason for taking Vitamin C.
Pharmaceutical companies are helping too. According to David Bercher, product manager, Schweizerhall, Parsippany, NJ, a supplier of antioxidant herbal extracts, "Antioxidants has been a buzzword for about a year now and this will continue. I think consumers are very aware because of things like 'Centrum with Antioxidants.'"
Paul Altaffer, President of herbal extract supplier Nat-Trop, Oakland, CA, took it a step further. "Ten years ago, average consumers didn't know why they took vitamin E; today they know it's an antioxidant and they have an idea that it helps the immune system and wards off stress. We still have a great deal more to do in the mass market in terms of understanding, but it's one of the biggest nutritional areas."
Matthew Humphrey, Marketing Director at Draco Natural Products, San Jose, CA-which makes full spectrum standardized extracts-concurred, also noting the need for more education. "While there's a lot of awareness out there, still more needs to be built. People know about C, E and beta-carotene, although they're probably not aware of how they work. Education is out there about vitamins as antioxidants, but we need to explain more about what they do. That would pull other products along in the acceptance curve."
Education is also a concentration at B&D Nutritionals, Carlsbad, CA, which represents a select group of manufacturers in the antioxidant area. According to President Bill Van Dyke, "At the consumer level, they're very aware of vitamin E, but there's a lack of education about the difference between natural vitamin E and synthetic vitamin E. One of our goals for 1999 is the continued education of customers. Those who go to health food stores are very knowledgeable, but we still have more to do with the mass market consumer."
Rating consumer awareness as fair to poor was Dan Wright, Product Manager-Fat Soluble Vitamins at BASF, Mount Olive, NJ, which manufactures C, E and beta-carotene. Mr. Wright stated that awareness is improving but there's a lot more to do. "This needs to be a joint effort between suppliers and manufacturers and," he added, "we must also do a better job of educating physicians so they will communicate this to patients." BASF has set up "Team Antioxidant," a public relations program to the consumer about the benefits of antioxidants.
Also touting consumer education was Ken Fox, Director of Marketing Worldwide, Henkel Nutrition and Health Group, La Grange, IL, which supplies Pycnogenol pine bark extract and "Xangold" lutein esters. "In terms of consumer awareness, Henkel conducts national focus groups to make sure we keep abreast of current trends and beliefs and has found that a majority of health enthusiasts equate the word antioxidant with all that is good. However, few can accurately define what it is or what it does. In fact, consumers put great faith in media reports for information that influences their purchasing decisions. Surveys show physicians are learning about natural products from their patients-not vice versa. The word antioxidant is nearly a household word now and we all need to work harder at educating consumers about the meaning behind the word."
William Seroy, President, InterHealth, Concord, CA-which manufactures "Activin" grape seed extract and "OptiZinc" zinc methionine-talked specifically about botanical antioxidants. "A lot of end product manufacturers have been promoting antioxidants in formulas, although these are primarily antioxidant vitamins. Antioxidants derived from botanical extracts are definitely growing; these are powerful ingredients and there's ample research to show the antioxidant capabilities of these products." The key, he said, is making consumers understand "antioxidants are a health insurance policy. You don't get the immediate results but you get the long term benefits."
But where do you draw the line between consumer awareness and overkill? According to Ram Chaudhari, Senior Executive Vice President at Fortitech, Schenectady, NY, a supplier of antioxidant blends, "The consumer has been bombarded with lots of claims and now the information is there but there's a lot of confusion."
Rick Kaiser, Vice President-Sales, Nutrition 21, San Diego, CA, added, "The danger today is that because so many products have antioxidant properties, consumers will have too many choices and the word will end up losing its meaning. The lay press needs to address the issue; if everything claims to be an antioxidant, which are the most critical? Also, the industry needs to police itself and not label everything as an antioxidant." Nutrition 21 supplies antioxidant minerals such as selenium.
Anthony Worth, Vice President-Product Development at MW International, Hillside, NJ, a manufacturer of herbal extracts, summed up the evolution of antioxidant awareness. "Before DSHEA, antioxidants were a magical mystical thing. Now we understand their importance in terms of longevity and prevention of cell destruction. However, a normal balance in the body needs to exist. Our understanding has been about antioxidants in general; now we are beginning to understand the quantified range that is optimal for human health. You can take too much or too little," he said. "We are trying to develop dose-specific value on quantities to give to consumers...But products are still coming out." MW recently introduced "CMED" cat's claw extract with antioxidant properties.
All For One And One For All?
As more and more products are discovered to have antioxidant properties and scientific proof builds about ingredients' synergistic effects in the body, the consensus seems to be that antioxidant blends will be the way to go. Yet competition between different types of antioxidants remains an issue. "I believe the future will be blends rather than single antioxidants," said Diane Fremont, Product Manager-Specialty Chemicals, Lycored, New York, NY, which supplies lycopene extract. "This could be antioxidants blended with other antioxidants or with other ingredients." Her reasoning: "Generally, people are advised to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables to have a healthy diet. If people are not doing this and are hoping to supplement to balance the diet, it makes sense for them to have a variety of ingredients that most mimic what nature can provide."
"Balance is the key," agreed MW's Mr. Worth. "There is a much bigger trend towards balance and formulas with more data-supported science for a specific combination of ingredients. There will be more of an emphasis on putting together a specific product, testing it, quantifying it and then publishing about the product. You're definitely going to see more proprietary formulas."
"Think of an orchestra," said Henkel's Mr. Fox. "Antioxidants work together as part of a team. Each supplement plays an important part and together there's harmony. The major antioxidants, vitamin E, C, alpha-lipoic acid and pycnogenol, function as an antioxidant network and studies show that the health benefits are derived from the synergy among the antioxidants. A perfect example of this is with the carotenoids. We've learned that natural mixed carotenoids provide benefits not found in synthetic beta-carotene because they work as a unit, not individually."
Ms. Doyle agreed. "Not all antioxidants are created equal and therefore have different potentials. Many antioxidants work synergistically; for example, vitamin E and beta-carotene work well together and vitamin C regenerates vitamin E. Different antioxidants have different functions. Vitamin E can inhibit LDL oxidation, beta-carotene quenches singlet oxygen and Vitamin C improves endothelial function." Recent concentrations at Roche have been Vitamin E "75HP," a more concentrated vitamin E powder to allow for higher doses of vitamin E in multivitamin formulations without increasing the tablet size and a focus on new carotenoids.
Of course the consumer will ultimately drive the industry of the future. "The problem," said Todd McBride, Brand Manager at Hauser, Boulder, CO, "is that there are so many different supplements and so many pills that mainstream consumers are going to start looking for blends. I think the "One-A-Day" tack is the way to go." Hauser is currently concentrating on "RoseOx" rosemary extract in the antioxidant category.
The formulation route will also become more sophisticated as consumers become more educated. According to BASF's Mr. Wright, "As we learn more about how different antioxidants work, blends-in terms of both a potent antioxidant formula or, for example, combined with ginkgo for an Alzheimer's indication-just make sense."
Mr. Altaffer of Nat-Trop offered another example. "We will eventually be able to target specific oxidative stress such as serious cold, serious altitude or dealing with serious stress; companies are taking a look at ingredients specifically formulated to combat these types of problems."
David Wilson, President and CEO of herbal extract supplier Folexco, Montgomeryville, PA, predicted, "Within ten years, you'll see programs for testing individual antioxidant status. It will be very precise and you'll then be able to fortify according to the areas in which you're weak."
Although working together is an ideal situation, competitive issues remain. Analyzing the competitive atmosphere, Nutrition 21's Mr. Kaiser said, "The industry is not working together right now. We should see vitamin E and selenium people getting together and seeing how the products can work synergistically. I don't see that going on and I'm afraid it will become a garbage category and lose its meaning. We have to get the message out and be careful that this does not become a meaningless word."
Competition also comes from geography. Schweizerhall's Mr. Bercher commented, "Right now there's a lot of competition and prices are falling as lower priced imports come into the market. The question is how to maintain your pricing in this type of market."
Good competition should mean good ethics, although unfortunately that's not always the case, either. "There are some supplements out there that have no value in living systems because there are so many ingredients in it that aren't balanced and they're competing with each other rather than working in combination," said MW's Mr. Worth. "They can't be taken up by the body and there's actually a danger that they may start an oxidative reaction. There's also the question of whether all extracts work the same; there's dozens of suppliers out there. Just because we say green tea extract is good for you, that doesn't mean all green tea extracts are made to the same quality standards."
The Food Connection
In addition to supplement blends, adding ingredients to mainstream foods is another category where antioxidants have gained substantially compared to other nutraceuticals. But taste and processability issues remain.
"I believe in the future you will see companies adding antioxidants to food," said Whole Herb's Mr. Blasiola. "In today's world, the natural antioxidants in food are not enough. They could be adulterated in processing, there's more pollution, pesticides, etc., and people need to do more to protect their body." In addition, he said, "today people eat out too much and the 'Jack-In-The-Box' burger combo meal is not going to give them the antioxidants they need."
Nat-Trop's Mr. Altaffer said, "Manufacturers are already adding antioxidants to food but no one is bothering to quantify it as yet; the trend will become more prevalent as more food companies enter research on functional food products.
Because of the availability and quality of antioxidant research and the safety of the products, antioxidants are likely candidates to be introduced into significant mainstream food products." One issue in antioxidant suppliers' favor in the food industry is the processing attributes that antioxidants can provide . According to Jeffrey Wuagneux, Partner, RFI Ingredients, Blauvelt, NY, "Antioxidants have gained popularity in the food industry in the past year or two replacing synthetic chemicals from a functional point of view. They help keep foods fresh longer and help them taste better. While consumers are looking at the health benefits, food manufacturers are also looking at the functionality of the ingredients." RFI supplies water soluble rosemary extract as an antioxidant to the food industry.
From the health perspective, "You'll see fortification where it makes sense," said Hauser's Mr. McBride, "such as orange juice fortified with extra vitamins. You won't see orange juice with rosemary. Taste remains the key."
Because of the taste issue, antioxidants have had more success in beverages thus far. "Beverage manufacturers have more leeway because they can add sugars to mask the taste," commented Mr. McBride.
Bio-Botanica's Mr. Berube concurred. "Beverages are the main route," he said. "You can get a reasonable level of antioxidants in an eight ounce beverage."
RFI's Mr. Wuagneux said in summary, "There's tremendous research going on regarding antioxidants in food applications. It's not there yet from a commercial point of view, but the groundswell is huge. In the food industry 15 years ago, no one thought companies would add vitamins to foods; today everything from children's cereals to juices are fortified with vitamins. People are saying the same thing about nutraceuticals today, but it's going to happen."
Photo Credits: Lipton, Heinz