Herbs & Botanicals in Japan: An Update
Herbs and botanicals continue to figure very prominently in many market sectors.
By Ron Bailey
The “Annual Herbs & Botanicals Update” issue of Nutraceuticals World is an opportunity to compare the previous year’s market projections in Japan to the reality “on the ground” one year later. This year is no exception, with several changes in market focus, including Japanese government action (and inaction) refocusing market direction.
Regulatory Activity Update
The actual regulations governing herbal and botanical products in Japan have not changed significantly in the past year. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW) has been quite active, however, in redirecting the priorities in several key areas. The regulations apply more broadly to all foods, beverages and dietary supplements, but include the herbal and botanical ingredients and product markets of interest in this summary.
Anti-fatigue/Anti-stress FOSHU (Foods for Specified Health Use): Last year there were strong indications that the MHLW would delay the approval of a formal anti-fatigue/anti-stress FOSHU health claims category. That delay did happen, and at the present time it is not clear when—or even if—the MHLW will authorize proceeding with the new claims. While this new category is not specifically focused on herbs and botanicals, several of the “functional ingredients” for which scientific support was being developed were plant-based—including astaxanthin derived from microalgae, soy peptide, green tea theanine, plant-sourced GABA (gamma-amino butyric acid), and ginseng—and have been mentioned as probable candidates.
Companies actively involved in the process indicate that, even though the biomarkers have been developed and the scientific support for the ingredients and health claims have been established, the MHLW is still not comfortable moving ahead with its final approval of the change. Products using the ingredients are being widely sold in Japan, but without the on-label health claims and without the formal FOSHU logo confirming MHLW acceptance of the products.
Metabolic Syndrome Ingredients and Products: The MHLW has decided that the emphasis on prevention of metabolic syndrome risk factors needs to be adjusted and possibly formalized in the FOSHU regulations. A leading FOSHU clinical study support company in Japan has issued a publication entitled “The Possibility of Anti-Metabolic FOSHU.” A reprint was on display at the recent ifia Japan 2008 international food ingredients and additives show.
Most important, MHLW has officially redirected some of the disease focus of metabolic syndrome away from diabetes—the original primary target—toward heart disease and stroke. The logic is partly related to the fact that heart disease and stroke are more often considered “work-ending” events in Japan, whereas more people with diabetes are still able to work regularly. In a country with a declining and aging population, these types of demographic distinctions are very important in terms of being able to provide adequate long-term healthcare financing.
Just as in the case of the potential anti-fatigue FOSHU category, a metabolic syndrome FOSHU category would be open to herbs and botanicals, although again not exclusively. Since there are already many plant-based functional ingredients in approved FOSHU products for at least one of the five metabolic syndrome risk factors—overweight/ waist size, blood sugar, blood triglycerides, blood pressure and total/HDL cholesterol—it’s not yet clear if new clinical studies will be required to allow a label claim for metabolic syndrome risk prevention. In fact, at the ifia Japan 2008 show there were actually fewer mentions of “metabolic syndrome” in the English-language exhibitor abstracts in comparison with last year. This most likely reflects the current industry uncertainty related to the new MHLW positioning of metabolic syndrome in Japan.
Health Food Market Update
It is possible to determine overall market trends (qualitative, not quantitative) in the Japanese health food market for herbs and botanicals by monitoring the activities of the Japan Health Food Authorization (JHFA) organization. The JHFA system is a voluntary industry-based approach to help enhance the public image of popular health foods in Japan. The system includes health food ingredient monographs and the option to display a JHFA Mark on the label. The category of “herbs/plants” with monographs—not including algae, mushrooms and plant oils as separate categories—includes 20 different herb/plant ingredients, led by ginseng and green barley. This suggests a very active herb and botanicals supplement market in Japan, at least historically. The ongoing problem for JHFA, however, is the fact that less than 600 of the many thousands of health foods on the market in Japan have chosen to use—and pay for using—the JHFA Mark on their products. One value of the JHFA monographs, however, is to be able to confirm the level of science expected to responsibly market health food ingredients and products in Japan, even if the JHFA mark is not used.
Food & Beverage Ingredient Update
The ifia Japan show is an annual event held in Tokyo, usually in mid to late May. The show provides companies with an opportunity to introduce new ingredients and also new science on “old” ingredients.
The following are some examples of new and/or expanded herb and botanical ingredient technologies from this year’s show:
• Yamaha Motors Astaxanthin. Yamaha is leading the way in presenting new science for its domestic microalgae-derived astaxanthin. In fact, it has developed anti-fatigue clinical data and expects to begin marketing astaxanthin overseas in the next couple of years.
• Cheil Jedang and Oryza Oil & Fats Rice Protein. This new “hypoallergenic rice protein” is the result of a joint marketing effort between Korean Cheil Jedang and domestic Orya Oil & Fats.
• Eisai Food & Chemical Water-Dispersible Phytosterol. This new ingredient is targeted at the growing market for cholesterol-lowering phytosterols, but with a claimed difference in suitability for water-based beverage applications.
• Kaneka Licorice Extract. The Kaneka “Glavonoid” licorice extract is targeted specifically at problematic visceral fat, which is related to one of the metabolic syndrome risk factors. The ingredient has been introduced in dietary supplements in Japan and very recently on a limited non-exclusive basis in the U.S.
• It’s a Small Planet Lo Han Guo. This fruit-based sweetener (“Rakanka” in Japanese) is being introduced more broadly to the Japanese market, in competition with the popular stevia natural sweetener. The fruit is sourced from China.
• Maruei Trading “Cili” (Rosa rixburghii). This is another Chinese fruit source, this time claiming a high natural vitamin C content (well beyond popular acerola).
For most of these ingredients there were brief Japanese-language presentations during the show (conveniently on the show floor in most instances). The ifia Japan 2008 Show Guide ingredient category summaries included herbs/herb extracts, mushrooms, waterweed/seaweed, beauty (pomegranate was featured) and diet (gymnema, capsaicin, garcinia and salacia were featured). Herbs and botanicals featured prominently in all of these categories and remain an important factor in the Japanese market.NW