Consumers get it. Demand for antioxidants continues to rise despite the tough spending decisions most people had to make during the Great Recession. According to Food Marketing Institute’s 2011 “Shopping for Health” survey, antioxidants are among the top five health components that U.S. consumers want in their food products. “Mintel also reported that new product launches in the category of antioxidants (food and food supplements) increased by about 10% between 2010 and 2011,” said Thomas Ughetto, business manager for Naturex, Avignon, France.
In 2010, HealthFocus reported the following were top health issues for Americans: mental sharpness (65%), heart health (62%), cancer (61%), vision problems (57%), arthritis (53%), appearance/skin (51%) and joint heath (51%).
These are of special concern, of course, to the rapidly growing Baby Boomer generation. Not only are they huge in number, Boomers have more disposable income than any previous generation and are committed to staying active—which means they are likely to consider antioxidants for fighting off premature aging, inflammatory conditions like arthritis and brain-related disorders.
Today’s consumers—both Boomers and younger—are more discriminating and increasingly seek results-oriented research to back up the products they buy. They want to understand how antioxidants help their well-being, especially specific health conditions.
“Ingredients with a long history of use, standardized to active markers and which are potent at low doses, are in high demand,” said Blake Ebersole, technical director for Verdure Sciences, Noblesville, IN. “Add human data that support various health applications and you have the key features that consumers look for in antioxidants.”
“More consumers want to see scientific results,” noted Hartley Pond, vice president of technical sales for VDF/FutureCeuticals, Momence, IL. “It’s one thing to bring a new product to the market with a very high ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) score in a test tube, and another to evaluate that product in human acute and clinical trials that point to both the bioavailability and specific bio-activity with regard to inflammation or other health conditions. As a result, mainstream berries, vegetables, teas and spices with decades of studies at the university level have maintained and grown their consumer trust and market share.”
Educated consumers also want to know the sources of their antioxidants—natural or synthetic, extract or whole food, organic or non-organic farming practices.
“People are increasingly interested in obtaining antioxidants from whole-food servings of fruits and vegetables that are minimally processed, such as freeze-dried berries and broccoli, kale and spinach,” Mr. Pond added. “A key reason is the consumer’s inherent trust in the wisdom of nature, that whole fruits and vegetables provide a broad spectrum of antioxidants in their natural matrix of carbohydrates, proteins and fiber. They like that whole-food servings of fruits and vegetables can be delivered in powdered beverage applications, ready-to-drink products and nutritional bars.”
Antioxidants are also being incorporated into eye, skin and joint health products, especially eye and lip creams, because of their skin rejuvenation/protection properties. “As evidence linking antioxidants to skin health becomes more prominent, manufacturers are incorporating these agents into cosmetics as well,” said Nithya Hariharan, marketing analyst for DSM Nutritional Products North America, Parsippany, NJ. “This is especially critical for women living busier lifestyles, as it increases efficiency and ease.”
Another growing trend is the introduction of organic antioxidants. Relatively few antioxidant ingredients have been able to claim organic status; for instance, most green tea extracts are made with solvents that prevent organic designation. This is starting to change, however. For example, RFI Ingredients, Blauvelt, NY, a manufacturer of natural ingredients, now provides several organic antioxidant products, including apple polyphenols extract, green and white teas, acerola cherry, yerba mate (polyphenols) and blueberry, pomegranate and black currant extracts. “It is now possible to make 100% USDA organic antioxidant blends,” said Trisha Devine, vice president of sales for RFI.
Health-conscious consumers are reluctant to eat foods preserved with chemicals; as a result, more food manufacturers are turning to antioxidants as natural preservatives for their products. For example, rosemary extracts are natural antioxidants that also extend shelf-life of foods and beverages. “Antioxidant ingredients such as rosemary, ascorbic acid, tocopherols and others act in the food matrix to delay rancidity of oils, increasing shelf-life both in the store and at home,” stated Paula Nurnberger, marketing manager for P.L. Thomas, Morristown, NJ. “They can also eliminate odor and bitterness.”
There is also increasing attention toward using antioxidants in the field of dental medicine. “Antioxidants that support oral health are gaining much more serious awareness, both by consumers and the dental health practitioner community,” said Mitch Skop, senior director of new product development, Pharmachem Laboratories, Kearny, NJ. For example, research at Baylor College of Dentistry has demonstrated topical antioxidant remedies reduce free radical or reactive-oxygen species, a main cause of inflammation in the progression of gingival and periodontal diseases.
Blueberries, cranberries and strawberries continue to play a dominant role in the antioxidant market. “Their phytochemicals continue to be investigated for health benefits in the prevention of a range of diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, urinary tract infection and even to slow the aging process, including memory loss,” said Thomas Payne, industry specialist for the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, Folsom, CA. “Blueberries, for example, are low in calories and are a rich source of vitamin C, potassium and fiber.”
Berries also stand out in the antioxidant market because of their strong marketing campaigns, indicated DSM’s Ms. Hariharan—including the tag of “superfruits.”
“The industry realizes consumers are relating berries directly to their antioxidative properties and are marketing accordingly to keep them top of mind,” she said. “While acai berries have become more common in the past few years, varieties such as goji, coffeeberry and maqui are showing up in antioxidant formulas as well.”
Another strong performer is Pycnogenol, a natural plant extract derived from the bark of the maritime pine tree that grows exclusively along the coast of southwest France. It is now an ingredient in more than 700 health-related products—largely because its health benefits have been demonstrated in many peer-reviewed clinical trials. “We have seen solid evidence in specific conditions where the antioxidant activity of Pycnogenol is the supporting factor for skin health, joint health, vascular health, eye health and many other conditions,” commented Frank Schonlau, scientific director for Horphag Research (USA) in Hoboken, NJ.
More consumers are also becoming aware of the high concentrations of antioxidants in algae, which concentrate nutrients at higher levels than land plants. Even though carrots are among the highest traditional food sources for beta-carotene, algae provide more than 10 times more beta-carotene per ounce. Field studies show that other vitamins and minerals are similarly 100-300% denser in algae than farmed crops.
“The fibrous components of algae add bulk to the digestive tract, reducing hunger cravings, transit time and intestinal pathologies,” added Mark Edwards, vice president of corporate development and marketing for Algae Biosciences Corporation, Scottsdale, AZ. “Algae’s tiny cell size significantly enhances bioavailability, or absorption by the body. Although very low in fat, algae are an excellent source of the essential polyunsaturated fatty acids.”
Astaxanthin is also gaining traction. This potent biological antioxidant is closely related to other carotenoids such as beta-carotene, zeaxanthin and lutein. Research over the last decade has shown that astaxanthin’s tremendous capacity to fight oxidative damage, combined with its ability to span the bi-layer of a cell’s membrane, is the key mechanism in the reduction of inflammation—a main cause of aging and many degenerative conditions.
Muscadine grape is another rising star among antioxidants. This berry-like fruit is native to the U.S. and contains resveratrol, which fights inflammation and supports the immune system. “It also has high levels of other naturally occurring, health-supporting constituents such as ellagic acid (a polyphenol antioxidant), anthocyanins and flavonoids,” indicated Ellen Kamhi, herbalist/nutritionist for Bio-Botanica, Hauppauge, NY.
Hydroxytyrosol, a phytonutrient with strong antioxidant properties, is an olive-leaf extract that has been shown to decrease risk of cardiovascular disease by preventing low-density lipoprotein oxidation. “It has been standardized to meet the specifications of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) (April 2011), which approved claims for protection of low-density lipoproteins (LDL) from oxidative damage and maintenance of normal blood high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels,” said Catherine Lecareux, communications manager for Nexira in Rouen, France.
Research from University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) on curcumin (tumeric) has confirmed the compound’s antioxidant properties. Standard curcumin does not achieve blood levels acceptable for therapeutic use; however, over the last decade neuroscientists at the UCLA Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, led by Dr. Sally Frautschy and Dr. Greg Cole, have developed a form of bioavailable curcumin—branded as Longvida and manufactured by Verdure Sciences. “This optimized curcumin,” they wrote, “reaches therapeutic blood and organ levels, and reverses the biochemical and behavioral endpoints of Alzheimer’s disease in preclinical models. Curcumin’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties are mainly responsible for these therapeutic effects.”
“Ingredients that are well known but not typically recognized as antioxidants, and which may have tangible functions, such as brain-specific antioxidants like Longvida curcumin, are what markets desire,” added Verdure’s Mr. Ebersole. “Exciting new twists on what antioxidants can do, including reducing tau and amyloid susceptibility, are the focus of biomedical science and technology that breaks new ground every day.”
Compared to their “superfood” and “superberry” counterparts, sales of vitamin antioxidants aren’t as robust. Key influences are some negative studies that have appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). An article published in October 2011 reported the antioxidant supplement vitamin E appears to increase the risk of prostate cancer. “JAMA also reported in 2007 that a meta-analysis of 68 randomized trials involving adults comparing beta-carotene, vitamin A, vitamin C (ascorbic acid), vitamin E and selenium concluded that treatment with beta-carotene, vitamin A and vitamin E may increase mortality and the potential roles of vitamin C and selenium on mortality need further study,” indicated RFI Ingredients’ Ms. Devine.
Increasingly, consumers are looking for condition-specific antioxidant products that are supported by clinical data. A general claim of a high ORAC or polyphenol value is not enough to sustain a product. Consumers want to know how an antioxidant functions in vivo, especially for specific health conditions.
“For instance, an antioxidant or blend of antioxidants, such as cruciferous sprouts, that targets a specific enzyme such as PON 1 with a known inverse correlation to oxidized LDL, is highly intriguing to consumers concerned with inflammation and heart health,” said VDF/FutureCeuticals’ Mr. Pond. “The demand for condition-related research of antioxidants will continue to grow moving forward.”
With expanded understanding of different mechanisms of action and specific radicals that various antioxidants can quench, it becomes easier to market antioxidants for specific conditions, RFI Ingredients’ Ms. Devine offered. “Green coffee bean extract, for example, contains the antioxidants chlorogenic acid and caffeic acid. Both of the compounds, as well as green coffee bean extracts, have been shown in clinical studies and animal studies to reduce body mass and reduce glucose absorption. Recent clinical studies have shown that apple polyphenols can reduce visceral fat, which is very important for weight management formulas because individuals with visceral fat are at risk for other health conditions.”
Another condition-specific example is manganese—this “super mineral” works as an antioxidant that helps the body carry out important functions such as bone development, production of energy, utilization of food (especially proteins), glucose metabolism and synthesis of cholesterol and fatty acids.
“Research is showing manganese also helps in the production of such vital hormones as insulin,” stated Iman Navab, director of operations for Dynamise Botanicals, Concord, Ontario, Canada. “When you eat a lot of simple carbohydrates the pancreas has to work overtime to make enough insulin to get the sugar out of your blood and into your cells. Manganese is not found in refined carbohydrates.”
Superoxide dismutase (SOD), another antioxidant, was recently tested on athletes that required both power and endurance. A double-blinded study, published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, included 19 members of the Polish national rowing team. After supplementation with GliSODin, SOD activity was significantly higher (p=.0037) in the supplemented group at all measurement times; post-exercise C-reactive protein was significantly lower (p=.00001) in athletes who received SOD compared to those in the placebo group. “In conclusion, supplementation with an extract rich in SOD activity promoted antioxidant status and protected against increased inflammation in the serum of professional rowers,” said P.L. Thomas’ Ms. Nurnberger.
The ORAC Issue
ORAC is a laboratory analysis that indicates the intensity of antioxidant activity against various free radicals, such as the peroxyl radical, one of the most common reactive oxygen species (ROS) that damages cell membranes in the body. “ORAC measures the ability of substances to neutralize this free radical,” said Bio-Botanica’s Ms. Kamhi. “The more free radicals a nutrient or product can neutralize, the higher the ORAC score for that product.”
Even though the standard was developed by the National Institute on Aging and the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, ORAC is loosely interpreted and hard for consumers to understand, especially with mixed marketing messages coming from product suppliers.
“The simple message that an ingredient will help inhibit the oxidation of molecules/cells is not specific enough,” said Nexira’s Ms. Lecareux. “The term ‘antioxidant’ is too wide and consumers want to be able to measure the actual health benefits.”
The ORAC value is not adequate to show how an antioxidant interacts with cellular processes in the body; as a result the ORAC test is experiencing increasingly doubtful commentary from the scientific community. “It is a non-specific analysis that measures only the oxidation of the fluorescein by a free radical—it does not give any idea of the in vivo efficacy of the ingredients tested,” continued Ms. Lecareux.
Companies continue to make references to ORAC values that equate to vegetable or fruit consumption using values that are old, or were derived using older, less accurate methods.
FDA has strict guidelines on the use of the term antioxidant. “For example, manufacturers cannot just splash ‘high in antioxidants’ on the label (which is often done),” said Ms. Kamhi. “If a statement is made about a high antioxidant value, the manufacturer must actually reference a known and measureable antioxidant, such as vitamin A or vitamin E. They must then reference the RDA (recommended daily allowance), and specifically show that their product contains an amount of that individual nutrient which is equal to or higher than the RDA value. With the increased activity of the FDA, many manufacturers are being called out about this.”
“FDA oversight will continue to be an issue,” agreed Ms. Devine, of RFI Ingredients. “In fact, there is increased collaboration between FDA and FTC in the last couple of years when it comes to health claims, and this effects claims made by antioxidant products. In 2010 the FDA sent an unprecedented number of warning letters to food and supplement manufacturers, many about the use of the term antioxidant. While few were issued in 2011, the FDA tends to send these letters in flurries so it would be no surprise if 2012 is another year for a large number of warning letters.”
On the bright side, a new total ORAC assay developed by Brunswick Laboratories, Southborough, MA, shows promise. “For the last 15 years most ORAC assays focused on a single free radical, the peroxyl radical,” said VDF/FutureCeuticals’ Mr. Pond. “The new assay is more robust and provides the ability to determine the antioxidant capacity of a product to potentially quench the peroxyl, hydroxyl, singlet-oxygen, peroxynitrite and superoxide anion radicals.”
Gaining Market Share
The first step in having a successful product is knowing the consumer. The largest segment of antioxidant consumers and other condition-specific consumers remains adult women. “Women tend to be more willing to be proactive in prevention; they do research and seek out and try new supplements to help them remain healthy and achieve a higher sense of well-being,” said Ms. Nurnberger, of P.L. Thomas.
But men are catching up. According to the 2010 Gallup Study of Nutrient Knowledge & Composition, 32% of women make a strong effort to consume foods/beverages rich in antioxidants, compared to 24% of men. “This definitely shows that while women are still more concerned with antioxidants, men are not far behind in recognizing their health benefits,” said DSM’s Ms. Hariharan.
And don’t forget the millions of Boomers who are interested in antioxidants to ward off the negative effects of aging. “The first lot of Baby Boomers turned 65 and they are expected to have a major effect in purchasing power,” said RFI’s Ms. Devine.
The second step to success is providing a product that is backed up by science. “An abundance of sound clinical research that clearly supports and validates the benefits is, without a doubt, the number-one factor for any success,” said Ms. Nurnberger. If the antioxidants are derived from organic/local/fair trade sources, that adds even higher value to the product.
“A big key to success is ingredient differentiation on the key factors affecting an ingredient’s purity, potency, quality and efficacy,” said Verdure Sciences’ Mr. Ebersole. “Dedicating significant resources to understanding method validity, one of the core requirements of good manufacturing practices, is now a requirement for staying on the leading edge.”
Finally, identify and claim your niche. For example, the unique phytochemical profile of cranberries has long been known to support bladder/urinary tract health but didn’t have strong science behind it. “In the case of Cran-Max, our cranberry supplement, we saw the market for support of urinary tract health was not sufficiently fulfilled, even though a large percentage of consumers know to drink cranberry juice if they feel they have a urinary tract problem coming on,” said Dean Mosca, president of Proprietary Nutritionals, Inc., (PNI) Kearny, NJ.
The company invested millions of dollars in clinical research that demonstrated the ability of Cran-Max to support the bladder and combat urinary tract infection-causing bacteria. “A pioneering double-blind, placebo-controlled study published in the Canadian Journal of Urology compared Cran-Max, a whole berry concentrate, to cranberry juice. The researchers discovered that the concentrate was more effective than the juice, as well as less expensive for the consumer.”
Could cocoa become as successful as cranberry?
Cocoa—the antioxidant-rich raw ingredient used to make chocolate—is poised to become a major force in the market for functional and healthier food products, according to Julian Mellentin, director of consultancy for U.K.-based New Nutrition Business.
Pointing to an Article 13.5 health claims application recently lodged by chocolate producer Barry Callebaut, Mr. Mellentin said that cocoa had the potential to be “a health ingredient as successful as cranberries.”
Cocoa, he said, was now at a “tipping point” as a result of the “convergence of scientific and technological progress, corporate strategy, consumer awareness and consumer desire for foods that can claim to be naturally healthy.”
Switzerland-based Barry Callebaut is seeking approval from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for a claim linking cocoa flavanols with healthy blood flow. The company has admitted to being confident that the dossier, which contains five clinical studies, will succeed.
“I’m not surprised that Barry Callebaut is bullish about the prospects for its health claims application,” said Mr. Mellentin. “Thanks to a huge investment in research by the leading cocoa processors—Barry Callebaut, Mars, Hershey and Meiji—there is a significant and ever-growing body of evidence for the health benefits of cocoa flavanols, particularly in relation to cardiovascular health. In fact, there have been more than 100 published clinical studies so far.”
Consumer awareness of the benefits of cocoa is also good, he said, creating the perfect environment for companies to market successful health products based on cocoa. “Consumers make an association between dark chocolate—the form in which they usually encounter cocoa—and its naturally high content of antioxidants, and they’re prepared to pay more for it,” he explained.
“In many countries sales of dark chocolate grew at an annual rate of 20-25% in the first decade of the 21st century. Even the global recession didn’t halt growth—all the more impressive since dark chocolate retails at up to a 100% premium over milk chocolate.”
New Nutrition Business has just published a new report on the potential for cocoa in the market for nutritious food and beverage products titled “Cocoa—a ‘naturally functional’ health ingredient at the tipping point?” The report contains detailed analysis of the opportunities and challenges for companies marketing cocoa-based products. It also presents several case studies exploring brands that have already taken the plunge in this rapidly emerging category.
Mr. Mellentin said that companies wishing to capitalize on cocoa’s growing “health halo” would need to consider carefully which product format they used, particularly as it might be hard to convince many consumers that a simple chocolate bar is good for them. “It isn’t surprising that, with its GoodnessKnows brand, Mars is using fruit such as cranberry and blueberry, nuts and whole grains as the carriers for the health message,” he said. “These are credible in the mind of the consumer in a way that chocolate is not.
“Significant advances in processing technology allow cocoa to be formulated into many more new product formats with a better health image than chocolate confectionery, while retaining its health benefits and delivering good taste. It’s in beverages and bars that cocoa will make its mark,” Mr. Mellentin concluded.
Originally discovered in 1909, ergothioneine is enjoying a revival as a potent antioxidant.
Ergothioneine cannot be manufactured by humans or most plants; it is only produced naturally in small amounts by microorganisms in soil and a few plants, including mushrooms and beans.
Dr. Okezie Aruoma of the Touro College of Pharmacy in New York indicated that “the uniqueness of ergothioneine in the human body may not only reside in its ability to protect organs against age-dependent degeneration due to chronic inflammation, but also to increase the body’s availability of glutathione, the first line antioxidant defense in vivo, while conserving vitamin E, which is a critical process in detoxification.”
This small amino acid is involved in many biochemical reactions at the cellular level and is believed to be 6000 times more potent than vitamin E. Sponsored by Oxis International, Beverly Hills, CA, a biotech company that holds the patent to manufacture pure L-ergothioneine, the “First International Congress on Ergothioneine” was held in Beverly Hills, CA, in July 2011.