The Natural Marketing Institute’s (NMI) annual “Herb Market Report” found that 13% of herbal supplement users reported increasing their supplement usage during the economic downturn, compared to just 6% of regular supplement users. The assessment from the Harleysville, PA-based organization suggested this increase reflects a desire among consumers to take responsibility for their own health, as well as an increased concern about the potential side effects from prescription drugs (as well as expensive co-payments and healthcare costs).
With more consumers putting a higher value on simple and natural products with fewer and more recognizable ingredients, the herbal supplements market has seen continued growth. Up 33% from 2011, NMI estimated that roughly 36 million U.S. adults use herbal supplements today.
A recent “Herb Market Report” published in HerbalGram—based on herbal supplement sales statistics from Nutrition Business Journal (NBJ), Boulder, CO, and market research firms SymphonyIRI and SPINSscan Natural—reported that sales of herbal dietary supplements in the U.S. increased by 5.5% in 2012, propelling the market to approximately $5.6 billion.
Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of the American Botanical Council, Austin, TX, and editor-in-chief of HerbalGram & HerbClip, noted that the use of herbal dietary supplements and herbal teas appears to be increasing among consumers in the U.S., and by many accounts in other countries as well. In the last 10 years that ABC has published its “Herb Market Report,” Mr. Blumenthal said that “every year has shown an increase in total sales above the previous year, particularly in the years since 2008 during the economic downturn, an indicator that many consumers value the role that herbal dietary supplements play in self care.”
However, while consumer sales of such products have consistently expanded, new launches for herbal products have been on a notable decline. In 2008 NMI reported 319 new product launches in the herbal or botanical supplement market in the U.S., where today there are only roughly 100 new introductions per year.
Meeting Consumer Demands
To ensure the steady, continued growth of consumer sales within this market, producers and suppliers of natural ingredients are looking for new and innovative ways to appeal to the herbal and botanical supplement user.
NMI’s research found that women and younger consumers were most interested in herbal supplements, and they expressed a desire for unconventional delivery systems such as chewable and liquid formulations. Younger generations seem to view herbal supplements as more safe and effective.
NMI also reported greater opportunities for herbal supplements among natural channel shoppers (66% reported using such products in the last year), as well as consumers looking for support in the areas of osteoporosis and bone health, energy, sleep, arthritis and digestive health.
Hartley Pond, vice president of technical sales, VDF/FutureCeuticals, Momence, IL, pointed to the long-standing history of herbs and botanicals as a point of consumer interest. “Clearly, medicinal herbs have been a core part of the natural products industry for decades, and traditionally consumers have been intensely interested in the historical use of a particular herb, as well as where it is grown and how it is handled and processed.” He also noted that the herbal supplement user “tends to shop in health food stores, be very savvy and educated with regard to health and wellness, and there is a lot of loyalty to established brands in the herbal sector of our industry.”
Jeff Wuagneux, president and CEO of RFI, Blauvelt, NY, suggested that younger consumers in the 18-26 year old range are interested in herbs because their parents familiarized them with supplement use when they were young. “In fact, the younger consumers actually grew up during the early popularity of herbal ‘remedies,’ and are the first generation of consumers who are buying such products because they were exposed to them as children.” He also suggested Baby Boomers are “a large consumer segment purchasing herbal products as they try to stave off a number of aging issues.”
Speaking to interest among the aging population, Shaheen Majeed, marketing director, Sabinsa Corp., East Windsor, NJ, referenced specific health concerns among this community as a sales motivator, with herbs supporting joint and bone health as a prime example. “For the senior population, joint care is vital, and it’s been the number one area for us in terms of ingredient sales. The ingredient Curcumin C3 Complex from Sabinsa is used for joint health and as a powerful antioxidant when combined with BioPerine, the black pepper extract that safely increases gut absorption of nutrients.”
While women are traditionally strong users of herbs and botanicals, Vinod Khanijow, executive vice president, HerbaKraft, Piscataway, NJ, believes that the men’s health sector is also impacting sales in the market. “More men than ever are seeking out supplements to protect their health and well-being. Often, men start out with sports nutrition to enhance fitness goals and physique. As they get a little older and become concerned with such areas as prostate, cardiovascular, brain/cognitive or joint health, they are already conditioned to take supplements daily. There’s no real learning curve.”
Weeding Out Adulteration
Despite the positive outlook for consumer sales, the herbs and botanicals market is not without its problems. Adulterated ingredients remains a significant issue in this space.
ABC’s Mr. Blumenthal stated that the issue of adulteration among botanical raw materials, extracts and essential oils was “the single most important challenge facing herbal products manufacturers and marketers today.”
He stressed, “It is imperative that all manufacturers adequately qualify their suppliers and conduct appropriate quality control diligence with respect to authenticating and confirming the botanical identity and purity of herbal materials, as is required by the U.S. FDA’s cGMP rule. For years, there has been the problem of accidental adulteration due to errors and/or inadequately trained personnel and quality control, resulting in occasional instances of adulteration.”
However, intentional adulteration of raw materials, extracts and/or essential oils, (also known as economically motivated adulteration) is an even more serious issue, according to Mr. Blumenthal. He noted that while some companies may fall victim to unscrupulous sellers, “there is significant evidence that this problem is still relatively common in the market, despite the efforts of various companies to improve overall QC measures and the efforts of various educational campaigns in this area.”
Initiatives by many companies to improve internal quality control programs, as well as federal oversight from FDA, and industry-led support from trade associations have made a concerted effort to address the significant damage adulteration can do to the botanical market, consumer confidence and most importantly, consumer health. Yet, Mr. Blumenthal said, “some companies simply haven’t gotten the message and continue to employ inadequate QC programs, thereby allowing their purchasing departments to obtain and eventually process adulterated raw materials and/or extracts and passing such inferior and misbranded ingredients to unsuspecting consumers.”
Continuing the fight against adulterated extracts, the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA), Silver Spring, MD, a leading industry trade association focused on herbs, has created an online resource to help manufacturers correctly identify herbal materials. According to the association, the AHPA Botanical Reference Compendium is a “cooperative and centralized source of information on physical characteristics and test methods that can be used by qualified and experienced analysts to determine the identity of plant species and articles of trade obtained from these plants.”
To further address the problem of adulteration, in 2011 ABC along with the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia and the University of Mississippi’s National Center for Natural Products Research, created the ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Program. The primary focus of the international program is to shed light on the ongoing cases of intentional or accidental adulteration in the herbs and botanicals market.
“The program has published five major articles to date, all freeaccess on the Botanical Adulterants Program homepage, and by summer and fall 2014 will be publishing an additional five or more publications, including ’The Botanical Adulterants Monitor’ e-newsletter and Laboratory Guidance Documents which will review all publicly available laboratory analytical methods for specific herbs that have been confirmed to be adulterated, with recommendations as to which methods are the most robust in determining the identity of the plant material or extract and detecting the known adulteration,” said Mr. Blumenthal.
In addition to cracking down on adulteration, ABC has set its sights on the potential issues that solvents may cause in the manufacturing of certain botanical extracts. “In some cases, analyzed extracts have shown excessive residual levels of solvents used in the extraction process,” Mr. Blumenthal said. “ABC is completing an extensive book on solvents, their use in extraction processing, and how they can be analyzed so that they do not exceed appropriate limits and become a contaminant.”
Sustainability & Transparency
Luckily for manufacturers and suppliers in the herb and botanical market, a key weapon in fighting adulteration is also becoming an emerging marketing trend. Supply chain transparency not only helps businesses better track and identify the botanicals within their pipeline, but for many consumers access to this information can provide them with peace of mind that the supplement they’re using was harvested in a safe, responsible way.
According to Mr. Khanijow of HerbaKraft, “Transparency is a must. In the case of a bad crop, or adulteration, the entire chain must be in alignment and its origins must be examined.”
RFI’s Mr. Wuagneux said his company “takes sustainability and supply chain transparency very seriously, which is why we are a vertically-integrated company, meaning we are focused around the products we supply.” He explained that RFI works with an extensive global network of growers and manufacturers of both conventional and organic natural raw materials, meanwhile establishing sustainable farms, with the objective of “controlling the manufacturing chain—beginning with raw material cultivation and harvesting to processing and extraction.” He added, “Combining these downstream activities with our domestic certified-organic and NSF-certified manufacturing, blending and liquid extraction facilities gives us unparalleled supply chain traceability.”
ABC’s Mr. Blumenthal noted Brevard, NC-based Gaia Herbs is an exemplary proponent of supply chain transparency. In recent years the company has made “a significant investment in a large web-based transparency program in which consumers can actually determine what field on their 200+ acre organic herb farm some of a product’s herbs are grown, and/or where the herb was grown if it came from an outside supplier,” he explained.
BI Nutraceuticals, Long Beach, CA, offers a line of approximately 400 botanicals and herbs, extracts and blends, many of which the company sources from various countries around the globe. To ensure their customers receive top quality ingredients, the company has visited and assessed farms around the world, according to Randy Kreienbrink, certified food scientist and director of marketing for the company. “BI Nutraceuticals has always valued transparency,” he said. “Our vendor qualification program in which we actually audit and visit the collectors, growers, forests and fields has been in place for some time now, before the proposed Foreign Supplier Verification Program [of FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act].”
Sustainable harvesting of the natural resources used in herbal and botanical supplements is also an emerging concern for socially conscious, informed consumers looking to ensure their health habits have minimal impact on the environment.
Draco Natural Products’ commitment to sustainability can be seen in the San Jose, CA-based company’s ethical wildcrafting policy. Wildcrafting is the commonly used practice of gathering plant material from the native environment, rather than from cultivated farms. However, in order to minimize the impact on the natural ecosystem and to ensure continued growth of the plant population, wildcrafters must gather ingredients responsibly. According to Brien Quirk, director of R&D, more than 70% of the company’s products are manufactured from sustainably wildcrafted plant materials.
Biotropics Malaysia Berhad harvests its tongkat ali root (Eurycoma longifolia, also known as long jack) used in its patented, standardized extract Physta from the forests of Malaysia, making the sustainability and continued availability of the plant crucial to the existence of the company. “Fortunately, the Malaysian government has strict laws and penalties regarding the harvesting or removal of forest resources from the forest and reserved areas, and only a few companies are bestowed government sanctions to harvest and collect the herb via sustainable means,” said Nik Fahmi Mokhtar, senior marketing manager, Performance Ingredients Team.
He noted that Biotropics, with permission from the government, works with the indigenous community, which harvests the wild herb to avoid adverse environmental effects and provides workers with training and financial support to improve processing techniques. “Additionally, we are also working with the government on commercial planting of tongkat ali and preparing plans for other herbs in the development chain,” he said.
To support the many health concerns of varying herbal supplement users, suppliers and manufacturers within the nutraceutical space offer a wide range of natural ingredients.
For example, Sabinsa offers a broad spectrum of botanical extracts, mainly based on Ayurveda, explained Mr. Majeed. “We believed in standardizing the extracts we introduced to an active constituent found in the herb, and by using modern science we were able to establish scientific evidence of their effectiveness. As a result, we can assure a safe and potent ingredient for formulations, free from adulterants and other potentially toxic agents.”
In addition to BioPerine and Curcumin C3 Complex, some of the company’s more popular botanical extracts include Boswellin Boswellia serrata extract for inflammatory response; Citrin Garcinia cambogia extract to support satiety; Gugulipid, an extract of the oleo-gum resin of Commiphora muka to support cardiovascular health; and ForsLean Coleus forskohlii root extract to promote lean body mass.
Other ancient traditions, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), inspire the product offerings of companies like Draco Natural Products. In addition to herbal extracts used in TCM, Draco also offers “those used mainstream in the West that offer anti-stress, energy and immune support effects,” said the company’s Mr. Quirk. “Our most popular extracts are astragalus root, goji berries, euphoria fruit, schisandra berries, reishi, shiitake, pomegranate, cordyceps, ginger, wild jujube seed, skullcap and epimedium because with our water extraction process, and our dual extraction/juicing process for fruits and veggies, we are able to capture a wider range of bioactive phyto-compounds than most alcohol extracts would provide.”
Antioxidant ingredients targeting oxidative stress are also popular in botanical supplements. NP Nutra, Gardena, CA, offers potent antioxidants such as acai and goji berry (Lycium barbarum). According to April Krohnert, marketing director, NP Nutra’s acai, “is rich in phytochemicals, possesses high antioxidant activities and has anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and anti-cardiovascular disease properties.” Goji meanwhile, “has long been recognized in Traditional Chinese Medicine for various therapeutic properties based on its antioxidant and immune-modulating effects.” NP Nutra also offers graviola, which is being explored in relation to cell growth and cancer prevention, as well as spirulina, a blue-green algae that has been found to help control blood glucose levels and improve the lipid profile of subjects with type 2 diabetes mellitus.
RFI also offers antioxidant support with its OxyPhyte line of standardized antioxidants. “This product line has been around for 15 years and has turned into the extremely dependable name for antioxidants as a result of its high quality, consistency and brand recognition,” said the company’s Mr. Wuagneux.
In addition, RFI provides a comprehensive selection of herbs and botanicals, including its Sourcestainable Organic product line, which offers a very large number of certified organic herbs and botanicals, available in dried herbs/botanicals. Mr. Wuagneux noted that the Sourcestainable Organic line also includes straight powders such as ginger, schisandra, hawthorn berry, and other herbs in standardized extracts such as acerola cherry extract, green tea extract and guarana extract.
RFI also offers herbal solutions in other formats such as liquid extracts and concentrates “produced from proprietary counter-current extraction technology that produces highly concentrated liquid herbal extracts/concentrates.” What distinguishes this line is the unique extraction process, which utilizes minimal solvent use. Mr. Wuagneux explained this eliminates “the need for further thermal concentration, which normally drives off the essential top notes or degrades important phytochemicals. This gentle process results in full-flavored, fresh and distinctive liquid extracts for use as ingredients in liquid dietary supplements or functional beverage applications.” These gently processed extracts provide a reproducible flavor profile for use in beverage applications, such as “a number of teas (black, green, white, etc.) and herbal ‘teas’ such as rooibos, hibiscus, tulsi and yerba mate, as well as botanicals and spices,” he added.
When discussing the key herbal ingredients offered by Switzerland-based Linnea, the company’s U.S. irector of sales, Don Stanek, cited Ginkgo biloba for memory and brain health; bilberry for eye health, cardiovascular support and treatment of ulcers and leg cramps; vincamine and vinpocetine to support cognitive function and memory; red clover for assistance with menopause and as a liver cleanser; and L-5-Hydroxytryptophan (griffonia seed extract 99%) to aid healthy serotonin levels.
The company also offers HMRlignan Norwegian spruce extract, which was found to reduce the incidence of hot flashes by 55% after four weeks of supplementation (72 mg/day) in postmenopausal women ages 50-75, according to a 2013 study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition. Mr. Stanek noted that a further study of HMRlignan evaluating 120 women should be completed by the end of the year to further substantiate these results. “With HMRlignan, we’re concentrating on the women’s segment, because it’s a really big market, but half of the people we sell this product to use it for prostate health. It’s a very good general health product with indications for prostate and cardiovascular health for men, it’s a very good antioxidant and it supports breast health in addition to menopausal support.”
FutureCeuticals has focused its efforts recently on researching beetroot (beta vulgaris), and has completed two human clinical studies exploring the ingredient’s efficacy in supporting joint comfort and flexibility.
The company’s Mr. Pond noted the patented beetroot concentrate (BRC) is “rich in betalains, the natural red pigments found in beet. Our BRC is standardized to contain a minimum content of 25% betalains and is substantially free of sugars and nitrates.”
The company’s most recent study (published in 2014 in the journal Nutrition and Dietary Supplements) evaluated a group of healthy human subjects, who were each given a dose of 50 mg of BRC twice a day. The results found that BRC “provided significant improvement in knee discomfort and function within 5 to 10 days, with no side effects,” stated Mr. Pond. “These results were associated with increased feelings of energy, which could be explained by the reduction of knee discomfort, and increased activity level. A larger clinical study is planned to investigate the effect of long-term treatment with BRC on knee joint comfort, function, as well as sports performance.”
In addition to its Physta tongkat ali root extract, which targets men’s health, men’s sexual performance and energy, Biotropics Malaysia Berhad also produces LineMinus, a patented, standardized extract of Polygonum minus leaves (common name: Kesum) for applications such as anti-aging and anti-wrinkle formulations. According to Mr. Mokhtar, LineMinus is high in antioxidant content and can also be used in applications for cognition and memory. The company also produces AVCO (Activated Virgin Coconut Oil) with broad anti-microbial spectrum for acne applications (marketed as Acnaed) and dandruff/scalp health (Scalpro).
Ecuadorian Rainforest, Belleville, NJ, offers hundreds of herbs from South America and around the world, according to Steve Siegel, vice president. “One of our most popular ingredients is boldo,” he said. “Boldo, an evergreen shrub found in Chile and Peru, has been a staple in folk medicine for generations. Its main use was to promote a healthy digestive system. It is said that boldo can help stimulate the production of bile and enhance digestion. It is also believed that boldo may help stimulate one’s appetite.”
According to Jiaherb, Parsippany, NJ, the most popular raw ingredient the company currently offers is Yacón syrup. Vice President Scott Chen described Yacón syrup as “the most prominent superfood of 2014,” supporting weight loss and the maintenance of healthy blood sugar levels. “It is a great natural source of FOS (fructooligosaccharides), which helps with weight loss and suppresses appetite by promoting ‘friendly bacteria’ in the digestive tract, all while sustaining a low caloric value.”
GCBfit (green coffee bean), Curcusol (turmeric), and EuryLife (long jack) from HerbaKraft offer traditional herbs backed by modern science. The company’s Mr. Khanijow noted these herbal preparations have been used historically for thousands of years in Ayurveda. “Scientific validation is a must in this era.”
He cited a 2012 randomized, double-blind placebo controlled study examining green coffee bean published in Diabetes Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity, which concluded that administration for 22 weeks offered a significant effect on body weight, body mass index and percent body fat.
Additionally, “thousands of scientific studies proved the anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer activity of curcumin,” he noted, citing a 2009 study published in Alternative Medicine Review that showed curcumin was as effective as ibuprofen in relieving pain and improving function in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee. “Curcumin has also been known as an antiseptic agent.”
Citing research advocating long jack, he referenced a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled and parallel group study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine in 2012, which found that “109 men between 30 and 55 years of age who consumed 300 mg of Eurycoma longifolia for 12 weeks significantly improved their libido and sexual performance.”
Up-And-Coming Herbs & Botanicals
Despite the ancient origins of many herbal and botanical ingredients, the market is still seeing new ingredients introduced that offer innovative approaches to health.
FutureCeuticals is exploring new botanical offerings with CoffeeBerry, made from the whole fruit of the coffee plant (Coffea arabica). The company explained that CoffeeBerry products are derived from whole coffee fruit (including the bean), which are hand-picked and dried to preserve the delicate fruit and protect its precious nutrients.
In two clinical studies, CoffeeBerry Whole Coffee Fruit Concentrate has been found to encourage brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein responsible for the development, differentiation and protection of neurons in the central and peripheral nervous system. Such stimulation of BDNF is strongly associated with cognitive performance and mental health.
Draco’s Mr. Quirk said Lion’s Mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus) will be a key botanical in the future, as it supports mood and memory. He also noted that the use of jackfruit for digestion and vitality might be an up-and-coming opportunity. “Jackfruit is truly the king of superfruits with a gargantuan 10 to 60 lb size of each fruit,” he said.
“Fermented ingredients are the hottest new trend,” according to RFI’s Mr. Wuagneux, “as fermentation can provide numerous nutritional/health benefits beyond the unfermented botanical.” The company’s FermaPro line includes two proprietary fermented botanicals: a ginseng extract (GST-15), as well as a whole food black garlic product.
Amazon Forest, Ledgewood, NJ, recently introduced KonaBerry, which, according to the company, offers a 5,958 ORAC score (post processing tested value per 1-gram sample). Amazon Forest’s KonaBerry uses a proprietary process to preserve antioxidants and essential nutrients in a dried fruit power.
Many experts suspect that regional traditions will influence future interest in certain herbs and botanicals. Mr. Siegel of Ecuadorian Rainforest predicted that more consumers will begin looking to herbal support from South America. “South American ingredients are slowly creeping up on these household names, however, ingredients such as boldo, used to aid digestion, and dragon’s blood, known for its anti-inflammatory properties, are gaining traction in the North American market. It may be due to the rich histories South American ingredients like these and many others have. Customers are enamored by the folk stories tied to such ingredients.”
Mr. Khanijow of HerbaKraft said interest in Indian culture will also lead to popularity among certain herbs. “We see an exciting resurgence in Ayurvedic herbs; this is coinciding with the tremendous growth of yoga, now in the mainstream. As both medicinal practice and exercise/spiritual practice have originated in India, yoga devotees have been learning about the Ayurvedic approach to health, and this is what they are now seeking in their supplements.”
Mr. Pond of VDF/FutureCeuticals is placing his bets on homegrown herbs from the U.S. “We believe that herbs grown in America will become increasingly popular in the coming decade. This is, in part, due to increased recognition that traditional culinary herbs, such as basil, cilantro, parsley, sage, also have a rich history of medicinal use; but also there is an increased desire to have herbs and botanicals grown and processed domestically in the U.S.”
Report explores market opportunities for medicinal plants.
A new report from Amadee+Company Inc., Bay Harbor Island, FL, examined the use of traditional herbal medicine in combatting modern illnesses, particularly those spawned by over-use of pharmaceuticals and antibiotics.
“Growing consumer awareness of the benefits of herbal medicine, along with a backlash against the exorbitant prices and dangerous side effects of pharmaceutical drugs, have led to a renaissance in the use of medicinal plants,” noted Amadee Bender, president, Amadee+Company Inc.
In the report “Antibiotics, Medicinal Plants, Superbugs and the Coming Antimicrobial Resistant Drugs Pandemic: Global Markets, Competitors and Opportunities: 2014-2019 Analysis and Forecasts,” the market research firm explained that where herbal medicine, including medicinal plants, was once the only form of treatment for sickness in the early 20th century, today consumers are returning to these methods as they search for more natural and less expensive approaches to healthcare.
“Medicinal plant production is estimated at $50 billion, and is growing almost 16% annually,” explained Mr. Bender. In addition, the International Trade Centre estimated that global medicinal plant exports were $2.83 billion in 2013, a figure which he believes is underestimated.
Noting further growth in this market, the report found that medicinal plant exports grew almost 12% annually between 2009 and 2013, with China representing the largest exporter of medicinal plants, occupying an estimated 42% market share.
When discussing the leading ingredients in this market, Mr. Bender said, “Garlic is the largest medicinal plant used today, with an estimated production value of $8.4 billion in 2014. Garlic production is forecast to grow 25% annually during the next five years. Demand for garlic is increasing rapidly as more consumers become aware of its health benefits.”
In addition, the report found ginger to be the second largest medicinal plant produced, accounting for 16% market share and currently growing 20% annually. “Other fast growing medicinal plant markets include turmeric and green tea, both of which are growing more than 10% annually in production value.”
Looking toward the future, Mr. Bender believes this sector will continue to flourish. “Consumers are starting to focus on keeping healthy rather than dealing with acute situations that require the use of expensive pharmaceutical drugs. Medicinal plants fit perfectly into this new paradigm. And for this reason, their use is forecast to grow dramatically.” For more information: firstname.lastname@example.org