Botanical and herbal product sales continue to grow, but manufacturers must step up to consumer demand.
According to the American Botanical Council (ABC), a recent market report showed sales of herbal dietary supplements in the United States increased by 7.5 percent in 2015. In fact, in 2015, sales for herbal supplements totaled an estimated $6.92 billion, a new record.
Neil E. Levin, CCN, DANLA, senior nutrition education manager with Illinois-based NOW Foods, said, “Similar to U.S. data showing that sales of herbal dietary supplements increased by 7.5 percent, NOW Foods continues to see strong sales of botanical products despite frequent negative reports in the media. We are seeing strengthening sales in special delivery systems that enhance bioavailability and in standardized formulas that assure potency.”
Mark Timon, MS Clinical Nutrition, Founder, Formulator and R&D with Connecticut-based Vibrant Health, said that although his viewpoint as a manufacturer is narrow, “my relatively uninformed perception is that botanical supplements have become a mainstay of the industry, and are looked upon as the focal point of innovation. Formulating and selling botanical-derived products has been the backbone of Vibrant Health since its inception in 1992, so our anticipation of expectations for the industry may be somewhat different than what is experienced on the retailer’s sales floor.”
President and founder of New Jersey-based Herbalist & Alchemist, David Winston RH(AHG), added that in spite of media criticism of herbal products, the company has seen continued growth, as has the category overall. “The really dedicated herbal companies have taken care to transparently address the concerns raised by the media, and be responsive to customers, so overall, the industry has stepped up to earn and keep consumer loyalty and trust.”
Addressing those concerns has impacted Christian G. Krueger, CEO of Complete Phytochemical Solutions, LLC in Cambridge, WI, which provides intellectual and technical expertise in phytochemistry to ingredient suppliers and manufacturers. “The biggest evolution that we have seen over the past two years is the increasing demand for consulting and analytic services to support authenticity and standardization of raw materials, ingredients, and formulated products,” Krueger said. “We are seeing growth in all sectors of the supply chain (growers, processors, formulators and retailers). We are most excited to see that growers of herbals and botanicals are using new analytic tools to better understand the unique properties of their crops. This additional knowledge enables growers to implement agricultural practices that meet their customers’ demands for specific levels of bioactive compounds, resulting in increased crop value and improved herbal and botanical products.”
New for Herbal Supplements
Especially strong in consumer demand are botanicals that target joint health and function, such as boswellia and turmeric, noted Levin.* A lower number of pills needed and increased bioavailability are also important trends, though bioavailability has been misrepresented as equivalent to increased efficacy even in cases where that isn’t true.
Winston, author of Adaptogens; Herbs for Strength, Stamina and Stress Relief, said that the use of adaptogens for enhancing overall health is a growing trend in the herbal marketplace. An adaptogen, he explained, is an herb that helps re-regulate HPA (hypothalamic/pituitary/adrenal) axis and SAS (sympatho-adrenal system) function, while also inhibiting stress-induced mitochondrial dysfunction. “By enhancing the activity of these master controls of the body, they help normalize endocrine, nervous system, GI (gastrointestinal), cardiovascular and immune function. Adaptogens help create a non-specific state of resistance to stress, no matter its source—psychological, noise, temperature, physiological, etc.”
With the increasing popularity of this group of herbs also comes increased confusion about them and how they are best used, Winston said. “Adaptogens are not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ product. Some adaptogens are calming, some are stimulating, others are warming or cooling, moistening or drying, some are more appropriate for everyday use, while others may be more beneficial for either men or women. It is important to differentiate which ones are appropriate for a given customer to get the maximum benefit.”
Another trend, according to Timon, is that research into clinical applications of botanicals is heating up. “Medicinal applications claimed by Chinese medicine and ayurveda have at last stimulated meaningful investigation among the scientific community,” he said. “Manufacturers of botanical raw materials are increasingly investing in laboratory and clinical trials in order to substantiate the efficacy of their branded materials. These two trends, one deep within the scientific community, and the other within the commercial community, are reinforcing a basis of legitimacy much needed by our industry.”
Also enforcing legitimacy is authentication. In 2016, Complete Phytochemical Solutions launched Polyphenol-Fingerprinting as a novel analytical service utilizing an advanced MALDI-TOF mass spectral technique that authenticates and standardizes bioactive compounds in functional foods and dietary supplements providing data for certificates of analysis and labeling claims in compliance with good manufacturing practice (GMP) regulations enforced by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
“There is an immediate need for sophisticated analytical tools like Polyphenol-Fingerprinting, as the dietary supplement market continues to grow and is flooded with consumer products targeting health,” said Krueger. He pointed to a flow of product entering the U.S. from around the globe where there is little regulation of authenticity and adulteration can be a huge problem.
Polyphenol-Fingerprinting was named the 2016 Business Service winner in the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest, and was also named as a finalist for a 2016 Wisconsin Innovation Award.
New botanical product releases have been plentiful. Levin listed two of NOW’s herbal/botanical recent introductions:
• NOW Seasonal Rapid Relief has a faster acting quercetin—enzymatically modified isoquercitrin—with enhanced bioavailability compared with ordinary quercetin. This form has up to 40 times greater absorption than quercetin, and reaches peak plasma levels rapidly, typically within 30 minutes, according to the company.
• NOW Extra Strength Silymarin soft gels have three times the milk thistle extract (450 mg per soft gel; 80 percent silymarin) as in its regular strength product (150 mg per capsule). NOW uses organic sunflower oil, sunflower lecithin, and organic caramel color with vegetable glycerin in bovine gelatin soft gel capsules.
“Soft gels are preferred by many consumers, and are a way to enhance absorption of fat-soluble fractions of the botanical,” Levin explained. “Being able to increase the potency to triple that of an ordinary capsule without using flow agents such as magnesium stearate means that fewer capsules are needed, and they appeal to consumers who avoid added stearates.”
NOW has also seen a nice increase in sales of its CurcuBrain Longvida Optimized Curcumin. “Longvida exhibits up to 65 times the bioavailability of free curcuminoids compared with generic curcumin,” Levin said. “Longvida is absorbed by the GI tract and delivered to the rest of the body as free curcumin, the active form in the body.” He added that the ingredient is shown to penetrate the blood-brain barrier for the support of healthy neuronal tissues and cognitive function. It also shows efficacy in muscle recovery and other factors related to the traditional curcumin uses.*
Vibrant Health has recently introduced Bullseye, a botanical antimicrobial, Vibrant Flora Improved Bowel Support, a botanical and probiotic supplement to support and help restore intestinal health, and Vibrant Flora Lean Body Support, a botanical and probiotic supplement designed to support healthy weight control.
Timon noted that human microbiota are populated by both beneficial and harmful bacteria. “An equitable balance between the two opposing groups is usually maintained, but can also go awry when exposure to an environmental or foodborne pathogen upsets the balance.” Bullseye combines selected botanical antimicrobials to form a broad-based, low potency microbicide that when taken daily can help maintain the normal, healthful balance within the human microbiome.
According to Winston, at Herbalist & Alchemist, the company is introducing new formulas to add to its adaptogen line in early 2017. New formulas Men’s Adapt, Women’s Adapt, Calm Adapt, Energy Adapt and Daily Adapt will join the company’s popular Immune Adapt, Fit Adapt and single extract adaptogens: American Ginseng, Amla, Ashwagandha, Red Ginseng, Astragalus, Crodyceps, Dang Shen, Eleuthero, He Shou Wu, Holy Basil, Licorice, Lyciurm, Prince Seng, Reishi, Rhodiola, Schisandra and Shatavari.
While some supplement manufacturers benefit by innovative ingredients and delivery mediums, others find it beneficial to focus elsewhere.
“Herbalist & Alchemist is not a ‘latest bells and whistles’ kind of herb company, but rather one that focuses on producing the sort of products practitioners look to provide their clients,” said Winston. “That said, we’ve been innovating in sourcing ingredients to adapt to climate change, which is definitely having an impact of when and where herbs grow. When raw material supplies that meet our quality standards become difficult to source, we change the impacted formula to substitute a different herb that has a similar effect and also works in synergy with the other ingredients, since all our formulas are designed with how the ingredients work together in mind.”
NOW has found increasing the potency of each capsule reduces the number of capsules needed to match clinical strength; the amount used in clinical trials, Levin pointed out. Also, he said, “improving swallowing by offering soft gels is another consumer advantage. And improving bioavailability of ingredients that also have proven efficacy speeds the results while keeping serving sizes reasonable.”
But it has been improved, focused science in the development of efficacious raw materials that will make it become increasingly more difficult for critics of the industry to malign natural products as worthless and ineffective as the body of hard science accumulates, Timons said. As for transparency, he noted that reputable companies are following cGMPs, and making all the data utilized in the process available for review to both retailers and consumers.
Krueger confirmed that companies rely on certificates of analysis and health research studies to support transparency, standardization and efficacy. Companies that document a “farm-to-finish” production process are uniquely positioned to meet consumer demand for transparency.
Another key way of being transparent, said Levin, is to use trademarked ingredients that have independent evidence of quality and efficacy. “Being a basic manufacturer, NOW Foods has much more information on raw materials than those who use contract manufacturers: sourcing, processing and flow charts, potential allergens and GMOs (genetically modified organisms), and certifications (kosher, halal, organic).”
For Herbalist & Alchemist, Winston added, “We do not standardize to constituents, as we believe this often leads to inferior products. We focus on the quality, identity, the increased absorption of tinctures and careful formulating to create herbal synergy in each product.” He pointed out that these herbs have been used for millennia in China, India and North America because they work. “Modern research has also shown that adaptogens have real benefits physiologically in both human and animal studies. H&A has always been a transparent company because we are so proud of what we do. We have comprehensive information on our website, via our newsletters, the monthly herbal seminars we hold for customers, and in all our communication.”
“Retailers,” Krueger suggested, “should look for herbal and botanical products that are supported by a strong scientific foundation of efficacy, supply chain traceability and assurance of authenticity.” VR
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
Standardizing Cranberry Ingredients
Canada-based Fruit d’Or Nutraceuticals, an ingredient supplier, has come out in support of a recent Cranberry Institute Symposium Summary, which closely mirrors the company’s ongoing work to strengthen the three primary pillars it says are essential to the future growth and survival of the cranberry industry: authenticity, standardization and efficacy.
The Cranberry Institute provides health research funding to academic and industry laboratories. However, the concerns of no standardization of biomarkers in natural cranberry products, the lack of continuity between products used and similar lack of understanding of the correlation between product composition and the ultimate health outcome, had become increasingly problematic.
To support research conducted and underwritten by the Cranberry Institute, the organization developed its own whole cranberry powder from the fruit itself. Then working with Complete Phytochemical Solutions, a Wisconsin-based, third-party consulting and testing botanical ingredient company, a specification sheet was created to send to researchers along with the materials. That specification sheet includes the material’s entire composition including fiber, protein, flavonols and proanthocyanidins (PACs) levels.
“The Cranberry Institute contracted with us to conduct the analysis,” said Complete Phytochemical Solutions CEO Christian Krueger, who has introduced breakthrough test methods for measuring cranberry’s soluble and insoluble proanthocyanidins PACs and has also developed new reference standards such as C-PAC. “The material’s certificate of analysis provided to researchers incorporates the standard reference material, which is an improvement over the previous HPLC or DMAC A2 testing standard; results of a butanol-HCl assay for quantification of insoluble (non-extractable) proanthocyanidins, DMAC C-PAC assay for quantification of soluble proanthocyanidins and fingerprint analysis for identification and prevention of adulteration via MALDI-TOF testing. Each powder produced is also tested for efficacy.”
Fruit d’Or is praising the synergies between this approach and its own initiatives.
“This action by the Cranberry Institute acknowledges that there are many important constituents to cranberry fruit that aren’t often captured in either cranberry extracts or juice powders,” said Stephen Lukawski, director of sales and business development for Fruit d’Or.
He emphasized that the Institute’s decision to verify its cranberry material is also meaningful because Fruit d’Or has been following this protocol with its own whole-food cranberry powders, Cran d’Or and Cran Naturelle, and is advocating for the entire cranberry industry to follow suit. “This Cranberry Institute study rubber stamps all of the work that Fruit d’Or has been doing. It also dovetails with the work of the Cranberry Quality Assurance Program (CQA), a five-star supplier quality testing program designed for cranberry suppliers to guarantee that the cranberry being manufactured and sold has been tested to ensure identity, safety, purity and efficacy.”
For More Information:
Complete Phytochemical Solutions, (608) 423-1327
Herbalist & Alchemist, (908) 689-9020
NOW Foods, (800) 999-8069
Vibrant Health, (203) 922-8000