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How to responsibly source functional ingredients for nutraceutical products

Growing consumer concerns about health, better economic conditions of the middle classes and greater access to information are resulting in a rapidly growing nutraceuticals market, as well as a growing number of companies eager to get into it. What does it take to be successful? Addressing consumer concerns about product quality and supplier reliability tops the list.

But what exactly are “nutraceuticals”? Nutraceuticals is a term used to describe functional foods with nutritional and/or physiological benefits. They are usually presented in a non-nutritional matrix, for example: pills, capsules and powder. This matrix contains one or several bioactive, usually natural, substances and provides the consumer with the required intake of a certain dosage to achieve a desired health benefit.

According to Transparency Market Research, the global nutraceuticals market is expected to reach USD 280 billion within the next four years. In Spain, where the prescription drugs market has stagnated over the last decade, mainly due to the presence of low-cost generics, the food supplements market has in contrast increased by four percent to over USD 620 million.

As consumer preference swings from fully synthetic to natural and organic ingredients, it is important for companies to know what to look out for and what the crucial questions are to ask when sourcing functional ingredients for nutraceutical products.

With nutraceuticals and pharmaceuticals defined differently in different markets, it’s important to be able to clearly distinguish between these two groupings. The main difference being that most pharmaceutical products are based on synthetic actives and often do not orginate from natural sources. Whereas, nutraceuticals do not require the same amount of clinical trials or extensive medical research as they contain naturally occurring compounds.

Efficacy studies behind the activity of a certain pharmaceutical active follow strictly controlled protocols that are monitored by health and government administrations. These studies must ensure a clear therapeutic benefit as well as report all types of potential secondary effects in the human body. Nutraceutical compounds have an overall low risk factor and are generally considered to be safe.

Lately, concern is growing about safety in the supply chain of food supplements. Companies must make sure good manufacturing practices are in place for all suppliers and across the supply chain process. You need to know how and where these ingredients are being sourced, shipped and stored.

Companies should carefully consider the source of their ingredients. They need to ensure that suppliers are qualified and certified and that quality audits of their production facilities have been carried out. These necessary considerations will support to protect the integrity of the supply chain and ensure compliance.

Until recently, consumers used to visit pharmacies and specialized shops for their over-the-counter (OTC) food supplements. This supply chain is managed by companies who ensure proper control of product quality and food safety, as well as provide the appropriate advice to consumers.

However, through e-commerce, suppliers can meet consumer demand effectively anywhere in the world without the need to build up a complex and expensive distribution network. But the continued growth of e-commerce solutions is also creating increased complexity for regulators as online solutions typically only provide price transparency without consideration for the production process.

Companies must therefore make sure they have full traceability of their functional ingredients to eleviate  consumer concerns about food quality and safety and sustain their supply chain.

About the author

Ramon J. Viñas is based in Spain and has a Master’s degree in Chemical Engineering and an MBA.He is currently DKSH’s Vice President, Global Specialty Chemicals Industry, Performance Materials.