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INTERVIEW

“Nutra is a vibrant industry in the world”
Monday, 10 July, 2017, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Kerala-based company, Arjuna Natural Extracts Ltd, is one of the leading manufacturers and exporters of standardised botanical extracts nutraceuticals industries for more than two decades. Since its inception in the year 1989, the company has grown tremendously in about 40 countries. It also has, ready-to-use dietary supplements that are made-to-order through its subsidiary company for domestic supply. Currently the company has 6,000 tonne of processing capacity and 50 products in its portfolio with 28 patents. The company firmly believes in evidence-based, scalable solutions to lifestyle diseases and thus provides sustainable natural health supplements.

Dr Benny Antony, joint managing director, Arjuna Natural Extracts Ltd, in an email interaction with Harcha Bhaskar reveals trending ingredients in the sector, ever increasing demand for curcumin and turmeric in the market, and growing importance of nutraceuticals. Excerpts:

What are the natural health supplements in your portfolio? Where are these final products manufactured?
We have both branded as well as generic range of herbal extracts that cater to nutraceuticals industry. Our generic products are customer-specific. The branded products are specialty products that are clinically studied and patented. Among the branded products BCM-95, the bioavailable curcumin is the most important. Other branded products are Oxystorm, the sports drink ingredient, herbagut that maintains a healthy gut naturally and trilow, for maintaining heart health.

The products are manufactured in our facilities in Coimbatore and in Cochin.

Which are the botanical extracts that are manufactured in your company? What is the extraction process adopted by the company?
We adopt best gentle extraction practices for our diverse range of products. The choice of extraction varies from product to product ensuring it doesn’t affect the potency of the actives.

Identify your key clients in food, pharma and cosmetics industry.

One of our customers in the US is Life Extension in the food supplement industry. The nutraceuticals and functional food industries have grown significantly in the last two decades. The acceptance of these products by larger populations, especially in the West, is ever increasing. The World Health Organization estimates that 80% of the population of Asian and African countries uses herbal medicine for some aspect of primary health care. About 3,000 essential oils are known and among them 300 are important in the pharmaceutical, agronomic, food, sanitary, cosmetic, and perfumery industries that contribute to a long list of buyers.

What are the regulations and safety standards that you follow while manufacturing?
Arjuna’s production processes and products meet market-specific regulations worldwide. Our four manufacturing facilities meet all international standards including ISO 22000, GMP, Star K-Kosher and Halal.

The raw materials are sourced from different regions in India. It is essential that the final extract that reaches the market is free from contaminants like heavy metals, pesticides, PAH etc. We have many modern instruments like ICPMS, GCMS, HPTLC, HPLC, UPLC-fluorescent detector etc. that  are used for various analysis like heavy metals, pesticides, actives, PAHs etc. which  ensures consistency and quality of products.

The chemical content of a herb can vary for several reasons like the place of origin, soil condition etc. Therefore, it is essential to ensure the therapeutic efficacy of an extract, based on its content of active compounds. In earlier days the concept of the amount of extract per unit weight of the herb was used for standardising extracts. However, as these ratios do not indicate the chemical content of the extracts and as latest analytical instruments have become available, we follow the chemical standardisation of extracts as a means to ensure the quality of extracts. Using such techniques, it is possible to manufacture herbal products with standard levels of particular compounds or classes of compounds. An extract of a plant can be standardised to contain a specific chemical compound when its therapeutic efficacy can be directly related to that compound. An example is an extract of turmeric standardised to curcuminoids is proven to be the active compound responsible for its therapeutic effect. In many cases, the exact chemical compound responsible for the therapeutic effect is either unknown or is difficult to measure. In such cases, we standardise the extract to a marker compound that can be easily quantified. The rationale is that when the extract is properly standardised to the marker compound, the other chemical constituents will also be present in the required quantities

Which are the products (raw material/ final product) that are exported and to which countries?
Our main export market is the US followed by Europe and Japan. A major change in global healthcare management policy has been instrumental in renewing interest in herbal medicine. Many nations mobilise their own national resources or import. The therapeutic use of natural products is widespread in Europe and the United States.  The development and manufacture of nutraceuticals is a vibrant industry all over the world. Hence we are exporting branded as well as generic products worldwide. We have a global presence with customers in over 48 countries.

Which is the novel ingredient that is in demand in nutraceuticals and dietary supplements industry?
While turmeric was previously a sustained rising trend, interest in this functional ingredient grew +56% from November to January 2016 according to Google food trend analysis. Turmeric is labelled as a rising star. Research has focussed on turmeric’s antioxidant, hepato-protective, anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic and antimicrobial properties, in addition to its use in cardiovascular disease and gastrointestinal disorders. Most research has focussed on a series of curcumin constituents found in the herb. Oral curcumin or turmeric is likely to be far less active because curcumin is poorly absorbed by the gastrointestinal tract and only trace amounts appear in the blood after oral intake. Curcumin from BCM95 is better absorbed and more than 33 publications are showing its efficacy in various health indications.

Which ingredients, according to you, have potential but are least explored in the market?
The US people are consciously searching for foods to meet personal needs. Americans are turning to food to fill needs beyond hunger or craving. They want to understand the impact of each ingredient on one’s body, and how to select and optimise their diet in order to improve quality of life. While they may be more aware of the added benefits that certain ingredients are expected to provide, they are going online to educate themselves on how to consume these functional ingredients. This shift makes an unprecedented demand for health ingredients which are clinically proven and backed by scientific data. Turmeric or curcumin heads the list. Companies investing their focus on R&D can certainly make the best out of this gap in the market. Numerous research reports and clinical studies indicate the beneficial effects of nutraceuticals. Clinical studies have shown that curcumin can be effective in the treatment of several diseases. Another study confirmed the anti-inflammatory action of the molecule. Curcumin has immense potential and needs much research for understanding its many health benefits.

What are your views on regulations for nutraceuticals industry in India?
The authorities should ensure periodic random check on the label claims of health supplement brands available in the market. This will throw light towards finding genuine players helping consumer identity and choose the best for their health.  Currently, most nutraceuticals are sold on the strength of advertising campaigns. Many products that are launched with great health claims soon turn out to be a bit of a damp squib. The only solution for this is controlled clinical trials. The clinical efficacy of many Ayurvedic herbs can be proved with clinical studies.

How will GST affect the nutraceuticals segment in India? What are your expectations from regulators and government?
We hope the latest GST move from the government will ensure reduction in the price of nutraceuticals products eventually benefiting the consumers.

What is the current R&D taking place in the company?
We are studying various Indian herbs that have therapeutic potential to identify the active ingredient, standardise with the key component study clinically and document the results.

What are your new launches and expansion/acquisition plans for the company?
We have recently launched a new manufacturing plant with a view to expand our production capacity by 300%. The Coimbatore manufacturing facility of Arjuna is currently equipped to produce high purity Omega-3 fatty acids. Arjuna has also forayed into food and beverage segment with the launch of natural food preservatives and colours.

How much is the expected turnover for the year 2017-18? At what rate is the company growing?
Rs 300 crore. The company is growing at 20% yearly.

How big are the nutraceuticals and dietary supplements industries in India? Where do we stand at the global level?
The nutraceuticals industry in India is still in the nascent stage and is surely to grow at an exponential rate in the coming years. This is due to the shift in the consumer mindset and growing demand for products backed by clinical studies and scientific data.

What are the technological advancements taking place in the industry?
The shift from synthetic to natural health supplements has resulted in many technological advancements in the delivery, analysis and manufacturing to provide quality products at the best price. Functional beverages are a growing segment   and they are considered to be an excellent medium for delivering nutraceuticals components, such as soluble fibres and herbal extracts. Now in the market a guava juice with a soluble dietary fibre such as pectin is available. A leading manufacturer of chewing gum, Fertin Pharma A/S, Denmark, has come up with an immunity-enhancing chewing gum containing Echinacea purpurea extract.

For innovative ideas to become practical, many technological  advancements are required. Spray chilling, Lyophilizer are some of the technological advancements to obtain the final product in the dried format for a specific end-use.
 
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