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Jennifer Grebow is editor-in-chief of Nutritional Outlook.
At this year’s SupplySide West trade show, two suppliers talked to us about increasing demand for plant-based vitamin and mineral ingredients.
In a world in which a majority of the vitamins and minerals in dietary supplements are synthesized, some consumers opt for whole-food supplements that provide those vitamins and minerals from plant sources instead. Those who promote plant-based vitamins and minerals claim that because these ingredients come from plants, they naturally contain a broad spectrum of other nutrients that may themselves also provide health benefits. At this year’s SupplySide West trade show, two suppliers we spoke to talked about increasing demand for plant-based vitamin and mineral ingredients.
Saumil Maheshvari, marketing analyst for Orgenetics Inc. (Brea, CA), said the audience for plant-based vitamins and minerals is growing. His company specializes in 100% USDA-certified, standardized plant-based vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
“When we started off about 10 years ago, we were the first ones to innovate and introduce this concept of 100%-USDA-organic vitamins and minerals completely from plants,” he said. “We’ve done that for the last 10 years, and yes, we’ve definitely seen the growth there.”
Suppliers start by identifying a plant that is particularly rich in a target vitamin or mineral. Orgenetics, for instance, produces its Orgen-C vitamin C ingredient (one of its most popular offerings) from certified-organic amla extract. The ingredient is standardized to contain 50% vitamin C, while the remaining 50% consists of cofactors and co-nutrients found naturally in the amla plant (Phyllanthus emblica). These cofactors and co-nutrients, such as non-citrus bioflavonoids and polyphenols, may themselves impart their own health benefits.
Maheshvari said that consumers are catching on to the benefits of plant-based vitamin and mineral nutrition.
“I think that the average consumer is getting educated on the fact that you just don’t need synthetic isolate vitamins, but you really need the entire complex that comes with it,” he said. Not only that, he added, these days consumers may be willing to pay more for natural, plant-derived nutrients over less-expensive synthetics.
He cited vitamin C as an example. “Back when we started in 2007,” he said, “it used to be that the consumer was looking for the cheaper option for their supplements. They were primarily looking for the ones that [met] the U.S. Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA).” And if a supplement provided far more of a vitamin or mineral than the body needs-500% of the RDA for vitamin C, for instance-many consumers believed that was even better. But, according to Maheshvari, that belief is changing.
“I think that the consumer is shifting now to a more educated buying perspective where they’re saying, ‘Well, hold on. I don’t think I need 500% U.S. RDA. I mean, what’s that going to do?’ Now there’s more consumer education saying that if you’re getting 100% U.S. RDA of vitamin C, but you’re also getting the other vital cofactors and co-nutrients needed for the vitamin C to be effective, that might be the better option, rather than going for the 500%, 700%, 1000% RDA,” he added. And that’s where plant-derived vitamins and minerals come in, he said.
Another company, Naturex (Avignon, France), introduced a new line of standardized, plant-based powders at SupplySide West, called NutriRich. These ingredients (available in organic versions, too) are standardized to contain guaranteed amounts of vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial nutrients, said TimothÃ©e Olagne, business development and marketing director, nutrition and health, Naturex. For instance, the company is offering a vitamin C ingredient derived from organic acerola (Malpighia emarginata). It is standardized to 34% vitamin C. (“You don’t [typically] find organic acerola at this level of vitamin C,” Olagne claimed.)
In many cases, Naturex derives the ingredient from the whole plant. Take moringa (Moringa oleifera), another ingredient in the line. “We have a different approach than what you find in the market,” Olagne said. “First, we use the whole plant. That means we use the leaf, which other suppliers use, but also the seed. Why? Because the seed is rich in omega fatty acids, and the leaf is rich in other nutrients. Generally, people just use the leaf.”
Naturex’s moringa powder contains 1% omega-9 fatty acids and 0.6% vitamin E, plus 20% protein, 1.5% fiber, 1.5% calcium, and 1.5% potassium, Olagne said. He added that the company chose to focus on moringa because “we consider it the most nutritious plant in the world. It’s rich in fiber, and it’s rich in protein, omega, vitamin E, calcium, and potassium-and in very substantial amounts, so not just a small claim.”
The methods suppliers use to extract vitamins and minerals from plants may provide added benefits as well, Orgenetics' Maheshvari said. For instance, Orgenetics uses water extraction for its ingredients, including its Orgen-E vitamin E, which is derived from annatto (an extract from the achiote tree). While vitamin E is a fat-soluble nutrient that won’t dissolve in water, extracting vitamin E from a plant source using water extraction is beneficial because “the vitamin E compound, the molecule, is already emulsified in a water-based solution in the plants,” he said.
Finally, Maheshvari said, in the case of iron, plant-based ingredients often provide digestive benefits over their synthesized counterparts. While consumers often experience stomach irritation or even nausea or vomiting with synthetic iron supplements, Orgenetics’ Orgen-I iron, which comes from curry leaves (Murraya koenigii), is easier on the stomach because its cofactors and co-nutrients are “shielding that iron from creating that irritation in the gut in the first place,” he said.
These types of benefits appeal to consumers, the companies say. And, in addition, plant-based nutrition is something consumers inherently perceive as healthy.
Naturex says that NutriRich’s fruit and vegetable origins is something consumers intuitively associate with health. “There’s no question that consumers equate fruits and vegetables with health and nutrition,” the firm said in a press release. “In UK, for example, nearly 80% of consumers believe that fruit and veg health benefits equal those of dietary supplements.” Or, as Olagne said, “fruit and vegetables-it speaks to people.”
Standardization is key to this new generation of vitamin and mineral ingredients, enabling finished-product firms to confidently assure end users that these fruit and vegetable ingredients contain nutritious elements. (“How do you actually prove that it’s good for the end consumer?” Olagne asked.) When companies market an ingredient, he continued, “people generally say it’s rich [in nutrients,] but they are not able to prove it and not able to guarantee a content.” Because NutriRich ingredients do guarantee nutrient levels, with testing verifying that fact, “our customers will be able to make claims,” he said.
Another way in which Naturex is helping to assure health benefits is by doing studies on some of the ingredients. At SupplySide West, the company introduced a new branded ingredient, Aronox, derived from aronia berry and standardized for its polyphenol content. Based on published clinical studies the company has done, the ingredient has been shown to help reduce blood pressure and cholesterol, Olagne said. “Ultimately, what we sell is aronia with proven benefits,” he added. The firm also has research invested in a blueberry ingredient for cognitive function, which Olagne said will launch next year.
Overall, these two suppliers anticipate growing demand for plant-based vitamins and minerals. “We’ve been very fortunate with the way the market has reacted and the way consumers are now shifting toward organic whole-food vitamins and minerals,” Maheshvari said. “We are working very hard, actually, to keep up our supply chain to meet that demand.”
Nutritional Outlook magazine