Impressively, elderberry is capturing significant mainstream attention.
Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) continues to show enormous growth, solidifying its place as a major ingredient, particularly in the immune health category. According to market researcher SPINS (Chicago), during the 52 weeks ending October 6, 2019, cross-channel sales growth of elderberry encompassing mainstream, natural, and specialty gourmet channels was 83.4%, for total sales of $113 million. (For brief insights on this cross-channel growth, click here.) Broken down by channel in terms of the 25 top-selling functional ingredients by dollar sales, elderberry ranked as the 10th bestselling ingredient in the natural channel and the 14th bestseller in the specialty gourmet channel, growing 32.6% and 57.8%, respectively.
Impressively, elderberry is capturing significant mainstream attention. In the conventional multioutlet channel, according to SPINS, elderberry continues to show impressive growth within the cold and flu category, rising in sales by a whopping 116% to nearly $63 million, while other ingredients in the category only showed modest growth or even decline. In fact, elderberry began its ascent in 2018, when SPINS data showed that sales growth of elderberry that year also surpassed 100%.1
This is very positive and welcome news to ingredient suppliers, but increased demand also increases the need for a reliable and legitimate supply of elderberry. Adulteration is an emerging threat for popular herbal ingredients, and two elderberry ingredient suppliers, Artemis International (Fort Wayne, IN) and INS Farms (Purdy, MO), are taking steps to protect themselves and the rest of the supply chain.
Chris Tower, vice president of sales and business development for Artemis International, explains that his firm is actively monitoring the integrity of the supply chain because of what happened with a different, but similar, ingredient.
“Previously, this relative problem of adulteration has been well-identified and documented as threatening another unique and popular botanical extract, European bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus), which similarly to European black elderberry (Sambucus nigra) [is at risk of] fraudulent economic adulteration by anthocyanin-rich extracts derived partly or entirely from a completely different plant species,” explains Tower.
To raise awareness of the problem, Artemis, as a member of the American Botanical Council’s Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program (whose partners include the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia and the University of Mississippi's National Center for Natural Products Research), collaborated with a number of other stakeholders in an effort to validate robust analytical tools available to industry as means to identify and protect against adulteration of European bilberry. Given elderberry’s rising popularity and the subsequent threat of adulteration, Artemis is taking similar measures to raise awareness and has given industry tools to authenticate their elderberry supply.
“Artemis and Iprona, among others, are actively engaged with country-specific pharmacopeias, including the U.S. Pharmacopeia, as well as the American Botanical Council, NGOs, and certain third-party labs, in a goal of transferring and publishing validated species-identification tools to further protect European elderberry (Sambucus nigra) against adulteration,” says Tower.
For its part, INS Farms, a supplier of North American elderberry, is participating in polyphenol fingerprinting and Tru-ID certification. “[Fingerprinting and Tru-ID certification ensure] that another area of the world does not come in and claim they have American elderberry when in fact they don’t,” says Devon Bennett, CEO, INS Farms. “Polyphenol fingerprinting and the Tru-ID certification help set the bar for higher quality in order to prevent adulteration. You cannot have credible research and science without protecting the quality of the elderberry.”
This is as much to protect its own investment as well as the broader supply chain. As a North American supplier, INS also emphasizes that it is an additional source of elderberry, rather than an alternative source.
“INS Farms started in 2012, spending the last six to seven years developing a robust supply chain. This has been a long and very costly way to start, but it was very important to us to assure our customers that we can supply them on a consistent basis and not fall short,” Bennett says. “We also are very careful to not steer people away from European [elderberry]. We believe that the quality of European elderberry is as good or as equal to the American-grown elderberry. By purchasing European elderberry and growing American elderberry, we can help our customers with sourcing it as well in whatever form they need, such as frozen, concentrate, and powder.”
Elderberry is a well-established immune health ingredient, and now a growing body of evidence is demonstrating the potential of elderberry as a prebiotic ingredient, too. For example, a 2012 in vitro study found that anthocyanins such as cyanidin-3-glucoside, a compound found in berries such as black elderberries, have a prebiotic effect, increasing the population of beneficial gut bacteria while also inhibiting the growth of detrimental bacteria.2
More research is still necessary to better understand how elderberry functions as a prebiotic, but as the public interest in digestive health generally, and prebiotics specifically, continues to grow, brands will experiment with novel formulations. The definition of prebiotics is already evolving to make room for a broader range of ingredients.
“The Global Prebiotic Association defines prebiotics as ‘a nutritional product and/or ingredient selectively utilized in the microbiome producing health benefits,’” explains Melanie Bush, director of berry science for Artemis International. “Formerly, prebiotics were essentially limited to fibers that served as ‘substrates’ for bacterial strains in the gut, but the category has been recognizing the prebiotic activity of other compounds like berry polyphenols for their ability to influence and modulate the presence of particular bacterial strains and result in health benefits.”
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