The International Aloe Science Council has represented the industry for more than 30 years, and in that time the ingredient, which features mostly prominently in beverages but is also used in cosmetics and in dietary supplements, has become one of the world’s best selling botanicals.
“Our members in general have positive viewpoints of the market. They are opportunities growing in cosmetics as well as in different types of beverages,” Jane Wilson, executive director of IASC told NutraIngredients-USA.
MLMs power market
One of the things that helps propel the demand for aloe is the fact that Herbalife, the world’s biggest network marketing company devoted solely to nutritional products, has for years had an assortment of aloe beverages as one of its mainstay product lines. Herbalife, which sells products in more than 90 countries, recorded $4.5 billion in revenue in 2015.
“There are several MLMs, not quite as big as Herbalife, that also feature aloe prominently in their products lines,” Wilson said. One of these, Forever Living Products which is based in Scottsdale, AZ, was one of the founding members of the IASC, she noted.
The last time the IASC tried to put a number on the overall size of the global aloe market was under the leadership of former executive director Devon Powell. He drew together some information from market reports, press reports and other sources to come up with what he said was a figure that was akin to a Gross Domestic Product for aloe. The number he quoted at the IASC meeting in Las Vegas, NV in November 2012 was $13 billion. Powell did some calculations including extrapolating from global cosmetic sales by assuming that 2% of these contained aloe as an ingredient.
Wilson said that the IASC is not at the moment planning a similar globalized effort and is in fact not planning to spend staff time to evaluate the market at all. Rather, she said the organization is evaluating several commercially available market reports to see if the numbers quoted there reflect the experience of the organization’s members. These reports were more tightly focused on the actual sale of aloe ingredients and as such would not be easily compared to Powell’s $13 billion ‘GDP’ figure. Nevertheless, she said she was confident that the market has been growing steadily, an assumption borne out by reports of expanding acreage in Mexico to meet demand.
Supporting the science
One of the things that experts have said has held back the aloe market from even stronger growth is the dearth of science backing the ingredient. Wilson said that a breakout session on aloe at the upcoming Botanical Congress put on by the American Herbal Products Association will help address this gap.
“The breakout session on aloe will be split between regulatory questions and science presentations,” Wilson said. “We will have some Korean researchers presenting their research on aloe for immune support. Research on blood sugar control will also be presented.”
And Wilson said that progress on developing an AOAC-approved method for verification and quantification of aloe components will be detailed at the meeting.
“Aloe vera is a very complex collection of constituents. It’s not that there have been no methods available up to now to test for these, it’s just that we haven’t had a method verified by a body like the AOAC. The gold standard is NMR testing, but that can be expensive. We are working on lower-cost methods that all suppliers can use,” she said.
Threats from regulators, class action lawyers
Aloe survived a regulatory scare last year with proposal to list the ingredient as a known carcinogen under Prop 65 by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA). This preliminary listing was based on a study conducted by the National Toxicology Program that critics said used a form of aloe, the ‘non-decolorized’ form, that contained irritant constituents called aloins that are removed from properly manufactured aloe ingredients. The NTP study used a form of the ingredient that is not commonly found in the marketplace, the critics said. Wilson said the OEHHA did make this distinction in its final Prop 65 rule that was posted in December 2015, and when the deadline comes up this December for putting a warning label on aloe products in California, those that are manufactured in accordance with IASC guidelines won’t have to comply, she said.
IASC offers a certification program that includes site inspections for GMP compliance. Going through the program and complying with the testing protocols allows producers to use an IASC verified seal on their products. Wilson said there have been several warning letters that gave been sent recently to aloe producers (who were not IASC members, by the way) that showed that producers were not complying with dietary supplement GMPs and failed also to comply with the regulations surrounding acidified foods. She said taking the extra steps to obtain IASC certification might have headed off some of those concerns as well as another that has plagued the aloe industry, namely that some of the products on the shelf contain little if any aloe. Several recent class action lawsuits that take aim at some big names like Target and CVS allege just that (the suits target topical gel products). Wilson said that it’s likely that more such suits are in the offing.
“I was contacted by a law firm looking for analytical labs so I have to assume it’s going to spread,” Wilson said.