The days of relying on historical use of herbals are over – consumers demand scientific proof of benefits

By Elizabeth Crawford contact

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Getty/ asab974
Source: Getty/ asab974

Related tags: botanical, Herbal, functional claims

Relying on historical usage of botanicals to help sell functional foods and beverages is no longer enough as consumers become increasingly sophisticated in how they approach and vet products to help boost their immunity, provide stress relief and reinforce their energy and mental acuity, according to the science-based herbal extract provider Karallief.

“A big thing about functional ingredients – especially when it comes to food and beverages – is consumers want to be more proactive about their health and they’re not just going by what a company says on the label. Rather, they’re researching these products and making sure what they buy has data behind them. So, they want companies who have scientific studies, and that is a big change” ​from before the pandemic, Krishna Rajendran, CEO of the nutraceutical company Karallief, told FoodNavigator-USA.

He explained that before the coronavirus outbreak, many consumers – and by extension CPG manufacturers and brands – relied on traditional, historical usage to understand or convey the benefits of botanicals, herbals and other functional ingredients in their products.

“All of these plants have been used for thousands of years, so you can use them. But many companies don’t actually do any of the studies. They don’t do the safety studies. They don’t do the efficacy studies. Yet, they claim their products have functional benefits, even though there is no proof,”​ Rajendran said.

He added that while consumers may have tolerated this – or taken the claims for granted -- before the coronavirus outbreak, the pandemic prompted many to take a more critical look at preventive health measures and food as medicine. Now consumers want to know a product will deliver on claims and is more effective than other options. As a result, manufacturers are stepping up their game and seeking ingredients with scientific data to support claims.

“What I have seen now is companies we work with, especially food and beverage companies, asking for data. They no longer just say, ‘Hey, can you give us any herbal extract that can help with immunity?’ And then just take what is recommended. Now, they are asking for an immunity ingredient and the data that shows the ingredient is superior to others on the market,”​ Rajendran said.

He added that manufacturers are then making that information available to consumers, who also want to know about safety, efficacy, and source an ingredient, as well as, how one supplier compares to another.

To meet this demand, Rajendran said, Karallief not only conducts its own scientific studies, but it relies on its scientific advisory board of medical doctors, naturopathic doctors, scientists and other professionals.

“Synergistic” blends beyond immunity support wanted

As consumers become more accepting of herbals and food as medicine, manufacturers also are moving beyond basic, well-known, single ingredients, and looking for innovative “synergistic”​ blends that are “game changers in the industry,”​ Rajendran said.

By partnering with the herbal extract manufacturer Green Chem, Karallief is able to help food and beverage companies create unique herbal blends, and it has 25 international patents for proprietary formulas.

According to its website, Karallief currently offers blends for joint health, liver health and heart health and it is developing blends to support sleep & relaxation, immunity, and energy – all of which Rajendran says are popular requests from food and beverage manufacturers.

While less common, he added that there is room for product development with herbals that support cognitive health – which currently is being met primarily through energy boosting ingredients that boost alertness and with that mental clarity.

Even as companies explore unique herbal blends, Rajendran notes there is still high consumer demand for single ingredients that provide functional benefits. And given many consumers are on a continuum of adoption and understanding of herbals, offering single ingredients as well as blends can help companies meet shoppers where they are.

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