In recent years, the role of branded ingredients has gained prominence as ingredient manufacturers have invested in clinical trials and consumer marketing, as well as formed partnerships with major product manufacturers. For manufacturers, the benefits of a high-quality branded ingredient can be considerable. As Kemin Foods? Marketing Director Steve Hanson noted in a 2002 Functional Foods & Nutraceuticals article, ?A complementary ingredient brand can serve as a kind of tie-breaker between similar consumer product brands.?
But as the market for branded ingredients has grown, the field has been flooded with players whose products may lack solid scientific credentials. That?s not the case with Lyc-O-Mato, the natural extract of tomato lycopene, phytoene, phytofluene, beta-carotene, phytosterols and vitamin E produced by LycoRed Natural Products Industries Ltd. of Beer-Sheva, Israel. Plenty of manufacturers produce and market synthetic lycopene, one of the hot ingredients du jour, but LycoRed Vice President of Sales and Marketing Scott Larkin said that those players don?t have the research or the brand punch to back up their health claims.
?We?ve been around since the early ?90s and have actually sponsored most of the clinical studies on lycopene,? Larkin said. ?We actually found and speciated a lycopene-rich tomato and now have our own seeds, plant our own crops and do our own extraction.? The lycopene in the oil that LycoRed extracts from tomatoes contains lycopene, but Larkin said the true benefit of Lyc-O-Mato comes from the synergy of all the ingredients in the mix.
LycoRed has sponsored a number of clinical studies to provide evidence for its claims of Lyc-O-Mato?s health benefits. With one claim of prostate cancer prevention pending with the Food and Drug Administration, Larkin said a range of recent studies have convinced the National Cancer Institute that lycopene?s antioxidant characteristics make it chemopreventative throughout the entire body.
So why should a retailer care to stock products from Lyc-O-Mato?s retail partners rather than products fortified with any old lycopene extract? Larkin said that the clinical evidence indicates that the mix of ingredients in Lyc-O-Mato performs better than synthetic lycopene alone. ?The big pharmacos will take just the lycopene and make a synthetic analog, which has never been proven to do anything,? he said. Lycopene-enhanced multivitamins can contain as little as 250 micrograms of synthetic lycopene, whereas clinical research on the benefits of lycopene has been performed at a daily dosage of 15 mg. This question of clinical relevance and efficaciousness is the crux of the matter for Anthony Almada, chief scientific officer of ImagiNutrition, a Laguna Niguel, Calif.-based company that creates intellectual property by developing new ingredient compositions and then running clinical trials on the compounds to make sure they work and are safe.
?Typically, branded ingredient companies focus on chemistry—?We have 95 percent of X in our product.? Does that mean the product is better than a competitor with 75 percent or 85 percent X?? asked Almada. ?Consumers don?t buy products for their chemistry; they buy them for their in-body biology. I don?t buy a product for its percentages; I buy it for what it does in my body. Unless a company shows that its exact extract or ingredient does something in humans, its product?s purity or organic qualities will be further down in consumer relevance.?
Retailers will not have access to all the existing information when making decisions about which branded ingredients to carry, Almada said. Since there?s no law mandating that companies publish the results of unfavorable studies, companies pick and choose to find those studies that best support their claims while hiding the results of any studies that might show their product to be no more effective than a placebo. Even if retailers can?t see results from all studies, they can ask to see results from studies that did have positive results for the specific product in question.
In the drive to bring a branded ingredient to market, many product developers just buy an ingredient and add it into their finished product. ?It?s rare to see a branded ingredient all by itself,? explained Almada, but he noted that adding a branded ingredient to a beverage, for example, could have an impact on the ingredient?s effectiveness. In the acidic, sugary environment of an orange juice beverage, for example, Almada believes a manufacturer who did not do tests on the effectiveness of the ingredient in the juice solution would be rolling the dice on the ingredient?s effectiveness. The same sort of unforeseen interactions could occur if a branded ingredient is mixed with five, 10 or 15 other ingredients, suggested Almada. He believes retailers should ask for evidence that 14 ingredients plus a branded echinacea work the same as the echinacea alone. While many industry sources will say that all herbs work together synergistically, Almada said he has seen studies indicating that herbs can just as easily work at cross-purposes to each other.
The bottom line, said Almada, is that a retailer selling a branded-ingredient product should ask to see data on the efficacy of the actual product in question. ?These comparisons are done for new computers to test their speed. They are done with new cars to test their braking times. But when people add a branded ingredient to products, they are just assuming it works,? Almada said. He encouraged retailers to ask manufacturers? reps to show where their actual ingredient is mentioned in the data, as well as to promise or prove in writing that none of the people who conducted a favorable study had an economic interest in the success of the ingredient. Only with these safeguards does Almada believe retailers can feel confident supplying their customers with the latest and greatest in branded ingredients.
Scott Smith, vice president at Taiyo International in Minneapolis, wholeheartedly agrees with the importance of having a branded ingredient backed by clinical and safety studies. Taiyo?s Suntheanine ingredient, a patented pure form of the amino acid L-theanine found in green tea, is backed by human clinical trials showing the compound promotes an alert state of relaxation without drowsiness. Taiyo said it has conducted additional research showing Suntheanine could improve sleep quality, diminish premenstrual symptoms, improve learning performance, heighten mental acuity, promote concentration, reduce the negative side effects of caffeine and support the immune system.
Cargill certainly doesn?t want anyone riding on the work that it has done to develop a phytosterol product that blocks the absorption of cholesterol. Minute Maid Premium Heart Wise with CoroWise plant sterols from Minneapolis-based Cargill Health & Food Technologies neatly proves the points of both Almada and Smith. Cargill not only has patents and clinical evidence to support its all-natural phytosterol product, it also took the branding of the ingredient seriously—from the logo (leaf imagery to signify nature, heart imagery to convey better cardiac health) to the name itself. ?Plant sterols are not friendly words,? said Pam Stauffer, marketing programs manager at Cargill. ?They conjure up images of steroids and being sterile. CoroWise makes people think of the words coronary and wise. They feel they have made a smart choice.?
Stauffer said Cargill believes having the CoroWise name on a package will help draw attention to specific products in a category and help them stand out. ?Heart health is becoming increasingly important,? she said. ?It?s amazing how many people have high cholesterol. Retailers are interested in carrying these products [with CoroWise] to meet consumer demand.?
Cargill supports its product and the products of partners like Minute Maid with marketing (including joint marketing) and clinical studies. Cargill has evidence from a clinical study not just of CoroWise, but also of the effects of drinking two 8-ounce servings of CoroWise-enhanced Minute Maid Premium Heart Wise juice per day. The study shows that this amount of CoroWise-spiked juice is effective in lowering total blood and LDL (?bad?) cholesterol. On the marketing front, Cargill uses everything from a consumer-friendly Web site to public relations, trade shows, print ads and TV to raise consumer awareness of its branded ingredient—a benefit that undoubtedly rebounds onto its partner products.
?We still have a long way to go with consumer awareness,? admitted Stauffer. Few people are walking into stores and asking for CoroWise-enhanced products by name, but with high-profile collaborations with Minute Maid and a new Yoplait yogurt, brand recognition is on the rise.
The branded ingredient industry is still a long way from the ubiquity and power that a simple Intel Inside badge conveyed upon computer manufacturers, but with players like Cargill teaming with major manufacturers, and LycoRed spending millions of dollars to raise brand awareness, we can expect to see the trend accelerate and the competition among ingredient makers intensify. Just remember to look into the details of the clinical evidence before deciding which branded ingredients really add value.
Aaron Dalton (www.imaginationwins.com) is a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based freelance writer.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVI/number 6/p. 64, 66