Welcome to The Gold Standard, a quarterly feature on leading, cutting-edge raw materials suppliers. These are companies setting new standards, breaking new ground, solving industry issues, conducting business with integrity, and expanding markets through innovative products and applications. Innovative leaders that discover, research and develop a new category. Practices that separate a commodity supplier from a thought leader.
For this inaugural Gold Standard issue, we are focusing on leading companies in the field of research and science. The linchpin of successful nutritional ingredient companies is research — it's what separates average marketing companies from dedicated companies looking to make a real difference in the welfare of the general public. Here, we profile four leaders who have demonstrated their commitment to excellence.
The Functional Foods & Nutraceuticals editorial advisory board led the way in developing this list of top-flight companies worthy of mention. We hope our readers will be able to profit from our collective expertise.
In 2004, regulatory bodies were threatening consumers' future ability to access chromium picolinate anywhere in Europe. The United Kingdom's Food Standards Agency (FSA) was looking to keep the ingredient off its positive list of allowable ingredients for a lack of evidence vouching its safety.
New York-based Nutrition 21, the patent holder of the Chromax brand chromium picolinate, quickly amassed its scientific dossier of evidence and submitted it to the agency. By the end of 2004, the agency pronounced the ingredient safe.
The turnaround demonstrated the power of science in swaying the opinion of a national regulatory body that could influence the entire European Union.
"We put significant effort into submitting a safety dossier to meet safety requirements of the FSA," said James Komorowski, Nutrition 21's vice president of technical services and scientific affairs. "Once the agency determined that Chromax chromium picolinate was safe, we were then able to use our UK derogation as a reference point in our successful attainment of 18 additional national derogations in the European Union for continued sale until 2009."
The company has collaborated with academic institutions such as Duke and Harvard, and is seeing the US National Institutes of Health fund six studies evaluating the benefits of chromium and chromium picolinate in insulin sensitivity and diabetes, Komorowski said. Nutrition 21 holds 27 US patents for chromium compounds, their uses and Chromax.
"As the nutraceuticals industry becomes more sophisticated, more and more patented products are brought to market," said Komorowski. "When retailers and other supply-chain partners look at the logos, and both ® and ™ symbols, they have an appreciation that the science, R&D and marketing behind these symbols is often an immense investment, not only in their products but also for the benefit of consumers, retailers and the industry-at-large."
Natural Health Science
Versatility in a natural bioactive can sometimes be difficult to market. Consumers sometimes view such natural 'cure-alls' with a jaundiced eye. The best way to counter such views is to validate the claims with published research in peer-reviewed journals.
Such is the case with Pycnogenol, patented by Horphag Research in Switzerland and distributed in North America by Natural Health Science. Pycnogenol contains a unique combination of procyanidins, bioflavonoids and organic acids that offer condition-specific nutrition to the cardiovascular system, diabetes care, as an anti-inflammatory, in skin care and more.
And it has published more than 160 scientific papers and 57 clinical trials to prove it. And more than 400 vitamin and cosmetics products, as well as functional beverages in Japan, to vouch for it.
"The number of members in the club of products with validated clinical research are limited," said Frank Schonlau, PhD, director of scientific communications for Horphag Research. "In vitro research is primarily of interest to scientists to elucidate the basic biochemical mechanisms. Yet, only clinical research is valid for supporting the use of Pycnogenol — or any other active nutritional ingredient — for a particular health concern. Publishing the results of clinical trials in peer-reviewed medical journals allows us to conclude that the represented data is valid."
Ocean Nutrition Canada
Almost single-handedly taking the underdeveloped category of fish oils in 2001 and creating a blockbuster category is due to Ocean Nutrition's commitment to quality control, research and innovative technologies. President Robert Orr helped convene an industry task force to establish quality standards in the fledgling fish oil field. About 18 months later, a voluntary monograph and analytical methods were established, with 26 companies signed on — half of which failed the quality standards. But by 2004, 42 of 43 companies had passed.
"The key to any success is science to differentiate safety, quality and efficacy," said Orr. "I've talked with companies wondering if they should go from 0.5 per cent to 0.75 per cent of sales on quality control. We spend 3.5 per cent. Quality is critical."
Getting ahead of the quality curve has been quite a catch. Media reports of mercury-contaminated fish were not able to dent the fish oil supplements market — in no small part because of the work of the industry quality control working group.
In the last year, the privately held Ocean Nutrition unveiled its Meg-3 ingredient, an omega-3 powder, which makes the uber-ingredient available for food integration without any of the undesirable fish oil taste or smell issues. It was created through a unique micro-encapsulation process, and is already findings its way into breads, yoghurts, juices and more.
Ayurveda herbals from India are widely available in large part because of systematic research and intellectual property work of Sabinsa. Its most high profile of more than 100 ingredients is ForsLean, an extract of the Coleus forskohlii plant.
Sabinsa set up relationships with farmers in India to cultivate and harvest Coleus through a nongovernmental organization (NGO). Sabinsa trains the NGO personnel, and they in turn train the farmers. After these relationships were cemented, Sabinsa patented the extract's unique mechanism of action in the US and European Union, with patents pending in Canada and Japan.
And it has been diligent in both prosecuting patent violations (there have been a few) as well as publishing research to validate the extract's efficacy, which basically works by promoting lean body mass.
"The golden standard in any scientific research is a report of such research published in a peer-review magazine," said Vladimir Badmaev, MD, PhD, vice president of scientific and medical affairs for Sabinsa. "The published studies represent only a fraction of almost 10 years of pre-clinical and clinical experience with ForsLean. In that time, Sabinsa had sponsored seven clinical and one pre-clinical study as well as an extensive toxicological evaluation."