The future of functionality

We asked industry leader Loren Israelsen, executive director of the Utah Natural Products Alliance and Fi advisory board member, to peer into the future of functional ingredients. Here are his thoughts on the hot topics that will impact the industry in 2008

Forecasting 2008 from a functional-ingredients perspective has become a fool's game. But, here goes anyway with a look at some of the issues: Country of Origin Labelling (COOL). At no time in recent memory has the country of origin of ingredients provoked such consternation among consumers. Whether pet food, toothpaste, tires or toys, we see regulators and consumers judging safety and quality as a function of geographic location. China is the pi?ata du jour, particularly in the US. The United States Congress is actively considering legislation that would mandate ingredient-specific country-of-origin labelling. Should this happen, COOL will become very hot indeed. The issue is not where something is made, but how it is made, which goes directly to the issue of GMP management and supply-chain oversight. Bashing China is unhelpful and foolish. Ingredient safety and authenticity is a global issue, and piling on a specific country only distracts from the more immediate and difficult task of taking direct responsibility for one's own supply chain and manufacturing controls.

Climate change and supply capacity. One of the troubling consequences of climate change is the sudden loss of botanicals due to drought or rain patterns. Only days ago, a colleague who is a world authority on botanical sourcing noted that there are regions in the world where the word 'flood' has never existed, but does now. Small changes in temperature are translating to major shifts in growing season, pollination cycles, aridity and loss of migrant labor to collect crops. The bottom line is that scarcity and unpredictability of supply will destabilize and spook botanical raw-materials markets, and prices will rise.

Natural cosmetics. Due, in large part, to a determined and effective campaign by the Environmental Working Group/Safe Cosmetic Program, natural and organic cosmetics will become a major storyline in 2008. Why would natural-health/organic consumers go to the effort and expense to eat all-natural and organic foods only to go home and wash, powder and moisturize themselves in the very same chemicals they assiduously avoid in their diets? Answer: until recently, most consumers have not understood that the skin is the body's largest active transport system — 'what goes on goes in.' This is changing rapidly. A significant part of the functional-ingredients market goes to the personal-care sector. Yet, the functional-foods and dietary-supplements markets are asleep at the wheel by not actively supporting growth of the organic and natural personal-care sectors, where millions of women await the glorious day when they can both look beautiful and feel safe.

Traditional medicine is going modern. Two recent events confirm this. Coca-Cola has recently announced a $30 million collaboration with the China Academy of Medical Sciences — all to the purpose of co-operating and developing healthy beverages from Chinese herbs. In other words, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is going global. It seems possible that the modern interpretation of TCM will come through the 'old is new again' approach. It is a lovely thought that it will be possible one day to buy something along the lines of 'Dong Quai Thunder' at a vending machine around the corner. Demand for high-quality and clean botanicals will surge, as will public acceptance of Chinese herbs that until now have been the domain of exotic Asian restaurants and acupuncture parlors.

On the Ayurvedic front, a new direct selling company, called Zrii, endorsed by Deepak Chopra and the Chopra Institute, will feature a large-format beverage based on the 5,000-year-old system of Ayurvedic medicine ( Hopefully, further attention will be drawn to such star ingredients as turmeric, ginger and amalaki — all of which merit far greater consumer acceptance and use.

A closing thought. Will all of these potentially interesting developments be overshadowed by an Olympic doping scandal? It would be a tragedy to see a synchronized-swimming team tossed out of the pool. Equally troubling would be further cases of exploding pajamas, hallucinogenic domino sets, or in our case, contaminated herbs or vitamins.

Or, consider the consequences of a sudden collapse of the honey-bee population. Google 'Colony Collapse Disorder' on the Internet for a sobering look at a potentially catastrophic issue that would affect food and plant-crop production worldwide.

So, as I said, forecasting 2008 is a dangerous game — especially if you are hedging in dollars.

For more on supply issues, see 'Industry Viewpoint.'

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