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October 31, 2009
In 2007, hoodia looked as if it might be the answer to America's weight problems. Mainstream sales for the product reached $2 million. Within a year sales dropped faster than a bathroom scale in a weight center as concerns about product authenticity rose. It seemed as if every fly-by-night company had a hoodia product as industry members noted that demand had outstripped supply, yet hoodia products were everywhere from natural-products stores to truck stops. As fraud became a growing concern, sales dipped to $776,381 by May 2008 in mainstream channels.
When Unilever dropped the product from further testing in 2008, many thought the ingredient would die a slow death. But more recently, hoodia sales have put on some weight, inching up to $1,074,301 as of mid-May 2009. The reasons aren't entirely clear, but some of the earlier problems have been resolved. The American Herbal Products Association jumped in to set standards for product testing and worked toward CITES protection for the endangered plant. There are still outliers selling fake products, but for companies on the up and up, the ingredient still has merit.
The other issue for product popularity is that satiety is gaining prevalence in weight management, and hoodia is believed to act as a satiety stimulator. Just how hoodia turns on an "I am full" memo from the mouth to the brain isn't entirely understood. A component called PL57, identified by early Pfizer research for hoodia's potential use as a pharmaceutical, has been researched over the years but there is still more study to be done.
One company that is trying to address the past issues of product quality and efficacy is Desert Labs. The Israeli-based company is cultivating Hoodia gordonii on the Kibbutz Yotvata (not in Africa), and processing the plant on sight in order to retain complete control of product quality. In the past, hoodia gained a poor reputation because less than ethical companies were selling unknown substances as hoodia. This not only diluted consumer confidence, it also tainted the product's reputation as an effective weight-management product.
Desert Labs is trying to overcome both obstacles. Not only does it cultivate the plant under protective endangered CITES guidelines, it tests for optimum growing conditions, purity and delivery methods. The plant is chopped fresh and frozen in an ice cube, hence the product name, the Ice Cube Diet. According to company-sponsored studies, the processing method preserves the plant's unique properties, especially P57 and its ability to lower blood triglycerides, says Susan Knightly, sales manager for Desert Labs. Most suppliers heat and dry the plant, which degrades hoodia's efficacy, says Knightly. The product was recognized at Expo East as a unique new product.
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