If current trends prevail, glucosamine—one of the nutraceutical success stories of the past decade—looks set to boom in Europe, the region that first introduced it to the wider world.
Consumers first became aware of the supplement after it was prescribed for joint pain by European doctors. But it took the deregulated US environment for glucosamine to find a truly willing and able mass market. Sales there continue to boom, buoyed by a series of clinical trials that provide all-important scientific validity as well as consumers who repeat-buy at remarkably high and frequent rates.
Now European markets characterised by increasing levels of consumer interest and customer support are warming to glucosamine's potential for enhancing bone and joint health.
For Gilbert Mertens, industry analyst and author of Herbal, Complementary and Alternative Medicines: Connecting to New Realities, while the European climate remains problematic in terms of permitted health claims and regulatory uniformity between Member States, glucosamine is proving there is no substitute for efficaciousness.
"The splintered European regulatory climate has meant many consumers have no idea what glucosamine is and what it can do. For this reason many pharmaceutical companies and supplement manufacturers have been wary about moving into this market," he said. "But the momentum is building rapidly because the science is so solid. The problem is that many European nations have not known how to classify it because it is neither plant nor vitamin."
Glucosamine is usually extracted from Chinese or Indian shellfish.
Kaare Axelson, marketing director at UK-based Buckton Scott Group, says combination products that include ingredients, such as chondroitin have proven the most successful. His company sold more than 700,000kg of glucosamine in the UK last year. Other ingredients used in combination include boswellin, omega-3 and -6, yucca, manganese and vitamins A, C and E.
Axelson said the European industry was adversely affected by a ban on all fish imports from China, which he said was forcing companies to use more expensive and poorer-quality Indian sources.