A deal signed between multinational Unilever and British biotech firm Phytopharm to market food products containing Hoodia gordonii could spark a $2 billion industry, according to market analysts.
Unilever and Phytopharm will collaborate on a five-stage R&D programme and Unilever will also manage a separate agronomy programme and will support the international patent programme.
Unilever spokesman Tim Johns admitted market-ready products are two to three years away and said Unilever would have preferred to delay announcement, but Phytopharm?s public company status meant it was obliged to declare the $40 million pact when the deal was struck in December.
?There are several obstacles to overcome,? Johns said. ?The right technology, a suitable application, the right consumer proposition and of course the right marketing. For instance, does it form part of the SlimFast range? Is it to be aimed at obese people or other kinds of weight managers??
Phytopharm?s shares rose more than 10 per cent following the announcement and ensuing flood of mainstream press. Hoodia supplement sales also exploded on the back of the sudden exposure as consumers sought to satisfy their curiosity about the South African plant?s potential to suppress appetite.
Phytopharm will receive an undisclosed portion of the money and a fraction of the sales in royalties if the products make it to market, as will the Kalahari bushmen who had original custodial rights over the plant.
Johns said there was no link between the hoodia deal and SlimFast?s falling sales.