29 Mar 2018 --- Products making false health claims are a blight on the food industry, consumers and of course, manufactures. A case in point is the natural product of Saw Palmetto extract, where six suppliers of the natural drug were found to have “little-to-no actual Saw Palmetto extract,” according to scientists at Valensa International. NutritionInsight spoke to Umasudhan, CEO of Valensa, to gain a deeper insight into this issue, and how battling the fakes fits into the company’s ethical, centralized strategy.
The food industry should be mindful of what drives its consumers to buy specific products, engage with different brands and seek out certain ingredients. Innova Market Insights reports that the leading consumer trend for this year is in fact, Mindful choices.
With this topping the top ten trends, consumers are far more educated about what they want to put in their body and most importantly, why. An Innova 2017 survey demonstrated that 7 in 10 consumers want to know and understand the ingredient list of products they buy, and consumers are increasingly looking to inherent health benefits from natural ingredients that reflect a “real” product.
Valensa offer “innovative, nature-based, clinically effective formulations for human health,” with their leading product being a Saw Palmetto product for men’s urinary tract health and prostate function normalization.
Authenticity and reputability of products making health claims, product purity, efficacy and compliance are all concerns of Valensa's, says Umasudhan.
Valensa responded to fraudulent claims on many Saw Palmetto ranges by offering a free analysis of any commercial grade ingredient claiming to be Saw Palmetto. They are also working with an external third-party laboratory to test the products.
“We had to do this, as we heard companies were selling products using only Saw Palmetto berry powder or, they were buying Saw Palmetto oil but then mixing it with palm oil or other cheap vegetables oils,” Umasudhan tells NutritionInsight.
“This is a scam, as the power of Saw Palmetto berries lies in its oil. The oil must be extracted from the ripened berries, and there must be a specific ratio of fatty acids. This ratio cannot be imitated. We offer this service to protect customers from fake or copycat Saw Palmetto products,” he adds.
Valensa has gone to extra lengths to create awareness on falsely advertised products, but in ramping up the traceability and of its Saw Palmetto supply chain:
“We harvest Saw Palmetto berries from the palms, some of which are 300 years old, that grow in Florida, in the wilderness and swamp areas. In the past, the harvesting process was quite unorganized but recently we have made efforts to step up regarding our supply chain programs.”
“We now have a more organized and structured approach that involves the whole supply chain – such as pickers and farmers – and making the whole process traceable, sustainable and ethical,” says Umasudhan.
Arguably, the engagement of companies that provide natural products that hold strong health claims is of growing importance. In light of mindful consumers that have a robust health halo, products that have effects on medical disorders but derive from natural sources are experiencing a spike in popularity. In this way, there is a degree of responsibility that Valensa, for example, engages with.
“Health, the natural space and clean label are all huge mega-trends now, with companies like Nestlé entering the scene. With the advent of the internet, consumers are taking their health into their own hands and seeking out their own health and nutritional products.”
“The industry has a long way to go in terms of catching up with this, but it is so important to bring evidence and science-based products to take up a larger share of the market. There are many challenges with scams that work their way in, unfortunately.”
To further aid their advancement in “uneven playing field” Valensa has partnerships with companies such as the American Botanical Council.
Aside from their Saw Palmetto range, the company target immune, joint and eye health and are expanding their research of products utilizing microalgae.
The consistency of front-of-pack health claims aligning with the products actual effects on health is a journey for the food industry to continue following, to avoid leaving consumers feeling ill-informed and misled.
By Laxmi Haigh
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