Natural ingredients key for Evonik's growth strategy


23 Aug 2017 --- With an expanding portfolio that includes omega 3 fatty acids and anthocyanin-rich extracts, global specialty chemicals company Evonik Industries is boldly expanding its presence in the Advanced Food Ingredients market. NutritionInsight spoke with Dr. Ludger Eilers, Director of Evonik Health Care’s Food Ingredient Segment, about this move as well as the company’s latest R&D projects and ingredients.

Evonik Health Care is one of 8 business lines of Evonik’s Nutrition & Care segment which employs approximately 7,500 employees, and generated sales of around €4.3 billion in 2016. The Advanced Food Ingredients area of Evonik Health Care provides naturally occurring compounds & food ingredients with proven health benefits in over 100 countries around the world.

“Although at this point we're not yet as known as we would like to be in the food industry for naturally occurring ingredients, we have a number of competencies that can be applied here. We have a strong footprint in production, in fermentation processes, in extraction, in downstream processing. And we have been a leader in amino acids for 60 years,” Eilers says.

The Food Ingredient Segment certainly has big plans for its future within the company. “We're very happy to have been selected [as one of the company’s six focus areas of growth] because this will help us to drive forward innovation at a faster pace. Moreover, we will see more exciting products coming out of our pipeline going forward,” Eilers comments.

“The only point in the value chain where value is really injected is, of course, at the consumer level,” Eilers adds. “The consumer generally prefers naturally occurring products that have actually been proven to work. We have taken up this thought or theme, and so for us, health ingredients are naturally occurring products with proven health benefits.”

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“Another element we can contribute is when it comes to coatings and targeted delivery of ingredients; this is something we have learned on the pharma side of the business. For about six decades we have been considered the gold standard when it comes to oral drug delivery,” Eilers notes. 

This experience could prove to be crucial. “We took these technologies and introduced them into the nutraceutical market about two years ago. We can leverage our 10 regional application labs, which we have in all major markets, to bring health ingredients and delivery technologies together. By bringing health ingredients to the spot in the body where they work best, there will be an advantage for the consumer because the product will work better due to better bioavailability. This is where we can really add value,” Eilers says.

Eilers also anticipates new hires for the company to increase what it can offer. “We can draw from many competencies we already have in-house, but we are also adding new competencies by hiring industry experts,” he says. “We currently have three openings: we want to hire a nutritional scientist, we are in the process of hiring a director for new health ingredients and we are also strengthening our European sales force with an additional sales manager.”

With SupplySide West in the US coming up in a few weeks, the company is strengthening its cardiovascular health platform with the launch of a new omega 3 lysine complex. 

“The beauty of this product is that it presents a powder with the highest load of omega 3 in the industry. The omega 3 load of this powder is at 45 percent, which is amazing. Another major feature is that this product is much more bioavailable compared to traditional fish oil ethyl esters: we are talking about an improvement in bioavailability in the area of three to five times [compared to other products],” Eilers says.

According to Eilers, the product is more bioavailable because Evonik has “mastered the challenge of putting free fatty acids into a solid form. Free fatty acids are not stable as such and the body converts fish oils ethyl esters into free fatty acids, and then these free fatty acids are taken up. We have found a way to bring these free fatty acids into the human body, so we help the body saving the first step in the process of taking up omegas.”

So what is the benefit of this breakthrough? “For the consumer, this is really an opportunity for improved convenience,” according to Eilers. “Because of the bioavailability and the fact that it is solid, brand owners can develop smaller solid dosage forms but put the same amount of omega 3 into the body. Just imagine how much more convenient it is to swallow instead of two large fish oil soft gels, just one small tablet.”

Cognitive improvements
Apart from its cardiovascular health platform, Evonik is also actively targeting improved cognitive health. “We see that there's a need for solutions to counter cognitive decline, for example, the onset of dementia and even Alzheimer's. Evonik has taken on this challenge and we are researching our products Medox and Healthberry in the cognition area. Our products have acquired a strong track record for cardiovascular health; for example, in the past we have had about 15 clinical studies for these products, and we believe that cognitive health area is the new frontier,” Eilers notes of the company’s extensive cognitive health plans.

Click to EnlargeEvonik has partnered up with a number of researchers, including Professor Dag Aarsland from King's College in London, to research the efficacy of the company’s Medox and Healthberry products and how they can benefit the improvement of cognitive functioning in the elderly. Based on promising results of initial studies on the products, a large open clinical trial was initiated just recently.

“We're talking about a trial with about 320 participants. Professor Dag Aarsland is analyzing the effect of Medox and Healthberry on preventing dementia in elderly adults,” explains Eilers. “This ongoing and we expect results in about a year from now.”

Another aging related health area that Eilers believes is not currently receiving much attention is sarcopenia, or age-related muscle loss. “After the age of 45, you lose 1 percent of your lean muscle mass per year,” Eilers points out. “If the industry can come up with an ingredient addressing sarcopenia, this would really have a bright future and would be spot on in the trend of healthy aging. This is something the industry should have a look at and innovate.”

Aging consumer opportunities
Healthy aging is clearly a major consideration for Evonik’s R&D plans. “If you look at the consumer trends, the share of people over 60 years of age grows by roughly 3 percent per year and this is twice as much as the general population grows,” Eilers says of the rapidly changing demographics. “This is a growing market, and elderly people are particularly interested in products and nutraceuticals that work.”

“If you also look at the increasing health care costs; in the US the health care system spending per capita is more than US$9000 per year, which amounts to almost 20 percent of the GDP per capita. It's clear that this is a tremendous opportunity for nutraceutical producers,” Eilers adds.

Eilers points out that Evonik believes it is worthwhile to focus on solutions for healthy aging in combination with addressing and reducing health care costs. He believes this will provide “opportunities for consumers to maintain their health with supplements that actually work.”

Opportunities to look out for
As for future ingredients of interest, Eilers notes that anthocyanins are on the rise.

“On the consumer level anthocyanins may still not be that well known, but I'm convinced that the potential is there to reach awareness that is comparable to omega 3, and this is driven by the strong science in cardiovascular health that already exists today, as well as the new science coming out for the area of diabetes prevention and cognition,” Eilers says.

But it’s not just about gaining consumer awareness. Another key issue revolves around making ingredients available to a larger population, which would require presenting them in alternative delivery forms, beyond the traditional tablets and capsules.

“These alternate delivery forms can be gummies or chewables, or maybe effervescent tablets, cereal bars, protein bars, so addressing the trend of on-the-go nutrition. But that also means that there might be challenges in taste, smell and stability and bioavailability,” Eilers says. “Evonik takes these challenges very seriously because we want these ingredients to work in all delivery forms.”

“Again, this is an area where we can help with our coating technologies and improving bioavailability. Our 10 labs worldwide are built exactly to do that, to work with customers on projects in order to innovate together, and come up with tailored solutions for different customers which allows brand owners to differentiate themselves in the marketplace,” Eilers concludes.

By Lucy Gunn

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