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Botanical ingredients: exploring future scenarios

Article-Botanical ingredients: exploring future scenarios

In the past several years, the use of botanicals in food supplements, functional foods, and beverages has become increasingly popular and commonplace.

From the well-known ingredients like elderflower and ginger to the more obscure such as ginkgo biloba, scientific evidence and new technologies are helping to unveil the vast health benefits that different botanicals offer. 

With consumer awareness in botanicals increasing 70% in the US and UK, and 90% in China over the past couple of years, research conducted by BuzzBack shows that interest in this area is growing exponentially and is projected to continue rising. 

As part of Fi Global Connect: Health Ingredients in the Spotlight, our expert panel came together to discuss the key market and consumer drivers affecting demand for botanicals globally, consider some of the challenges associated with communicating health claims, and reveal new technologies making waves and unlocking the potential of the industry. 

A growing and transformative market

By 2025, the global botanicals market will reach a value of $1.48 billion, rising by 3.5% CAGR from 2019, BuzzBack predicts. With only 30% of consumers claiming not to use a botanical of some sort,

“consumers see that this trend is not only coming but is here to stay and is growing … that figure will get close to 100% in the near future,” Martin Oxley, Managing Director of BuzzBack said.

In the US and UK, supplements are the most popular botanical products, with over 70% consumer awareness, followed by drinks, baked goods and dairy products (25-35%). While in China, consumer awareness is high for supplements, dairy products, and functional foods (all at over 70%).

Botanicals also play into the notion of balance and holistic health that is currently gaining ground with a large proportion of consumers. As Oxley highlights,

“botanicals are associated with things I put on me, not in me … the perception of botanicals is being shaped more by personal care and usage than by consumption.”

Different markets, different consumer demands

The US botanicals market in particular has seen huge growth of recent, increasing from average 6-8% year-on-year growth to 17% in 2020, research from the Nutrition Business Journal shows.

“Something we’ve seen during the last year with the pandemic was the huge impact on immune health … and massive growth in products intended to help with sleep, mental comfort, mood and stress,” Jon Benninger, VP of SupplySide said.

Turmeric, oregano, mushrooms, and berries are amongst the  fastest growing products, and the market has seen a surge in entry from new, millennial and Generation Z consumers who are highly interested and trusting of botanical products, research from SupplySide shows

“In China, the vast majority of growth has been driven by younger, single stay consumers,” Ellie Adams, Managing Director at QIVA Global said.

China has seen a growth in the use of traditional medicines and healthy products and supplements for babies and children over the past few years. In the UK, young consumers are seeking products that maximise potential, compared to older consumers who are more concerned with maintaining health.  


Communicating health benefits to consumers

From a regulatory standpoint, botanical products remain on the European pending list.

“The 2006 regulation on nutrition and health claims made on foods is not working well … it was meant to lead to better communication on information and protection of consumers, but the opposite is happening,” Johnathan Griffith, Chairperson of EHPM Botanical Working Group said.

In the US, recent developments in the market and in technology have prompted regulators to re-examine the current regulatory scheme regarding botanicals. Due to the increased ease of accessing information, companies today do not necessarily need to make claims on products.

“In the next few years, we will see this debate continue to expand in the US … recognising that there’s not one single standard but that we need to take a new look at how we view claims,” Benninger noted.

Innovation in the market

One company hoping to disrupt the botanical space is US-based start-up, Brightseed. Explaining the company’s mission, Sophia Elizondo, Brightseed co-founder and COO said:

“We have built an AI platform that can map the bio actives found in plants and predict their impact on human health.”

Currently, more than 99% of the dark matter of the plant kingdom is untapped. As Elizondo notes,

“We have traditional wisdom and knowledge that plants have medicinal benefits … the problem is [conventionally] we have a very low level of resolution.”

Brightseed’s technology allows them to identify and map out the compounds of plants into valuable health benefits. As an example, the team recently identified a biological target expressed in the liver and using AI were able to pinpoint specific compounds in the plant kingdom that have an effect on it, all in record time. These findings may help in creating products aimed at improving metabolism and digestive health.

As Griffith highlighted,

“the botanicals space is certainly an area which is continuously evolving,”

and with fast-growing investment and innovation is set to be a dominant market force in the years to come.