Plants are antioxidant-generating machines and, commercially, the biggest return-generating plant extract is green tea. By quite some way if you speak to the biggest suppliers.
There are other plant-based polyphenols, phytochemicals, antioxidants – call them what you will – bilberry, grape seed, ginkgo biloba – but green tea dominates at this stage. About 50% of products launched in 2012 bearing an antioxidant claim contained green tea, according to market analysts.
“Tea extracts - especially green tea – are still the first category of extracts used in products bearing an antioxidant claim,” said Paul Janthial, food and beverage business unit director at the world’s biggest plant extracts supplier, France-based Naturex.
He said other teas were rising in popularity too.
“Black tea, white tea and rooibos tea are also largely used, especially in functional drinks."
Over in Italy, Christian Artaria, Indena's Milan-based marketing director and head of functional food development, said weight loss and heart health products were on the up for green tea and other extracts like bilberry, grape seed and olive.
“Marketing purely on antioxidant terms is a little old-hat, so we focus on the conditions like energy, memory, heart – especially in Europe where 'antioxidant' is a difficult term to use because of the regulators and all the botanical claims are on hold.”
“Even though consumers seem to like the work ‘antioxidant’ it can be a little too broad for B2B marketing. You need to explain to them the claims situation.”
“There is a claim for LDL cholesterol with olive polyphenols that some are using but it is not a pure antioxidant claim.”
It was hard to gauge the effect of the EU nutrition and health claims regulation (NHCR) claims crackdown, he said, because the economic meltdown had its own peculiar effect.
“The picture is very confused by the Eurozone economic situation but on the ground with the claims regulation – it seems most of the customers have kept their formulas and not changed too much.”
Artaria said the company was trading mostly in food supplements but also had substantial business in pharma applications and functional foods. The US was by far the biggest market for food supplements.
Superfruits are another key provider of antioxidants. Janthial observes: “Fruit and superfruit extracts are the second biggest category after green tea with a lot of different types like – in order of importance for us: Acai, pomegranate, apple, citrus extracts, grape, blueberry, goji, mangosteen.”
He said green tea and grape seed were the best supported in the scientific literature.
American claim makers tended to focus on, “contains xxmg of polyphenols from…” style claims, but he agreed with Artaria that the EU claims situation was restrictive.
“It is quite common in Europe to have an antioxidant claim based on a natural content in vitamin C, which is mentioned in the positive list of 13.1 claims under the NHCR.”
“But then several types of extracts do contain naturally occurring vitamin C, like acerola, rose hip, and sea-buckthorn.”
He said popular matrices included infusions, instant teas, cereal bars, and chocolate-based products.
The fastest growing markets for Naturex? India and Mexico.
Euromonitor International reports the global market for plant extracts would surge from about 2.1m tonnes in 2012 to 2.55m tonnes in 2016.