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Special edition: joint health

Supply: Joining the glucosamine supply gaps

By Shane Starling , 16-Apr-2010
Last updated the 20-Apr-2011 at 15:53 GMT

In the second part of this NutraIngredients focus on joint health, we analyse the elbow work going on in the supply channel.

When it comes to nutraceutical solutions to joint health problems, glucosamine dominates. Chondroitin sulphate and MSM are popular too along with collagen and ingredients that claim multiple benefits like maritime pine bark extract and omega-3s.

With constantly emerging science other ingredients move in and out of the space such as botanical antioxidants like rosehip oil, so a survey such as this is never exhaustive. But we will do our best.

One thing that is clear is that glucosamine – now a $2bn (€1.47bn) global blockbuster – is the daddy. It is most commonly blended with chondroitin so the two have become linked in the minds of many consumers.

Quality

Talking to suppliers one issue dominates – quality. It would seem the glucosamine/chondroitin market has gained a fillip of luck in that supplier concerns about contamination, counterfeit and all-round poor quality material has not translated to widespread consumer anxiety and subsequent category rejection.

While the rate of growth has dipped post-recession along with a natural levelling off as the ingredients have achieved a kind of mass exposure, demand remains buoyant especially in the US and Japanese supplements markets, and quality issues largely remain an industry, rather than a consumer concern.

“There always has been and always will be low-quality material in this market,” said Jonathan Shorts, managing director of UK-based supplier, Gee Lawson. “It is difficult for buyers to discern between materials and the fact is not many companies perform the kind of irradiation and other testing required to deliver high-grade material.”

That’s why he recommends reputable suppliers join trade groups that demand certain quality assurance standards and can then act as a badge of honour for potential buyers.

Sourcing

Something like 70-80 per cent of global glucosamine supply is sourced from Chinese shellfish, with India and Vietnam also present, and pricing typically ranging between $14-18/kg.

Corn-derived glucosamine from the US is gaining market share for vegetarian glucosamine, with Cargill’s Regenasure offering coming from that source and being sold at a premium over the shellfish material.

Martek Biosciences has also announced that it will debut a vegetarian chondroitin form sourced from its algal vats.

It is Chinese material that has traditionally raised the most quality control eyebrows, a situation that Larry Kolb, president of US operations for TSI Health Sciences, observed had not improved much over the years.

“Quality is always an issue,” he said, noting TSI had dedicated facilities in China to gain total control over the supply of material. “There is so much fragmentation of supply in China that it is nearly impossible to ensure standards are met across the sector.”

The Natural Products Association had begun a program in China to boost traceability and other quality control measures.

“Specifically, a manufacturer needs to use a robust analytical method that takes into account known EMA (economically motivated adulteration) contaminants,” said Kenn Israel, vice president of marketing at Californian contract manufacturer, Robinson Pharma.

He added that the fact glucosamine was being made to pharma standards by a lot of suppliers, and classified as a drug in some countries, could, mandate more stringent supply chain management”.

Chondroitin faces its own quality concerns with Gee Lawson’s Shorts observing that counterfeit material is commonplace, often with high-quality shark extracts replaced with cheaper material sourced from cows, birds or pigs.

“We have tested barrels where you have three quarters of it filled with bovine chondroitin and its topped up with shark cartilage,” he said.

Shark sourced chondroitin trades at about $100/kg (€75/kg) whereas porcine, bovine and avian material can trade for half that price.

Low hanging fruit

While still highly niche, the increasing interest of the food and beverages market in glucosamine and chondroitin, is presenting new formulation challenges for suppliers.

“Significant challenges remain in the dose requirement for results and the solubility, clarity, and robustness of the material to food processing,” said Israel. “I think that there is lower hanging fruit in the functional food market.”

Other suppliers marketing ingredients with joint health benefits include Ethical Naturals (vegetarian glucosamine); Rousselot (collagen); Horphag Research (maritime pine bark); Sabinsa (Indian frankincense); InterHealth (collagen); Pharmline (glucosamine); Bersgtrom Nutrition (MSM); Valensa (egg shell membrane) and Marinova (brown seaweed).

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