Increasing raw material costs coupled with growing demand for natural health solutions has seen the market for superfruits boom in recent years, but has it may have also left the market ripe for adulteration.
The economically motivated adulteration of foods and food supplements has become a major problem that not only threatens to undermine the reputation of the industry as a whole, but may put unwitting consumers at risk.
According to data from the US Grocery Manufacturers Association, the adulteration and counterfeiting of foods and food supplements is estimated to cost between $10 and $15 billion (€11.5bn) per year.
This has led to an increased focus on quality and authenticity within the superfruit - and wider botanical supplement - arena. Speaking previously to NutraIngredients, Mark Blumenthal, executive director of the American Botanical Council noted that adulteration 'as a phenomenon' has received a lot of media coverage in recent months.
"There is much more recognition and awareness of the problems of adulteration,” Blumenthal said - noting that after many years of having the adulteration skeleton rattling around in the closet, the last year or so has finally seen industry wrestle with the issue in the open.
Ripe for adulteration
Economic adulteration is more likely to occur with 'fad' foods and expensive ingredients, or during times of shortage. An example of this is the ill-fated Hoodia - where according to data from Dr William Obermeyer, VP research at Consumer Labs, much of the material sold commercially was an extract from cacti and not Hoodia.
Obermeyer suggested that juices and supplements produced from superfruits - in particular noni, mangosteen, gogi, and acai - are a ripe target for economically motivated fraud, adding that the lack of quality markers for many such products opens the door for counterfeiting and adulteration.
'Think like a criminal'
Speaking at the recent Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) conference in Barcelona, Petra Wissenburg director of corporate quality projects at Danone warned that industry players need to change the way they think about adulteration in order to catch fraudsters in the supply chain.
“It is very important to know what drives a criminal,” said Wissenburg. “What are the opportunities to swap one ingredient for another? What are the expensive ingredients? And what are the opportunities for dilution?
“If you are looking for food fraud you need to come at it with a different magnifying glass. You need the one from Sherlock and not the one from a food safety expert," she said.
The Danone expert suggested that the manufacturers need to start by thinking about the main reasons why someone might adulterate their products, - such as a shortage of raw materials - and then try to pinpoint any vulnerabilities in their supply chain. She added that food makers should also take a broader approach to testing:
“Rather than a targeted approach, you need an untargeted approach where you take a fingerprint of your product and take a screening approach.”