Natraceutical, a division of the cocoa group Natra, has traditionally focused on cocoa-derived ingredients such as chocolate flavours and natural caffeine as well as a range of botanical extracts.
But with intensifying competition from emerging markets like China and India it is hoping to offer products unique to its location and expertise. These include olive polyphenols, cocoa polyphenols and pygeum extract, all formulated in capsules and near to launch in European markets.
But while olive-based products are already enjoying significant interest, especially in Asian countries like Thailand, Korea and Singapore - supported by growing knowledge of the longevity and health of Mediterranean populations - the firm will need to create the market for pygeum in many European countries.
Pygeum africanum, an evergreen tree native to west Africa and Madagascar, fits with Natra's Mediterranean range as it grows in the same region as the firm's cocoa plantations. The extract will be marketed as a means of fighting benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), a chronic disease that affects half of all men over the age of 60, rising to more than 80 per cent of those above the age of 80.
Currently available surgical and pharmaceutical treatments have severe side effects, including loss of sexual dysfunction and even mortality. This means that phytotherapeutic preparations are the most widely used BPH treatments in countries such as France but saw palmetto has a much bigger presence in most European markets than pygeum, noted Adam Lee, business development manager at Natraceutical UK.
However historical reasons may play a bigger role in this than comparable efficacy or safety data. "There are more than six clinical trials demonstrating pygeum's efficacy in improving quality of life and symptoms of BPH," says Lee.
Joerg Gruenwald from consultancy Phytopharm confirmed that while saw palmetto has a monograph in Germany, pygeum is without such data as there were no marketers of pygeum when the monographs were being produced 20 years ago.
Saw palmetto meanwhile was listed in the US Pharmacopoeia as an effective remedy for BPH early in the 20th century and now reaches sales of between 100-150 million euros in Germany each year, according to Gruenwald. It has a similar market size in France.
Natraceutical, one of the world's biggest suppliers of pygeum, is however hoping that growing numbers of BPH patients, increasing as populations age, could in future turn to pygeum extract. The firm claims that saw palmetto has no long-term safety data and has shown some cause for concern in high concentrations, causing metabolic changes to sperm and potential to interfere with diagnostic tests. It also argues that pyguem has better scientific evidence of efficacy.
The firm plans to make the current data on pygeum available on the Internet, with presentations to the supplement industry in the UK to promote the product.