Dutch life sciences group DSM has previously offered plant-derived lipids and lutein esters but last year it launched the novel product Teavigo, a potent antioxidant compound extracted and purified from green tea.
It is also working on a soy phytoestrogen and supporting new research into the health properties of plant extracts.
"The identification of new bioactive compounds has a very high priority," Dr Peter Weber, corporate scientist with DSM recently told NutraIngredients.com.
The food ingredients unit of German company Degussa is also set to roll out new herbal extracts this year, expanding a plant-derived portfolio that currently only includes the phytosterol Cholestatin.
"We are looking into a new osteoarthritis product related to pain management, which will launch in the next four to eight weeks," said Dr Karl-Heinz Zirzow, marketing director of Health & Nutrition at Degussa, last week.
"We also have another extract for blood insulin management."
Both DSM and Degussa are under severe price pressure from Chinese competition in the chemicals sector, and seeing low growth rates in their core human health products, which include vitamins at DSM and creatine at Degussa.
The herbals industry is however seeing an upswing in sales after a period of consolidation and low consumer confidence, with some markets seeing growth of 8-10 per cent.
While this sector is open to tough competition too, leading plant extract firms gain an edge through patented extraction technology, high quality standards and clinical research.
The plant world also offers a wealth of as yet unidentified compounds and little researched health benefits.
"If you look at our sales, about 20-25 per cent come from new ideas and new products launched in the last five to seven years," says Bob Hartmayer, DSM Nutritional Product's chief operating officer.
The chemical companies say that the search for new plant extracts is driven by demand for preventative measures for today's chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.
"We're looking for products focusing on specific health benefits. It doesn't matter whether they are produced by a chemical process or if they are herbal products extracted without solvents," explained Degussa's Dr Zirzow.
Dr Weber suggests that ingredient suppliers need to help reduce the risk factors of metabolic syndrome "as soon as possible".
Stefano Togni, corporate communications manager at Indena, one of Europe's leading plant extract firms, suggests that plant-based products also appeal to the consumer's interest in natural foods.
"Many customers prefer to buy something natural rather than chemical, although this does not necessarily determine its efficacy," he said.
He added that DSM targets very different applications with Teavigo, which has a high purity of EGCG, than Indena's green tea extracts.
"Health foods is a big market and growing quite fast so it makes sense to take up this opportunity," he continued.