Slimaluma is a patented extract of Caralluma Fimbriata, a cactus-like plant that has a long history of use in India, where it is grown as a vegetable and used as an ingredient in curries and chutneys. According to Gencor, it was also traditionally used by local tribes to ward of hunger when going into the hills or woods for long stretches of time.
Sound familiar? That may be because it is far from the not the only plant-derived appetite suppressant or satiety ingredient to enter the fray.
In the last two years there has been considerable interest in the appetite suppressing properties of another succulent, Hoodia gordonii, which is native to Africa's Kalahari desert and has been used for centuries by the bushmen to ward off hunger.
And a third ingredient, Lipid Nutrition's PinnoThin, is derived from the long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid pinolenic acid which comes from the seeds of the Korean pine nut tree, Pinus koraiensis.
In 2004, Unilever obtained the right to use the patented active extract of Hoodia, known as P57, in a range of slimming foods in a deal with UK-based drug developer Phytopharm. Phytopharm had invested more than $18m researching the active fractions of the plant, including a clinical trial.
However Hong Kong-based Gencor is not considering Unilever to be a major competitor in the burgeoning market for appetite suppressants, since Slimaluma is intended for use in dietary supplements, whereas Unilever's ingredient is aimed at foods.
"Overall we have our own niches," managing director RV Venkatesh told NutraIngredients-USA.com. "We can compliment each other because we don't directly compete."
Venkatesh admitted that his company is vying for the same market share as Lipid Nutrition with PinnoThin, but he said: "I think the market is big enough for both."
According to Euromonitor International the US accounts for 63 percent of the world slimming products market, worth $4.34bn at retail. The world market size is estimated to be $6.84bn.
Euromonitor defines slimming products as slimming tablets, slimming teas and meal replacement slimming products.
There are also a number of herbal supplement products on the market containing whole Hoodia in a powdered form, but since the P57 extract has been found to be the active compound responsible for its appetite suppressant properties, they are unlikely to be as effective.
Moreover the popularity of Hoodia gordonii, combined with a limited supply from the Kalahari and difficulties in authenticating the origin of plants, has led to the marketing of some products (particularly those sold over the Internet), that either contain very little of the plant or contain a different variety that does not have the active component.
As for Slimaluma, Gencor has conducted two human clinical trials and three toxicity studies on Slimaluma, and has obtained a patent to protected its use of the plant in this way.
The precise mechanism of action is not known, but the company said: "It is postulated that the pregnane glycosides and perhaps other constituents in Caralluma fimbriata prevent fat accumulation via blocking citrate lyase. This would be similar to the mechanisms proposed for another product from India, Garcinia cambogia."While plant-derived appetite suppressants have also been used in some pharmaceutical drugs, they are not regarded as direct competition for Slimuluma either since they are regulated by FDA as drugs rather than dietary supplements, and are therefore aimed at a different sector of the market - patients rather than consumers.
Ventakesh said that Gencor Pacific will first market Slimaluma in the US - not only because of the sheer size of the market, but also because of its trend-setting nature.
"If a product is successful in the US, that transfers to other markets," he said.
But Venkatesh adds that the US is a nation particularly in need of weight-loss.
"Obesity and weight are one of the biggest problems in the US," said Venkatesh, "The quantities of servings in the US are so big."
Appetite suppressants can be useful to people who are making an effort to eat more healthily and control portions. Hunger is a major factor in causing dieters to break with their regime, so if that is under control they have a greater chance of sticking with it. The company is hoping to achieve generally recognized as safe (GRAS) status in the next few months and says it will use this paperwork to get novel food status in Europe.
Caralluma Fimbriata's historic use as a food meant that the company did not have to register Slimaluma as a new dietary ingredient (NDI), a process that is necessary for any ingredient that was not consumed in the US prior to October 1994.
By the end of this month, there will be 12 consumer products in the US and Canada containing Slimaluma, with 25 expected by the end of 2006. Products from Country-Life Vitamins and Genaslim are already on the market. Gencor is looking to take Slimaluma beyond the US as soon as possible, said Venkatesh; the company has also applied for food for specified health use (FOSHU) status in Japan.