The US accounts for roughly 80% of Arjuna Natural Extracts business, followed by 20% in Europe and the rest in markets like Australia and Japan.
Yet with a new Brussels office opened in April this year, the Kerala–headquartered company is hoping to see an EU boom.
And the company is ready for any growth coming its way.
An expansion of its curcumin extraction plant in Tamil Nadu, South India due to be finalised by the beginning of next year will increase the company’s production capacity by 200%.
The expansion will mean the company will be able to process 13,000 metric tonnes of dried turmeric per year.
Dr Benny Antony, joint managing director for the biotech company, told us this was in response to growth seen for curcumin, which makes up 35% of the company's total sales.
The company reported a 20% global sales increase for its turmeric extract BCM-95 between 2014 and 2015.
Yet growth in Europe came with its challenges.
“The US is a wider and more open market. Europe is very slow compared to the US. Guidelines and specifications are very important in Europe, not like in the US,” he told us.
One such regulatory hurdle in the EU is of course the nutrition and health claim regulation (NCHR).
Plans for mental wellbeing claim
There are currently no approved health claims for curcumin in the EU, but there are about 17 claims for various health benefits including anti-inflammation and digestive health on the 2000+ list of on-hold botanical claims yet to be processed by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
Despite this challenge Arjuna has plans for a health claim application of its own.
From its Belgian office the company is now in conversation with a consultant about the various requirements for a ‘mental wellbeing’ claim.
“This is ongoing and will take some months to finalise,” Antony said.
He said it was not focusing on an inflammation claim, where the majority of curcumin research now points, because this could be considered a disease claim and therefore difficult to obtain.
Spotlight still on supplements
In research bioavailability and solubility remain the sore spots for the ingredient.
This non-solubility is perhaps why supplements account for the majority of applications for the ingredient.
Antony said about 80% of its BCM-95 was destined for capsules or tablets, and this trend was the same in the US and EU.
Yet in recent years there have been a spate of functional beverage launched.
UK-headquartered health retailer Holland & Barrett markets a tumeric tea, which claims to help with inflammation.
In the past Arjuna has said the market must catch up with this demand for different delivery formats.
“There is a gap between consumer desire to use good-for-you curcumin and the offerings in the market,” marketing director Jomy Jose said.
“This makes it harder for processors to develop a new supplement or functional food or beverage.”
Arjuna's BCM-95 ingredient is 100% ‘water dispersible’ with 50% strength, the company claims.
Meanwhile competitor Sabinsa claims its uC3 CLEAR is completely water soluble.
Antony said awareness of the health benefits of the turmeric-derived ingredient beyond flavour and taste was growing in Europe as more and more food and pharma products arrived on shelves.
From flavour to function
According to Mintel research, this dual identity as both flavour and health ingredient appeals to shoppers.
In Italy, Spain and Poland over 80% of consumers said they would like to see more flavour ingredients that also provided health benefits.
Mintel food and drink analyst Ranjana Sundaresan said turmeric had particular potential as an already-accepted household spice.
"Turmeric is an everyday ingredient in Indian cooking and is also an accepted home remedy for a number of illnesses. For example, turmeric in hot milk is a fairly common drink given to soothe sore throats."