Pharma treads the nutra path

Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food. This is what the Father of Medicine, Hippocrates said about the thin line between food and medicine. Looks like the line does not exist anymore as many pharma companies are going the nutra way. Katya Naidu explores

“Today, all major transnational and large Indian pharmaceutical companies have ventured into nutraceutical products as they have realised that the future is for preventive therapy rather than curative therapy,” says Gautam Shah, Managing Director, GC Chemie Pharmie. “Secondly, nutra products can also be a supplementary product to their main products in therapeutics segments like anti-infectives and diabetes,” he further explains.

In addition to having realised the potential, pharma companies also have an edge in this segment due to their well-established presence in the business. “Pharmaceutical companies have an advantage in India as the promotion is done through doctors. And since pharmaceutical companies have good access to doctors, the promotion of the products becomes easier,” observes Shah.

Once a doctor recognises a nutraceutical that is manufactured by a renowned pharma company, it becomes a ‘doctor recommended’ brand. “Nutraceuticals are currently promoted through the medical field mainly. Most of the doctors and health practitioners are already in favour of nutraceuticals,” agrees Sharad Kasarle, Vice-President Nutraceuticals, Alkem Laboratories.

Why nutraceuticals?

The reason is very simple. Increasing urbanisation has brought about major changes in the lifestyle, making Indians prone to various conditions. “Due to busy lifestyles, increasing stress levels and heavy dependency on junk, high calorie foods and lack of exercise, all lead to health problems,” says Kasarle.

Further, increase in knowledge, higher spending power of people at large, information on the benefits of nutraceuticals and increasing health consciousness are factors that have led to the popularity of nutraceuticals. Likewise, awareness and focus on preventive therapy has also aided the increase in consumption of nutraceuticals considerably. Moreover, people claim that there are certain advantages to nutraceuticals over normal therapy. “Allopathic medicines cause side-effects but nutraceuticals products, being sourced from natural sources, have no or minimal side-effects. And consumption of these products is very importantly a prevention from the disease,” claims Shah.

The term nutraceutical came from a combination of “nutrition” and “pharmaceutical”. Nutraceuticals can be defined as a food or part of a food, that provides medical or health benefits, including the prevention and treatment of a disease.

The nutra market comprises of Vitamin B-complex which is worth Rs 380 crore, multivitamins worth Rs 250 crore, antioxidants worth Rs 180 crore, protein supplements worth Rs 200 crore, enteral nutrition worth Rs 20 crore, Vitamin B12 and metabolites worth Rs 20 crore, Vitamin C combinations with minerals worth Rs 200 crore with a combined market of approximately Rs 1250 crore. (Source: ORG Feb 06).

The antioxidants market is booming with products like fish oils (Omega 3), Alpha Lipoic acid, GLA, CO Q 10, multivitamins, minerals and proanthocyanidins picking up sales. “Probiotics and prebiotics are also gearing up for maintaining healthy intestinal microflora balance to improve immunity and to overcome the side-effects of antibiotics,” says Kasrale.

Market dynamics

“The nutraceuticals market is pegged approximately around $40 million excluding multi-vitamin formulations and ayurvedic formulations. But it is still in its infant stage and it is estimated that the Indian nutraceuticals market is likely to reach $270 million in the next three years,” says Shah.

Going by this estimate, the market is on the rise at a rate of 300 percent, Kasrale asserts. But when the export market is considered, it is worth even more and has great potential to turn into a fast money-spinner. “Nutraceutical markets are internationally pegged at approximately $500 billion. This indicates that there is a huge market, which is largely untapped and is currently the domain of US and German firms,” says Sanjay Pai, the General Manager of Plethico Pharmaceuticals.

Ayurvedic nutraceuticals

When it comes to exports, India has huge advantage in terms of ayurvedic nutraceuticals. India, being the originator of herbal ayurvedic and natural products, will be seldom surpassed in this segment. Common ayurvedic products like ashwagandha, neem, tulsi, amla and guggul have been used in India since times immemorial as home remedies. However, a number of companies are now conducting scientific research on these products and have given these ayurvedic products a new dimension.

There are a number of ayurvedic nutraceuticals, some of which are anti-oxidants and bone density enhancers. Curcumin, green tea extract, shatavari, capsaicin, lycopene, lutein, fish oils, brahmi, senna and psyllium are a few famous ayurvedic nutraceuticals. The USP of Ayurvedic nutraceuticals is their natural ingredients. “It is now an emerging segment as people are focusing more towards natural products rather than allopathic medicines,” says Shah. “Alternate therapy is gaining importance, thereby, Ayurvedic market will also present opportunities, especially since ayurvedic drugs will be devoid or have less side-effects,” states Abhay Kanoria, Chairman and Managing Director of Anglo-French Drugs and Industries.

Moreover, there is already a huge requirement generated for these novelty nutraceuticals in markets like Europe, Gulf and the US. “A lot of companies are involved in exports of nutraceuticals and ayurvedic products from India. This will increase in the near future as India is very rich in ayurveda and the production cost is also cheaper here,” says Shah.

Pharma vs FMCG

However, even though nutraceuticals are traditionally close to pharmaceuticals, pharma companies are not the only players in the field. They have to face stiff competition from FMCG companies and companies in the food and beverage industry. These companies are also eyeing the nutra pie with their range of special foods for weight loss, diabetes and so on.

These companies have huge advertising budgets and well established distribution channels that make them a strong force to reckon with. “A number of FMCG giants like Nestle, ITC, Cadbury’s, Parle, Britannia, Heinz, Hindustan Lever, Godrej and Amul already have quite a few products in this area,” asserts Kasrale. In order to match up with these goliaths, pharma companies may have to follow the OTC example. They have to fire up promotions to capture a sizeable market share and to ensure brand recall.

Today, Sugar Free, a product from the Zydus Cadilla stable, has deployed a holistic marketing strategy. It starts off from the unique yellow hour glass pack and ends with teleivision commercials and other promotional activities that inform consumers about how the product can be used in various preparations other than tea or coffee. The marketing is a success and the brand enjoys a high recall among its target audience. Few years down the line, we will probably be seeing many more pharma companies adopting aggressive and innovative strategies to counter the FMCG threat.

While the nutra industry is abuzz with new product launches and entry of new players, we may also see government regulations coming up

More and more new products are joining the nutra bandwagon like sugar substitutes, food supplements, and foods with medical benefits like sugar free and fat free biscuits and cookies, chocolates and beverages using nutraceutical substitutes.

While this industry is abuzz with new product launches and entry of new players, we may also see government regulations coming up. “The market will evolve as a separate segment and new products will be introduced with specific indications for treatment of specific diseases. The government too is planning to deregulate these products,” says Kanoria.

Nutraceuticals do seem to be a means for companies to make a quick buck. The coming years, however, will separate the serious players from the ones, who wanted to cash in on the fad.