Nektium eyes demand for botanicals in food: ‘An exciting opportunity beyond supplements and nutraceuticals’

By Katy Askew contact

- Last updated on GMT

Nektium's botalicals for food and beverage applications / Pic: Nektium
Nektium's botalicals for food and beverage applications / Pic: Nektium

Related tags: botanical

Spanish ingredient supplier Nektium is expanding its botanic ingredient portfolio into the food and beverage sector for the first time. FoodNavigator caught up with R&D experts at the company to learn more about the ‘exciting opportunity’ for botanicals outside the nutraceutical space.

Nektium is introducing its botanical portfolio to food and beverage manufacturers in a move that, it said, will mean clinically researched, branded plant extracts will be available for a ‘wide range’ of applications beyond supplements.

“There is an exciting opportunity to take them beyond the dietary supplement and nutraceutical categories and into the more mainstream food and beverage sector,”​ Thomas Adler, Chief Business Officer at Nektium, explained.

Spain-based Nektium’s portfolio includes Zynamite, a proprietary mango leaf extract (Mangifera indica) that is clinically proven to help boost the mental and physical aspects of sports performance. It also supplies the adaptogen Rhodiolife, a rhodiola plant extract (Rhodiola rosea) that has been shown to help improve cognitive health and enhance endurance.

Through a ‘significant investment’ in research and manufacturing, the company has been able to adapt its botanical ingredients so that they are suitable for a range of applications including sports and energy drinks, dairy products, gummies, and cereal bars.

This might not be as simple as it first sounds and the company’s R&D team had to overcome a number of functional challenges in order to add botanicas to food and beverage applications.

“Our expertise in plant phytochemistry helps us identify challenges (such as potential interactions between ingredients, and safety issues) prior to running application trials. We also need to ensure that the active ingredients can be seamlessly integrated into the final product without negatively affecting stability, colour or organoleptic properties,”​ Tanausú Vega, PhD, Head of Technology Processes & Applications – Research, Development & Innovation, told FoodNavigator.

Overcoming formulation hurdles

Food and beverage product developers need to be aware of a number of issues, from dosage to bioavailability, to ensure the botanical ingredients in their products perform against any health claims made. Nektium works in collaboration with its customers to help them take these factors into account.

“We recommend a specific dosage based on our own human trials and publicly available information. The producer of the final product then makes the decision about the relevant dosage to deliver the proposed health benefit,”​ Vega elaborated.

“Given the variety of food applications we can now work with, Nektium generally doesn’t run bioavailability trials with final products. However, we are aware that food matrices can have a significant impact – positive and negative – on the absorption of active ingredients. The combination of ingredients therefore must be very carefully selected if the objective is to promote their bioavailability. To achieve this, the most important factors to consider are good solubilisation, encapsulation and the potential synergies between ingredients to reduce the metabolism rate. Each of these issues need to be analysed separately in the final product formulation.”

Of course, the addition of botanical ingredients also needs to consider their impact on the organoleptic properties of finished products. How easy it is to incorporate these ingredients depends on a number of factors, Vega told us, from the specific botanical’s phytochemistry, solubility, and interaction with other ingredients. For example, the R&D expert revealed, polyphenols ‘do not coexist well with proteins’ because their interaction can give rise to structures with ‘a high tendency to precipitate’. This can ‘pose a significant challenge’ when formulating a beverage, Vega noted.

“The impact on organoleptic properties depends on the specific ingredient and on a wide range of parameters. In some cases, botanicals can cause off notes that may require masking. Alternatively, we can apply encapsulation techniques, especially in colloidal emulsions or suspensions.”

Market opportunity driven by health and trust

The botanical supplier said it is ‘definitely’ witnessing demand growth for products with health benefits.

Adler said Nektium's innovation will help everyday food and beverage brands capitalise. "We have been able to adapt our botanical ingredients so that they are suitable for use in a wide range of food and beverage applications, opening a major new opportunity for brands that are looking to harness growing consumer demand for natural health benefits in everyday products.”

Citing data from Health Focus International, Nektium observed a growing demand for food and beverage products that allow consumers to manage their mental and physical wellbeing.

“Consumers are increasingly looking for foods that can improve their mood. A recent global consumer study found that 14% of people are looking for mood-enhancing products (compared with 5% in 2014) while 13% said they now seek out foods that might help reduce feelings of stress,”​ Vega elaborated.

“We’re also seeing growing demand for products that offer health benefits in categories such as sports nutrition. This used to be a niche market but now it’s not just serious athletes who want to buy food and drink items that deliver functional benefits to help with sports performance.”

According to the R&D expert, the key to capitalising on this demand is developing products that consumers trust. “Consumers are increasingly well informed, and also highly focused on safety and trust,​” we were told.

Botanical ingredients, Vega argued, deliver against this need because they are familiar and benefit from a history of use. “Because our core botanicals are based on the traditional use of medicinal plants, there’s a proven history of safe consumption.

“Other factors driving growth include the growing importance of transparency and authenticity, demand for clean labels, high value placed on naturality, eco-consciousness and growing awareness of the health benefits of plants as well as concerns about animal welfare,”​ Vega concluded.

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