Who pressed the pause button?

28 April 2014 | Column | By Dr. R.B. Smarta

Since last 10 years we in India are upbeat on nutraceuticals as a sunshine segment and have expressed that the market would grow in a manifold way. Usually this growth is dependent on a forward looking regulatory mechanism to facilitate business. Providing safe and efficacious products to Indian consumers is top most priority of regulatory reforms but at the same time it is equally important not to ignore the commercial components of any business. Same zeal and energy is required to resolve business needs. Facilitation and support to industry!

When we look at the situation in India even after 10 years, we find different figures floating from $1 billion to $3 billion for nutraceutical market. It’s really amazing to find out who pressed the pause button. This represents just 1% of global market!

Nutritional Paradox
It is true that India is a diverse country with diverse food habits. Ingrained in it is the knowledge of home remedies as well as knowledge of heritage remedies. India has always been propagating ‘Health is Wealth’.

The nutritional paradox in India is that in certain areas we have problems such as non-availability of adequate food (in India around 1.1 billion people are undernourished) whereas on the other hand, we have increasing incidence of lifestyle diseases like diabetes, hypertension, obesity and many related diseases and/or disorders. In India around 155 million people are obese (2009), 1.2 billion people are suffering from heart diseases and around 65 million are diabetics.

In case of women in general, we find that majority of them are suffering from anaemia (around 70.6% women between the age group of 15 and 49 are anaemic, 2011) and children between 0 to 14 years who are the future of India are struggling with malnutrition.

Juxtaposing Indian condition hype in nutraceuticals and naming it in different ways, we observe that the market which is really growing is functional foods and fortified nutrition, as it has a lead in India and as an Indian, we look at food as part of our major culture. We know that rice, wheat, atta, oil and all other related aspects of food are part of our daily life, therefore the fortification of these basic necessity areas would work wonders, as there is also an increased awareness that we really need to feed ourselves better in our day-to-day life. Thus in turn there you have a growth of fortified foods and functional foods which have basic food format.

Probable factors contributing to the pause:

1. Mindset of Indian consumers:
What are the feelings of consumers regarding the food they take every day, which has less of nutrients (micro-nutrients) and that they would need to supplement their food with nutraceuticals to get their nutrients? If you are looking at only those who are diagnosed and then treated by additional nutrients and micro nutrients it will be a very different kind of target segment from this new health and wellness business. This kind of business would be a fortification of illness business as it would be treating the patients.

2. Expectation if Indian consumers:
There are number of obesity clinics that use nutraceutical products but these nutraceuticals products are not a substitute to continue the same lifestyle and expect miracles. It is definitely not a panacea, whereby you take nutrition and nutraceutical products and expect to see the effect within 3 or 4 months etc. So, as Indian consumer, we are impatient to see the observed results.

On the other hand, in nutraceuticals people claim that they would guarantee this kind of miracle in a specified time period but if they are giving a guarantee such product does not remain a nutraceuticals it goes in the domain of drugs.

3.Indian Regulatory environment:
Is there a difference between prophylactic dosage and nutraceuticals? FSSAI is now regulating this entire domain of foods and nutraceuticals right from idli which is sold on streets to hi-tech nutrigenomic aspects of nutraceuticals which are developed using millions of dollars on clinical trials. Do FSSAI distinguish these 2 categories which are both important at their places? The speed at which regulatory authorities are working and the massive burden of applications for registration they have on their head, can be really simplified and the pace can be increased, so that, those who are into business can do the business effectively.

4.Paradox in regulation:
At one end we are happy about the new reformations in FSSAI laws & regulations but their sudden implementation has given a real tough time for food importers in the country. Eg. Import; Over 200 tonnes of foodstuff imported to India has got stuck at the Indian seaports and airports due to FSSAI’s zero-tolerance policy towards non-compliance of its regulations. The imports mainly contain chocolates, nutritional supplements and also include other food items such as snacks. Exporters to India often use stickers on their products to comply with rules and regulations outlined by the FSSAI. These stickers contain information such as red or green symbols indicating whether the product is vegetarian or non-vegetarian, providing information in English. FSSAI has now mandated that all labeling information should be printed on the packaging itself and that an affixed sticker is no longer permissible.

Eg. Export; The lack of clarity on the certification process for their products has dealt a serious blow to Indian exporters of dietary supplements and nutraceuticals, who are now unable to ship newer products abroad or renew licenses for older ones. Some 500 Indian companies, who collectively export about Rs 3,000 crore worth of products, are now finding the going increasingly tough as hundreds of licenses issued before the new regime have expired and many dozen licenses are set to lapse by year end. There has been a lot of uncertainty over the licensing authority, which is hampering our exports significantly.

So who has pressed the pause button?
An alternative way of looking at this significant pause is that there has been a slow down due to regulatory facilitation though not a big one.

Good news!!
Amidst today’s situation there is good news that there is progress in FSSAI process of facilitation and as the progress would have it, we need this facilitation as quick as possible for domestic business as well as for those who are dependent on imports of raw material as major players in nutraceuticals are losing out on their business due to less clarity of such substances which are already in the dock and not classified by the regulations.

It is difficult to pinpoint as to who has pressed the pause button. Do you fall under any category of the probable cause for the pause? Think upon it!!!

Dr R B Smarta MD, Interlink Marketing Consultancy,
HADSA Board Member,
Editor of Nutrascope (a HADSA Publication)

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