Fake hoodia fears easing as market stabilises

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

A leading hoodia supplier says the presence of fake material is less of a problem now than it was two years ago when inflated prices attracted fraudulent traders and suppliers intent on exploiting a "hot ingredient".

Riaan van Breda, technical director at South Africa-based Afriplex, said the price had stabilized since a 2006 peak of about €180 per kilogram to current spot prices of about €67/kg. Slightly reduced demand along with an almost complete shift from wild harvesting to cultivation had contributed to a stabilised market. On the hunt for fake hoodiaHoodia gordonii​, to give it its latin name,​ is a small African cactus traditionally used by the Khoi-san people of the Kalahari desert to suppress appetite during hunting campaigns that could last many days as antelope such as the kudu were tracked to exhaustion. While few Khoi-san bushmen continue to pursue such lifestyles, the people have benefited from the westernisation of hoodia and are involved in planting and harvesting schemes organised by the South African Hoodia Growers' Association, a group that collects some of the hoodia grown in South Africa. Hoodia is also grown in Namibia and Botswana and newer plantings have occurred in Israel and the US as global interest has risen on the back of scientific support and the entrance of major food manufacturers such as Unilever. But it is material sourced from China and India that has been fingered as the source of much fake hoodia. "I have not seen it myself but suppliers and manufacturers have told me about it and most of them mention Asian sources,"​ van Breda told NutraIngredients.com. "But this was 2-3 years ago and as far as I can tell the situation is a lot better now."Paper trail​ His advice to food and beverage makers as well as supplement manufactures sourcing or considering sourcing hoodia was to ensure appropriate paperwork was in place. This usually entailed third party lab testing and a Certificate of Analysis. A dispute over this matter is at the heart of a court action lodged by a Kansas-based contract manufacturer, Certified Natural Laboratories which has sued New Jersey-based Stryka Botanics for supplying what it considers fake hoodia. Stryka told NutraIngredients-USA.com last week that it stood by its products and would fight the action "to the bitter end",​ noting it was the first such action ever-mounted against it and that it continued to supply more than 10 customers with hoodia. What is interesting is that the action stems from a transaction in 2006 when concerns over fake hoodia were heightened. "People know what they are getting now,"​ van Breda said. "There are companies that will tamper with paperwork but it is up to companies to be aware of these kinds of tricks of the trade and to overcome them with thorough quality control procedures."Negative publicity, positive potential​ Van Breda said cases such as this and others had created negative publicity around the ingredient despite a small but solid body of scientific evidence demonstrating its ability to "stimulate satiety".​ It is for this reason that food giant Unilever has teamed up with UK start-up Phytopharm, which has a global patent for a particular hoodia extract called P57. Phytopharm responded to the presence of fake hoodia last year by stating: "Analysis of these products has demonstrated that the great majority of them contain little or no Hoodia. Phytopharm and Unilever have made contact with the relevant authorities concerning this development and are satisfied with the progress being made to limit these activities."​ Unilever expects to launch a hoodia weight management product under its €320m Slimfast range by 2011. Such a move is not surprising considering the global weight management market is worth an estimated €4.5bn globally. Afriplex has more than 12m hoodia cacti on 120 hectares in South Africa. It produces about 200 tons of dried material to Ecocert and Good Agricultural Practices, and expects to double its output by 2012. It trades only in whole forms of hoodia - not extracts - because of the presence of Unilever/Phytopharm's patent.

Related topics: Polyphenols, Weight management

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