ENI withdraws from Canadian, EU vegetarian glucosamine markets

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Ethical Naturals will no longer supply its vegetarian glucosamine to supplement manufacturers in Canada, the EU and Brazil, following a patent dispute with competitor Cargill.

The agreement comes as part of a settlement reached by the two firms after Cargill claimed that Ethical Naturals Inc (ENI) was infringing on its patents for the production and sale of glucosamine from vegetable sources.

Under the agreement, ENI will continue to sell its GreenGrown glucosamine for dietary supplements in the United States, but will not sell into Canada, the EU or Brazil. The settlement also allows ENI to sell GreenGrown for supplement, food and beverage uses in all other parts of the world.

Glucosamine has been shown to help rebuild and repair human cartilage. It is therefore a base ingredient used in supplements for joint health, and is often used in conjunction with chondroitin, which gives cartilage elasticity.

However, glucosamine has been traditionally derived from shell-fish, and as such was not suitable for use by vegetarians, people who are allergic to shell fish, and those who adhere to a Kosher diet.

Building a vegetarian glucosamine market

In order to fill this gap in the market, ingredients firms have started supplying vegetarian glucosamine, led by Cargill’s introduction of its fungus-derived Regenasure product.

Until the middle of 2007, Cargill was marketing Regenasure as the “only non-animal glucosamine available on the market” ​in the US. However, with the emergence of competitor products, Cargill started to promote its ingredient as the only “domestically-produced”​ non-animal glucosamine.

ENI entered the vegetarian glucosamine market in January 2008 with the US launch of its GreenGrown ingredient. This is available in both HCL and Sulfate forms and is derived from corn.

However, Cargill claimed that ENI was infringing on its patents relating to the manufacture of glucosamine, and filed actions in the International Trade Court and Federal Court for patent infringement.

Further to the settlement reached by the firms in May this year, they have confirmed that the court actions have now both been withdrawn. ENI said it has made no admission of infringement of Cargill’s patents, but that it wished to avoid entering a legal battle with the company.

Under the terms of the settlement, ENI has agreed that the patent is valid and enforceable and licensed Cargill’s US Patent. This will allow it to sell a “limited, agreed-upon amount” ​of vegetarian glucosamine in the US.

ENI confirmed to NutraIngredients-USA.com that its supply to US customers will be unaffected. However, the firm had previously sold “very small amounts”​ of its ingredient in Canada and Europe, which it will no longer be supplying.

Cargill said in an e-mail that it is continuing to build upon its intellectual property in this area. “We have pending patents and plan future filings on the Regenesure Glucosamine product line. Cargill is committed to enforcing all such patents and will consider all legal options for pursuing manufacturers and traders who distribute vegan glucosamine in violation of those patent rights.”

Slow growth for US glucosamine

According to figures provided by Euromonitor International, Glucosamine supplements in the US have steadily grown in popularity over the past five years, although the market still lags behind overall global sales increases.

Sales in the US reached $872m last year, a 16 percent increase on sales of $753 recorded in 2003. In comparison, global sales stood at almost $2bn last year, which represents a massive 62 percent increase since 2003, when sales came in at $1.2bn

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