The news on the show floor at the recent SupplySide West trade show in Las Vegas was that Cargill is winding down its production of its Regenasure vegetarian glucosamine. This leaves Novato, CA-based Ethical Naturals Inc. as one of the few domestic sources for the ingredient.
Cal Bewicke, co-founder and president of ENI, told NutraIngredients-USA that a number of companies had contacted him in the past few weeks seeking vegetarian glucosamine when they got the news from Cargill that that company would be winding down the supply of the ingredient later in the fall. Cargill declined several requests for comment on the reports. Bewicke emphasized he was not speaking for Cargill, but said the Egan, MN-based ingredient supplier is a vast company with a huge product list of which Regenasure forms only a tiny part, whereas ENI’s ingredient, called GreenGrown Glucosamine, is a major product line for that company.
Stagnant market divided among more players
Bewicke said these kinds of contractions of supply are not unusual in markets that are stagnant or are growing only weakly at best.
“From what I can tell, the glucosamine market has been quite stable for a number of years. Overall it hasn’t gone up or down,” he said.
Joint health has been one of the condition specific categories whose growth has tracked more or less in line with the overall growth of the industry. It can be a hard sell because the major ingredients in the category work only slowly in a prophylactic fashion and dosages sizes in some cases can be large, requiring consumers to down several large pills a day. And the science behind glucosamine, while persuasive, is not as compelling as for some other ingredient categories, such as omega-3s.
Add in the fact that a number of newer joint health players, such as MSM and hyaluronic acid, Type II collagen and turmeric, have appeared on the market in recent years to take market share in this quiescent category away from the longtime lead players glucosamine and chondroitin, and you have a recipe for diminishing returns.
“There are a lot of choices out there now for joint health ingredients,” he said.
With that being said, Bewicke said there is still opportunity within the category for ingredients that are hitting the right targets in the market of a vegetarian source (from corn via a fermentation process, in this case) and a relatively clean label positioning.
“There has been a pretty constant demand in the supplement world for vegetarian or vegan based supplements which places more emphasis on vegetarian sourced material. We know from requests from customers in our encapsulation business that about 35% of consumers are now looking for vegetarian options in encapsulated products,” Bewicke said.
In addition to the vegetarian positioning, consumers are now also concerned about the transparency of ingredient sources. Where did the ingredient come from? How was it made? Are there any ethical or environmental issues connected to its manufacture? GreenGrown Glucosamine measures up well on those fronts, he said. ENI’s ingredient has been on the market for 10 years, and in that time consumers’ focus on these issues has increased markedly. Animal sourced glucosamine in a byproduct of the shrimp industry, which raises some questions about the destruction of mangrove wetlands, among other concerns.
“One of the things that people are concerned about is the Asian shrimp industry is ecologically very questionable. It uses a lot of chemicals in the production of their products and produces a lot of waste,” he said.