Coronavirus: Spotlight on the Supply Chain

India lockdown affecting ashwagandha supply, but US inventories remain strong

By Stephen Daniells contact

- Last updated on GMT

© Getty Images / ziprashantz
© Getty Images / ziprashantz

Related tags: ashwagandha, coronavirus, Supply chain

Supplies of the Ayurveda’s flagship herb Ashwagandha from India are tightening as the country goes on lockdown because of the novel coronavirus, but two leading US suppliers tell NutraIngredients-USA that their domestic inventories remain robust.

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera​) has been gaining traction in the mainstream US market over recent years with consumers embracing its wide-ranging body of health benefits, which include supporting stress, cognitive function, sleep, metabolic wellness, adrenal function, sports performance, and more.

According to HerbalGram’s​ 2018 Herb Market Report (published September 2019), sales of herbal supplements with Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera​) topped $7,449,103 in the US Mainstream Multi-Outlet Channel for 2018, an increase of 165.9% over the previous. An additional $12,426,468 in sales were reported from the Natural Channel (an increase of almost 17% from 2017).

And those increases have accelerated in recent months, according to both Natreon (which supplies the Sensoril branded ashwagandha ingredient) and Ixoreal Biomed (which supplies the KSM-66 branded ashwagandha ingredient).

“We have seen a major surge of orders for KSM-66 in the last two months,” ​said Kartikeya Baldwa, CEO of Ixoreal Biomed. “While some of this is because of already planned launch of new products with KSM-66, a significant part of the surge was unanticipated. This part of the surge is may be because of manufacturers seeing greater demand for ashwagandha from consumers for its boosting immunity and relieving stress and anxiety, benefits much needed in these difficult times.”

Bruce Brown, President of Natreon, told us: “We do see an increase in demand for ashwagandha in the market, as consumers are seeking natural products to support health benefit categories, including mood, sleep, stress, and immunity.  Overall, ashwagandha has experienced strong growth in the Natural Products / Dietary Supplement market over the last few years and we expect this trend to continue and potentially strengthen in 2020. 

“Adaptogens, led by ashwagandha, are especially important for consumers as we deal with our new lifestyle and work environment. One of the primary benefits of Sensoril ashwagandha is cortisol reduction and this has impact in numerous areas including immunity, sleep, stress, and mood.”​ 

Supply from India

Ashwagandha was flagged as an ingredient with supply chain disruptions by members of the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) this week​. The survey was conducted by CRN in response to a request from the US Department of Agriculture for information about the supply chain for dietary supplements in light of the current coronavirus crisis.

According to CRN members, ashwagandha from India is in short supply, with long lead times linked to the shutdown in India and logistical delays in the US.

However, Natreon and Ixoreal Biomed both told NutraIngredients-USA​ that they have more than adequate supply. The issues are more about the Indian lockdown slowing shipments, they said.

Natreon’s Brown explained that the company’s HQ and warehouse are on the East Coast, and Natreon typically holds inventory of all of its ingredients including ashwagandha and “thankfully have done so prior to the COVID 19 pandemic.”​ 

However, while the official Indian lockdown (which to start with is in effect until April 14) has impacted the company’s R&D Center operations in Kolkota as well as its Supply Chain operations. “Thankfully, we have completed production of several months of inventory prior to the India lockdown which is either in route to our NJ Warehouse or awaiting shipment at Indian Sea / Air ports,”​ he added.   

Ixoreal’s Baldwa described a rosier supply picture for KSM-66. “Fortunately we have ample availability, much more than we did in the past, in fact,”​ he said. “This is not because we anticipated the COVID-19 situation but because there was a crisis a few months ago when heavy monsoon destroyed a large fraction (some estimate this to be as high as 80%) of ashwagandha crop.

“Because of its vulnerability to heavy rain, a few of the farmers including our cooperative farming partners were reluctant to re-crop ashwagandha. Worried about this happening again, we aggressively re-cropped more than immediately anticipated needs, so that we have a reserve inventory to get us through such a situation should it occur again.  The consequence of this is that at this moment we have enough raw material inventory for the next 18 months, 6 months beyond the next harvest.

“We are confident that this will meet all our production needs for the coming year. “

Essential goods and services

Baldwa added that herbal extraction units are classified as ‘essential goods and services’ during the Indian lockdown and so the company’s manufacturing units have been allowed to operate.

“The primary concern for us then is not the raw materials sourcing and production of KSM-66 but getting it out of the factory to our customers on time,” ​he said.

“We are continuing to ship all of our orders, but with a slight delay because of slowing down of customs and logistics. However, we are told that logistics movement will improve considerably over the next 15 days, approaching normalcy. So, we are confident and optimistic that there will not be major problems in continuing to supply KSM-66 across the world and the USA in particular on time,”​ said Baldwa.

Ashwagandha

According to a monograph from the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AHP), the herb has a history of use in ayurvedic medicine that dates back as much as 4,000 years to the teaching of renowned scholar Punarvasu Atreya, and in subsequent works that make up the ayurvedic tradition. The name of the herb derives from Sanskrit, and means “smells like a horse”, which refers to the strong smell of the root which is said to be redolent of horse sweat or urine.

For more information about supply chain bottlenecks, please click HERE​.

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