Pandemic-induced demand created field of dreams for adulterators, Blumenthal warns

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags elderberry Adulteration COVID COVID-19

The demand spike caused by the global pandemic has been a bonanza for the botanical supplements industry. But ABC chief Mark Blumenthal says it has been the biggest threat of adulteration during his time in the industry, too.

Talking with NutraIngredients-USA​ at the recent SupplySide West Blumenthal said ABC (of which he’s the founder and director), via the Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program (BAPP) it manages with the help of partners, had warned the industry to beware.  The pandemic created an unprecedented situation, Blumenthal said.  It was the biggest sales jump (more than 17% year over year) for botanical supplements but which also created the biggest opportunity for adulteration since ABC has been keeping track, too.

“We notified people back in April of 2020, when the lockdowns were first starting to happen because of the pandemic that as demand increases by consumers for botanical ingredients and botanical products that help bolster immunity, we were concerned that this increase in demand along with shortages in supply, that less than scrupulous people are trying to fill in the gaps,” ​he said.

Pandemic-induced shipping problems exacerbated supply shortages

Blumenthal said the shortages came not just from the huge increases in demand for ingredients like elderberry, but also because the pandemic has sent shock waves through the supply system in general, creating shortages  and delays for ingredients of all sorts. 

Some large ports in China have closed for days or weeks at a time because of COVID-19 infections among the workforce.  Other dislocations because of border closures and partial shutdowns of onshore rail and trucking operations have led to a global crisis in which container ships are stacking up at ports waiting weeks to be unloaded. That has a knock on effect such that shippers can’t find enough container space because the system no longer flows freely and containers aren’t where they supposed to be.

It’s in such times that adulterators find more room to maneuver, Blumenthal said.  He noted that just because demand increases, the supply of many botanical ingredients can’t easily or quickly be ramped up to suit.  

“Let’s take elderberry as an example. Elderberry plants take four years to produce a fruit that you can harvest. You can’t just respond to the elderberry demand by planting more elderberry and having it ready for harvest in three to six months,”​ he said.

ABC is the managing partner of BAPP.  The other partners are the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia and the National Center for Natural Products Research at the University of Mississippi.

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