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Interview
 
December 12 , 2014
Arjuna Natural Extracts Ltd, a leading manufacturer and exporter of standardised botanical extracts, is now gearing up to increase presence with its Curegarden brand which is a wide range of botanical products blended and expertly formulated to improve general as well as specific disease conditions. The botanicals are carefully identified and each herb assessed for levels of special active compounds, with extracts standardised to strict quality control levels to ensure consistent composition, safety and potency. The efficacy of its products is supported by scientific and clinical research, and protected by registrations and patents. The company's patented, clinically-proven BCM-95 is a botanical breakthrough and has been the subject of keen scientific interest. BCM-95, a super-absorbable form of curcumin, the most active compound of the spice turmeric, has a retention time in the bloodstream for over 10 hours which is much more than any other commercially available curcumin.

P J Kunjachan, chairman and managing director, Arjuna Natural Extracts Limited, in an interaction with Nandita Vijay, talks about the compound and more. Excerpts:

What, according to you, are the key strengths of India in this space and where does the country stand in the global market for botanical extracts?
India certainly has the inherent potential to lead globally with its range of high quality botanical extracts. Our credentials are rooted to our pedigree which is Ayurveda. The age-old science dates back to 5,000 years referring to over 7,000 herbs which have therapeutical values. Surprisingly, we are yet to explore most of them, which tells us the limitless possibilities, we have ahead of us. Our R&D efforts at Arjuna are to identify bioactive properties of our herbs and isolate the active compounds in them.

How would you describe the current scene for herbal extracts in the country as well as  global perspective?
The major trend is in the approach of customers towards offerings. The new-age customer is open to natural alternatives. We see a trend where the Indian customers are concerned over proofs on efficacy of the products/ ingredients offered, which are well supported by clinical trials and published literatures. Two decades ago, we did  not  hear much from customers raising concerns over heavy metal and pesticide contamination, which is certainly not the scenario now.

What are the visible trends in the space?
Things have been very positive for the industry over the past two decades and we are sure that the market for plant-based active compound is only poised to grow further in the years to come. We attribute this change to the evolving inquisitiveness of today's customer. He is very much concerned over the proof on efficacy of the products and its ingredients offered which are well supported by clinical trials and published literatures. The trend is positive and extremely supportive to brands that are keen on investing heavily on their R&D.

What are the key challenges that are hampering the growth of the sector?
There are several and include clarity in regulatory affairs which is the need of the hour. There are often situations we face where we see different departments setting up different guidelines and instructions, which do not correlate with each other, leaving us stranded and helpless.

There is need to streamline government policies to facilitate transparency in the procedures. In addition, there is need for awareness about nutraceutical products and services among consumers, that will help the industry grow. The lower level of computer literacy in India is a hurdle to that. We need to understand that the nutraceutical sector is in the nascent stage, unless every nutraceutical company does its best to create awareness about the products and services among common people, the growth in the industry will remain slightly delayed and unreachable. This is the era of innovation. Companies should focus on investing in their R&D departments to keep themselves abreast of the latest trends in technology and product development. Eventually giving the best to the end-user, keeping his faith and loyalty alive towards the nutraceutical products.  

Tell us about the ease or difficulty in getting the required qualified pool of professionals to work in this sector.
Talent acquisition and retention are aspects we take great care in managing proactively. The real challenge is in identifying and reaching scientific professionals who are inclined to working in natural ingredients sector. We have been fortunate to have a stable workforce in technical and non-technical departments for years. Our long-standing reputation in the industry has helped us scout the best of talents from across India as well as worldwide.

Give a snapshot of the company's current developments in India and international markets. What is the current status of the company's patented, clinically-proven BCM-95?
Arjuna Natural Extracts Ltd is India's leading company engaged in the manufacturing and exporting of standardised herbal and spice extracts, essential oils and Omega-3 fatty acids since 1990 with global presence in over 40 countries. Though we are primarily a B2B company, we are known in India through our finished product brand 'Curegarden.' The brand currently offers four products in its range of premium bioactive botanics which includes: Natural Daily defence for  building immunity, Natural Joint Rescue to  improve joint health, Natural Gluco balance to manage blood sugar imbalance, and Natural Cardio Protect for the improvement of heart health. We are planning to add new products to this novel offering line by early next year.

Internationally, you will see Arjuna introducing its premium patent pending Red Spinach Extract under the brand name 'Oxystorm' at a launch function at Health ingredients (Hi) show 2014 at Amsterdam. The product, which is first-of-its-kind, offers rich source of nitrate and will cater its benefits to cardiovascular diseases and work synergistically as high performing sports nutrition.

BCM-95 is Arjuna's proprietary formulation of turmeric extract which combines curcuminoids and essential oil of turmeric. BCM-95 delivers curcumin in its most bioactive form and has been proved to be effective in the management of several disease conditions without any side-effects.

BCM-95 has recently received US patent for a composition for treatment of Alzheimer's Disease comprising curcuminoid mixture and added essential oil of turmeric in the weight ratio 1:3 to 99:1. BCM-95 has already undergone human clinical trials in patients with Alzheimer's Disease at Chinese University of Hong Kong under Prof. Larry Baum (2008) and found to be highly beneficial in preventing further cognitive decline, disintegrating amyloid beta plaques, which on deposition in the brain is one of the major cause of development of Alzheimer's Disease, increases the vitamin E levels in the body and enhancing the curcumin levels in blood. BCM-95 is also undergoing two other human clinical trials in patients with Alzheimer's Disease and subjects at risk of developing Alzheimer's Disease in Australia under the pioneering researcher Prof. Ralph Martins.

BCM-95 has more than 23 peer reviewed publications and 12 granted and 15 ongoing patents in India, the US and Japan and patent pending world over. BCM-95 is also being studied for various indications including inflammation, arthritis, diabetes, depression, cancer prevention and treatment, adjuvant with chemotherapy and cancer radiation, liver and gastrointestinal diseases and so on.

What are the efforts by the company to increase its presence in the space?
We see a major shift in consumer behaviour and buying pattern in recent times. We have realised that the world is going digital and your product should be seen to the world at the click of a button. Our finished product division 'Curegarden' which offers bioactive botanics with premium offerings is promoted exclusively on digital platforms since its launch and we have been fortunate to reach out to the target customers in a far more engaging and effective manner than perhaps through conventional marketing platforms. The choice of marketing platforms should stem from in-depth understanding of your customer. This will help you attain lesser spillovers of your marketing budget.

Would the company look at additional investments for expansions in terms of production plants or R&D?
At Arjuna, expansion is an on-going process, be it in production or in R&D. We make it a point to allocate 10-12% of our revenue to our research and development activities. The market today is fragmented with players offering a bandwagon of ingredients but are not serious about their R&D initiatives. It is only when you offer innovations in your product line, you stand a chance to lead the race. We are glad that our R&D wing plays a vital role in our everyday operations. The state-of-the-art laboratory at Arjuna has been approved for in-house research by the ministry of science & technology, Government of India, since 2002. We are tied up with universities from USA, Australia and Japan for various studies with regard to our product line. We recently received an excellence award from Governor of Kerala Sheila Dikshit for Best Corporate Promoting R&D and Industry University Interaction in Kerala.

Which are the fastest growing products of the company?
For Arjuna, the fastest growing products are BCM-95 (Bio-Curcumin)-bioavailable turmeric extract, Omega-3 fatty acids from marine and vegetable source, Boswellia serrata extract, essential oils of mustard and pomegranate extract.

We are known in India through our finished product brand 'Curegarden.' Curegarden products are based on the extraction of bioactive compounds from botanicals to maximise their benefits. The efficacy of these products is supported by scientific and clinical research and protected by registrations and patents. The products under the brand include: Natural Daily Defense, Natural Joint Rescue, Natural Gluco Balance, and Natural Cardio Protect.

What are the likely future efforts to garner growth?
We believe in delivering continuous innovation in our product line. Our R&D wing is currently focussed on various plants and indications with a promising list of products in the pipeline. We will be expanding our market base for Curegarden across major states in India.

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