Nutraceutical Industry: A Manufacturer's Perspective

Preventive healthcare streams including nutraceuticals, tender huge potential to thrive with strong demand drivers

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An analysis by consultancy firm EY of how the traditional model of health is evolving depicts intriguingly paradoxical results. The title says “traditional model is evolving” and this evolution indicates going back towards traditional medicines.

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The analysis rightly suggests the healthcare model is transforming from mass to individuals and from prescription to advisory. I would further add that this evolving trend of tomorrow is nothing but moving towards preventive healthcare, customized solutions for each body, and care that is available at the doorsteps. Every evolution opens a window for innovation.

This current changing trend in the healthcare industry offers one such window; a unique opportunity for the amalgamation of conventional science with modern technology. Preventive healthcare streams including nutraceuticals, tender huge potential to thrive with strong demand drivers.

India is inherently capable of establishing itself as the world leader in the nutraceutical industry. However, at the moment, we represent only 1 per cent of the global nutraceutical industry while China represents around 14 per cent of the world market. Widely prevalent history of Ayurveda and high competency levels in science and technology make India one of the best manufacturing hubs for the industry players in naturals and botanicals.

However, other Asian countries including China have picked up the trends, entered the race, and have scaled up their presence on the global map at a rapid pace. The need for India today is to strategically evolve from one stage of business maturity to another and supply innovations along with the products. It is the right time to seize the opportunity created for nutraceuticals because of the commercial trade war between China and the US.

So, the question for India is: Is the availability of natural resources enough to expand the share? Nutraceutical manufacturing is a complex process and heavily dependent on raw material availability. Proximity to the farms is very critical for both research as well as manufacturing. While this is an advantage for India, what we lack is consistency in quality, standard guidelines for manufacturing and quality control, dedicated resources to advance the research and innovation in this field, centralized body regulating the industry and more and more patent registrations.

With technological advancement, a lot of progress is possible today. Cognitive solutions such as proximity sensing, remote sensing, precision farming are available to enhance the quality of plants, experiment with growing more species and different breeds. Use of drones for field and crop management, leveraging AI and ML for crop health, all these are possible to complement traditional farming and yield better quality crops.

Despite these advancements, the market is underserved. Need is to make these engineering robust and at the same time affordable. And that is where intervention by the regulators and industry associations is required. A reluctance sensed amongst the entrepreneur community to embrace and invest in new areas. Fear of technology, lack of willingness to involve themselves in agriculture and supply chains and reluctance to invest in marketing new concepts are limiting the Industrial scale in this industry.

We need to recognize that to succeed in this space, a new model of agri-farm linked enterprise needs to be created and nurtured. Our entrepreneurs still wait for the government to fix crop availability and cultivation of raw materials. These changes need to be brought out. The government fortunately has recognized this. The new farm bill for example is clearly to give momentum to such change initiatives. Then why are the industry players still shy?

On the other side, technical integration requires a focused approach demanding standardized and defined guidelines. Lack of definite regulations as per the international standards creates confusion, and limits the applicability of digital platforms for the mass. Centralized guidelines that are in line with global parameters is a must to improve the acceptability of the product and to facilitate the quality control checks.

This fixation will then assist technical advancements, reduce the need for customization, and enhance the reach. If regulators can step-up with a push through grants and specific packages, bringing affordability will become easy. The recently announced PLI scheme is one of the finest ways to encourage manufacturing.

However, the real benefits are either not reaching the industry or are limiting in execution. The INR 4,000-crore programme announced by the Centre in May 2020 to encourage herbal cultivation is one such example. Despite the grants, the biodiversity act that discourages the cultivation of crops, as it imposes an access benefit surcharge, has limited the success of NMPB scheme. The major fallacy is the lack of autonomous status of the industry and hence the specific regulating ministry.

To increase our share in the global market, talent, and technology, both will have to congregate; business houses and regulators will have to chart out a plan with a common agenda. Once this gap is bridged, the reach and result which different steps in this direction should have observed will give systematic and desired outcomes. India needs to bring radical changes, be more innovative and bold and less bureaucratic.