By Gary Swanson, Senior Vice President, Global Quality, Herbalife Nutrition
Today, there are an estimated 2,000 botanical ingredients in products found on United States store shelves. Botanical ingredients such as aloe vera leaf, ginger root and chamomile flower are gaining in popularity. However, confirming the authenticity, origin and quality of these ingredients can be challenging and complicated due to their diversity, complex mixture of natural phytochemicals, and technological advances in processing.
Scientists have developed a variety of test methods and evaluation techniques for botanicals. Sometimes, even simply confirming the identity of a botanical ingredient can be multifaceted and may involve more than one test method. With all of this complexity and the abundance of botanicals already on the market, how does a company, for example, assure that the aloe vera leaf juice in an aloe beverage is derived from real Aloe vera plants?
When it comes to our botanical products at Herbalife Nutrition, we’ve implemented an industry-leading botanical science program to assure that what is on the label is what is in the product and that we only use quality botanical ingredients.
Our company leadership had the foresight to initiate a botanical evaluation program in 2010 to go beyond the basic regulatory requirements. We created a botanical scientific community inside Herbalife and, together, we spent approximately 3.5 years reviewing, analyzing and validating the entire portfolio of 150 botanical ingredients found in our products. The process continues for new botanical ingredients added to our product portfolio.
We have raised the bar on botanical ingredient testing by investing in three key areas:
Technology – We have invested in the purchase of next-generation sequencing equipment, including more than $1 million combined for a nuclear magnetic resonance imager, High Performance Liquid Chromatography, a gene sequencer and other technologies. We’ve also spent $275,000 to diversify our Genomic/DNA laboratory. This equipment will allow us to improve our DNA analytical techniques for processed botanicals, including extracts.
Expertise – We have five Ph.D.s exclusively dedicated to botanical research, which amounts to more than $500,000 a year in human capital.
Botanical Extraction Capability – We are one of the only nutrition companies in the world to have our own comprehensive program to completely characterize botanical ingredients from field to product. Herbalife Innovation and Manufacturing in Changsha is a 234,000-square-foot botanical extraction facility in Hunan Province, China that supplies 2.7 metric tons of powdered extracts per day.
These investments in development, analytical testing and quality control provide more confidence to consumers, regulators and anyone interested in the identity, purity and efficacy of botanical ingredients found in our dietary supplements and food products.
A political challenge that did not involve Herbalife Nutrition shined the spotlight on ingredient testing and verification in 2015. Using a “DNA barcoding technique” to analyze selected herbal supplement products, the Attorney General for the State of New York accused four major retailers, GNC, Target, Wal-Mart and Walgreens, of allegedly selling store brand herbal supplement products that either could not be verified to contain the labeled botanicals or which were found to contain ingredients not listed on the labels.