Nutraceuticals: Make The Fragile Regulatory Space Robust, Soon

In the space between drugs and nutrition, there is an intriguing ‘gray area’ with significant business relevance, especially in India.

In a related publication, A.T. Kearney – a leading global management consulting firm has elaborated it as below:

“At one end of this natural nutrition spectrum, are functional foods and beverages as well as dietary supplements, aimed primarily at maintaining health. On the other – more medical end of the spectrum, are products aimed at people with special nutritional needs. In the middle, is an emerging gray area of products that have a physiological effect to reduce known risk factors, such as high cholesterol, or appear to slow or prevent the progression of common diseases such as diabetes, dementia or age related muscle loss.”

Falling in the middle of the spectrum, a large number of Nutraceuticals clearly blur the line between food and drugs, in many cases. In India, there is no clearly defined legal and regulatory status for such Nutraceuticals, just yet.

Why a robust regulation required for Nutraceuticals?  

The scholarly article of S.H. Zeisel (Professor of Nutrition, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Nutrition) titled, “Regulation of Nutraceuticals,” Science 5435, 1853–1855 (1999) highlighted that in many cases when the dosages of food supplements exceed those of a normal diet, there could well be a drug-like bioactivity of a nutrient.

An example of the nutrient tryptophan may suffice to illustrate this point briefly. At higher dosage tryptophan can exhibit drug-like activity, as it is the precursor of serotonin, which is extensively used to treat insomnia. Many of such points are yet to draw the regulators’ attention in India as much as it should, as yet.

Marketing drugs as ‘food supplements’?

Marketing drugs as food supplements to evade Drug Price Control Order (DPCO) by some pharma players, of all sizes and scale of operation, is not an uncommon practice in India. The National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA), reportedly, pointed it out sometime around 2009.

Not just for pricing reason, but more importantly for consumers’ health and safety, the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO) should address this issue now with a greater sense of urgency, as the market for Nutraceuticals and health supplements is reportedly growing at a brisk pace today. According to a Frost & Sullivan report, the total Indian Nutraceuticals market in 2015 was expected around US $ 5 billion. 

In the absence of any clear and robust regulatory guidelines, most Nutraceutical products, with a spectrum of therapeutic claims, are virtually self-categorized as food supplements, which are not covered under the Drugs and Cosmetics Acts in India.

Currently in the country, Nutraceuticals and functional foods are covered under the definition of ‘food’ as per Section 22 of Food Safety & Standards Act (FSSA), 2006. These food products have been categorized as Non-Standardized/Special Food Products. Accordingly, Food Safety and Standards Authority (FSSAI) of India have described Nutraceuticals as:

“Naturally occurring chemical compound having a physiological benefit or provide protection against chronic disease, isolated and purified from food or non-food source.”

Though categorized as nutritional supplement, the product packs of such Nutraceuticals usually do not carry any “FSSAI’ logo, which signifies conformance to the food safety standards of India, for the benefit of consumers.

Recommendations are many, but no comprehensive action yet:  

To give an example, many Nutraceuticals contain vitamins in varying quantity. However, most of these products seem to carefully avoid Schedule V guidelines for vitamin content to avoid being categorized as drugs, and thereby coming under strict regulatory requirements. Self-categorizing these products as ‘food supplement’, helps bypassing this issue, as on date.

Such ongoing practices related to Nutraceuticals need to be viewed keeping in perspective, some of the recent key recommendations made by the Drugs Technical Advisory Board (DTAB) of the CDSCO, on Schedule V related formulations.

The minutes of the 70th. meeting of the Drugs Technical Advisory Board (DTAB) held on August 18, 2015, recorded the acceptance of the report of its sub-committee on vitamins, which recommended, among others, some of the following guidelines:

  • Ingredients which are covered under the range as prescribed under schedule “V” of the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules for Tablets, capsules, granules are 18 classified as a drug, while those powders like Farex, Oats and Cereal fortified vitamins are exempted from the provisions of chapter IV under schedule K of Drugs and Cosmetics Rules.
  • Ingredients which fall below the range as prescribed under schedule “V” shall be classified as food. However, if there is a claim for treatment, mitigation or prevention of any diseases or disorder, then it will be classified as a drug. 
  • Ingredients which are within Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) levels, but fall under the range as prescribed under schedule V Drugs and Cosmetics Rules shall be classified under drug as it is already mentioned in the rules. 
  • Products containing ingredients which are neither covered under Schedule V nor fall within RDA, these can be classified as unprovable products under Drugs and Cosmetics Rules, unless otherwise specifically permitted by the Licensing Authorities of drugs based on major purpose of the item (like food/drug).
  • Whenever there are additional ingredients than those given in schedule V, including some of herbal ingredients, a separate and conscious view has to be taken about the safety and efficacy of the drug
  • Any product containing herbal ingredients shall be dealt with by the food or drug authority based on the above principles. 

The same subcommittee, on June 12, 2015, after discussing each of some specified products, with a claim of falling in non-drug category, as per directions of the Hon’ble High Court of Patna, recommended categorization of some of the well-known brands brands, such as, Revital (Ranbaxy) and A to Z capsules (Alkem) as drugs. The sub-committee report was then uploaded in the CDSCO website for stakeholders’ comment.

Could there be ‘irrational FDC ban’ like an issue with Nutraceuticals?

The answer to this question is anybody’s guess at this point of time. However, such a possibility can be just wished away either.

This lurking fear stems from the recent notification of FSSAI dated March 30, 2016, which states as follows:

“It has been decided that till the standards of Nutraceuticals, food supplements and health supplements are finally notified, the enforcement activities against such food business operators may be restricted to testing of these products with respect to requirements given in the draft notification on such products of September 9, 2015″.

However, it clarifies that the companies will get an exemption, if such products were available in the market before the Food Safety and Standards Act came into effect in 2011, or if product approval was pending on August 19, 2015.

The key objective of the above September 9, 2015, FSSAI draft notification was to ensure that Nutraceuticals, health and food supplements and other such products are not sold as medicines with therapeutic claims. Thus, asking the industry players to send their suggestions and objections to the proposal, this draft notification indicates, among others, that all such products should: 

  • Adhere to the proposed permissible limits of various minerals, vitamins, plant or botanical-based ingredients, among others.
  • Adhere to the proposed list of food additives used in all these categories of products, besides labelling norms, every package must carry the words “Food” or “Health Supplement” and prominently display “Not for Medicinal Use” on the label. 
  • Give a disclaimer on the package that the food or health supplement should not be used as a substitute for a varied diet.
  • Clearly indicate on the label that “this product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease”, besides information on recommended dosages, among others.

As this notification is expected to cover all products, which are marketed as food supplements, many Nutraceuticals manufacturers, reportedly, fear that it could effectively mean a ban on virtually all those brands, self-categorized as food or nutritional supplement, and launched post 2011.

If it happens, the saga of ban of a large number of irrational Fixed-Dose Combinations (FDCs) of drugs, that includes some top-selling pharma brands and is now sub judice, could get extended to the Nutraceuticals sector too. 

Nonetheless, the bottom-line is that a robust mechanism to effectively regulate and monitor Nutraceuticals in India, is yet to see the light of the day. 

Crazy marketing of Nutraceuticals: 

Despite regulatory and marketing restrictions to the therapeutic claims for this category of drugs, Nutraceuticals are mostly promoted to the doctors, just as any other ethical pharma products in India.

Consequently, these are widely prescribed by the medical profession, not just as nutritional supplements, but also for the treatment of disease conditions, ranging from obesity to arthritis, osteoporosis, cardiovascular conditions, diabetes, anti-lipid, gastrointestinal conditions, dementia, age-related muscle loss, pain management and even for fertility. All these are generally based on off-label therapeutic claims of the respective manufacturers.

Being advertised in the mass media too:

To illustrate this point, I would give an example of a well known brand in India. As I see from the Government records, i.e. from the minutes of the 68th meeting of the DTAB sub-committee held on June 12, 2015 that it had recommended Revital’s (Ranbaxy) categorization under drug.

As we all know that, as per drugs and Cosmetics Act of India, drugs cannot be advertised in the mass media, except Schedule K drugs, such as Aspirin and paracetamol. In that sense, I find it difficult to fathom, how is Revital then, which highlights a naturally occurring substance fortified with vitamins and minerals, advertised even on the Television, along with a top celebrity endorsement?

A recent notification on phytochemicals:

As I mentioned in my article in this Blog on December 21, 2015, titled “Nutraceuticals: A Major regulatory Step That Was Long Overdue”, partly responding to the growing demand for regulatory intervention in this important matter, on November 30, 2015, by a gazette notification, the Government of India included phytopharmaceutical drugs under a separate definition in the Drugs & Cosmetics (Eighth Amendment) Rules, 2015, effective that date.

This regulatory action followed the rapidly growing use of these drugs in India, which includes purified and standardized fraction with defined minimum four bio-active or phytochemical compounds.

On the ground, this significant regulatory measure would require the pharma players to submit the specified data on phytopharmaceutical drugs, along with necessary applications for conduct clinical trial or import or manufacture of these products in the country. 

However, this is no more than half-measure in this direction. Hopefully, this will be followed by final action on the DTAB recommendations on vitamins, and final notification of FSSAI on standards of Nutraceuticals, food and health supplements. A well-integrated action of the CDSCO and FSSAI, would possibly help to contain the unregulated proliferation of various types of Nutraceutical products coming into the Indian market, prescribed by the doctors and consumed by the people, sans any scientific evidence based efficacy, safety and quality standards.

Manufacturers’ business interest also can’t just be ignored:

While there is a pressing need to enforce regulatory discipline for claimed efficacy, safety and high quality standards for the Nutraceuticals to protect consumers’ health interest, commercial interest of such drug manufacturers can’t also just be ignored. If that happens, it will be unfair.

Thus, one of the ways to encourage the manufacturers to expand this market, I reckon, could well be categorizing the Nutraceuticals offering health benefits, under a separate category altogether, which will be kept out of any form of drug price control.


The manufacturers of Nutraceuticals still keep charting in a very relaxed regulatory space. Currently, there is no robust and transparent process in place to standardize and scientifically evaluate safety and efficacy of these products on an ongoing basis. This scenario should not be allowed to continue, any longer.

Appropriate control of standardized Nutraceutical manufacturing, regular monitoring of the same and scientific evidence-based marketing approval process of all such products, therefore, require to be well-well regulated. The requirement for stringent conformance to the set cGMP standards would ensure desired safety, efficacy and high quality of nutraceutical products for the consumers.

The recent decisions of the Union ministry of Ayush for setting up a structured regulatory framework, within the CDSCO, for all Ayush drugs and to allow marketing of any new Ayurvedic medicine only after successful completion of clinical trials to ensure its safety and efficacy, are indeed encouraging.

Just as Ayurvedic products, all Nutraceuticals, not being essential medicines, should always be kept outside price control in any form. It should happen in tandem with the Government’s taking a bold step to make the prevailing fragile regulatory space for the Nutraceuticals a robust one, creating a win-win situation for all. 

By: Tapan J. Ray

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.

Humongous Pharma Corruption: China Ups The Ante…and India?

In the ‘pharma bribery’ related scandal in China, many postulated that the Chinese Government has cracked down selectively on Multinational Corporations (MNCs) to extend unfair business advantages for its local players.

Media reports of September 2013 indicate that in all probability the intent of the Chinese Government is not to spare homegrown corruption in this area. The country appears to be taking tough measures against both global and local perpetrators of such criminal acts, which have spread their vicious tentacles deep into the booming Chinese pharmaceutical industry.

The report names the following domestic companies:

  • Sino Biopharmaceutical Ltd has set up a team to investigate allegations broadcast on the state television that its majority-owned subsidiary had paid for illegal overseas trips for doctors to Thailand and Taiwan.
  • Privately held Gan & Lee Pharmaceuticals investigating allegations of spending around US$ 130.75 million to bribe doctors to promote their pharmaceutical products over five years.

More MNCs under investigation:

At the same time, international media are reporting names of more and more big global pharma players allegedly involved in this humongous scam, as follows:

  • In July 2013, the British drug maker GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) was allegedly involved in around US$ 490 million deceptive travel and meeting expenses as well as trade in sexual favors. Chinese authorities detained four senior executives of GSK in China to further investigate into this matter.
  • In the same month Chinese police reportedly visited the Shanghai office of another British pharmaceutical major AstraZeneca for investigation related to this scam.
  • In August 2013, Sanofi of France reportedly said that it would cooperate with a review of its business in China after a whistle-blower’s allegations that the company paid about US$ 276,000 in bribes to 503 doctors in the country.
  • Again in August 2013, a former employee of the Swiss pharmaceutical major Novartis has reportedly claimed that her manager urged her to offer ‘kickback’ to doctors to increase use of the cancer drug Sandostatin LAR. She had about US$ 105,000 budget for payments to doctors who prescribed at least 5 doses, aiming for 50 doses in all. She filed the compensation claim of US $817,000 after resigning from the company.
  • In the same month, another whistleblower has reportedly made bribery allegations involving Eli Lilly of the United States and US$ 4.9 million in purported kickbacks to Chinese doctors.
  • In September 2013, media reports indicated that the Chinese authorities are investigating the German pharma major – Bayer over a “potential case of unfair competition”.
  • Another very recent report of September 17, 2013 states, Alcon Eye Care division of Novartis is investigating allegation of fabricated clinical trials to bribe doctors. The report says Alcon outsourced the trials to a third-party research company, which in turn compensated doctors with “research payments”. It is claimed by the whistleblower that Alcon used funds earmarked for “patient experience surveys” on lens implants to bribe doctors at more than 200 hospitals. One doctor received about US$ 7,300, for studying 150 patients. Alcon allegedly spent more than US$ 230,000, on such studies last year.

This list of pharmaceutical companies involved in alleged serious malpractices to boost their sales and profits in China is probably not exhaustive.

However, only time will unravel whether this juggernaut of scams will keep moving unabated despite all high voltage actions, bulldozing patients’ interest.

Crack down on food companies too:

Crack down of the Chinese Government on alleged malpractices has reportedly extended to milk products’ companies too.

Again in August 2013, Mead Johnson Nutrition and Danone were among six dairy companies ordered to pay a combined 669 million Yuan by the Chinese Government for price fixing of their products.

Global industry lobby has a different view point:

In an interview with the BBC, an expert from APCO Worldwide, considered as the giant of the lobbying industry said:

“China’s behavior was very worrisome for foreign companies. They don’t know what’s hitting them right now. The government is resorting to its traditional “toolbox” of coercive methods, including shaming and ordering people to confess that they’ve done wrong so that your penalties can be minimized. They’re just treating foreign companies the way they’ve treated their own for many years, and this is the way the Party does things.”

He continued, “What may be going on is they’re telling foreign companies and they’re telling private companies here: Behave yourself; remember we’re the Party, we’re in charge.”

This is seemingly an interesting way of pooh-poohing serious allegations of bribery and other malpractices by the pharmaceutical companies in China without even waiting for the results of the pending enquiry.

However, such comments coming from an industry lobbying organization or any Public Relations (PR) Agency is not uncommon. That’s their business.

Possible reasons for crack down:

Experts opine that China has a high drug price problem. This is vindicated by the fact that while most developed nations of the world spend not more than 10-12 percent of their healthcare budget on medicines, in China it exceeds 40 percent. This huge disparity is believed to have prompted Beijing’s crackdown on the industry, especially the MNCs that dominate the Chinese pharmaceutical industry with newer drugs. The powerful National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) of China has already said that it is examining pricing by 60 local and international pharmaceutical companies.

Some other reports point out, low basic salary of the doctors at the 13,500 public hospitals in China, who are the key purchasers of drugs, is the root cause of corruption in the Chinese healthcare industry.

According to McKinsey with estimated healthcare spending of China nearly tripling to US$1 trillion by 2020 from $357 billion in 2011, the country is increasingly attracting pharma and medical equipment companies from all over the world in a very large number.

The fall out:

A recent media report indicates that Chines crackdown on the widespread pharma bribery scandal in the country is quite adversely affecting the sales of both global and local players, as many doctors in the Chinese hospitals are now refusing to see medical representatives for fear of being caught up in this large scam.

Drug expenditure is even more for healthcare in India:

Several studies indicate that Out Of Pocket Expenditure towards Healthcare in India is one of the highest in the world and ranges from 71 to 80%.

According to a 2012 study of IMS Consulting Group, drugs are the biggest expenditure in the total Out Of Pocket (OOP) spend on healthcare as follows:

Items Outpatient/ outside Hospital (%) Inpatient/ Hospitalization (%)
Medicines 63 43
Consultation/Surgery - 23
Diagnostics 17 16
Minor surgeries 01 -
Private Consultation 14 -
Room Charge - 14
Others 05 04

Despite these facts, India has remained virtually inactive in this critical area so far, unlike China, except some sporadic price control measures like, Drug Price Control Order (DPCO 2013) for essential drugs (NLEM 2011), which covers around 18% of the total pharmaceutical market in India.

Universal Healthcare (UHC): A possible answer?

Another interesting study titled, ‘The Cost of Universal Health Care in India: A Model Based Estimate’ concludes as follows:

The estimated cost of UHC delivery through the existing mix of public and private health institutions would be INR 1713 (USD 38) per person per annum in India. This cost would be 24% higher, if branded drugs are used. Extrapolation of these costs to entire country indicates that Indian government needs to spend 3.8% of the GDP for universalizing health care services, although in total (public+private) India spent around 4.2% of its GDP on healthcare (2010) at 11% CAGR from 2001 to 2010 period.

Moreover, important issues such as delivery strategy for ensuring quality, reducing inequities in access, and managing the growth of health care demand need be explored.

Thus, it appears, even UHC will be 24% more expensive after a public spend of staggering 3.8% of the GDP towards healthcare, if branded drugs are used, which attract huge avoidable marketing expenditures, as we have seen in the Chinese pharma industry scandal.

High marketing costs making drugs dearer?

A recent article, captioned “But Don’t Drug Companies Spend More on Marketing?” vindicates the point, though the drug companies spend substantial money on R&D, they spend even more on their marketing related activities, legally or otherwise.

Analyzing six global pharma and biotech majors, the author highlights that SG&A (Sales, General & Administrative) and R&D expenses vary quite a lot from company to company. However, in this particular analysis the range was as follows:

SG&A: 23% to 34%
R&D: 12.5% to 24%

SG&A expenses typically include advertising, promotion, marketing and executive salaries. The author says that most companies do not show the break up of the ‘S’ part separately.

In the pharmaceutical sector all over the world, the marketing practices have still remained a very contentious issue despite many attempts of self-regulation by the industry. Incessant media reports on alleged unethical business practices have not slowed down significantly, across the world, even after so many years of self-regulation. This is indeed a critical point to ponder.

Scope and relevance of ‘Corporate Ethical Business Conducts and Values’:

The scope of ‘ethical business conducts and value standards’ of a company should not just be limited to marketing. These should usually encompass the following areas, among many others:

  • The employees, suppliers, customers and other stakeholders
  • Caring for the society and environment
  • Fiduciary responsibilities
  • Business and marketing practices
  • R&D activities, including clinical trials
  • Corporate Governance
  • Corporate espionage

That said, codes of ethical conduct, corporate values and their compliance should not only get limited to the top management, but must get percolated downwards, looking beyond the legal and regulatory boundaries.

Statistics of compliance to codes of business ethics and corporate values are important to know, but perceptible qualitative changes in ethics and value standards of an organization should always be the most important goal to drive any business corporation and the pharmaceutical sector is no exception.

Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA): A deterrent?

To prevent bribery and corrupt practices, especially in a foreign land, in 1997, along with 33 other countries belonging to the ‘Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)’, the United States Congress enacted a law against the bribery of foreign officials, which is known as ‘Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA)’.

This Act marked the early beginnings of ethical compliance program in the United States and disallows the US companies from paying, offering to pay or authorizing to pay money or anything of value either directly or through third parties or middlemen.

FCPA currently has some impact on the way American companies are required to run their business, especially in the foreign land.

However, looking at the ongoing Chinese story of pharma scams and many other reports of huge sums paid by the global pharmaceutical companies after being found guilty under such Acts in the Europe and USA, it appears, levy of mere fines is not good enough deterrent to stop such (mal)practices in today’s perspective.

China acts against pharma bribery, why not India? 

Like what happened in China, many reports, including from Parliamentary Standing Committee, on alleged pharma malpractices of very significant proportions, which in turn are making drugs dearer to patients, have been coming up in India regularly, since quite sometime.

Keeping these into consideration, abject inertia of the government in taking tough measures in this area is indeed baffling and an important area of concern.


The need to formulate ‘Codes of Business Ethics & Values’ and more importantly their effective compliance, in letter and spirit, are of increasing relevance in the globalized business environment.

Unfortunately, as an irony, increasingly many companies across the world are reportedly being forced to pay heavy costs and consequences of ‘unethical behavior and business practices’ by the respective governments.

Intense quarterly pressure for expected business performance by stock markets and shareholders, could apparently be the trigger-points for short changing such codes and values.

There is, of course, no global consensus, as yet, on what is ethically and morally acceptable ‘Business Ethics and Values’ uniformly across the world. However, even if these are implemented in country-specific ways, the most challenging obstacle to overcome by the corporates would still remain ‘walking the talk’ and ‘owning responsibility’.

That said, to uphold patients’ interests, China is already giving the perpetrators of the ongoing humongous pharma scam a ‘run for life’, as it were, despite what the industry lobbyists have been laboriously working on for the world to believe. Today, common patients’ in India being in a much worse situation for similar sets of reasons, should the domestic regulators not now wake up from the ‘deep slumber’, up all antennas, effectively act by setting examples and bring the violators to justice?

By: Tapan J. Ray

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.


Differentiating Seven ‘Ps’ of Marketing-Mix for Health Food Products – A strategic overview

As estimated by Nicholas Hall the health food products market in India is currently around U.S.$ 1.3 Billion with a huge marketing potential. However, the marketing-mix for such groups of health food products will need to be crafted in an innovative way and carefully tailored to suit the need of individual brands, by an astute marketer.
Definition of Health Food Products:In my view, the health food products are those, which have a favorable impact on human health, their physical performance or state of mind. Such products include various types of food substances, dietary supplements with medical benefits and are used mostly for the prevention of various types of diseases.

The global market:

The global market for health food products is projected to be around U.S.$ 190 Billion by 2010 with a CAGR of 6.1% during 2000 – 2010. In 2007 its market size was reported to be U.S.$ 166 Billion.

Categories of health food products:

Before we delve into the space of marketing-mix, let me try to categorize these products under the following six categories:

Functional Foods:

- These are dietary components, which provide health benefits beyond basic nutrition, like
isabgool or psyllium husk, whey proteins, bran or oats

Medicinal Foods:

- These are functional foods with more medicinal value, for e.g. cranberry juice, anti-diabetic/anti-obesity health
bars with added medication etc.


- This category comprises of substances which are foods or part of a food with usually preventive health benefits
like vitamins, minerals, gingko biloba, coenzyme Q10, carnitine, ginseng, garlic, tulsi, kalmegh, brahmi, saffron,
ashwagandha, green tea, karela powder etc.


- These products are like lycopene found in tomatoes or flavanoids in fruits. Such substances usually do not
possess any nutritive value but offer some disease preventive properties.

Ayurvedic and Herbal Medicines:

- These are derived from plants and are used as such or in form of extracts and possess disease preventive

Other health related products are like sports nutrition and various types of organic foods.

Key Drivers:

In my view following are the four key drivers of the health food products market in India:

Consumer awareness:
- Increasing consumer health consciousness will increase the popularity of health food products

Changing lifestyle:
- Incidence of lifestyle diseases like hypertension, diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular diseases has been
increasing with fast changing consumer lifestyle. Moreover, increasing cost of serious medical treatment is
also encouraging people to go for preventive health care.

Ageing population:
- Ageing population in India is expected to contribute significantly to increase the demand for health foods
supplements and functional foods to address various types age related health conditions.

New scientific evidence of various health foods:
- Ongoing scientific research studies to establish health benefits of various food substances and dietary
supplements will help expanding the ambit health food products at a faster speed.

Key challenges for Herbal Food Products:

Herbal products taken from two or more different sources may not necessarily have the same potency, leading to concerns of batch to batch product quality variations in terms of efficacy, which depends on the potency of the material used.

Differentiating the marketing-mix:

For health food products, instead of conventional four Ps of marketing, one will need to consider the following seven Ps:

1. Product :

Health food products will need to have the following:

• Scientifically documented health benefits
• Innovative product development targeting different consumer segments
• Clear brand differentiation
-Without this ‘Horlicks Vs Viva’ story is expected to be repeated more often than in the past with enlightened consumer base.
• Reasonable standardization

2. Place:

Innovative use of this ‘P’ will play a critical role in the success of any health food product.

The following distribution outlets for the health food products are important:

• Kirana / Grocery stores
• Supermarkets

However, equally important is the availability of these products in pharmacies as many consumers will perceive these products as important as medicines and may enquire at the pharmacy outlets for their availability.

• Multi Level Marketing (MLM)
- MLM can be used innovatively for health food products marketing, as is being done currently by Amway, Herbal Life etc.

3. Price:

Price of a health food product like many other products is a function of values that the brand will offer and will also depend on:

• Differential brand features and benefits
• Product life cycle

However, pressure on margin for health food products will be more due to:
• Strong bargaining power of distributors’ chain / supermarket stores, unlike pharmaceutical products where retail and wholesale margin is fixed in India
• High promotional expenditure due to usage of both mass media and relatively intensive personal selling.

4. Promotion :

For health food promotion following common tools just like any consumer product marketing will help:

• Advertising through mass media
• Point of Purchase Promotion (POP)
• Sampling

In addition, following campaigns may prove to be highly beneficial for such products:

• Awareness campaign for usefulness of disease prevention measures
• Medical promotion
- This will be important especially for health food products designed for children where the parents usually seek a doctor’s opinion about the product benefits. Doctors may not necessarily prescribe the product but their ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer in reply to parents’ questions on the product may prompt whether the parents will continue with this product for the child or not.

Other types of promotion for health food products may be the following:

• Multi level marketing
• Promotion in schools, sports clubs etc.
• Telemarketing of brand services
- These are especially important for health food products meant for children. In such cases, a telemarketing cell consisting of trained nurses or dieticians, will enquire about the progress of the child with the product and give various advices to the mothers for the child, as required by them. Such types of telemarketing services through specialists will help adding a premium image to the brand to indirectly boost up the sales.
• Internet / social forums
- These tools can also be innovatively used for health food brand promotion.

5. People :

For health food products marketing, people with the following skill sets have been found immensely beneficial:

• Sales person with additional training inputs on concerned health related subjects
• Telemarketing of services with people having nursing or a dietician’s background

6. Process :

- All other ‘P’s’ may work with absolute efficiency, but if the marketing process remains inefficient, the branding exercise may be adversely impacted. Thus following areas need to concentrated upon with equal zest:

• Process efficiency
• Process speed
• Process innovation
• Efficiency of IT interface within the marketing process

7. Physical Evidence :

Now a day’s individual enlightened consumer usually wants to know the ability of the manufacturer and the environment in which a product is manufactured, along with the quality of services that is delivered for the brand. Hence, while considering the marketing-mix for health food products the ‘P’ of ‘physical evidence’ is expected to play an increasingly important role.


It is therefore of immense importance for the marketers to consider the differentiated marketing-mix of seven ‘Ps’ for health food products in their branding exercise.

By Tapan Ray

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.

Bt Bringal…health and food safety…agricultural independence…biodiversity, are all intertwined

Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt) Brinjal has now become a subject of intensive debate for various important reasons. Bt Bringal is a genetically modified strain of Brinjal, developed by the premier seed company in India Mahyco in collaboration with the American major Monsanto. The main claim of such seed varieties is improving yield by protecting the crop from the pests.
The key concerns related to products like Bt Brinjals are in the following areas:

1. Health and Food Safety

2. Dependence on overseas companies year after year for agricultural products

3. Compromising ‘biodiversity’

4. Effectiveness of Bt products

Health and Food Safety:

The main focus of the debate revolves round the health and food safety concerns with such biotech food products. Environmentalists point out that the genetically modified foods while fed on rats have already shown fatal kidney and lung disorders.

Gilles-Eric Seralini, a French scientist has opined that the tests conducted by Mahyco for Bt Brinjal are unsustainable and would raise very serious health and food safety concerns.

Adverse safety results with Bt cotton, like respiratory tract related problems, skin allergy, immunological disorders etc., from many countries of the world further aggravate the health and food safety concerns with Bt Brinjal. Many experts have opined, as mentioned above, that such disorders could lead to even death with long term use of these products. It will perhaps be imprudent on the part of the civil society to take such ‘public health’ concerns lightly.

Alleged bias by GEAC:

Besides, health and food safety concerns many activists feel that the initial approval of Bt Bringal by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) raises a suspicion of bias towards overseas Bt seed manufacturing companies.

Could it lead to Agriculture dependence on overseas companies?

Another important point that needs to be deliberated by all concerned is the impact of such technology producing ‘terminator gene’. Many apprehend that such a move by India could pose a threat to the agriculture of the country over a period of time, with Indian farmers buying these costlier varieties of seeds from the overseas companies year after year and being dependent on them for the same.

Since India does not recognize patents on life-forms, farmers will be required to pay a type of royalty to the manufacturer, usually known as ‘Trait Fee’. Such fees used to be levied for Bt cotton seeds. However, on this type of fees, in response to a petition filed by farmers in Andhra Pradesh against an international manufacturer and supplier, Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission (MRTPC) gave its ruling in 2006, which is as follows:

“The trait fee being charged by the respondent not only imposes unjustified costs on the farmers by way of manipulation of prices but is also unreasonable in view of lack of competition.”

Many experts feel that such anti-competitive practices involving food products could lead to a different type of dependence on the overseas suppliers of Bt seeds, even if such products are found safe.

Further, concerns related to the control of such seeds and the lack of investment in the public sector for biotech research in this area should be urgently addressed.

The concern related to ‘Biodiversity’:

There is also another important concern related to ‘Biodiversity’. It has been reported that around 2500 varieties of Brinjal are available in India. Brinjal being a plant resulting from cross pollination, entry of Bt.Bringal could lead to genetic contamination affecting existence of many such locally grown varieties raising the contentious issue of ‘biodiversity’.

In the context of Bt Bringal, Dr. Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister of India has recently issued a statement, as follows:

“It was agreed that biotechnology is an important option for higher agricultural productivity and ensuring food security. At the same time, we must ensure that it has no adverse effects on human and animal health and bio-diversity.”

“Keeping this in mind, the government will soon be moving forward in setting up a National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority which will inspire confidence and stimulate public and private investment in biotechnology.”

If ‘Food security’ is the issue, why choose Bt Brinjal?

However, if Bt products will help the nation to address the ‘food security’ issue, the question that will logically emerge, “why then Bt Brinjal?”

As far as I know, India is one of the largest producers of Brinjal in the world with so many varieties of it and there is no shortage of Brinjal in the country either. Thus ‘Food Security’ could hardly be an issue, at least in this case.

Effectiveness of Bt products:

We all have read the media reports related to many incidences of mass suicides by Indian farmers due to crop failures with Bt Cotton. The effectiveness claimed by the manufacturers of Bt cotton is now shrouded with doubts. The following report from ‘The Times of India’ dated March 7, 2010 vindicates this point:

“Bt cotton failed to thwart pests in Gujarat”. Monsanto also concedes, “During field monitoring in 2009, the Bt cotton variety used in four Gujarat districts – Amreli, Bhavnagar, Junagadh and Rajkot was found to attract the pink bollworm, a major pest that attacks cotton plantations”.

Such reports further strengthen the argument of the Environment Minister of India, Mr. Jairam Ramesh that Bt seed varieties should be evaluated with utmost care and precision before nationwide operationalization, for the reasons mentioned above.


Be that as it may, I believe that uncontrolled entry of Bt products should NOT be encouraged in India without:

- Proper knowledge of their serious adverse effects on human and animal health on long term consumption

- Having scientific proof on their long term effectiveness

- Protecting agricultural independence of the country

- Encouraging indigenous biotech research in this field

- Satisfactorily addressing the concern related to ‘biodiversity’ of the nation.

By Tapan Ray

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.