Cognis wins rare Chinese approval for CLA

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Global CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) leader, Cognis, has won a category-first novel foods approval to use its weight management ingredient in Chinese functional foods and dietary supplements.

The Chinese Ministry of Health approval establishes Cognis’ Tonalin as the CLA benchmark and gives the German company market advantage until another supplier wins approval either independently or via substantial equivalence.

Cognis senior marketing manager, Sharrann Simmons, said Cognis was in discussion with several Chinese food companies, although a launch may just as likely come from a US producer with its sights set on the Chinese market.

She said Chinese authorities were aware that non-authorized CLA products exist on the Chinese grey market, but were cracking down on the problem, which would be simplified now that an approved CLA form existed.

However German-based Cognis, which holds something like 65 percent of the global CLA supply market, can not as yet make any of the body toning and shaping claims it has clinical backing for as health claim approval has not yet been sought.

“That is the next step in the process but is another process,”​ Simmons told


David Cai, PhD, Cognis research manager and principal scientist for North America and Asia, who worked most closely on the application, said numerous presentations were required to be made to Ministry of Health officials to educate them about the ingredient they knew little about.

“We spent about two years working with the Chinese authorities on this so we are very excited to have received this approval,”​ he said. “Other applications such as our plant sterols were easier as the ingredients were familiar and took less time.”

The approval means Tonalin can be used in dietary supplements and functional foods such as dairy and baked products at dosage up to 6g per day.

Simmons said she expected initial product launches to come in the dairy area but no debut had yet been confirmed with any Chinese or international product maker.


Cai said the approval indicated the Chinese commitment to quality that had been amplified in the wake of food scares such as the melamine baby food scare that had led to the dismissal of several high-level government food officials.

“They have adopted our specs as the specs that is now the standard for CLA in China so that is very pleasing,” ​he said.

The approval comes at a time when Chinese incomes are rising as waistlines expand, creating a market for weight control products that did not exist so long ago.

But CLA to date has been almost exclusively the preserve of dietary supplements as US GRAS (generally recognized as safe) approval was only granted in 2008, and European Union novel foods approval is still pending.

“The financial crisis has also put something of a brake on new product development,”​ Simmons said. “But we expect the first Tonalin-containing food to be launched on the US market very soon.”

According to Sloan Trends, the US weight management market will be worth about $70bn next year.

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