Deer velvet is harvested from stags that have shed their antlers and are in the process of re-growing them, so called because the antlers are covered in soft skin with short, furry hair, making their texture resemble that of velvet.
Kiwi company Mountain Reed Deer Velvet says interest in the product is growing as more consumers seek traditional products to complement modern medicine.
Mountain Red's founder and CEO Karen Morley told NutraIngredients-Asia: "Many people are now seeking alternatives in healthcare, and in Australia, where the healthcare market has integrated both modern and traditional medicine, they see it as an important part of their well-being."
Director Campbell Berry-Kilgour said Mountain Red currently sells its product — which comes in bottles of 60 capsules each — in New Zealand, Australia, the US, UK, Middle East, and Singapore.
He added that deer velvet is believed to enhance athletic performance, as well as improve joint health.
It contains IGF-1 and IGF-2, a class of polypeptides similar to those found in steroids. They are, however, naturally occurring and legal to consume. This, alongside its protein content, is said to boost strength and stamina.
In terms of deer velvet's effects on joint health, he said, "Life expectancy is longer now, and people want to maintain a good quality of life as they age. Deer velvet helps them maintain mobility while living longer."
The firm has also received interest from Taiwan and Europe, with retailers in Poland, Latvia, and several Scandinavian countries particularly keen on the product.
Berry-Kilgour said, "We want to export to more countries, but due to religious reasons, it's more challenging when it comes to countries like Malaysia and Indonesia."
However, despite China and South Korea being the world's largest markets for Kiwi deer velvet exports, Mountain Red does not export to either country.
Berry-Kilgour explained: "If all we are doing is exporting large volumes of deer velvet to these countries, we can't concentrate on developing new products".
He added that these new products would include fresh functions and applications.
"We're also looking at a number of different delivery systems, and while I can't say too much about it now, there is emerging science on deer velvet in areas like wound care, so we're exploring other applications for our product."
And while the company prefers to keep its sales figures private, Morley was quick to state that it has gone from "producing and selling in kilogrammes to tonnes" due to steady demand from its existing markets, and the growing interest elsewhere.
Minimised process, maximised benefits
According to Berry-Kilgour, Mountain Red keeps its deer velvet production process minimal while maximising the benefits not only to consumers but also to the deer from which the velvet is obtained.
"There is a predominant myth that the deer are harmed in the production of deer velvet. But that’s not true for us."
He explained that the velvet is removed from the deer, after which they are released unharmed and allowed to roam on the farm and in the wild.
The process is also sustainable as the antlers undergo annual regeneration, and encouraged so as to prevent the problem of stags injuring themselves and one another with their overgrown antlers.
Once harvested, the deer velvet's moisture content is removed, and it is freeze-dried and converted into a powder to be contained in capsules. The process does not affect any of its biomolecules or health benefits, said Berry-Kilgour.
"We don't remove or add anything; we merely stabilise it. We want to respect tradition, but we've also modernised our processes. We believe in minimal processing, so the final product is as close as possible to the velvet on the deer's head."
Morley said that even as more consumers turn to TCM, they continue to prioritise convenience, and offering TCM ingredients in formats like capsules caters to such buyer preferences.