The active ingredient in calocurb, stylized so with all lowercase letters, is an extract of flowering hops grown at the top of the South Island of New Zealand.
The extract has a trademarked brand name, Amarasate, owned by the government-funded Plant & Food Research (PFR), which has spent the last eight years—and NZ$20 million (around $15 million) of government funding—to develop it.
Sarah Kennedy, a dietary supplement and natural products industry veteran in New Zealand, was selected to be a commercialization partner for the ingredient. The brand calocurb is currently the sole licensee of Amarasate.
“We spent the last two years working on the branding, the messaging, and the commercialization,” she told NutraIngredients-USA.
In addition to her new role as CEO of calocurb, she is also CEO of its parent company Lifestream International, a 40-year-old natural health product specialist in New Zealand. Some of her previous roles in the nutrition space include managing director at Fonterra Nutrition and CEO of Vitaco Health Group.
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Though the product started in New Zealand, Kennedy said that “it was specifically developed for the US market.”
“Obesity is a problem around the world, but the US has the largest weight loss supplement market in the world,” she added.
Stateside, the category is in relatively precarious standing. According to Euromonitor, a market research firm, while the obese piece of the population pie is growing, sales of supplements positioned to pare it down has not.
It is forecasted to grow a meager 1.3% all the way to 2022, with an essentially flat CAGR of 0.3%, per Euromonitor data.
Business considerations aside, the category is also prone to regulatory and consumer group scrutiny.
Not long after the product launch in New Zealand two months ago, right around the time of its US market launch, complaints about a potential side effect of taking calocurb started to circulate online.
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The most prominent of these is a product review-cum-criticism of the category written by Dr Andrew Dickson of Massey University on Kiwi site The Spinoff. It's now the fourth search result on Google when looking up the brand.
The diarrhea Dr. Massey experienced was shared by less than 3% of calocurb users so far, Kennedy said, and its makers argue that once the body gets used to the extract, the side effects would ease.
“We are all physiologically different. What we find is that 2% to 3% of people may get a slight laxative effect, and may get a slight amount of nausea,” Kennedy added. “This usually passes. Basically, it just means they’ve got more sensors in the stomach. So what we say to them is that they’re more highly evolved. If they were a caveman, they’ll live longer than anyone else.”
The percentage Kennedy cited is based on the product’s subscriber retention rate and feedback. “We’re in our second month now in New Zealand and our turnover is at 62%, which means 62% of people have resubscribed.”
Mechanism of action
Kennedy emphasized what calocurb is bringing new to the market, considering that many botanical extracts on the market, such as the spinach-derived Appethyl, chili-derived capsaicin, and many dietary fibers, purport to inhibit feelings of hunger. “It’s the first in the world to activate what we call the ‘Bitter Brake,’” she said.
Development of the ingredient was funded by New Zealand’s Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. “They got a government grant to study their hypothesis to find an active plant-based substance that would trigger or activate what is called the ‘ileal break,’” Kennedy explained.
“[The process] stimulates receptors to send gastric hormones to your brain to tell you that you’re full. It’s an evolutionary development for humans to tell us we were full, to stop us from ingesting anything toxic.”
The company has self-affirmed GRAS, and Kennedy said that no NDI was needed for the extract “because hops has been used in beer for centuries.”
Calocurb is positioning itself as a clean label product, boasting only two other ingredients in addition to the hop flower extract—canola oil to help the hop extract release directly in the small intestine, and rosemary extract for freshness.
The extract is encapsulated in Capsugel’s patented Licaps capsule, which helps with its targeted release mechanism.
It is currently only available in subscription form sold directly to consumers, though Kennedy said it’s easy for subscribers to pause or stop their subscription any time they want. “We do it really because it gets people into the habit of using it. It’s easy, it’s convenient, and what we want to do is support people from this yo-yo dieting.”