Quality, ingredient list and assurance seal most important to Chinese consumers - USP

By Guan Yu Lim contact

- Last updated on GMT

USP had seen increasing testing of botanical products and ingredients in recent times such as turmeric, astaxanthin and lutein ©USP
USP had seen increasing testing of botanical products and ingredients in recent times such as turmeric, astaxanthin and lutein ©USP

Related tags: Usp, botanical, Adulteration, COVID-19

The top three purchase criteria for dietary supplements among Chinese consumers RE product quality (79%), ingredient list (60%) and quality assurance seal (53%), according to data from the United States Pharmacopeia (USP).

China’s increasing middle-class and health-conscious population coupled with its rising ageing population have led to a growing demand for dietary supplements. Daxue Consulting projects the vitamins and dietary supplement market in China to reach RMB168bn (US$22bn) this year.

However, in a country that has experienced significant food adulteration issues, it is not surprising that the safety and effectiveness of supplements were important to Chinese consumers.

USP said almost 80% of consumers in China believed that dietary supplements were best regulated by an independent third party not associated with the manufacturer.

USP offers third-party verification services for dietary supplement finished products and ingredients via its USP Dietary Supplements Verification Program. The voluntary programme goes through a rigorous testing and auditing process and evaluates it against FDA standards. In Asia, USP has a presence in China and India.

Speaking to NutraIngredients-Asia​, John Atwater, senior director of the verification program at USP said there were currently 254 products from 16 companies that are USP-verified, of which two companies have a presence in Asia-Pacific.

The two are International Vitamin Corporation and DSM Nutritional Products.

Atwater said the most common supplements tested on its programme were nutritional supplements such as joint and eye health, probiotics, vitamins and minerals.

He added the company had seen more testing of botanical products and ingredients in recent times including turmeric, astaxanthin and lutein.

Quality is key

According to Atwater, products on the USP’s program are tested for full compliance to its label specifications.

We test products for 4Ps. Positive identification which means they contain all the ingredients listed on the label. Purity, whether it contains any harmful levels of contaminants. Performance is how it will break down in the body and be absorbed as intended. And potency which checks that the ingredients are present in the declared amounts on the label​.”

He added testing was now arguably more important in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dietary supplements are not drug products and are not intended to work for diseases. Such claims are absolutely not acceptable, and should be a first sign that you are dealing with a company that is not reputable​.”

International supply chain

While most of the products on the USP Dietary Supplements Verification Program come from the US, Atwater said it was receiving more interest from international manufacturers to get their products tested.

According to USP market analysis, companies with less than 0.1% market share combine to make up 54% of the global dietary supplement market. 

With many small supplement manufacturers, Atwater said it was important to ensure quality is universal across the supply chain.

He explained that most of the dietary ingredient firms they worked with came from outside the US. For example, most ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and chamomile consumed in the US are sourced from other countries.

Citing the Journal of International Commerce and Economics​, China exports about 80% of the world's vitamin C.

As for chamomile, most are obtained from Egypt, Germany, Argentina and Poland, according to the American Botanical Council​.

He told us the supply chain was getting increasingly more complex due to globalisation, and the need for stronger systems to assess and ensure quality in these dietary supplements was becoming more important.

Missing or inaccurate information about the dietary ingredient can have serious health consequences​,” Atwater added.

Citing an example, he said: “Chinese star anise is used as a food ingredient, supplement, or medicinal product and prized for its reputed health benefits, but Japanese star anise is toxic and can kill a consumer if passed off as the former​.”

He said opportunities for adulteration by unscrupulous manufacturers could occur at several stages along the complex supply chain, which endangers the safety of the products.

But he added new detection technologies such as chromatographic, spectroscopic, and genomic testing, were helpful in detecting and preventing these dangers.

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