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Reassess your ‘alternatives’

Sanjaya Mariwala, Executive Chairman and Managing Director of OmniActive Health Technologies opines that it is time to give mainstream consideration to the nutraceuticals industry which is poised to grow in scale and size

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Unprecedented events compel us to rethink and reassess not just our strategies, but also the way we perceive things. In this pandemic world, many such standpoints and strategies underwent a churn. We explored possibilities never thought before or once considered mere alternative. Whether we talk about online education and online shopping or the VCs, remote conferencing and work from home facility, these are no more just options or extended facilities. They are so acceptable now that they have become mainstream or BAUs.

If we draw a parallel to the healthcare industry, only curative science was considered mainstream till recently. However, the pandemic has proven that building immunity and developing preventive care is highly critical. The transition today is such that everything is getting redefined and rightly so. Scientists are increasingly looking to food products to help prevent the illness, slow disease progression and treat symptoms. This has resulted in double-digit growth of the nutra industry globally and India has all the resources to tap these opportunities and guide the world towards preventive medicine.

Three steps approach is the way to go.

Reassess the alternative: With increasing awareness and acceptability of the preventive science, streams like nutra and Ayurveda have taken the centre stage. The world is looking up to India’s heritage of Ayurveda and Charak Samhita. Research says that even the Yoga texts like Gherand Samhita and Hatha Yoga Pradipika are increasingly referred to the practice and popularise the ways to improve immunity. We will have to reassess the way we have been treating the preventive science-based industries till now. It is now or never that we prioritise the regulatory push required for these streams. We need to strengthen the manufacturing oversight of nutraceuticals, create a separate regulatory body, independent HSN code structure, specific financial packages and tax breaks for manufacturing, research and clinical studies to give the industry required boost and allow it to contribute substantially for the public healthcare.

Nutra is really no more an alternative. India needs to exhibit both the expertise and excellence in this field which very much exists with us.

Redesign the supply chain: Demand factors are increasingly in favour of the industry especially as we hear the second wave of COVID-19 would be imminent. There is a constant focus on strengthening the supply chain which is also a learning of the first wave. I would say, these changed dynamics of the value chain are here to stay for longer with or without COVID-19. And this is a brilliant trade opportunity for India.

But are we equipped enough to seize this opportunity?

Quality of the raw material plays prime importance especially with increasing consumer concerns about food safety. Complete traceability of the ingredients and maintaining international quality standards are possible with backward integration. Effective execution of the latest amendments in the farm bill will be essential to encourage the industry players to scale up via contract farming or vertical integration. Sustainable farming, state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities, modern tools and technology leveraging AI to undertake extensive research encouraging both process and product innovation, these are some of the major action points for us to focus upon. Industry players and regulators will have to collaborate, re-design the supply chain to position Indian products and industry players as preferred partners.

India needs to get innovative and leverage its capability from farms to the formulations.

Reforms to induce growth –With the COVID-19 outbreak, in April 2020, China announced the addition of 46 cross border e-commerce zones to then existing 59 zones. This helps attract foreign investment however, the trade war of China with the world at large there are more challenges for China and opportunities for India. We saw many reforms in the last couple of months aiming towards integration and simplification. We now need growth and research-oriented reforms and it will be possible only when different laws, regulations will converge to serve a common end goal.

While our efforts are to give a level playing field to the farmers, they will benefit the most only when agribased industries are encouraged to scale up. Demand for nutra products is at its peak and continuing to move northward, regulations are supporting the farmers, but there are impediments for the industry players which are currently limiting the growth potential and discouraging business houses from positioning India on the global map.

It is time to give mainstream consideration to the nutra industry which is poised to grow in scale and size.

In the world of finance, the degree of risk defines the investment categories as either conventional or alternatives. So, in healthcare, the one which reduces the risk of catching illnesses and diseases, shouldn’t it be considered conventional and mainstream? I strongly believe, it is time we reassess what really is the alternative and reposition nutra as an independent, mainstream industry.

(Sanjaya Mariwala is also the Chair, Nutraceutical Sub-committee, FICCI and Founder President, Association of Herbal and Nutraceuticals Manufacturers of India (AHNM) 

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