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A heritage of holistic health: Appetite for Ayurveda is strong in modern India

Article-A heritage of holistic health: Appetite for Ayurveda is strong in modern India

© AdobeStock/nilanewsom A heritage of holistic health: Appetite for Ayurveda is strong in modern India
Ayurvedic products have a particular resonance with Indian consumers who crave ingredients that are rooted in tradition and believe in taking a holistic approach to health management. Brands and suppliers are responding with Ayurvedic product launches and sustainable sourcing programmes.

The term Ayurveda is formed from two words, ayuh and veda, where ayuh means life and veda means knowledge or science.

According to the Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy (AYUSH), established in 2014 by the Indian government to promote the country's indigenous alternative medicines, Ayurveda is one of the most ancient healthcare systems in the world.

“Ayurveda aims to bring evolution by the means of healthy or natural healing and create a great harmony in the mechanism of the human body,” it says. “By providing the sense of possible onset of disease much prior to the dormant symptoms, Ayurveda also attempts to make people aware of appropriate and effective steps which stimulate the progress of holistic growth.”

Despite its ancient roots, Ayurvedic teachings have very real applications in modern product development and holistic care. Over 40% of modern pharmaceutical formulations are based on natural products and traditional medicine is part of the growing trillion-dollar global health, wellness, beauty, and pharmaceutical industries, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), which signed an agreement in 2022 with the Indian government to establish the WHO Global Centre for Traditional Medicine in Gujarat.

Asian consumers crave products that are ‘rooted in tradition’

According to Sanjeevani Dubey, principal consultant at Future Market Insights (FMI), Ayurvedic ingredients resonate strongly among Indian consumers.

“About 80% of India’s population relies on traditional medicine, and methods from Ayurveda remain accepted,” she said. “For decades, the government passed regulations and standard practices, ensuring that it gets safely administered to more patients. So, Indians have trust in these types of ingredients and manufacturers also get huge profits from these types of products.”

Dubey cited the results of a survey conducted by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM), which found that 72% of corporate employees were switching to traditional herbal or Ayurveda ingredients in supplement products. 

This is confirmed by Mintel data. Eighty-three percent of Indian adults agree that their heritage is an important part of their identity, according to a 1,000-strong survey by the market research company.

In Asia, consumers crave products that feel rooted in tradition, boding well for traditional over-the-counter (OTC) remedies [such as] Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine,” writes Dionne Officer, research analyst for innovation in beauty and personal care products, in a 2022 Mintel report. “But in this space and the broader OTC remedies category, efficacy at relieving ailments or pain is key.”

© AdobeStock_/Игор Чусь Appetite for Ayurveda is strong in modern India

Mintel recommends that brands link innovation with tradition and cultural heritage because globalisation and a fast pace of life are driving consumers to crave products that feel rooted in tradition.

Ayurvedic product launches: Coffee, cough syrup, and pet food

As a traditional medicine, the influence of Ayurveda bridges several categories, from food and drink to nutraceuticals and supplements to pharmaceuticals.

Within the functional food and drink space, instant coffee brand Jomo, owned by Bangalore-based Avid Nutrilabs, blends instant coffee granules with healthy ingredients such as the Ayurvedic root ashwagandha, which is said to be an adaptogen that helps people cope with stress. The company initially targeted the domestic Indian market but last year announced plans to expand to Singapore, the US and the UAE.

Indian brand Dabur Honitus Adulsa launched a cough syrup with an Ayurvedic formula containing liquorice, holy basil, yellow-fruit nightshade, and turmeric. The syrup is said to relieve five symptoms: phlegm, cough, irritation, cold, and chest congestion.

Even some pet food brands are tapping into the trend – driven both by the popularity of Ayurvedic and the so-called “humanisation” of pets, which is fuelling demand for premium pet food. Indian manufacturer Filomilo’s mutton-flavoured chicken biscuits for dogs are “powered with Ayurvedic brahmi powder” (Bacopa Monnieri) to improve immunity and enhance brain power.

Sustainable supply chains for India’s ‘treasure trove’ of botanicals

Demand for plant-based and botanical bioactives is growing and India – the second-largest exporter of medicinal plants – is a “treasure trove” of these plants thanks to its rich biodiversity and history of medicinal knowledge, according to non-profit organisation Solidaridad, which works to make agri-food and natural resource supply chains more sustainable.

Currently, many botanicals and medicinal plants are wild sourced and often this is done in an unsustainable way, leaving the plant unable to regenerate and degrading natural habitats.  

Solidaridad has started a programme to reclaim sustainability in the medicinal plants and herbal medicines sector, working with farmers on four levels: educating farmers with scientific knowledge and good agricultural practices; supporting them in developing a viable business ecosystem; enabling an inclusive policy environment; and creating a market for affordable and sustainable products.

Today, almost 800 farmers are now growing medicinal and aromatic plants as part of the Solidaridad programme, which started around three years ago, with priority given to profitable crops that are not water-intensive, such as ashwagandha (Withania Somnifera), mint, lemongrass (Cymbopogan flexosus), kalmedh (Andrographis Paniculata), tulsi (Ocimum Sanctum), akarkara (Anacyclus pyrethrum), black cumin (Nigella sativa), and turmeric (Curcuma longa), among others.

Growing botanicals ‘in balance with nature’

In spite of Covid and a limited budget for the [medicinal and aromatic plants] MAPs programme, the programme has progressed well and collaboration is there with the Ministry of Ayush, the National Medicinal Plants Board, and the Quality Council of India,” Monique van de Vijver, innovation manager for health at Solidaridad, told Vitafoods Insights.

Farmers growing these medicinal and aromatic plants through the programme are serving both the international and domestic local market.

One such farmer is Janki Lal Jat, who grows and prepares medicinal plant powders made from ashwagandha, akarkara, safed musli, shatavari, aonla, mulethi, and gokhru. Jat sells these powders to medical stores and Ayurvedic doctors in the nearby Jhalawar and Chittorgarh districts.

Developing sustainable supply chains for these high-value ingredients could also be seen as sourcing the ingredients in a holistic way.

“These high-value plants require less inputs and hence relate to better income realisation for farmers along with facilitating their production in balance with nature,” Solidaridad said in a blog, noting that the programme was “an endeavour [...] towards building prosperous and inclusive farming communities through eco-friendly, climate-smart, regenerative, and resource-efficient practices”.