The Coronavirus crisis has reminded people of the necessity of staying healthy. A special emphasis has been on building immunity. The Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy (AYUSH) had also issued an advisory on boosting immunity. Among the measures suggested: drink warm water throughout the day, or a herbal tea (kadha)—a concoction of tulsi (Indian basil), dalchini (cinnamon), kalimirch (black pepper), shunthi (dry ginger), munnaka (raisin) and ‘golden milk’ (half a teaspoon of turmeric in hot milk).

There has been a 1.2x spike in online searches for health and immunity, says a recent survey by Facebook India and the Boston Consulting Group. It adds that 49% consumers intend to buy more vitamins, herbs and supplements in the coming days.

Across the world, people are gravitating towards proactive and preventive healthcare, driving the demand for food supplements and immunity boosters. A recent Invest India report, titled “Invigorating Ayurveda in the times of Covid-19”, says that the pandemic has “dramatically increased consumer demand for dietary supplements that improve nutrition, assist with sleep and stress relief, support strong immune function and improve resistance to health threats”. The national investment promotion and facilitation agency adds that a growing geriatric population and “its increased awareness of nutritional values and preventive healthcare has further augmented the global herbal supplements market”, which is expected to expand to $8.5 billion by 2025, with a CAGR of 6.2%.

Himalaya Drug Company, a leader in the nutrition and wellness segment, has confirmed that during the lockdown, “there has been a significant increase in demand for immunity and wellness products containing pure herbs such as guduchi, tulsi, amalaki, and ashwagandha, among others, along with propriety formulations such as ‘Septilin’ and ‘Immusante’,” the report says.

“Despite being a millennia-old tradition, the Ayurveda industry is actually at a nascent stage and therefore, primed for investments in several areas that are sure to yield high returns.” The government’s approval for 100% foreign direct investment in the sector “has opened doors for all stakeholders to work together to harness Ayurveda’s potential in India and across the world,” says the Invest India report.

The report identifies investment opportunities in two categories: standardisation and marketing. Product standardisation, the report says, must be the first area of investment both nationally and globally. While Ayurvedic remedies are popular in India, the “near absence of standardisation does not permit wider acceptability of Ayurveda products”.

Globally, the lack of international licensing norms makes it difficult to push the products overseas. “It becomes nearly impossible to prove the safety, purity and efficacy of Ayurveda products which leads to insufficient market penetration,” the report says. Selling the products globally in the absence of licensing norms is also expensive for manufacturers. “Since there are no standardisation norms in India that could be presented to overseas regulations bodies before sale in those countries, manufacturers have to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in clinical trials that match each country’s certification norms.”

Coming to marketing, the report says that “proven knowledge of Ayurveda’s benefits needs to be disseminated widely in order to develop a global interest in the sector”. The demand for all-natural and herbal products has led to some Indian startups using Ayurveda to solve “contemporary problems”, the report says, citing the example of the women-focussed &Me.

The other problem the industry faces, according to the report, is that “Ayurveda is not that well understood. Helping people globally better understand the benefits of Ayurveda, clearly articulating its proven records and how it fits into one’s life are key first steps that can greatly improve Ayurveda’s reception in the global market.”

The report suggests that one marketing strategy could be developing products with specific target audiences, say for example senior citizens. Another option is to use digital platforms to target audiences and tailor products to their needs. The report suggests that the 70-million-strong global yoga audience be targeted by the Ayurveda industry.

These investments, the report says, “will allow Ayurveda to evolve itself to a form that is cognisant of the needs and trends of new generations”.

The good thing is that the total value of Ayurvedic and herbal exports has been steadily rising since 2015, and was at $446 million in FY19, according to Statista. According to leading player Baidyanath Group, India roughly exports about 5% of its manufactured products every year. “Exports usually include ingredients or single-ingredient products,” the report says.

Just how big is the Ayurvedic market? According to a 2019 report by Maximize Market Research, the global Ayurvedic market was valued at $4.57 billion in 2017, and was forecast to touch $14.62 billion, at a CAGR of 16.14%.

What is significant is that India is one of the largest producers of raw materials for Ayurveda products. The ingredients used in in Ayurvedic products are almost entirely sourced from India. For example, turmeric is sourced from the North-East, while saffron comes from Kashmir. Some specialised ingredients, though, are sourced from Indonesia. “As herbal medicines become mainstream in many developed countries, India can emerge as a strong market leader for herb-derived drugs and dietary supplements. The sale of turmeric, for instance, is increasing manifold every year and India, as one of the largest cultivators of this anti-allergen, can use this opportunity to establish its presence as a preferred global supplier of such raw materials used in the production of natural and Ayurvedic products,” the Invest India report says.

The report concludes that the pandemic has reminded us “that our body’s immunity is our first and best line of defence. Healthy living and good nutrition are crucial for self-preservation”. It predicts that “Ayurveda is poised to re-enter our lives in unique ways. This ancient wisdom has taught us that the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

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