People are more invested in preventive health, natural wellness than before: Sanjaya Mariwala, OmniActive Health Technologies

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Updated: May 20, 2021 1:05 PM

Mission Poshan 2.0 is an apt program. All we now need is the outlay and delivery of the program. The government needs to improve its outreach significantly.

Heathcare technologies, covid-19, Sanjaya Mariwala, immunity, Covid VaccinationTier-II and Tier-III cities in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Haryana, Rajasthan, and Gujarat have also seen rising trends post-pandemic. People are far more invested in preventive health, natural wellness than before. 

The second wave of Covid-19 has reinforced the need to revamp our healthcare infrastructure. “Immunity” which is the talk of the town, is probably the only reliable tool available today to deal with many unknowns, whether it is the unknown variants of the virus or the looming uncertainties. Once again, traditional and nature-based preventive care medicine streams are gaining traction. This has resulted in people resorting to various dietary supplements to boost immunity. OmniActive Health Technologies has observed a significant jump in overall demand for nutraceutical products, across various segments including immunity boosters.

In conversation with Financial Express Online, Sanjaya Mariwala, Executive Chairman and MD, OmniActive Health Technologies and Founder President of the Association of Herbal and Nutraceuticals Manufacturers of India (AHNMI), talks about the role of the nutraceutical industry, opportunities that can be tapped to fight this virus through preventive care medicines, his own immunity hacks, and what keeps him going to continue to innovate in this sector. Excerpts:

Despite the Covid-19 vaccination, the pandemic continues to affect a huge population, severely impacting the country’s economic and social fabric. Do you think, alternative medicine system can be tapped to fight the 2nd wave?

Vaccination or no vaccination, there is no escape to build our health and adopt preventive care. When there is a fire, you have to call the fire brigade. But just because they are there, we can’t evade fire safety protocols and allow the fire to occur.  Pandemic has completely transformed the perspective towards healthcare and it has moved from sick care to preventive care. Inclusion of exercise, diet and the use of over-the-counter medications & dietary supplements is becoming a way of life. At OmniActive we have observed a significant jump in overall demand for nutraceutical products, especially in the top 4 metros. Tier-II and Tier-III cities in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Haryana, Rajasthan, and Gujarat have also seen rising trends post-pandemic. People are far more invested in preventive health, natural wellness than before.  Recent research published by the World Economic Forum said, simple exercise makes us 50% more likely to have higher antibodies after vaccination and it should be for at least 30 minutes, 5 days a week. This means the effectiveness of a vaccine is also dependent on how seriously we take health in our daily routine. So evidently, alternative medicine systems can be and should be tapped. In fact, we should bring them to the forefront and make them the first line of defense.

Everyone talks about immunity and we saw a surge in demand for immunity boosting products during the first wave. What immunity hacks would you recommend and why? Any example you can share from personal experience?

Immunity needs to be built and strengthened too. To build immunity, we have to expose ourselves to various conditions, allow the body to adapt to them, and develop resistance to  certain conditions. This is what even happens through vaccination. The shot activates the immune system to respond and build the immunity to fight those specific viruses. On the other hand, to strengthen the system, a lot of hard work is required. Exercising regularly, including at least one active sport in our routine, eating nutritious food, herbs, and supplements, and making certain necessary changes to the lifestyle – all contribute to strengthening the immune system. Working out daily, helps a healthy rise in endorphins in your body and they help in both building and strengthening immunity to fight back most attacks. Over and above regular workouts, I consume a daily dose of the curcumin (Active from Turmeric) based formulation called CurcuWIN, one of our own brands, and our Vitamin C formulation. In fact, at OmniActive, we witnessed ~20% growth in these products during the last year.

How did you identify the opportunity in the space of nutraceuticals? What was the idea of launching OmniActive Health Technologies way before preventive medication received much importance in India?

Experience of running Kancor Ingredients (formerly Bombay Oil Industries set up by my grandfather Kanji Morarji in 1911), a Kerala-based pioneer in the extraction of spices like black pepper, turmeric, and paprika, for 24 years, had educated me enough about the abundant natural resources available in India. With a robust supply of raw material like herbs, spices, fruits, and flowers, along with the rich history of Ayurveda and related sciences, it was very clear for me that India has enough resources and potential to become a key supplier of nutraceutical ingredients to global health care and food companies. When we have the capabilities to export more value-added products and earn higher forex for the country, why settle for just the raw materials? This is how we began our journey and committed to delivering innovative and trendsetting health ingredients to the dietary supplement and health food industries.  When we set out, we started with us writing 3 patents even before the company was incorporated.

Heathcare technologies, covid-19, Sanjaya Mariwala, immunity, Covid VaccinationSanjaya Mariwala, Executive Chairman and MD, OmniActive Health Technologies and Founder President of the Association of Herbal and Nutraceuticals Manufacturers of India (AHNMI)

Then we innovated ways to deliver beadlets and became the first company in the industry to do a vegetable beadlet.  We kept focusing on more innovative products to retain our competitive edge in the industry and launched our lutein product called Lutemax 2020. It is a globally recognised and award-winning product in the eye health category; something very relevant in current times when screen time is a major challenge for eye health Today, OmniActive holds 38 patents, has applied for 60 more, derives 99% of its revenues from exports, and boasts heavyweight customers like Pennsylvania-based health and nutrition-related product manufacturer GNC, direct-seller of dietary supplements Amway, specialised eye care company Bausch and Lomb, and mass-market giants Costco and Sam’s club and many other innovative companies that have launched interesting products and platforms in the nutritional space. OmniActive Health was thus established with a clear purpose “to improve lives by enhancing nutrition and wellness and leveraging the most innovative science and technology to meet consumers’ demands while adhering to the highest scientific standards of quality”, and set out on the journey to bring India on the global map of the nutraceutical.

What are the most important steps that need to be taken by both, industry players and regulators, to optimise the growth potential in this sphere? What are the key challenges you are dealing with as an industry player?

For the industry to thrive, we need to expand, bring size and scale and create value through innovations. Work across the supply chain – use technology extensively to yield better quality agricultural output, create sustainable models for farming and processing, build quality systems, and benchmark standards to make sure the products are globally accepted, install state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities, set up more research labs and encourage clinical researches, and ultimately generate data through tech platforms and use data analytics for R&D and innovations. Industry players have to continue doing their work and not keep waiting for the regulators to do everything.

Having said that, I do urge the authorities to give due recognition to the nutraceutical and natural product industry. This includes providing necessary incentives to encourage the production (e.g. extension of PLI scheme specifically to the nutraceutical industry), improving the agricultural base and encourage medicinal seed research to drive innovation, define the policies around product standardization and minimizing product adulteration, and actively involve private participation through PPP model. The nutraceutical industry presents opportunities for exponential growth, it is important to proactively leverage them.

Any views on the recent liquidity push to the healthcare sector by RBI? How is it expected to resolve the challenges with respect to healthcare infrastructure in India?

RBI has been very proactive and responsive throughout this pandemic. Recent announcements are again timely and encouraging. It will help set up more clinics, oxygen centers, smaller specialty hospitals. I am also hopeful that it will encourage doctors from rural areas to go back to their towns and set up centers of excellence.

The government has announced Mission Poshan 2.0 to strengthen the nutrition content, delivery and outcome. How can the nutraceutical industry support this program?

Mission Poshan 2.0 is an apt program. All we now need is the outlay and delivery of the program. The government needs to improve its outreach significantly; use the press better, and publicise it enough with clarity around what it is aiming to do. We are all interested in helping and contributing to accelerate these efforts. The nutraceutical industry can immensely contribute to this mission as the product by design fulfills vitamins and nutrients requirements of the body. The government should define the agenda and allow the industry players to execute. We are eager to partner and deliver the results.

Any social initiatives or contributions you have made in a personal capacity that also promoted the growth of the overall industry?

Our close connection with the agriculture sector and hence farmers has provided us an opportunity to create a social impact at the ground level. OmniActive works with small and marginal farmers, helping them not only improve yield but also help improve their incomes through assured buy-back at pre-agreed price and subsidized seed supply. Since 2016 farmers working with OmniActive have seen yield and income improvements of ~25%. Additionally, over 500,000 women are employed in fields for flower harvesting, thereby helping improve income for women in the rural areas where we operate. While we talk about using a preventive care approach, we also implemented it for all the farmer families that are associated with us. We focused on handling anemia through preventive measures. 27% of the women tested were anaemic when we began our program in 2018, after our targeted interventions, only 15% were recorded Anaemic in 2019. The number has further reduced and we aim to reach 0% in years to come.

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