Aloe vera is a succulent plant native to Northern Africa which is rich in vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals and has a whole host of medicinal properties ascribed to it. For example, studies have shown that it speeds up wound healing, clears up minor skin infections and sunburn, boosts the immune system, aids digestion and acts as an anti-inflammatory. It may also be useful for leveling out blood sugar and blood lipid levels – two highly desirable properties for diabetes management and heart disease prevention.
In short, aloe vera is extremely versatile and fits a number of the 15 major health and wellness positioning platforms identified and researched by Euromonitor International, including general wellbeing, beauty from within, digestive health, immune support, oral health and cardiovascular health.
Overcoming the Taste Barrier
Despite its impressive array of health benefits and significant potential for giving rise to food and beverage products with multiple positionings, aloe vera has so far failed to make it big as a popular superfood ingredient alongside such high- profile stars as pomegranate, blueberries and cranberries. The primary reason for this is as straightforward as it is unfortunate - the taste of pure aloe vera juice is regarded as downright unpleasant by most people.
Because of this major drawback, aloe vera is much more commonly sold in dietary supplement form.
Aloe vera is available as a juice, but these products are predominantly sold through direct sales companies targeting a select clientele so determined to benefit from its health attributes that taste and enjoyment have slipped way down the list of concerns. This consumer group takes aloe vera juice medicinally, ie as a dietary supplement, rather than consuming it as a soft drink. Key players include Herbalife and Forever Living Products International Inc.
The latter has started to take the palatability issue into consideration with the recent addition of Aloe Berry Nectar and Forever Aloe Bits N' Peaches.
Aloe Vera and Beauty
To reach mainstream health and wellness-oriented consumers, aloe vera's rather challenging flavour needs to be effectively disguised. Playing in aloe vera's favor is the fact that a substantial number of consumers all over the world have already come across this ingredient in skin care products so a widespread association exists between aloe vera and beautiful skin.
Beverage manufacturers have already been taking advantage of this, particularly in Asia Pacific, where aloe vera drinks (although not pure aloe vera juice) are much more common than in other geographical regions. For example, Alo Youth, launched in 2009 in the Philippines by RFM Corp, one of the country's biggest food and beverage manufacturers, is still enjoying success.
The product contains fragments of natural aloe vera, promoted as helping regulate blood circulation and repair damaged tissues, collagen to enhance skin elasticity, the antioxidant vitamin E as well as L-carnitine for weight management. Most importantly, both Alo Youth's brand name and the packaging very effectively convey the promise of youthful skin, affording it a clear positioning which appeals to female beauty-conscious consumers.
In China, where the selection of drinks available through retail and foodservice is as vast as the flavor combinations are mindboggling, consumer foodservice supplier Happy Lemon International Ltd offers Happy Lemon Yogurt with Aloe, a soft drink marketed as “good for health and skin”.
Aloe vera's ascribed skin health, anti-aging and, to some extent, detox benefits all play strongly to the beauty from within prime positioning platform. This category was the second most dynamic over the 2005-2010 period across the 32 markets in which Euromonitor International conducts its in-depth health and wellness research. Value sales of food and beverage products leveraging beauty from within as their prime positioning platform doubled over the review period, and aloe vera's potential in this realm remains largely underexploited.
Despite existing consumer awareness, much work remains to be done and industry players are hoping to extend aloe vera's success in cosmetics and skin care into the food and beverages arena, particularly in markets outside the Asia Pacific region.
Equally Good for Digestive Health and Immune Support
Digestive health and immune support are two further positioning platforms harboring much promise for aloe vera ingredients. According to Euromonitor International statistics, the digestive health prime positioning focus ranks third in value, behind general wellbeing and weight management. In 2010, digestive health accounted for 10% of total health and wellness product sales, amounting to $63.2 billion across the 32 markets. Immune support is a much smaller category (partly due to the fact that the 2010 statistics exclude infant formula positioned in this manner), accruing total value sales of $2.4 billion in 2010. However, the category performed very well, increasing its value sales by 45% over the 2005-2010 review period.
At present, both these positioning platforms are heavily dominated by products containing pre- and probiotic ingredients, and one of the challenges the industry faces is scouting out the next generation of functional ingredients which credibly convey digestive and immune health properties. Aloe vera is one of the contenders fitting the bill.
Possible Applications in Oral Care
Aloe vera's impressive versatility opens up plenty of other positioning opportunities worthy of exploration. For instance, its soothing and healing effects on the mucous membranes can be harnessed in the treatment of mouth ulcers, a very common and painful ailment. In fact, aloe vera gel has long been used as a topical treatment for mouth ulcers and cold sores.
Aloe vera soft drinks, dairy drinks and even yoghurts are in a good position to leverage an oral health positioning, a health and wellness platform which has so far been almost exclusively dominated by gum. Value sales of oral health prime positioned products amounted to $16.7 million across Euromonitor International's 32 health and wellness markets in 2010, achieving a respectable 39% growth rate over the 2005-2010 review period. In order to broaden its target group, it may be advantageous to add probiotics to aloe vera products. Certain strains of probiotic bacteria are known to combat the development of caries and gum disease, and a number of manufacturers, such as Frutarom USA, are working on oral health promoting probiotic ingredients intended for the food and beverage industries.
Furthermore, there is a small amount of research supporting aloe vera's positive impact on the health of the urinary tract.
General Wellbeing Platform Not To Be Overlooked
Being highly versatile, aloe vera lends itself perfectly to profiting from the most appealing health and wellness positioning of them all, namely that of general wellbeing which managed to accrue value sales of $296 billion in 2010 in the 32 researched markets.
A number of players, even those outside the Asia Pacific region where aloe vera ingredients regularly feature in soft drinks, are already employing aloe vera in this way. Germany's ruling discounter Aldi, for instance, includes Peach-Aloe Vera flavored water in its Well&Activ private label range, while Engel Foreign Food BV, a Dutch importer of health and wellness products from around the world, offers aloe vera soft drinks in various flavors, including Tropical Aloe Vera Thai Taste, under the Tropical Aloe Vera brand. Its latest addition, featured at Anuga 2011, is Aloe Vera & Green Tea Peach Drink, containing 25% aloe vera and 5.5% green tea.
Despite its burgeoning potential in so many areas of health and wellness, there is still work to be done if aloe vera is to become a key ingredient in mainstream health and wellness beverages, and, indeed, in packaged foods. Besides more research into specific benefits and an ongoing effort to publicize these in the media, manufacturers need to demonstrate to consumers that products containing aloe vera actually taste good. Extensive sampling initiatives will be paramount to pave the way for aloe vera's entry into the realm of mass-market health and wellness offerings.
About the Author
Ewa Hudson manages the research program for the global Health and Wellness industry at Euromonitor International, which she joined in March 2003. In her current post, she has direct responsibility over the content and quality of Euromonitor’s Health and Wellness Food and Beverages research. She is also responsible for working with the international client base of Euromonitor’s online database, Passport: Health and Wellness Foods and Beverages. Before joining the London office of Euromonitor International, Hudson worked as a senior analyst for Snapshots International overseeing consumer market research for Eastern Europe, UK and US. She has a Masters degree in Economics from the University of Poznan, Poland and has also studied postgraduate Marketing at the University of Westminster in London.