New sourcing of natural ingredients for cosmeceuticals
Posted 7th October 2019 by Joshua Sewell
The sourcing of natural plant-based compounds is becoming a worldwide bottleneck. The Greenhouse Pharmacy programme of Wageningen University & Research builds new chains between high-tech horticulture and cosmeceutical companies for reliable sourcing of pesticide-free natural plant compounds.
Trends in sourcing
Natural ingredients for cosmeceuticals are currently becoming more difficult to source. The reasons are complex and are the result of several long-term processes, elegantly described in “Big History” analyses of the journeys of products around the globe (Mann, 2011). We are faced with climate change that endangers traditional cultivation areas, whilst the Nagoya protocol protects the original sources better than before.
However, modern consumers expect natural compounds in their products. They want natural dyes, natural odours, natural flavours, natural compounds in cosmetics and no synthetic alternatives. Also, nobody wants pesticides, and the industry simply has to deliver.
Moreover, demand now increases from new groups of consumers in China, often with typical specifications. All these trends together represent a challenge for the industry.
Horticulture has a long history in responding to changing demands. Horticulture, defined as specialized agriculture, developed comparatively early in The Netherlands, the first country in the world where more people lived in cities than in the countryside. These citizens were not self-supporting for their foods anymore.
Gradually, farmers specialized and learned to provide consumers with fruits and vegetables, thus creating added value for their farms. This model roughly still exists in the Netherlands, with the Westland as an example of a specialized agricultural region near the metropolitan area of Rotterdam, which allows for quick and reliable sourcing of fruits and vegetables.
From table grapes to tomatoes
One hundred years ago, the table grape was the dominant crop in the Westland area. However, after the establishment of a common EU market, cheaper table grapes were imported from other countries. A new crop quickly replaced the grapes in the Westland: tomatoes.
This transition stimulated a whole set of high-tech innovations that were realized through close cooperation between growers, government and agricultural science: automated water supply and plant nutrition, substrate cultivation for winning the war on root diseases without pesticides, full biological control of pests and diseases. High-wire cultivation systems developed for both higher efficiency in production systems and better labour conditions. Energy-saving greenhouses and all-electric energy systems were invented.
A newly developed system for guaranteeing fruit flavour helped the breeders to develop a whole range of new tasty varieties, tailor-made for different consumers. Simultaneously, the education level and the integration of knowledge by the growers developed to a completely new standard. The only stabilities in this process are two notions: changes have always been and will be, and horticulture has a proven ability to adapt to new societal demands through innovations.
Today, new societal demands call for new crossovers. The need for local and sustainable, pesticide-free sourcing of natural compounds can be connected with the specific knowledge of horticulture and its ability to innovate. “The Greenhouse Pharmacy”, a programme of Wageningen University & Research, aims at facilitating such connections, creating new business models with valuable plant-based compounds in the top of the value pyramid, in new chains with new partners and new crops.
Natural plant compounds from the greenhouse
Numerous plant species may contain a plethora of valuable compounds (Lubbe & Verpoorte, 2011). Through the application of mild stress conditions, the content of those compounds can effectively be raised in greenhouses by stimulating the secondary metabolism and specific biochemical pathways (Ntagkas et al.,2018; Verkerke et al.,2014). We first aimed at food ingredients such as vanilla and wasabi, and are now getting more experienced with the production of plant-based compounds for skin care and massage oil, compounds that are higher in the value pyramid.
The Greenhouse Pharmacy also contributes to the development of circular horticulture. To allow for total crop use, current production systems are re-designed to form multimodal systems, in which all material flows are produced on pre-known compound specifications, eliminating residual waste streams. Such innovations help us to develop new business models and connect cosmetics and horticulture.
Wouter Verkerke leads The Greenhouse Pharmacy programme at Wageningen University & Research, Department of Greenhouse Horticulture.
Suggested further reading
Lubbe, A., Verpoorte, R. – Cultivation of medicinal and aromatic plants for speciality industrial materials. Industrial Crops and Products 34:785 – 801 (2011).
Mann, C.C. – 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created. Knopf, (2011).
Ntagkas, N. et al. – Light regulates ascorbate in plants: An integrated view on physiology and biochemistry. Environmental and Experimental Botany 147:271 – 280 (2018).
Verkerke, W. et al. – The effect of light intensity and duration of vitamin C concentration in tomato fruits. Acta Hort. 1106:49–54 (2014).
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