Purdy, MO—Demand for elderberry was already surging in 2019, and as the COVID-19 pandemic intensified, elderberry was on the must-have list for many as people took extra steps to support immune health. SPINS reported that elderberry sales were “staggering” in March with $49.5 million, and through May elderberry was still bringing in $8.9 million.
While retail sales have started to slow from the surge seen in the spring, demand is still higher than normal, says Devon Bennett, CEO of INS Farms. Bennett discussed the opportunities—and challenges—this has created with WholeFoods Magazine. “There has been a big increase in business, and there was more demand than supply,” he says, noting that there was significant interest from new companies looking to launch elderberry products. “INS was one of the only companies to have a supply to meet the demand.”
Of course, as has been the case with many herbal ingredients, when bad actors see increased demand, they step in to take advantage. And right now, as new customers are turning to natural products for the first time, poor-quality products that don’t deliver may end up convincing these newcomers that supplements overall just aren’t worth their hard-earned dollars.
At INS Farms, Bennett says, “We are setting a higher standard to protect the elderberry industry from itself.” His advice for brands looking to launch new products: Be very aware when selecting partners. “Start by working with the growers; traceability is so important here.” INS, Bennett says, is a farm-to-finish company—grower, processor, and supplier involved in the chain from beginning to end.
Bennett stresses that taking care with ingredients selection is essential.There can be risk involved with ingredients from China, he cautions, explaining that product might be 10% elderberry and 90% something else. “Trust me, there are problems out there with foreign contaminants.” It’s important, he adds, to build a brand’s foundation on quality and potency, and to have traceability with testing throughout the process.
For its part, in 2019, INS Farms announced the results of the first-ever polyphenol fingerprint testing of the Black Elderberry cultivated in the U.S. “Nobody really knew what was inside this particular berry,” Bennett said at the time. “The ambiguity in not knowing what exactly constitutes the starting material, we believe, prohibits trustworthy results of human clinical trials.” He added that understanding the phytochemical profile of the American-grown berry allows suppliers to create a standardized starting material for health impact studies (without which, he noted, it is impossible to repeat a study with any kind of accuracy), plus helps reduce adulteration, since companies now know what the material should look like.
INS Farms’ Elder Pure, a U.S.-cultivated Sambucus nigra, is a sustainable source that is Tru-ID certified, Bennett says, adding that he recommends all buyers request DNA testing.
In addition to providing quality ingredients, INS Farms, which is a family-owned company, is working on another goal: to support American jobs while helping to grow the elderberry market. Bennett notes that the European supply chain is also very important, but growing the industry in the U.S. is the focus. “We are creating jobs in our own backyard.”
As part of that goal, INS is working to educate on the benefits of North American elderberry. The company offers educational videos, available here, for anyone looking to learn more.
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