The emerging European nutraceuticals innovation system
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Last decades the role of dietary active components in human nutrition has become an important focus of research and has increased the awareness of consumers about diet and proper nutrition. A new product category that has emerged from it is ´nutraceuticals´. A nutraceutical is “a food or a part of a food with demonstrated safety and health benefits that go beyond the basic dietary needs and is presented in a nonfood matrix or nonconventional food format”. The last twenty years the global nutraceuticals market has shown impressive growth rates and the global nutraceuticals industry is nowadays a multi-billion dollar industry. However the European market is lagging behind in this growth: where the global and United States (US) market grew over 10 fold over the period 1999 – 2006, the European market only grew 5 fold. Possible explanations that have been put forward for this restricted growth are problems with consumer acceptance of nutraceuticals in Europe and the European regulatory framework. These are both aspects of the European nutraceuticals innovation system (IS). Accordingly, this study applies a technology specific innovation system (TIS) approach to study the lagging behind in size and growth of the European nutraceuticals market compared to the US and global nutraceuticals market. The main research question of this study was: “What are the strengths and weaknesses of the emerging nutraceuticals innovation system in the European Union compared to the emerging nutraceuticals innovation system in the United States over the period 1990 – 2011?”. The structures of the current European and US nutraceuticals IS have been described by mapping the actors groups, institutions and networks involved in each IS. Also, dynamic analyses have been performed according to the TIS approach. This TIS approach takes seven emergent properties (system functions) of a TIS into account, including regulatory aspects and consumer acceptance, which is measured looking at consumer skepticism. The TIS approach allows mapping these functions over time by building a historical event database of activities relating to the TIS. To complement this data, various interviews have been conducted. The more the seven system functions are fulfilled, the better the performance of the TIS is expected to be, and the higher the chances for a successful development, diffusion, and implementation of nutraceutical technology. The results showed that from 1990 the main weakness of the European nutraceuticals IS was the lack of European regulations regarding the use of health claims and thereby the lack of fulfillment of F4. This resulted in the lack of the formation of one European market (F5) which caused F1: entrepreneurial activity to lag behind. From 2000 the ongoing uncertainty about the future of the European nutraceuticals market (F4) influenced investments in the nutraceutical industry and F6: resource mobilization was lagging behind as well, which also negatively influenced entrepreneurial activity (F1). In the US the opposite happens; in 1994 the Dietary Supplements Health and Education Act (DSHEA) came into force which permitted the use of health claims on nutraceuticals in the US. Accordingly F4 was fulfilled. As a result a market for nutraceuticals was created (F5) which stimulated entrepreneurial activities (F1). Another weakness of the European IS, and also the US nutraceuticals IS, was the lack of scientific substantiation (F2) of many nutraceutical products, which encouraged consumer skepticism. In Europe this was the result of the lack of a European Union inspection agency that could effectively ban scientifically unsubstantiated products off the market. In the US this was the result of the DSHEA, under which little scientific substantiation was required for the use of health claims on nutraceuticals. In 2006 Regulation (EC) 1924/2006 on the use of health claims changed the European nutraceuticals market significantly. At first this new regulation created uncertainty in the industry, but when the 5 impact of this new regulation became clear uncertainty decreased and entrepreneurial activities (F1) rose again. This regulation positively influenced F2: knowledge development and F5: market formation by assuring a high level of scientific substantiation and creating one European market for nutraceuticals. The high level of scientific substantiation reduced consumer skepticism regarding nutraceuticals and positively influenced F7: creation of legitimacy / counteract resistance to change. Therefore the new Regulation (EC) 1924/2006 can be regarded as the main strength of the European nutraceuticals IS: it has opened the door to a scientifically grounded nutraceuticals market with nutraceutical products that truly benefit consumers. However for this new regulation to be successful it is necessary for the European Union to establish an inspection agency that can effectively ban scientifically unsubstantiated nutraceutical products of the market. Furthermore the individual European countries should have public relations agencies that provide consumers with complete and unbiased information about nutraceuticals and their potential health benefits. This can decrease consumer skepticism and increase consumer acceptance of nutraceuticals in Europe.