Demand for the products, estimated to have a market size of Rs 18,000 crore, may also be helped by the growing retail business in the world's second-most populous country and lack of adequte regulations in the sector, said experts.
Nutraceuticals, which are neither food nor drug category products, can be sold over the counter or even in retail stores without a prescription.
GNC, Vitabiotics and rivals are eyeing the emerging demand in the country for vitamins, minerals, herbal speciality supplements, proteins, sports nutrition, diet, energy drinks and health and beauty enhancing products.
The Indian health food supplement market, currently valued about Rs 1,500-1,800 crore annually with a growth rate of 30-40 per cent a year, is mainly dominated by multi-level marketing companies such as Amway India and Herbalife International India.
Domestic players such as Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Wellness, Dabur, Avesthagen and Himalaya are also eyeing the health and wellness market in India, with their retail outlet ventures.
Most of the leading domestic pharmaceutical companies such as Ranbaxy Laboratories, Dr Reddy's Laboratories and Wockhardt have a good portfolio of over-the-counter (OTC) products, which can be classified in the nutraceutical category. According to Nutrition Business Journal data, while the global market for food supplements was about $68,280 million, India's share was just $370 million in 2006.
GNC, the largest global speciality retailer of nutritional products with over 4,900 retail locations in the US, has already tied up with New Delhi-based Guardian Lifecare to sell its products in India. Guardian Lifecare, the exclusive master franchisee for GNC in India, plans to open 150 new stores across India within a year, with an investment of over Rs 100 crore.
"Our GNC stores will be housed separately within the Guardian Lifecare pharmacies, with an ideal space of about 1,500 sq ft. Two of the GNC stores, which we opened recently, broke even within two months, which shows the potential in India for quality healthcare products," said Asuthosh Garg, the chairman and managing director of GNC India and Guardian Lifecare.
So far, about 20 GNC stores have been started within the Guardian pharmacies and the products are distributed at another 50 Guardian pharmacies, he added.
Vitabiotics, the largest nutritional and food supplement company in the UK, is eyeing the Indian market in a big way, with a turnover of over Rs 500 crore revenue from the Indian market in four years.
Meyer Vitabiotics, the Indian arm of Vitabiotics, had recently launched a few products from its Wellman and Wellwoman range of health food supplements and Perfectil range of beauty products for hair, nail and skin.
The company plans to launch its entire 30-plus product range in India within three to four years, besides setting up manufacturing and research facilities in India with an investment of over Rs 120 crore, according to Tej Lalvani, head of global operations, Vitabiotics.
The French cosmetic and pharmaceutical company, Laboratories Robert Schwartz, has teamed up with Manipal Care & Cure, the organised retail arm of the South-based education and healthcare major, Manipal Group, for its India foray. Manipal Cure and Care will initially market three ranges of products of the Paris-based company, specialised in marine life-based health products. Manipal Cure and Care plans to open 50 health and wellness centres by 2011.
Manipal Cure and Care is also planning to exclusively sell the products of the French company through other outlets as well, said Somnath Das, chief operating officer.
Mumbai-based Mission Vivacare, now an exporter of pharmaceutical formulations, plans to concentrate on nutraceuticals in future and is investing over Rs 80 crore in manufacturing facilities. "Our plans are to launch our products in global markets and also India in a big way," said Akkshay G Mehta, managing director, Mission Vivacare.
Meanwhile, regulatory experts point out that India should enact a proper regulatory framework to monitor such products, most with therapeutic properties. Health Food Supplement (Manufacture, Import and Sale) Regulations Bill, mooted by the Union government's health ministry about four years ago, is still to be made into a law. Many such products, with therapeutic properties are sold as food items or food supplements with licences from state health authorities.
"Under Rule 18 (C) of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, one requires a valid manufacturing and marketing licence to sell any product with therapeutic or curative properties and the drug authorities can initiate action against the violators," said M P George, drug controller, Kerala.
Kerala and Maharashtra are the only states that have tried to effectively regulate sale of nutraceuticals in the last few years.
"More than 40 cases are pending in the Kerala High Court alone against such violators, including companies such as Amway and many pharmaceutical companies. These firms still sell the products by obtaining a stay from the high court and lower courts, since proper laws have not evolved," he added.
HEALTHY DOSE Nutraceuticals, which are neither food nor drug category products, can be sold over the counter or even in retail stores without a prescription
Demand for the products is rising because of growing retail business in the world's second-most populous country and lack of adequte regulations in the sector
The Indian health food supplement market is mainly dominated by multi-level marketing companies such as Amway India and Herbalife International India.