By Fiona Rotherham
Kiwi companies making products, including toothpaste, that contain an extract from totara trees are riding a wave of global demand for natural healthcare.
Wairarapa-based Mende Biotech has spent around 17 years and $3 million developing a process to extract the antimicrobial chemical compound found in totara trees that makes the wood resistant to rotting.
The company supplies the commodity, which sells for around $1,350 a kilogram, as an ingredient in products ranging from toothpaste to anti-acne cream.
Minute amounts of totarol provide a natural replacement for antiseptics and antibiotics.
Totarol is registered in the ingredient portfolios of over 30 companies including cosmetic firms L'Oreal in France, Jurlique in Australia, and New Zealand's Living Nature.
L'Oreal was Mende's biggest customer from 2007 to last year but founder Doug Mende said oral care surpassed cosmetics in the past year as the biggest use for totarol.
Mende's sales rose 130 per cent in 2015 on increased demand and he's now seeking investment to help boost production.
Natural health products company Red Seal had an 83 per cent boost in exports and 40 per cent rise in domestic sales from March to December last year of its toothpaste range containing totarol.
Auckland dentist, entrepreneur and author Hisham Abdalla uses totarol in the Ozospa natural oral care range he's developed, which includes dental powder rather than toothpaste.
He says the products get rid of bad breath and tooth decay by eliminating bad bacteria in the mouth and allowing good bacteria to flourish.
He's been selling the Ozospa range from his dental practice and online since last year but is now looking for a commercial partner following interest from two Chinese online retailers who want to add it to their natural health products range. The size of the potential deals are too big for his current contract manufacturer.
Abdalla has also been working with Wairarapa vet Heidi Ward-McGrath to add animal dental care products to the natural petcare range she's in the throes of launching.