It’s mid-November, and there’s a scurry at the food regulator’s office. Worried entrepreneurs haggle with a scientific panel in control of an all-important list. ‘Consider our ingredient’, they reason, for a mention in the list could mean a free pass with product approvals for all health supplements with the ingredient. For good.

But while they haggle, the CEO of HealthKart Sameer Maheshwari, seated comfortably in a conference room called Mary Kom, beams. Having overcome obstacles, confusions and anxieties over the year, since the regulation on health supplements was enacted, Maheshwari looks like a student fresh out of examination season. Come January 2018, when the new regulation kicks in, Maheshwari will be enviously placed to build on Muscle Blaze, his flagship product. Or so he thinks.

However, even organised players like him have a long way to go. They have gained regulators’ trust but they still have to gain consumers.India’s health supplement sector, which is dominated by imported products—bigwigs like Abbot, Amway, Sun Pharma, and newer entrants like HealthKart—is expected to double its size to US$ 4 billion (Rs 25,795 crore) by 2020. It will offer high growth, but it will also demand stringent compliance in the new year when every health supplement manufacturer will have to adhere to the new law. A law that’s a mouthful—Food Safety and Standards (health supplements, nutraceuticals, food for special dietary use, food for special medical purpose, functional food and novel food) Regulations, 2016.

It’s a regulation which the health supplement manufacturers have wanted for the longest time, especially after winning a case against FSSAI in Supreme Court in August 2015. It saves them time and money in getting product approval if the ingredient in the product is already approved. The new regulation is also a shield against counterfeit, unregistered and unapproved products, which some surveys have suggested constitute 70% of the market.

More importantly, a wellness player can now easily persuade the consumer to buy a herbal supplement, vitamin or muscle builder, with the promise of standardised quality.

As cliched as prevention-is-better-than-cure sounds, it isn’t easy to sell health supplements when the benefits of their regular use are not easily visible. India is home to a large population that is deficient in nutrients. It affects one in three people globally, but women and children in India are afflicted much more than the global average, as reported by The Ken last year. These people are more likely to suffer from lifestyle diseases. Yet, one of the fastest growing sectors in health needs to fight the consumer trust battle in India. For established names, the timing couldn’t be better. In October,  American nutraceutical firm GNC Holdings (General Nutrition Centers) tied up with one of the largest pharmacy chains in India, Guardian Healthcare in Gurugram, to exclusively distribute and market its products.


Ruhi Kandhari

Ruhi writes on the impact of healthcare policies, trends in the healthcare sector and developments on the implementation of Electronic Health Records in India. She has an M. Sc. in Development Studies from the London School of Economics.

View Full Profile

Available exclusively to subscribers of The Ken India

This story is a part of The Ken India edition. Subscribe. Questions?


Annual Subscription

12-month access to 200+ stories, archive of 800+ stories from our India edition. Plus our premium newsletters, Beyond The First Order and The Nutgraf worth Rs. 99/month or $2/month each for free.

Rs. 2,750


Quarterly Subscription

3-month access to 60+ new stories with 3-months worth of archives from our India edition. Plus our premium newsletters, Beyond The First Order and The Nutgraf worth Rs. 99/month or $2/month each for free.

Rs. 1,750


Single Story

Instant access to this story for a year along with comment privileges.

Rs. 500


Annual Subscription

12-month access to 150+ stories from Southeast Asia.

$ 120


Quarterly Subscription

3-month access to 35+ stories from Southeast Asia.

$ 50


Single Story

Instant access to this story for a year along with comment privileges.

$ 20



What is The Ken?

The Ken is a subscription-only business journalism website and app that provides coverage across two editions - India and Southeast Asia.

What kind of stories do you write?

We publish sharp, original and reported stories on technology, business and healthcare. Our stories are forward-looking, analytical and directional — supported by data, visualisations and infographics.

We use language and narrative that is accessible to even lay readers. And we optimise for quality over quantity, every single time.

What do I get if I subscribe?

For subscribers of the India edition, we publish a new story every weekday, a premium daily newsletter, Beyond The First Order and a weekly newsletter - The Nutgraf.

For subscribers of the Southeast Asia edition, we publish a new story three days a week and a weekly newsletter, Strait Up.

The annual subscription will get you complete, exclusive access to our archive of previously published stories for your edition, along with access to our subscriber-only mobile apps, our premium comment sections, our newsletter archives and several other gifts and benefits.

Do I need to pay separately for your premium newsletters?

Nope. Paid, premium subscribers of The Ken get our newsletters delivered for free.

Does a subscription to the India edition grant me access to Southeast Asia stories? Or vice-versa?

Afraid not. Each edition is separate with its own subscription plan. The India edition publishes stories focused on India. The Southeast Asia edition is focused on Southeast Asia. We may occasionally cross-publish stories from one edition to the other.

Do you offer an all-access joint subscription for both editions?

Not yet. If you’d like to access both editions, you’ll have to purchase two subscriptions separately - one for India and the other for Southeast Asia.

Do you offer any discounts?

No. We have a zero discounts policy.

Is there a free trial I can opt for?

We don’t offer any trials, but you can sign up for a free account which will give you access to the weekly free story, our archive of free stories and summaries of the paid stories. You can stay on the free account as long as you’d like.

Do you offer refunds?

We allow you to sample our journalism for free before signing up, and after you do, we stand by its quality. But we do not offer refunds.

I am facing some trouble purchasing a subscription. What can I do?

Please write to us at [email protected] detailing the error or queries.