Have you ever wondered where a truly great idea for a natural health product came from or asked yourself whose visionary mind thought to analyze, investigate and shape a substance into an innovative new health product? After all, once upon a time, someone looked at algae floating in the ocean or bees buzzing in a field and discovered it could become a health product. Is it a case of being in the right place at the right time? Or is asking the right question second nature?

In Canada, we are fortunate to have a number of natural health products pioneers. Companies are successfully selling their natural health products around the world. However, predictions of potential products are not enough. Technological issues, roadblocks and delays can cause serious problems if these challenges are not met. 

The National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and a team of scientists and researchers currently work with academic and industry partners to ensure a healthy future for Canadians as well as securing a stronger, more sustainable Canadian economy. The NRC’s Natural Health Products (NHP) Program ensures dedicated teams are available to meet the demand by industry partners for research and development relating to their bright ideas. NRC’s NHP program boasts people with world-class expertise in NHP and related health fields.

“Now is the time to start thinking about the benefits available to us from nature. Natural health products may offer many potential benefits to Canadians,” says Bob Chapman, NRC’s NHP Program Lead. “Companies are keen to see continued collaboration from public and private organizations to find answers to the questions they have the keen insight and intuition to ask, especially those relating to natural health products,” says Bob.


NRC’s NHP Program teams
• Develop new high-value NHPs 
• Differentiate products through science-supported NHPs and functional ingredients 
• Create NHP and FI product line extensions and new formulations 
• Develop FIs from Canadian bioresources and waste streams


NRC scientists have been working on NHPs long before the term became so commonly used. For example, NRC scientists have studied algae for over 50 years, first considering how best to harvest and process seaweed. More recently, they have worked with innovative companies like Acadian Seaplants on exploring functional foods and NHPs from cultivated seaweed grown in tanks. Analyzing, assessing and identifying natural health products is complex. In 2013, the NRC launched their NHP Program to help industry with their scientific problems related to new natural health products whether it be relating to new algal-based products or something else. The program focuses on three major research themes and has teams collaborating with small to large Canadian companies.

An important measure for success is the breadth of companies who benefit from NRC’s NHP expertise.

According to Acadian Seaplants Limited President Jean-Paul Deveau, working with the NRC has helped ensure their company’s success. “Over the past 30 plus years, the National Research Council has supported Acadian Seaplants not only in the development of innovative technologies and products, but also with commercialization,” says Deveau. “Without the ongoing support of the NRC during the commercialization stage, it would have been very difficult for the company to be where it is today.”

New partnerships between industry and government partners will continue to strengthen the natural health products industry and identify the next big thing.

While the company is still quite new to the market, John Rowe, CEO of Island Abbey Foods and creator of the Honibe products, leads an equally successful company focused on natural health products. He thinks the NRC’s focus on natural health products is a great benefit. “NRC provides an incredible competitive advantage for Canadian businesses,” he says.  “NRC steered us through a number of challenges, including navigating international regulatory minefields that ensured we got our product to market in record time.”

Companies have also realized the fact that nature may need some support from time to time. Working to find the next beneficial natural health product may involve some novel thinking. Some companies are even considering how best to provide sustainable sources of natural health product ingredients by utilizing new plant technologies. 

Joe Vidal, Bioriginal’s President and Chief Executive Officer, and the National Research Council of Canada recently agreed to collaborate on a unique project that has teams of researchers taking a second look at what products can be used to produce plant-based omega oils. 

“We are proud to work with the NRC on developing a plant-based source of a new nutraceutical oil,” says Joe Vidal, CEO of Bioriginal. “Innovation has been a cornerstone of our business, and this partnership is a natural fit with Bioriginal. NRC has top-level technical capabilities and expertise, and we’re excited to work with them to develop this innovative new crop.”

What is the next big thing in natural health products? 

We may not know what is coming next. That does not mean companies like Acadian Seaplants, Island Abbey Foods and Bioriginal are not going to spend their time and resources to find it. Working with government partners like the NRC’s NHP program team can bring about changes that will help Canadians, and even the world’s global population, to live healthier lives. 

The only questions left to answer – What will be the next new opportunity and who will be the next visionary to think of it? One thing is for sure. NRC’s NHP Program team is ready to be a part of the solution.


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