AlpBioEco

Valorisation of innovative bio-economical potentials along bio-based food & botanical extract value chains in the Alpine Space

BM#02 - Herbal pacifier

Product description

The implementation of this business model is about the production of a herbal pacifier made of organic rubber. The dummy contains vessels with Alpine herbal fluids and can be used to treat the most common disorders of early childhood (toothache, colic, insomnia, skin diseases, etc.). The herbal pacifier can be divided into two different products, which can be purchased together or separately: a dummy made of organic and eco-sustainable materials and vessels containing herbal fluids. Once the therapy is finished, the vessels can be returned to the point of sale through a returnable vacuum system inspired by the “Pfand”- system of German-speaking countries.
 
Picture: © Evgeniia Ozerkina

Italy

During the validation and implementation phase, we collaborated with Christoph Kirchler, an expert in the Alpine herb value chain that is interested in the development of innovative products to foster local small-scale economies. Since the herbal pacifier can potentially be used to treat a variety of  disorders, we first needed to select a health claim to focus on for the pilot project. In order to gauge the interest of the target group in the product and to find out which early childhood ailments are the most difficult to treat, ITKAM carried out a market analysis involving both parents and experts who accompany the parent in early childhood: paediatricians, midwives and pharmacists. The results are available on the project website. 

Business and marketing opportunities

The herbal pacifier can be used to treat a variety of early childhood ailments, including insomnia, tooth- ache, colic, cough, etc. Potential customers are parents that buy the product for their babies. In particular, the typical consumer is a medium-to-high income parent that is environmentally aware and accustomed to buying biological and organic products. Paediatricians and midwives also play an important role, as they often advise parents on products to buy for early childhood. 
The herbal pacifier is a totally innovative product: if traditionally dummies are a comfort device for  babies, in this case it is used to treat pain in a totally natural way using herbs as raw material. This product is regionally replicable and enables promoting small-scale economies: for pacifiers sold in South Tyrol, Alpine herbs can be used, for pacifiers sold in France, Provencal herbs, and likewise for other regions. The herbal pacifier can be sold as a botanical product in organic shops and supermarkets, pharmacies and herbalist shops, both online and offline.

Implementation hurdles

The realisation of this product has some technical criticalities that need to be addressed. A first critical  point concerns the form in which the herbs will be administered to the child: among the options still under consideration are hydrolysates and aromas. Being a product intended for infants, it will be necessary to carry out the appropriate toxicological analysis, once the prototype is ready. A second critical point concerns the taste of the fluids administered: as the herbs naturally have a bitter taste, there is a risk that the child will reject the pacifier. This problem can be solved with the use of natural sweeteners such as cyclodextrins or manuka honey. Furthermore, as there is no quality protocol for the cultivation of Alpine herbs in South Tyrol, these herbs cannot be sold in pharmacies as medicinal herbs. The product will belong to the category of botanicals, not medical devices. As it is an innovative product, it is not possible to determine in advance the interest of the target group (parents) in the product. 

Suggestions for the next steps

Once the results of the market analysis are available, the herbs to be used in the trial recipe need to be selected, and the first tests need to be carried out in order to determine the most suitable form in which the herbs will be administered. Appropriate toxicological tests will also have to be carried out. Several South Tyrolean Alpine herb producers have declared their interest in collaborating in the implementation of the business model. At this point, it is necessary to form a partnership with a local bio-rubber producer. This material will be used to produce the dummy. Afterwards, a cost-benefit analysis must be done to calculate the optimal product price. Partnerships with local points of sales are also needed in  order to put in place the returnable vacuum system. Eventually, due to the very innovative character of the product, a marketing campaign is necessary to arouse the interest of the target group in the  product.

Slovenia

Alternative medicine for treating skin diseases has been in the focus of the herbal pacifier in Slovenia. Due to difficulties with clinical testing and needed research about the herbal pacifier as a vessel for essential oils and hydrosols, the focus in Slovenia was on the choice and product development of the fluid products, such as herbal essential oils and hydrosols. The essential oils and hydrosols are made of locally grown and indigenous medicinal plants called everlasting flower (lat. Helichrysum italicum) and lemon balm (lat. Melissa officinalis). Hydrosols are particularly good for eliminating skin problems, because they act on the connective tissue of the skin and as a disinfectant and mild antiseptic. Moreover, with its production, the typi-cal cultural landscape of Slovenian Istra is maintained, along with the creation of new job opportunities in the area.

Business and marketing opportunities

Herbal essential oils and hydrosols made of locally grown indigenous herbs have excellent business and marketing opportunities at the local as well as national level in Slovenia, as regionality is an important aspect for customers. At present, herbal essential oils and hydrosols are already being sold in supermarkets, specialized stores and via the internet and could additionally be sold in pharmacies and local stores. In the long-term, the international distribution of these products could also be an interesting business opportunity. In addition to the production and selling of the herbal fluids, setting up a small distillation centre with a small-scale laboratory and educational content, such as demonstration units, lectures and practical workshops, all related to herb production and herb processing, is also seen as a great business opportunity. Eventually, the post-distillation fresh plant material can be used as compost or as a raw material to produce pellets for heating. This highlights an exceptionally good example of  sustainable, circular use of side stream products in the herb processing industry. 

Implementation hurdles

The biggest implementation hurdle is clinical testing of the product, especially if it is considered as a medical product. Usually, clinical tests are very expensive, time consuming and involve a large number of people and therefore can hardly by financed by SMEs. In addition, well-developed marketing of the product is seen as a hurdle. The product needs to be carefully made, as it addresses various types of consumers, primarily mothers and children. One of the hurdles related to the herbal pacifier as well as essential oils and hydrosols is also related to financing. Finding appropriate regional or national funding schemes for this type of business is a major success factor. 

Suggestions for the next steps

For the implementation of the business model, awareness of consumers needs to be further emphasised and encouraged. This can be better done together with universities and research institutes that can help valorise the product in terms of medical effects. For the official clinical testing of the product, funding must be ensured and the appropriate institutions must be selected to perform the clinical testing appropriately. Further research is also needed in terms of testing different varieties of herb plants and their medicinal substances for healing various child illnesses. In the case of high market demand for essential oils and hydrosols in the future, the agricultural land covered with herbs must be enlarged or the collection of fresh cut herbs from other local farmers must be encouraged.

For further details, please read our Best Practice Brochure