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 percent in 2015 on increased demand and he's now seeking investment to help boost production with more milling machinery needed for the old totara fence posts and stumps that the totarol is extracted from.
Natural health products company Red Seal, bought by Ebos in December, had an 83 percent boost in exports and 40 per cent rise in domestic sales from March to December last year of its toothpaste range containing totarol.
Sales and marketing manager Sue Millinchip said the company, better known for its supplements and teas, had significant success in the past year with toothpaste exports, particularly to China and Australia.
"The toothpaste business has increased exponentially. We can't keep up with demand," she said. The company has installed new equipment at its Auckland plant to increase toothpaste production and Millinchip said globally people were "being more careful about what they put in their mouths".
"Although you don't swallow toothpaste, the mouth is the most absorbent part of the body."
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.
Ward-McGrath, an EY Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2003, has developed a pet putty combining bentonite clay and totarol that's she's trialled for the past two years at her Vetcare practices in Masterton and Greytown.
The pet putty is being sold nationwide by pet product supplier, Petware, and she also has an antiseptic spray close to being launched.
Vets are looking for alternatives to antibiotics because of increased resistance to the drugs which effectively "napalm" the body's microflora, and the totarol products mean that ear and skin infections can be treated topically, avoiding later complications, she said.
The pet putty has been predominantly used as a poultice to dry out wounds and to improve itchy skin conditions in cats and dogs.
She has 16 products in design and development and is also launching a cooked petfood range that extends her current offering of raw petfood sold locally.
Ward-McGrath said she has sufficient funds to develop the products, despite her veterinary practice narrowly avoiding liquidation in 2011 after arranging a repayment plan with Inland Revenue.
The tax issues followed a spinal injury she received in an accident while pregnant some years ago, she says. Since then, she's had three years of growth and the experience was one that "had led to product innovation and a much stronger business".