Malaysian tongkat ali supplier Biotropics has found significant growth in the United States on the back of some savvy media marketing through celebrity health shows.
“Chris Kilham, the Medicine Hunter, came to Malaysia and went through the process of harvesting the tongkat ali from the aboriginal people from its source in the jungle all the way through to the standardised extract,” said Nik Fahmi Mokhtar, Biotropics’ performance ingredients manager.
“He then took that product on to the Dr Oz Show, and since then, tongkat ali has been featured on his show a couple of times, and it has really driven up awareness of its benefits.”
Medicine Hunter and the Dr Oz Show, which is made by Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Productions, have a sizeable following in America and products featured on them often gain fast and widespread acceptance.
Tongkat ali extract comes from the root of a tree native to Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, and was dubbed the “Asian Viagra” by the New Sunday Times in 1999.
It has been used in Malaysia for many years by men to increase sexual desire, libido, sexual performance and to treat erectile dysfunction and appears to work by increasing testosterone levels. Normal testosterone levels maintain energy level, mood, fertility, and sexual desire.
Because of its testosterone-enhancing properties, tongkat ali is also used by bodybuilders to increase muscle mass and strength.
“It's been good for business,” continued Mokhtar. “The Doctor Oz effect will make your sales go bonkers, and we saw an immediate effect, especially after the last time it was featured, earlier this year.
“On that show, Dr Shawn Talbott, a natural nutritionist and athlete, explained how he used our product for competing in iron man. We did quite a bit of PR and brand building on the back of it.”
As a result, seven-year-old Biotropics has seen fast growth in its export markets of the US and Russia to the point that its native Southeast Asia, where tongkat ali is well established as a health extract, only accounts for single figures in its sales break-down.
“For the first three years since we began operating, we were more involved in clinical studies and preparing the herbals for the world market. For this type of product you have to go through a regulatory process.
“Our research found that it was very strong in the area of men's health. We found that when you age past 35, your testosterone starts to go down - you lose your hair, get a big tummy and your recovery isn't the same after sports. So it will help you get back up to your regular testosterone levels.”
A number of tongkat ali producers and distributors have set out to capture the lucrative American market, but only Biotropics claims to be the only one that has fully tapped into the media exposure the extract has gained over the last year.
“We are media savvy, and capitalising on coverage has always been the plan. To make a market, consumers need some kind of story, and because this is a relatively normal product, we need to use communication to educate consumers and help them understand what our product is all about. We are looking to continue marketing this way next year.”