The rambutan-fruit tree: A sustainability story
BASF designs a socially- and environmentally- responsible supply chain.
BY ANNA SPIEWAK
German chemical company BASF is no stranger to sustainability or respecting local populations and their precious environment.
Back in the year 2000—the company began a partnership with a researcher in Morocco and a network of women supplying Argan oil in the country. Through the utilization of several parts of the plant, such as leaves, kernel oil and fruit pulp, BASF launched multiple products obtained from the Argan tree. Additionally, the program allowed significant economic development in the region, leading to the inclusion of more than 1,000 jobs for women in rural areas with enhanced working conditions while supplying BASF efficacious ingredients.
Nearly 20 years later, history repeats itself. Building on its sustainable Argan program, BASF Care Creations has designed a new socially- and environmentally-responsible supply chain in cooperation with one of its long-standing partners in Vietnam. While working with this partner, one plant particularly caught the company’s attention—rambutan, also called Nephelium lappaceum, which grows on trees that reach heights 30 to 36 feet. BASF has two rambutan farms in Vietnam and was, in fact, the first company to push the orchard to be certified organic in the Asian country. This planning began in 2015 and the program was launched recently.
“From a marketing standpoint, it’s an exotic Asian fruit, which is interesting. We were able to source it reliably, and with it we are able to offer our customers an organic story, a social story and an advocacy story—so everything came together,” said Philip Ludwig, Technical Service Specialist, Personal Care Bioactives, BASF.
In Asia, the rambutan fruit, also called “hairy fruit,” is a popular exotic produce. Besides being tasty, rambutan is known for a history of use in traditional health applications in the region. The rinds contain a variety of beneficial compounds featuring antioxidant properties, and the leaves are used as a nutritional supplement by the natives.
After deepening its understanding of rambutan, BASF Care Creations utilized the fruit’s byproducts to develop three preservative-free, COSMOS-approved cosmetic ingredients as part of its Clean Beauty theme—two for the skin and one for the hair:
- Nephydrat is an extract from the rambutan peel (pericarp). The skin’s osmotic barrier, energy barrier, cornified envelope and lipid cement are positively influenced by the ingredient to provide deeper hydration. After 14 days, volunteers saw intensely moisturized skin and a fresher complexion.
“If you think about what end consumers are looking for—they’re often looking for good hydration ingredients—so Nephydrat is really great for that aspect of the skin,” said Ludwig.
- Nephoria—derived from the fruit’s leaf extract—helps rejuvenate the skin by targeting many of its endpoints that retinol also impacts. Nephoria supports natural collagen synthesis, elastic fiber network and reduction of a master negative regulator of collagen homeostasis. All of these increase with age, leading to loss of skin density, firmness and elasticity. In vivo, Nephoria showed younger-looking skin and reduced the appearance of wrinkles.
“We don’t use the edible fruit at all. The edible fruit goes into food. But we use byproducts of the fruit or the tree, so the leaf (in Nephoria) serves as a natural, plant-based alternative to retinol,” Ludwig added. “We wanted something that has the same efficacy as retinol while being gentle on the skin.”
- Rambuvital is an extract from the rambutan seeds. It protects hair from pollution and increases hair vitality and scalp hydration. In vivo, the scalp was significantly more hydrated within a month, and hair appeared visibly healthier and shinier.
“The benefits for haircare here are anti-pollution and anti-odor,” said Ludwig, “and anti-odor is a nice claim as there’s not many products looking at anti-odor for hair that are derived from natural ingredients.”
Consumers are increasingly concerned about what’s in their cosmetics and whether these ingredients were sourced in a way that’s not harmful to the local community and the environment. BASF’s rambutan program provides brands with an opportunity to tell a story of efficient cosmetic ingredients that are sourced sustainably while ensuring positive social and environmental impacts along the value chain.
Aside from upcycling the fruit’s byproducts—so that nothing goes to waste from the fruit—and using them for three beneficial beauty ingredients, the company also contributed to sustainable sourcing. BASF hand-selected farmers based on their commitment to organic farming, as well as their willingness to participate in the upcycling of various rambutan byproducts. The company also contributed to socially responsible trade.
“One of the social benefits of this program is that we’re training people on organic farming and teaching them these practices,” said Ludwig. “We provide wages above local practices, in the region, and benefits such as free meals and health and safety insurance. I think in the end, that’s what consumers are asking for and demanding, so this fulfills a market need.”