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Our taxonomy of the sector

Welcome to ThinkingLinking’s taxonomy: the first multi-dimensional taxonomy of the natural ingredients sector!

A 5D-taxonomy for our sector

In linking natural ingredients companies, our M&A/JV/licensing advisory firm understood that partners or acquirers care not just about the match on the ingredient dimension itself but many other factors as well. The absence of a useful taxonomy in the sector caused us to build our own around the five key considerations that kept on coming up in our work when introducing companies to each other.

This new taxonomy was initially built by us to make the ThinkingLinking Natural Ingredients Database totally searchable across these five dimensions, but we have now decided to publish it, along with a comprehensive directory of potential partners in the sector classified according to these dimensions. This will allow our clients to identify potential partners accurately and easily.

Our new taxonomy allows a product to be classified broadly and deeply enough to make strategic linking possible for the first time across the entire sector. Moreover, it allows the scale of the sector to be seen clearly in terms of what it actually encompasses. Finally, the relationships between the origins (or sub-origins), processes, vertical markets and health benefits for each ingredient can be mapped and quantified using the taxonomy as a ‘backbone’. Therapeutic relevance is included as a dimension because of its importance, even though, of course, not all products have health benefits.

In terms of the taxonomy’s robustness, it has been tested against our database of 456 companies and overlaid on 881 of their products to ensure that it actually fits with reality. The result is a database ready for ‘5D-linking’ between partners.


The five dimensions of the taxonomy



“Functional ingredients”: ingredients which possess particular native properties and functions of their own.  “Other Fat”: an abbreviation for other saturated fatty acids. “Mushrooms”: mushrooms are included in the Plant origin category. “Microorganisms”: single-celled plants are excluded from the Plant origin category separated as Microorganisms. “Health benefits”: the health benefits are as claimed or seen as relevant.

Testing the taxonomy

Our taxonomy has been used to classify the ThinkingLinking Natural Ingredients Database, a database of real-world natural ingredients companies and their products.
This process allowed us to ensure that the taxonomy really works in the sector on a practical level. As a final test, during the classification of the final 10% of products in the sample, we found that classifying them requires no amendment to the taxonomy, suggesting that it is comprehensive.

In total, 456 companies included in the database were put through the classification process. In cases where a company has a vast number of products, we selected their flagship or bestselling products for analysis. In cases where products were similar and would yield an identical 5D-picture, we classified the
product group as one, since the information would be the same for strategic matching purposes. This process resulted in 881 classified products for potential partner linking. Since a given product can have multiple vertical markets and multiple health benefits, the database in fact has a total of 1,129 specific ‘opportunities’ when these additional vertical market relevancies are considered and 886 when the multiple health benefits are considered.


A multi-dimensional taxonomy can mathematically cover every permutation of its dimensions (in our case, over 1 million theoretical permutations).
However, the real-world permutations, which are limited by what is scientifically and commercially possible, and is present in our market sample, is 743. It is these 743 relationships that we present in this directory in visual form to describe the sector as it is. Future innovation can, of course, expand the number beyond 743 when a new product happens to make a different ingredient/sub-origin/process/vertical mark
et/health benefit combination. It should be noted that most innovation takes place within the existing configurations since the purpose of innovation is hardly to invent a new configuration.

The ‘territory’ of the sector and relationships between its five dimensions, as shown in the linkage charts later in the directory that describe the correlations between dimensions, are derived directly from the actual classifications of product that we have made and therefore shows what is commercially possible as opposed to what is scientifically possible and not yet in existence in the market. Put another way, every line in these linkage charts, or data represented in other charts, is backed up by a minimum of one actual product that proves the correlation and relationship picture across the dimensions.


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