In response to growing demand, National Starch, a subsidiary of UK chemicals firm ICI, said it would double 2004 planting commitments to grow its high-amylose corn used to make the fibre ingredient, Hi-maize resistant starch.
The firm contracts farmers, mainly in the US, to grow the hybrid corn which it then turns around into the Hi-maize ingredient, followed through a tracking system. While there have been a few generations of this corn, this last has now been grown for over 10 years.
"We are fortunate to have the right product at the right time and we have doubled the plantings in response to a significant increase in market demand caused by a combination of factors,"Mike Klacik, senior director of Nutrition and Biosciences at National Starch explained to FoodNavigator.com.
Factors that have driven demand for the firm's resistant starch vary widely, ranging from identity preservation issues to the burst in interest for low carbohydrate food products.
"In Europe, new rules recently introduced for genetically modified food ingredients and tougher labelling mean that food manufacturers are on the alert for IP ingredients. Our ability to trace is a strong draw," said Klacik, referring to the fact that the firm grows its own seed, develops its own crops through contract farmers and then formulates the ingredient.
"Everything we've done is non-GM - this is a strong commitment - and we took this decision several years ago. We are well in compliance with the new EU rules," he added.
The firm claims that its sustainable, complex supply chain is based on measured risks. Risks are inherent in the firm's business because the company has to be able to forecast ingredient product demand up to 18 months in advance in order to have sufficient seed on hand to support the grain production programmes.
"We hedge, but we're not immune," commented Klacik.
In addition to the broad tracking of the ingredient, National Starch is enjoying growth for this product due to the ongoing, and burgeoning, health trend.
"In the US, the low-carbohydrate trend has upped demand for our product, but this is also tied to the consumer's ongoing, and growing interest, in health. Our product has a significantly lower glycemic response than rapidly digested starches," added Klacik.
The Hi-maize resistant starch also benefits from other health product positionings, such as prebiotic fibre benefits and a healthy digestive system.
Most starches are digested and absorbed into the body through the small intestine, but some resist digestion and pass through to the large intestine where they act like dietary fibre and improve digestive health. This type of starch is called resistant starch.
According to National Starch, Hi-maize resistant starches can also improve the eating quality of a range of baked and low-moisture foods. "They are made up of small, crystalline particles which contribute to uniform cell size and they have a very low water-holding capacity, so the product does not adversely affect many food formulas as do traditional fibre sources," claimed the firm.
Recent co-branded operations directly targeting the consumer have been established by National Starch to promote the ingredient. In February, the firm linked up with the largest bakers in Sweden to bring the BRA ['good' in Swedish] brand, a high fibre white bread, to the retailers. And in June this year, co-branded Vogel breakfast cereals with the Hi-maize ingredients - and sold in the 'gluten-free' aisles - hit health food shops and Waitrose supermarkets in the UK. National Starch told FoodNavigator.com that a host of new co-brand launches are in the pipeline.
Ingredients companies looking to up margins are increasingly looking towards value-added ingredients and away from commodity ingredients.
"Our novel processing methods create added-value and intrinsic properties," commented Klacik.
But according to recent report from SK Patil and Associates competing in the mainstream commodity starch arena - total use of starch in the world today is pitched at 48.5 million tons - is extremely difficult, particularly when it is not the commodities themselves that are the competition, but rather the functional characteristics of the value-added products.
When aiming at functional properties in starch, most commercial companies examine the characteristics of competitive starches in particular applications. This sets the target to shoot for, said Morton Satin in a report from the UN-backed Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
Found in a wide range of food applications - from soup to pie fillings - functionalities for starch include gel texture, flow properties, emulsion stabilising capacity, mouthfeel, lubricity, adhesiveness and crystallinity.
SK Patil and Associates estimate that total use of starch will hit 70 million tons by 2010 on annual (global) growth of 2.2 per cent. Growth in the US, at 0.65 per cent, the EU, at 0.2 per cent, and Japan, at 0.18 per cent, will be very slight, while for the rest of the world the market rise is pitched at 2.25 per cent.
"Both the US and the EU will have to compete for this growth in China, India, Indonesia and South America," claimed the market report.
Confirming previous findings and the announcement from National Starch this week, the market analysts add that the modified starch market is fragmented and influenced by the consumer food segment and trends, with a raft of opportunities existing today in the areas of obesity and the satiety (bulking) effects of ingredients.