Carrageenan, a popular hydrocolloid used for texture and viscosity in food products, is a gum extracted from seaweed, largely sourced from the Philippines and Indonesia.
But in recent months a strong pull in global carrageenan stocks, impacted by an increase in demand from China's booming processed food industry, has led to price spikes.
Major suppliers FMC BioPolymer and CP Kelco, for example, recently raised prices for their food-grade carrageenan portfolio, some by as much as 7 to 8 per cent.
The price pressures have opened up opportunities for the semi-refined market.
While semi-refined powder contains more cellulose material than its refined, purified sister, it is easier and cheaper to produce, translating as reduced costs for the manufacturers.
And according to hydrocolloid market expert Denis Seisun, the semi-refined market, used primarily in meat and dairy segments, is also growing in size as developers build new applications. In most applications, the semi-refined does not appear to make a great difference, he said recently.
While FMC, CP Kelco and German chemicals firm Degussa (soon to be acquired by Cargill) dominate the refined market, Shemberg is the biggest player in semi-refined carrageenan, although the leaders in refined are now on board, said Seisun.
Selt Marine claims that with its new extraction process, the dose is 20 per cent "lower than that of competitors", and the cost price is "30 per cent that of refined carrageenan, for an equivalent quality."
"More economic and more ecological, this process makes it possible to guarantee the absence of solvent traces in the finished products," the company further claims.
Historically, the use of carrageenan for food has grown in industrialised countries by at least 5 to 7 per cent per year, particularly on the back of growing demand for convenience foods.
In the EU the food market has grown to use both refined - known as E407 on food labels- and semi-refined (E407a) carrageenans. In the US, there is no distinction for the food labels - the hydrocolloid is simply known as carrageenen.