The plant will be built on a green-field site in the Bio-Bio region about 400 km south of Santiago and is scheduled to start production in the first half of 2006. It will have a capacity of tens of thousands of tonnes and, in the first phase, will be comparable to the capacity of the existing factory in Belgium, according to Orafti.
Sales of inulin and oligofructose have enjoyed rapid popularity in recent years, linked to their multiple properties as food ingredients, reducing fat and carbohydrates in food products and adding prebiotic properties (beneficial to gut health). Orafti recently reported research showing that a daily dose of its Raftilose Synergy1, a patented combination of inulin and oligofructose, increased calcium absorption in human volunteers. It is also researching the role of Raftilose Synergy1 in reducing the risk of colon cancer.
Such benefits have led to a fast growth rate. Orafti says it has seen annual growth above 25 per cent for many years and its Oreye, Belgium plant will soon reach maximum production capacity. Frost & Sullivan data show the prebiotics market, currently worth €87 million, will see annual growth of 9.7 per cent, bringing the European fructan market up to €179.7 million by 2010.
The Chile plant will allow Orafti to spread production over two periods of the year (the first half in Chile, the second half in Belgium), offering better planning and production efficiency. The risk of a depleted harvest due to bad weather conditions is also significantly reduced by working in two distinct climatic regions, the company said.
The Latin American country also offers excellent climatic conditions - large amounts of sunshine, abundant availability of irrigation water and a shorter frost period ?resulting in longer production and higher chicory root quality compared with Belgium. And it has a long history of growing sugar beet there, contributing valuable 'know-how' for chicory cultivation.
Orafti has a second production plant in Belgium and another in Wijchen (Netherlands) but it has put 'on hold?a project to build a factory in Australia due to uncertainties about the climate and water availability together with disappointing field trials.
The company, a subsidiary of the Belgian agro-food group Raffinerie Tirlemontoise/Tiense Suikerraffinaderij and part of the Ingredients Group of Germany's S?zucker, will not compete in the sugars market in Chile.
Dutch competitor Sensus has also recently expanded its presence in the South American market through new agreements with distributors in Argentina and Chile.