The product, called Lucarotin 10 CWD/O, uses modified food starch, rather than the typical proteins, to stabilize the carotenoid. This means that companies will not have to label the ingredient as an allergen under new European Union regulations entering into force next year.
"Beta-carotene is not water-soluble and sensitive to oxygen so it is difficult to stabilise in beverages," said Dr Andreas Ernst, product manager for beta-carotene in BASF's human nutrition business.
"Currently fish gelatine is used to stabilize the ingredient but fish products have allergenic potential," he told NutraIngredients.com. "The new product, based on modified food starch, has very good performance and is already used by our big beverage accounts."
Beta-carotene is widely used in foods and beverages both as a source of vitamin A and for its colour. In Europe, beverages are the dominant application for the ingredient and strong growth in multivitamin and ACE drinks - around 12 per cent during 2003 - is boosting demand.
Most of the beta-carotene in Europe, worth around $138 million during 2003 according to Frost & Sullivan, is supplied by BASF and rival DSM, although there are some smaller players from Asia making inroads into the business.
The beverage market is considered a major growth opportunity for the carotenoid, which is facing restricted dosages under the European Union's food supplements directive being introduced next year.
BASF declined to comment on the price of its synthetic, nature-identical product but Dr Ernst explained that it is "more difficult to produce than existing products. Proteins in principle are the best stabilizer and it is difficult to exchange these with starch without losing the performance ability."
BASF recently opened a new production plant for citral, the key building block for vitamins A and E, as well as beta-carotene. The plant has an annual capacity of 40,000 metric tons, replacing an existing 10,000 ton plant.
Europe's allergens directive (2003/89/EC) came into force in November last year and requires all ingredients that may cause allergic reactions to be labelled on foodstuffs by November 2005 at the latest.
The US is set to introduce similar legislation in 2006.