For decades L-glutamine, a non-essential amino acid, has been used as an ingredient in the medical nutrition industry, but dietary supplement manufacturers are increasingly finding uses for it.
Kyowa Hakko said it manufactured L-glutamine through industrial fermentation to a maximum capacity in 2006, yet could not meet demand spurred by supplement formulators. This limited supply could signal there is now room for other players in the market.
L-glutamine supports the body's recovery in situations of metabolic stress or trauma, such as after surgery. For the dietary supplement market, the amino acid has applications particularly in sports nutrition products, because intensive and prolonged exercise has been linked to a decrease in L-glutamine, increasing the risk of infection.
Although there are presently around 70 suppliers of the amino acid in the US, Kyowa Hakko claims to be the only one to manufacture it in the country.
"Since Kyowa Hakko is the only domestic US manufacturer of L-glutamine, we have clearly determined that Kyowa maintains a strong majority of US market sales," Neil Sullivan, director of sales with Kyowa Hakko USA, told NutraIngredients-USA.com.
When available supply struggles to meet demand, this usually results in price increases, but Kyowa Hakko maintains its hike was due to the increasing energy and raw material costs that have affected production across most industries.
The company, which has global headquarters in Japan, increased its price for the ingredient by $1/kilo effective January 1, 2007.
"Minimum commercial order quantities of 50-200 kilos are now at $19.00 per kilo FOB US Warehouse," said Sullivan. "Lower prices will apply for larger quantities and for contracted quantities."
The company said other players have higher prices than Kyowa Hakko's.
"…I have seen significantly higher pricing from our competitors since early 2006," said Sullivan. "Kyowa has endeavored to provide pricing stability to our customer base for all of 2006."
Despite the rise in L-glutamine demand, Kyowa Hakko has not indicated any immediate intention to extend domestic capital beyond its existing facility in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Instead, said Sullivan, staff "is currently in a strong R&D mode to increase production output from existing facilities".
The company said it will increase its manufacturing capacity globally as long rising costs are kept at a minimum.
"We aim to increase capacity to help with our current customers' increasing demands but we will not know the R&D result until second half of 2007," said Sullivan. He added: "It's not a product you can turn on and off with a tap. Manufacturing investments have to be made for growth."
From his perspective, it seems potential players in the market have been sitting it out.
"China certainly has capacity that is not being utilized," said Sullivan."When the price is right, other manufacturers will jump in."