Lycopene is an antioxidant carotenoid that has been researched for its role in cancer risk reduction (particularly prostate and digestive tract cancers), heart health, and skin protection. It is used as a healthy ingredient in foods and supplements, as well as a natural red food colouring.
Formed last year, BioLyco has patented, in collaboration with the University of Rome, a process for producing lycopene oleoresin from tomato processing waste and is currently constructing its first plant in Southern Italy.
Managing director Antonio Alfano told NutraIngredients.com that the company is aiming to introduce lycopene to market at 50 per cent of the current market value.
The cheaper price, he said, is enabled by use of waste product from tomato processing which is available at zero cost, whereas other natural lycopene suppliers grow their own tomatoes.
BioLyco has signed agreements with selected tomato companies to obtain feedstock from small, Southern Italian farms that meets its quality requirements.
The plant, scheduled to start production in Q1 2008, will have a capacity of 10 tons of tomato oleoresin per year and 160 tons of tomato seed oil. The company is seeking commercial partners in other markets, such as the US and Japan, that would enable the construction of more plants - and make cheaper lycopene available in those markets too.
Lycopene prices vary depending on customer, quantity ordered and packaging, but sources cite an on-the-spot figure of over US$6,000 per kg (c €4600).
While cheaper lycopene is available from Chinese suppliers, Alfano said that this tends to be from genetically modified tomatoes, to which consumers in the Europe and the US are generally unreceptive.
"We want to sell at the same price, but a higher quality product."
"We are convinced that selling a product with this lower price will probably increase the market," he said, adding that the ingredient's use as a natural red colouring is presently limited as it is seen as too expensive for this use.
A further element in keeping ingredient costs down is due to the operating costs, kept low thanks to the process's near-ambient temperature and atmosphere.
The process is based on a mixture of solvents approved for use in food use, and involves very few steps - separation of the seeds and peels, followed by milling of the former and lycopene extraction from the latter.
Peels is said to have five times more lycopene than tomato pulp, enabling high yields.
BioLyco also expects to be able to sell the tomato seed oil resulting from the milling process; rich in unsaturated fatty acids, it is sold in pharmacies and herbalists in Italy on a heart health platform.
Tomato meal from the milling and lycopene extraction steps can sold as animal feed.
Because the source of the nutrient is an already well-established food, it has not been necessary to seek novel foods approval for BioLyco's lycopene.
Alfano said that the company has already made contacts with US players in the functional foods market and food multinationals.