Chinese inulin taps growing organic demand

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Inulin

Chinese supplier Fenchem is engaging in a global putsch for a
newly-launched organic inulin ingredient aimed at the prebiotic
digestive health market.

Fenchem's move comes at a time where there are many shortages in the organic supply chain and it will be hoping this fact will provide a buoyant market for its ingredient called In-Fibre. Jerusalem​ In-Fibre is sourced from organic Jerusalem Artichoke and the company is awaiting United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Organic Programme (NOP) certification which it expects to receive imminently. The European inulin and oligofructose market is dominated by three players - Sensus, Beneo-Orafti and Cosucra - none of which offer organic versions of their wares. To date organic inulin is available from niche suppliers in places like Latin and North America, but large scale production has not been achieved by any player. Other inulin sources include the agave cactus, the same plant from which the alcoholic beverage tequila is derived. Fenchem refused to reveal pricing arrangements for the ingredient but spokesperson Junny Liu noted, "it will be cheaper than other suppliers' because of cheaper raw materials from China and Fenchem's effective stock system". ​Its In-Fibre sales had increased 30 per cent in six months, Liu told, and the company would now focus on the European and North American markets. The company noted that while it awaited USDA NOP certification, In-Fibre had already achieved Kosher and Halal status. It said the ingredient was suitable for dairy, bakery, beverages and cereals with the company providing "application guidelines for our customers."​ It said the fact the Jerusalem artichokes were sourced in China meant lower raw materials costs. It would continue to supply non-organic versions of In-Fibre. Organic promise ​ The global leader in inulin is Belgium-based Beneo-Orafti which sources its inulin from chicory roots grown in Europe and South America (it has refineries on both continents). Marketing and communication manager Tim Van der Schraelen told organic production was something the company "had an eye on"​. Despite the buoyant status of the global organic market and the potentially huge and growing demand for organic versions of its ingredients, he noted the prohibitive cost of organic conversion was acting as a disincentive for the time being. "Organic production is something we have looked at and we are monitoring it but at the moment there is no plan to go into production,"​ he said, noting that an inulin/oligofructose blend was permitted by the USDA in US organic foods because no organic alternative existed. "The organic market is still relatively niche but it is getting more interesting and potentially very lucrative." ​ Van der Schraelen said if such a decision was taken it would take 12 months to convert existing production facilities to meet organic standards and longer for chicory farms to convert if fresh organic sources could not be found. Beneo-Orafti submitted several health claim petitions to the European Commission for consideration under the Nutrition and Health Claims Directive, including:

  • 'promotes a balanced microflora'

  • 'promotes digestive health'

  • 'increases calcium absorption leading to increased bone strength'

  • 'stimulates your body's natural defenses'.

Market analyst AC Nielsen​ put the European digestive health market at about €2.2bn in 2007, most of which are probiotic products, but with a growing number of prebiotic offerings.

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