It has partnered with a Turkish-based distributor, Aslan Group, and said lactoferrin-bearing functional foods and food supplements would be on the market in Turkey in 2009 with other markets to follow. These included Russia, the Ukraine and selected Middle Eastern markets for which Aslan has gain exclusive rights to distribute Pharming's lactoferrin ingredients. The five-year agreement will see Pharming supply its human lactofferin (hLF) in milk powder form to Aslan, which will look after the "production and the design of the finished products." Lactoferrin markets old and new Pharming's move is a brave one because the lactoferrin market has flatlined for many years and players such as Fonterra and DSM have reported far from buoyant sales levels. The ingredient that is an important component of human breast milk has struggled to communicate its immune system-boosting health benefits to the public and compete against other commodity protein fractions such as whey which sell at a fraction of the price of lactoferrin. Estimates put the global market for the ingredient that counts Japan and South Korea among its biggest markets at little more than €20m. In those markets it is popular in milk drinks and food supplements but health claims are rarely made - products simply flag the presence of lactoferrin. Pharming spokesperson Rein Strijker said the company realised the lactoferrin market was a challenging one, which was part of the reason it was launching its lactoferrin ingredients outside of the traditional functional foods and nutraceuticals strongholds of western Europe and North America. He said Pharming had selected Aslan because of its reach in eastern European and Middle Eastern markets as well as its growing interest in "hi-tech foods". "We feel there is a resistance to recombinant ingredients in many western markets and so we have targeted what could be considered upcoming markets such as Turkey, eastern Europe and the Middle East" Strijker told NutraIngredients.com. "There is definitely a growing interest in these markets for hi-tech foods and foods making special claims. But we realise lactoferrin is not an easy sell." Ibrahim Aslan, owner and chairman of Aslan Group said: "The agreement with Pharming can be considered for the Aslan Group as a first step in the important high-tech nutritional market." Pricing Strijker wouldn't reveal Pharming's pricing policy for the ingredient that is being sourced from cow's milk and refined at its plant in Wisconsin. In 2001, when hype surrounding the ingredient was at its peak, lactoferrin sold for close to €500 per kilogram, but it can be found for less than half of that now. Whey, by comparison, can be purchased for around €1 per kilogram reflecting the manner of its commodity status. Lactoferrin had specialty status, along with clinical backing, but communication remained problematic. "The science is there for lactoferrin but perhaps it has not been communicated so well in the past and this is part of the challenge at both a consumer and business level," Strijker said. "For instance there are clear differences between whey and lactoferrin that perhaps have not been very well demonstrated as well as they might have. We are endeavouring to change this situation."