Supply chain concerns become No.1 draw for vegetarian glucosamine, Cargill says

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

Supply chain concerns become No.1 draw for vegetarian glucosamine, Cargill says

Related tags Glucosamine Dietary supplement

Glucosamine has become a commodity market, but concerns about quality and sourcing makes increasing room for a top-shelf niche product like Cargill’s Regenasure vegetarian glucosamine, the company said at the recent SupplySide West trade show in Las Vegas, NV.

Most of the glucosamine on the market is made from shellfish shells.  The shells contain chitin, from which the glucosamine, a monosaccharide, is extracted. The molecule has long been one of the mainstays of joint health formulations.

Supply chain concerns

Controlling the supply chain and ensuring traceability is becoming an ever larger part of the marketplace, said Michael Fleagle, Cargill’s brand manager for Regenasure.  With huge amounts of ingredients coming from Asia and the raw materials for those ingredients coming from a long list of brokers and suppliers, it becomes difficult for the end user to know where something came from and to feel secure in that knowledge, he added. The melamine tainting scandal in pet food and milk powder coming from China still reverberates in the US market, he said.

“If you look at glucosamine, China represents about 80% of the supply, and Vietnam is now No. 2. If you are making glucosamine from shellfish, you have to buy from multiple raw material harvesters,”​  Fleagle told NutraIngredients-USA.

“If you lose a pet, that is a significant thing on the consumer end. The general public still believes that a dietary supplement made in the US means the raw materials in the bottle come from the US.”​  

Regenasure can tell a more direct supply story, Fleagle said.  Glucosamine can also be extracted form the chitin that forms in the cell walls of certain fungi, and this is the process that Cargill uses for its vegetarian form.

“Regenasure is the only US-produced glucosamine. We control the raw material supply, and the product is produced at our citric acid facility in Iowa,” ​Fleagle said.

When the product first came on the market, its unique source was the big draw, Fleagle said.  But with traceability concerns continuing to ramp up, that has changed.

“With our customers it has changed. Originally it was because we had a unique vegetarian form of glucosamine.  Over the past few years traceablitiy has become the No. 1 reason customers inquire about the brand,”​ he said.

Burgeoning market

Fleagle said the joint health market is poised for strong growth in coming years.  As the Baby Boomer population enters its retirement years, the aches and pains of aging will drive many to seek joint care products for relief.  But beyond simple aging, Fleagle said another factor bodes well for the category (if not for the individual consumers): Many of those Boomers are entering their golden years bearing significantly more weight than their parents did at a similar age.

“If you look at the rising tide of obesity, we tie right into that. The No. 1 symptom for an obese person is wear and tear on their joints,”​ Fleagle said.

Cargill also recently acquired GRAS certification for Regenasure to be used in pet food, Fleagle said.  In order to meet that anticipated demand and to better meet demand for the ingredient in dietary supplements and functional beverages Cargill has invested in the Iowa plant to ensure more consistent production.

“We believe we are a minor but unique and important player in the marketplace.  We are committed to teh business. Within Cargill it was in some regards a unique experiment.  Cargill has alwasy been more focused around large scale food and beverage ingredients.  Where they are selling 50,000 pounds, I am happy to sell a box,” ​Fleagle said.

Natural questions

Extracting glucosamine from chitin is somewhat easier than getting it out of shellfish shells.  That difference enables Cargill to make a natural claim of a sort, Fleagle said.

“Most of the products coming from Asia Pacific an alcohol wash tends to be used to change the profile of the ingredient.  We say our process is more natural in terms of not needing that secondary ethanol wash to clean it up,”​ Fleagle said.

As far as the question of the inclusion of GMO ingredients is concerned, Fleagle was more circumspect.  This has not been a major issue for customers as of yet, he said. It is still unclear how far down the provenance chain the question will extend. If you extract glucosamine from the chitin contained within the cell walls of a fungus that fed on corn that came from genetically modified seeds, does that make it a GMO ingredient?

“I say our starting material is our fungal biomass, which is ​Apspergillis niger. From our testing of that biomass there is nother remaining in it from what it fed on,” ​Fleagle said.

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