FMC BioPolymer, an operating unit of chemical company FMC Corporation, will expand microcrystalline cellulose (MCC) production to meet growing demands from the food industry, particularly for low fat products.
The expansion, which is due to be completed by the end of 2008, will take place at the company's Newark, Delaware plant.
FMC is a key supplier of MCC worldwide, with brands Avicel, Avicel-plus and Gelstar, which were launched more than 35 years ago to the food and speciality industries.
These comprise naturally occurring ingredients, sourced from renewable raw materials to ensure product availability, and provide freeze/thaw and heat stability to finished products.
They are particularly useful to the dairy industry, for products such as low fat ice cream and dairy products. To reduce fat content and cut costs, manufacturers remove solids, having a negative effect on the texture. MCC is intended to get back the desired texture.
FMC BioPolymer did not specify specific reasons for the increase in demand, but the indication is that the growing popularity of low-fat food products has meant food manufacturers are having to find more ways to maintain optimum taste and texture.
Spokesperson Melody Evans told FoodNavigator-USA: "Demand is always growing and new markets are always emerging. As we look ahead strategically, we see we need to increase production to continue to be a reliable supplier."
The value of the low-fat or reduced-sugar market grew by 3.8 per cent in 2006 - the same annual growth rate as in 2005, according to Research and Markets. However, the low-fat and reduced-sugar foods and drinks sector is forecast to increase at a slowing growth rate over the next 5 years.
MCC can also be used in batters and breadings to improve cling and reduce sogginess; confectionery to control moisture absorption; salad dressings to enhance mouthfeel and stabilize emulsions; and sauces, to aid in stability.
FMC BioPolymer has been supplying food formulators with tools needed to create or improve their food products for more than 65 years.
The company would not reveal any financial information on how much has been invested into the expansion, or by how much it expects sales to increase.
"This expansion will assure that we can continue to supply our customers with high quality products and service as their demand grows," said division manager Michael Smith.
"Based on the infrastructure and flexibility of our Newark facility, this expansion will be very cost efficient, which is essential with the current environment of higher manufacturing input costs, particularly pulp and energy."
FMC BioPolymer is a key figure in the markets for MCC as well as of carrageenan and alginate for the food, pharmaceutical and industrial markets. The company has plants in the United States, Ireland, Norway and the Philippines.