Consolidation in the hydrocolloid industry, price pressure and 'functionality beyond texture' are on the agenda at the annual industry event to open in San Diego at the weekend.
Marked by consolidation, the roll call of acquisitions in the industry over the past twelve months in Europe includes the imminent purchase of Rhodia's food ingredients arm by Danisco, Irish firm Kerry buying ICI-subsidiary Quest and in the US JM Huber recently bought the 28 per cent Hercules stake in hydrocolloid leader CP Kelco.
"A guiding theme for the conference is 'where can we look for value? Is it in GM-free, organic, natural ?" Dennis Seisun, from IMR International said to FoodNavigator.com.
As with other product areas in the ingredients industry, growth for hydrocolloid suppliers will come from adding value to their products. This is particularly pertinent in the current climate when high raw materials continue to squeeze margins as customers keep up the price pressure.
The price of the food additive gum arabic, for example, has risen by 30 per cent or more, and many other hydrocolloids are either flat or down in price, added Seisun.
The food industry's most frequently used hydrocolloids include: agar, alginates, arabic, carrageenan, Carboxy Methyl Cellulose (CMC), gelatin, konjac flour, locust bean gum (LBG), Methyl Cellulose and hydroxypropyl Methyl Cellulose (MC/HPMC), microcrystalline cellulose (MCC), pectin, starch and Xanthan.
The market for hydrocolloids has grown signficantly in the past 20 years in parallel to an increasingly complex food processing industry.
"The many names and descriptive terms attributed to food hydrocolloids - texturising agents, hydrogels, gums, water-soluble polymers, rheology modifiers, stabilisers, and gelling agents - attest to the variety of functions for which they are used," said Seisun.
Hydrocolloids serve as emulsion stabilisers, suspending agents, gelling agents, thickeners, fibre sources, mouthfeel improvers, fat replacers and processing aids.
While flavour and colour might have more visibility and glamour, it is these texturisers that provide the underpinningof countless food formulations. The importance of texture to any food product is critical, added Seisun.
Acacia gum as a the future fibre ingredient, the market position of hydrocolloids in the surging trend for health foods - a clear area to 'add value', resistant starch, and ongoing labelling issues will be pitched at the table along with other current topics for discussion during the two day conference that kicks off on Sunday and closes 22 March.
Last month European hydrocolloid suppliers welcomed new labelling rules that provide E-number shy manufacturers with an alternative name for the complex sounding food additive carboxymethylcellulose (CMC). From now on, cellulose gum can replace CMC or E466 on food labels.