Dennis Seisun, a consultant with IMR International, in his weekly update on the state of the hydrocolloid market, said neither gum has traditionally been viewed as a strong competitor to guar but he stressed that “at current guar prices, however, tradition no longer applies.”
Of the two gums with the greatest potential for guar replacement, the consultant said: “It seems Tara gum may have a better fit with replacing guar functionality. From a volume perspective however, locust bean gum (LBG), at 11-12,000 tonnes available per year, offers better opportunity than Tara which is available in 2,000-2,500 tonne annual quantities.”
Seisun said that xanthan gum is another hydrocolloid which is now a very cost effective thickener compared to guar, not to mention starches, and he reckons virtually all hydrocolloids are being evaluated as potential guar substitutes.
He notes that prices for food grade guar have reached and even exceeded $14 per kilo. “Landed prices of $15/kg have been confirmed,” he added.
However, the hydrocolloid industry insider said that claims and counterclaims are being made regarding availability of guar gum raw material and finished product.
“Some say that raw material is already tight and until the next crop appears towards the end of 2012 there will be no easing in guar supply and price. Others claim that raw material is available and that manipulation of the Indian National Commodity & Derivatives Exchange (NCDEX) and speculation in the market is what has driven guar prices above a sustainable and justifiable level,” added the hydrocolloid specialist.
Indeed, the Indian regulator, the Forward Markets Commission (FMC) recently launched a probe into irregularities in the trading of guar seed and guar gum.
Regardless, Seisun points out that there is agreement that demand in the oilfield sector will set the pace for guar trends, either upwards or downwards. But he notes that “oilfield demand is expected to level off as the hectic inventory build-up undertaken in 2011 eases.”
And “for now and for whatever reason, speculation or real shortage, a buyer of food grade guar can expect prices of around $15/kg, unless previous contracts have been signed,” added the consultant.
Seisun reports three key strategies taken by food formulators when addressing the guar problem including:
- Partial replacement of guar. “A blend containing 80% guar 20% xanthan, may now contain 60% guar and 40% xanthan,” said the expert.
- Total replacement of guar with another hydrocolloid. “Bakeries and tortilla producers have taken this avenue in some cases.”
- Eliminating the use of any hydrocolloid, albeit at a process or sensory cost. “This would yield a cleaner label as a counter balance,” he said, noting the need though for new labelling around all three options and the cost that would ensue.