ZuChem's manufacturing process for its mannitol sweetener is only the third one recognized by the FDA since it amended its legislation, according to the company.
The government body decided back in November 2004 that it would alter food additive regulations to permit the manufacture of mannitol by the fermentation of sugars such as fructose, glucose or maltose by the action of the microorganism Lactobacillus intermedius (fermentum), in response to a petition filed by zuChem.
David Demirjian, the president of zuChem, believes demand for mannitol - prices of which remain high - is on the increase. He estimates $100 million in annual sales worldwide for the reduced-calorie sweetener, which the firm plans initially to target towards the food ingredient industry.
Demirjian hopes that zuChem will offer a more consistent and cost- effective alternative to currently available mannitol sweeteners that are manufactured with a chemical hydrogenation process. He believes his company's manufacturing approach will simplify manufacturing and reduce the cost of the compound.
The approach, says the firm, allows up to 72 percent of corn fructose to be converted into mannitol within 15 hours, instead of the 120 hours needed by a rival company. In comparison, high-pressure hydrogenation converts only 25-30 percent of a fructose-glucose mixture into mannitol, which sells for around $3.32 per pound. The rest of the mixture is primarily sorbitol, a sugar alcohol that sells for about $0.73 per pound.
ZuChem noted that its method uses a Lactobacillus intermedius NRR B-3693 bacterium strain to grow a broth of high-fructose syrup in a fermentation flask. The broth is then refrigerated and the "leftovers" (white, needle-like crystals of mannitol) removed.
The company plans, moreover, to apply this approach to the production of the sweetner xylitol, whose market Demirjian sees as "poised to expand dramatically if it can be produced inexpensively from readily available raw materials".
Artificial sweeteners will lead the growth in the food additives market on the back of rising consumer demand for functional foods, found a report from market analysts Freedonia in September.
The market for alternative sweeteners holds considerable potential - growing 8.3 percent year on year until 2008 - as rising health concerns drive consumers towards sugar free products and food makers introduce zero-calorie or low-calorie sugar substitutes into their new product formulations.
Sales will rise from a small base of $81m in 1998 to $189m in 2008.