'The global emulsifier market is at capacity...' Kerry develops acacia-based alternative to sunflower lecithin

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

Photo Credit: Kerry
Photo Credit: Kerry

Related tags Kerry sunflower lecithin Clean label Sustainability

Kerry has introduced Puremul, an acacia-based emulsifying ingredient that serves as an alternative to sunflower lecithin and mono- and diglycerides, responding to ongoing global sunflower supply challenges and manufacturers' need for a viable replacement.

The ongoing turmoil in Ukraine and Russia, the world's largest sunflower suppliers, has caused a volatile pricing market and unstable availability for sunflower-based ingredients including sunflower lecithin, a popular emulsifying ingredient used in everything from baked goods and spreads to plant-based beverages and chocolate.

“The global emulsifier market is at capacity and there are significant sunflower lecithin price volatility, and supply issues,"​ said Tim Cottrell, business development director for emulsifiers, texturants, and gum acacia, North America, Kerry.

Puremul offers a clean label solution that can address functional, sensory, and pricing challenges, said Cottrell.

"We believe manufacturers and product developers in bakery and plant-based beverages will find this an exciting, clean label emulsification alternative for use in both reformulations and new product development,"​ said Cottrell.

As some of the industry debates how 'clean label' is defined, Kerry found that the term still carries with weight with many consumers.

In its 'Beyond the Label' research, the company found that 82% of US consumers believe a clean label is important, with almost as many actively evaluating ingredients listed on food packaging. Nearly three-quarters (74%) of US consumers found 'natural' and non-GMO claims highly appealing and over 70% reported they are concerned about the use of synthetic ingredients in products.

Acacia popularity rises

Produced from the natural resin of the acacia tree, sourced from local farmers in the Sahel region of Africa, Puremul possesses many of the same properties as sunflower lecithin including excellent emulsification, high-quality texture and stability, improved taste and sensory experience, and reliable, and a sustainable supply (acacia trees are drought-resistant and help replenish the soil in which they grow).

According to Innova Ingredient Market Sizing 2022 data, acacia grew at 14% CAGR globally from 2017 to 2021. 

In addition, Puremul is non-GMO, free from major allergens, certified Kosher, and Halal-suitable, according to Kerry.

"Acacia is gaining traction in the market, and is growing in popularity owing to its clean label, natural, sustainable attributes along with excellent functional benefits," ​Cottrell told FoodNavigator-USA, who added that the ingredient has noteworthy sustainability benefits. 

"Importantly, acacia trees benefit the environment by combating desertification, as they are regarded as nitrogen-fixing powerhouses that help in balancing soil nutrients and enhancing soil fertility. They also improve water filtration and lower evaporation by reducing wind speed, leading to more efficient use of water and fertilizer. Even more in their favor, these attributes work to benefit other agricultural crops—such as sorghum and maize—when planted together, resulting in increased crop yields,"​ added Cottrell. 

In addition to environmental benefits, the production of Puremul provides an important economic lifeline for local farmers.

"Local farmers, who harvest the gum by hand every season in a sustainable manner that does not damage tree formation, often do so as a form of secondary revenue, making it a critical income generator within vulnerable communities. Acacia is aligned to the importance consumers place on sustainable, naturally derived, clean ingredients that support farmers and growers," ​he said. 

But how deeply do consumers care about where certain ingredients come from?

According to Kerry's proprietary consumer research carried out in 2022, consumers considered 'naturally sourced' as the most important attribute in relation to responsible sourcing and food and ingredient processing. ‘Supporting farmers and growers’ was also shown to be very important.

Promising applications

According to Cottrell, Kerry has completed successful product testing where in some cases Puremul can be used as a 1:1 replacement in certain applications. 

"We have successfully carried out application trials using Puremul as a 1:1 replacement for sunflower lecithin in certain applications such as plant-based beverages, however as recipes and processes can vary widely between customers and applications this may not be the case in every instance,"​ he explained.  

In terms of priority focus areas, Cottrell highlighted plant-based beverages, bakery, and frozen desserts as areas where the company is seeing the most urgent demand for Puremul. 

"We have seen excellent results in these applications with Puremul outperforming sunflower lecithin in some cases. For example, one customer carried out sensory tests in plant-based beverage application where Puremul resulted in a whiter color beverage with preferred organoleptic properties,"​ Cottrell noted. 

"Our RD&A (research, development, and applications) team is planning further development work in applications where the market need for clean label emulsification is greatest, including extruded products such as breakfast cereals, snacks, and chips."

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