IMR International Food Hydrocolloids 2024

Global working group GROW touts gelatin’s diversity, addresses concerns to capture volume, value of hydrocolloid market

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Gelatin

Gelatin may not be flashy and new, but it remains the second fastest growing hydrocolloid off a significant base thanks in part to its ability to meet a wide range of emerging consumer interests, including clean-eating and high protein to permissible indulgence and food waste reduction.

According to data presented at IMR International’s annual Food Hydrocolloids 2024 summit last week, gelatin accounted for 9% of the food hydrocolloid market by volume and 15% by value in 2023 – second only to starches, which accounted for 63% of the market by volume and 30% by value. It edged out xanthan, which took 14% of the market by value and 5% by volume, and carboxymethyl cellulose, which took 8% by volume and value each.

And yet, gelatin faces notable challenges – including a rising interest in plant-based and animal welfare concerns as well as questions about sustainability around the carbon emissions of cows and pigs from which it is sourced and the potential contribution to deforestation of cattle.

To address misconceptions and concerns about gelatin and help drive innovation, stakeholders from around the globe have joined forces before the pandemic to create the Gelatin Representatives of the World, or GROW, working group.

“Throughout the world, there are individual trade associations. There is one in North America, there is one in South America, one in Europe and one in Asia-Pac. And each of the industry associations were dedicating heavy resources to promoting the benefits, the safety, the naturalness of gelatin. And when we came together as a global working group, we could not only exchange our experience and our ideas, but we could become more effective and efficient in our delivery of those messages,” Lara Niemann, global marketing & innovation, Gelita, told FoodNavigator-USA at IMR International’s conference.

Acting as “one point of truth,” GROW is tackling common myths about gelatin, including that it is “old and outdated and does not have a place in the world of modern food,” Niemann said. “That cannot be further from the truth.”

Gelatin is “checking a lot of the boxes” for modern consumers – and as such is “making a comeback,” said Leo Manning, sales director, Nitta Gelatin NA.

Consumers recognize gelatin from their kitchen cupboards

Helping to drive that “comeback” is rising consumer interest in clean labels, which includes an antipathy to many gums, emulsifiers or texturizing ingredients that are unfamiliar and a desire for ingredients – like gelatin – that are easily recognized.

In addition, gelatin’s ability to deliver multiple benefits could help formulators potentially reduce the overall list of ingredients, and possibly their costs, as well.

“That one of a kind mouthfeel that gelatin contributes is something that also helps secure our space in the market,” as does its ability as a single ingredient to deliver many benefits, which is “cost advantageous,” Niemann said.

GROW stresses gelatin as ‘ultimate upcycler’

GROW also is leaning into the idea of gelatin as “the ultimate upcycler” to counter rising sustainability concerns, including around carbon emissions from cattle and pigs.

“There are certainly challenges with carbon emissions and sustainability in that part of GROW's mission is really to start that global dialogue about what is happening in each of those spaces. So we have developed working groups in different parts of the world that are tackling some of these tough topics, and working to unite to promote the benefits and the goodness of gelatin and to motivate each of the member companies to work on sustainability, reducing that carbon footprint and hold each other accountable,” said Niemann.

She added, “Like any other industry, we do face challenges with deforestation or with animal welfare. It is also important to note that in the gelatin industry, we are the ultimate upcyclers. We are taking raw materials that may otherwise be just destroyed or left for nothing and we are repurposing them into something value add, and then the residual of our processing actually goes into another stream of sustainability. We really talk about gelatin playing an important role in circular economy."

Gelatin’s versatility helps combat competitive threat from plant-based alternatives

Similarly, GROW is countering animal welfare concerns with messaging that livestock are not raised to produce gelatin – rather it is a byproduct that would go to waste. While that may be, the ingredient still faces increased competition from plant-based options – however, GROW does not see those as a significant threat.

“There are a lot of plant-based soft gels being introduced. But … I still do not view that as a threat. It is a very small sub segment. Same thing on the food side of things. … I think we just have to make sure that we are focusing on the benefits that we can provide the brands and the companies that we can add value,” Manning said.

Niemann agreed noting that gelatin’s sustained success as a go-to hydrocolloid for more than 150 years for a range of uses suggests “we are just really scratching the surface in terms of the benefits and technical properties gelatin can offer in different foods. So, stay tuned. I am absolutely sure that there is more to come.”

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