A return to synthetic flavours?

As two major global ingredient manufacturers announce new investment in synthetic menthol production, could this herald a new era for synthetic flavours, asks UK research company, RTS?

Later this year, BASF will open its new, purpose-built production plant to manufacture L-menthol, a synthetic menthol flavour, for use primarily in fragrances and personal hygiene products. Said to be the world’s largest facility, the new Ludwigshafen plant will produce L-menthol from Citral, a plant oil extract.

Meanwhile, Symrise has invested €15-20m in a new production facility to double its capacity – also due to open this year. The company has long produced synthetic menthol with its raw materials partner Lanxess, largely for use in the production of Symrise’s portfolio of fragrances.

Despite the continued rise in favour of natural flavours, issues such as supply, safety and consistent quality remain for some ingredients.

Menthol or mint is used in a wide variety of products across the food, personal care and fragrance industries, both on its own and as a component to create flavours and aromas. Natural production of menthol can’t keep up with this growing demand. A lack of natural menthol drives up the cost of raw materials, which in turn affects the price that consumers will pay.

As global demand for citrus, menthol and vanilla in food processing increases, the potential for synthetic biology to fill supply gaps left by natural production could be one way forward for synthetic ingredient suppliers.

While it is almost impossible to define what a ‘natural flavour’ is, perception of synthetic flavours remains a significant issue that suppliers need to address with manufacturers, retailers and consumers.

Nevertheless, careful information regarding the benefits of synthetic flavours – especially where demand outstrips supply, and when costs become prohibitive – could well be key to a renaissance in their popularity.

Natural flavoursSimultaneously, RTS has also published a free fact sheet on the market natural flavours.

The market for natural flavours in food and drink has grown by more than $1.2bn over the past five years, driven by the move to ‘clean-label’ ingredients, global recipes and the rising cost of raw materials. This rapid growth in demand for natural flavours means the market is now worth $3.3bn, up from $2.1bn in 2005.

However, given rising cost of raw materials and the issues of sustainability and stability it is doubtful that natural flavours will ever completely replace synthetics.

Growing consumer interest in natural ingredients and the power of multiple retailers has made natural flavours one of the fastest growing food ingredient markets of the past five years, with growth at 9.1% per year, ahead of fat replacers and seasonings.

‘Natural flavours is one most dynamic food ingredient markets, offering significant growth to suppliers and manufacturers. However, while growth is rapid, it is extremely patchy with only certain markets and product categories delivering value opportunities,’ says Jamie Rice, Director of RTS.

‘Sustainability is the next critical issue, there a simply not enough resources for the global food industry to ‘go natural’ and this, coupled with rising prices, is why forward looking companies are taking another look at flavours from synthetic sources.’

What is the outlook for this growing market and where will the major opportunities lie? Find out in RTS’s free fact sheet – click the link above.

Source: RTS