Solvay increases natural vanillin production amid heightened market demand
16 Dec 2019 --- Solvay has revealed two new advancements in a bid to strengthen its hold in the natural vanillin market at Fi Europe 2019. The first is the doubling of production capacity of RhoVanil Natural Crystal White, following what the company describes as “an explosion of demand.” Secondly, the company unveiled a joint venture (JV) named CATàSYNTH Speciality Chemicals with the India-based company Anthea. FoodIngredientsFirst spoke with Peter Browning, Solvay Aroma Performance President, about the company’s developments and how it addresses global demand for a cost-effective and natural source of vanillin through its RhoVanil ingredient.
Grabbing a share of the market
“The world’s leading food companies, such as Nestlé and Danone, are substantially increasing their demand for natural vanillin,” says Browning. Synthetic vanilla currently dominates the market, with around 25,000 of the 26,000 metric tons of vanillin on the market being synthetic. Synthetic vanillin molecules produce the same final molecules, but are derived from petrochemicals and are transformed with chemical production processes, according to Browning.
However, increased demand for a natural claim on finished products has pushed Solvay to advance a technology using fermentation to transform natural raw materials into natural vanillin molecules. “What we’re doing with this product is providing a solution to natural needs for vanillin, given the constraints that exist on sourcing natural vanilla,” he notes. Vanilla has been hailed the “Queen of Flavors” for its indispensability in confectionery, bakery, dairy and other categories. However, natural vanilla is scarce, making it cost-prohibitive for most. Browning further notes that due to disease and other factors, there is not enough production of natural vanillin in the world to meet demand. “When you get a vanilla pod, you cure the pod to get the bean. A high-quality pod is only about 2 percent vanillin. A vanilla bean has much more vanillin, but it also has hundreds of other chemical compounds. The synthetic and the natural vanillin markets have grown to complete the availability of natural vanilla, which is only about 1 percent of the overall market,” he continues. “The other 99 percent of the world market uses vanillin, and most of it is synthetic.”
Browning compares the relative pricing of vanillin products: A kilo of natural vanilla expressed as 100 percent vanillin costs about US$25,000. Meanwhile, one kilo of European natural vanillin is US$500. In the US, a kilo of natural vanillin is only US$80. “So there is a huge incentive for people to look at how, if they want a natural claim, they can use natural vanillin rather than natural vanilla because of that very high price point,” notes Browning. Research by Innova Market Insights has found that consumers find natural products to be more healthy, quality and non-GMO. When consumers were asked what characteristics they expected from a natural product, 59 percent expected it “to be healthy” (54 percent Germany; 60 percent UK; 63 percent US), 53 percent wanted it “to not be genetically modified” (50 percent UK; 50 percent US; 60 percent Germany) and 50 percent said it should “be a quality product” (46 percent Germany; 53 percent UK; 52 percent US), according to the market researcher.
Browning adds that there has been a huge ramp-up since Solvay launched the original plant four years ago. “Natural RhoVanil is easy to formulate, it’s very pure and it’s very cost-effective compared to a natural vanilla product while giving the same wonderful taste sensation,” he notes.
Further advancements in vanillin for Solvay
Solvay’s JV with Anthea, CATàSYNTH Speciality Chemicals, will be the first of its kind to provide the market with a completely vertically integrated chain in heliotropin chemistry. The two companies will work together to supply a range of products including methylenedioxybenzene, heliotropin (piperonal) and helional, which are key ingredients for applications such as boosting the taste of vanillin.
“This is something that doesn’t exist today,” notes Browning. “The operations are done in various sites around the world. But what we’re doing is creating a world-scale unit all in one place to serve the market’s growing needs of heliotropin and heliofresh.” The plant is expected to be fully functioning by Q1 in 2020. Having seen a boom in demand for the RhoVanil Natural Crystal White, Solvay is adapting its practices to meet US legislation for organic standards as well. Browning notes that the US is more lax than Europe on how naturality is defined. However, the US sets an international standard on regulation through the National Organic Program (NOP) for what’s organic and what’s not. “NOP organic status is accepted pretty much anywhere in the world and that makes it easy for us to offer our customers global standard formulations. This is particularly relevant for the big consumer product companies who make their products in one location and sell globally,” he notes.
In order to adapt to the US standards for organic, Browning reports that Solvay has remodeled its solvent systems, changed the raw material sources and changed how it processes to move towards complying with the NOP, which is the international reference for organic. “Meeting the NOP standards will open up new market opportunities for us and new taste experiences for consumers who want an organic product,” Browning concludes.
By Missy Green
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