Acacia gum: Alland & Robert on the expanding opportunities for an established ingredient
11 Mar 2019 --- As health & wellness, plant-based lifestyles and fiber inclusion gain traction among consumers, there are increased opportunities for companies capable of providing natural ingredients with relevant and healthful functionalities. In this space, Alland & Robert, which this year celebrates its 135th anniversary, sees strong potential for its acacia gum.
Sourced in the African “Gum belt,” which includes Senegal, Erythrea, Mali, Nigeria, Chad, Niger, Sudan and Ethiopia, acacia gum can fulfill a range of functions in foods. It can be used as a stabilizer, a binder, an emulsifier or a viscosity-increasing agent, in food categories such as confectionery, soft drinks, alcoholic beverages and dietary fiber. The ingredient is also used in non-food products such as pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, ceramics, photosensitive chemicals, textiles, paper, ink, paints and adhesives.
“Innovation and research at Alland & Robert are always inspired by the trends observed in the market like consumer requests or new food habits,” Frédéric Alland, Alland & Robert’s CEO, tells FoodIngredientsFirst. “Acacia gum can be used in these products as fiber, but secondly, vegetarian or vegan products often require important texturing needs that acacia gum can help with.”
Innova Market Insights has tipped fiber as one of the growing areas for food and beverage innovation this year. According to a consumer survey (2018) conducted by Innova Market Insights, 44 percent of US consumers are increasing their consumption of fiber, with 33 percent of UK consumers doing so. At the same time, 21 percent average annual growth has been reported in new product launches carrying a fiber claim. Newly discovered health benefits are driving fiber applications.
“Our Research and Development team partners with our clients and helps them develop the best product both in terms of taste and safety. We see companies adapting by providing healthier and safer products,” Alland says.
“We also see new opportunities in sugar-reduced or sugar-free products. For example snacks, bars and beverages. Formulating these products to reach a satisfactory organoleptic profile and low-calorie content involves new formulation and acacia gum is a part of that,” he adds.
Currently, the company is working on projects using acacia gum to partially or entirely replace gelatin, an ingredient that – while well known and widely used – is in some cases less desirable because it is derived from animals.
Further R&D projects include a focus on high-emulsifying complexes for the flavor industries, with research targeting areas from formulation to manufacturing, and from fundamental research to applied projects, Alland notes.
Market opportunities aside, the sourcing of a natural ingredient, which must be grown under specific climate conditions, requires strong local knowledge.
“Acacia trees only grow in dry and semi-arid areas, that is why most of the production of acacia gum is done in Africa, south of Sahara, in the Sahel stretching from Senegal to Ethiopia. The sourcing of natural gum is a complex process that requires strong expertise of acacia trees, as well as relationships with local farmers and knowledge of traditional practices,” Alland notes. “To offer our customers safety of supply, good quality of raw material and traceability, we need to develop solid partnerships with an extensive network of suppliers.”
Although import and export figures as reported by some countries are patchy, a 2018 UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) report notes that exports of unprocessed and semi-processed acacia gum from the African gum belt have almost tripled in the last 25 years, from an annual average of 35,000 tons in 1992-1994 to a yearly average of 102,000 tons in 2014-2016.
In addition, exports of processed gum arabic have reportedly more than tripled, from 17,000 tons to 53,000 tons in the same period. UNCTAD figures show that that the three largest exporters of crude gum arabic are Sudan, which accounts for 66 percent of the total, Chad with 13 percent, and Nigeria with 8.5 percent, in 2014-2016.
At a time when aspects such as traceability and transparency are more closely scrutinized than ever before, these growing numbers highlight the ever increasing complexity and responsibility suppliers face in terms of guaranteeing a reliable supply chain, from beginning to end.
“Alland & Robert carries out strict controls with suppliers throughout the production process while ensuring good working conditions for harvesters. This same level of control is also applied at the company factories so that our traceability and quality are exceeding our customers’ requests,” he says.
“In 2019, Alland & Robert is celebrating 135 years of existence. In addition to the knowledge that we have been acquiring since 1884, Alland & Robert has built up a unique network of reliable, competent suppliers throughout the ‘Gum belt.’ I visit all my suppliers personally at least once a year, accompanied by our Quality Manager, who audits our partners once a year.”
Speaking on what the industry can do to improve traceability, fairness and profitability in the acacia gum supply chain, Alland further hones in on the importance of close supplier contact.
“Alland & Robert firmly believes in long-term, trusted relationships with suppliers. We offer a fair price for the raw materials. Although most of the harvest is done on wild trees, we also invest in plantations that allow us to offer great organic products with excellent traceability. For example, in Senegal, we buy the whole crop of the plantation to support the supply chain,” Alland notes.
“We have also designed and set up industrial processes in many of our suppliers’ facilities in Africa. We know that if they increase the quality of their raw acacia gum, the functional properties of the product will be preserved, which is in our customers’ interest. We also invest to help local communities related to acacia gum. This is our way to improve the general supply chain.”
The company has recently expanded its facilities, with the opening last year of new offices in Normandy, France, including a state-of-the-art physicochemical laboratory and a technological platform for applications research and customer training. But more is in the pipeline.
“In 2019, we have another exciting project: we are partnering with Indian company Sayaji Industries Limited to form a joint venture. The main goal of this collaboration is to manufacture locally and supply spray dried acacia gum for the growing Indian market,” Alland notes.
Announced in October 2018, the collaboration will see Alland & Robert provide technological know-how for the processing of the acacia gum to offer the best quality product for this fast-evolving market.
By Lucy Gunn
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