Belgian group Cosucra Warcoing is significantly increasing its inulin and oligofructose production capacity by converting a former sugar plant to chicory processing, as it aims to meet growing demand for the ingredients.
It will also implement an adapted production process that will allow for an almost continuous production activity throughout the year.
Inulin and oligofructose are currently used in more than 1000 food products, such as yoghurts, biscuits, chocolate and baby food. Growth is being driven by increasing attention to their prebiotic properties, thought to benefit gut health and the immune system, and their use as a healthy fibre.
Cosucra rival Orafti has also recently announced plans for a new chicory processing plant, but the €165 million investment will be on a greenfield site in Chile. Orafti's new plant will have a capacity of 'tens of thousands of tonnes' but will not start production until the first half of 2006.
The Warcoing Group , which has been processing sugar beet since the mid-1800s, claims to be the first company in the world to produce inulin, beginning in 1986. Last year it announced that it was exiting the sugar beet processing business to concentrate entirely on added value ingredients for health foods.
The company will spend more than €60 million to convert a former sugar plant in the north of France, increasing its inulin and oligofructose production capacity to 45,000 tons per year. It will be operational by the end of 2004 and is expected to generate more than 100 jobs.
The move will boost Cosucra's share of the dietary fibres market. Frost & Sullivan data show the prebiotics market, currently worth €87 million, will see annual growth of 9.7 per cent, bringing the European fructan market up to €179.7 million by 2010.