In Europe, most companies seek non-GM lecithin, leaving little demand for ingredients from countries like the United States and Brazil, which produce lecithin mainly from genetically modified soy. In the past, food companies switched between North and South American crops so there was always a good supply of soy lecithin, but that is no longer the case, as 94% of US soy and 89% of Brazilian soy is now genetically modified.
“In 1996, the US introduced the first GM soy, which put the whole market in turmoil,” said Bornholdt, speaking at the FIE conference in Frankfurt.
“We have seen a big supply crisis especially from Brazil, because of segregation issues. There need to be some alternatives, which brought India into the scheme. However, this is a tricky situation, because India is totally dependent on the monsoon.”
Cargill introduced a non-GM sunflower lecithin back in 2008. It can be used in confectionery products, sauces and instantised foods, in which lecithin has an important emulsifying function. And unlike soy lecithin, the sunflower-derived ingredient has the additional advantage of allergen-free labelling, as long as products are kept separate from other allergens, like dairy.
However, there is still a supply crisis for non-GM lecithin in Europe, said Bornholdt, adding that Cargill aims to address the tight supply by adding capacity at its Ukraine-based sunflower lecithin facility.
“There is a gap. The market is growing for non-GM lecithin and a lot of processors are looking for an alternative to other emulsifiers,” he said.
“The theoretical output is another 100,000 metric tonnes. This could be very useful to the market in the next couple of years. …Current demand is 60,000 metric tonnes for non-GM lecithin in Europe.”
The crop has been grown in Europe for centuries, meaning high acceptance of sunflower-derived ingredients, but the extraction process is more challenging than for soy, said Bornholdt.
“There is an issue in extraction because the high oil content means [lecithin] can’t be extracted,” he said. “…Pressing, which is considered more natural, contains no lecithin.”
In terms of availability, however, he claimed demand was moving from soy to sunflower-derived lecithin in the EU.