The Bischofszell firm said it had sunk €2.3m into the plant, which produces a range of fruit and vegetable powders from a vacuum belt drying technology that can prevent loss of high colour, taste and flavour as well as nutritional value as a result of the gentle low temperature process.
"This gentle process makes water evaporate from the fruit and vegetables at lower temperatures than normal," Olivier Breit, marketing manager at Obipektin explained to FoodNavigator.com.
While the technology can process any kind of fruit or vegetable, Obipektin is currently processing about 90 per cent fruit and 10 per cent vegetables on this particular line, particularly targeted at temperature and oxidation sensitive products.
Through the generated vacuum the boiling temperature of water present in the product is reduced and depending on the product, a more porous texture is obtained. By using sieves of different mesh size, the finished product can be offered in different granulations, said the Swiss firm.
Disadvantages of vacuum drying are high investment costs and that products tend to show an increased hygroscopicity and thermoplasticity.
Due to the porous texture, the final products show 'good instant characteristics', as a result Obipektin is targeting 'any kind of instant food and beverage applications,' principally baby foods, confectionery and the snack industry.
In addition to vacuum drying technology Obipektin transforms fruit and vegetable juices and pulps using three other drying technologies - cold spray drying, low temperature spray drying and drum drying.
Growing consumer demand for natural food products has increased the use of naturally derived flavouring compounds, including fruit and vegetable powders. And they are benefiting from wider use in new product formulations and as replacements for synthetic ingredients in existing formulations.
Market analysts Frost & Sullivan predict the €819.9m European and US fruit and vegetables extracts and powders market is on course to grow at the steady annual rate of 4.5 per cent, reaching €1.07 billion by 2009.
Fruit and vegetable extracts and powders are used in increasingly large quantities by the functional food industry, looking to maximise on the extracts nutraceutical properties. In 2002, the functional foods industry was the biggest user of fruits and vegetable extracts in Europe, generating demand worth €130 million, claim the market analysts.
But Frost & Sullivan also warned that high prices of fruit and vegetable extracts are likely to restrain their uptake, in an increasingly competitive environment as functional food manufacturers turn to inexpensive alternatives to add functionality to their products.
"Success in the fruit and vegetable market will lie in the ability to supply a large portfolio of extracts and to launch products fitting niche markets demand. The ability to offer expertise on the extract will be important. Successful fruit and vegetable extract suppliers will have to offer process sound integrated solution to their customers," commented Frost & Sullian analyst Anna Ibbotson.