But despite the boost, growth is not overwhelming, with a new report from BCC pitching the global market of all commercially used carotenoids to rise annually by 2.9 per cent for the next years, growing from $887 million (€722m) to $1 billion.
Widely used as food colourings, carotenoids are organic pigments naturally occurring in plants. Their colour, ranging from pale yellow, through bright orange, to deep red, is directly linked to their structure: the double carbon-carbon bonds interact with each other in a process called conjugation.
Most of the carotenoids on the market are currently produced by chemical synthesis and partly by extraction from plant material. Fermentation does not yet play a role, although this method is expected to play a more important role in the future.
But overall, the largest outlet will remain feed, mainly because of the outstanding importance of astaxanthin and canthaxanthin. Supplement use will increase, while food applications will remain relatively small, claims the report.
One of the most well-known carotenoids is the one that gives this group its name, carotene, found in carrots and responsible for their bright orange colour.
A natural colourant used in a range of foods from ice cream to cheese, carotene, also a provitamin, is one of the two subgroups of the carotenoids. The other sub-group is xanthophylls.
For many years, beta-carotene has been used as a food colouring, but growing knowledge about the health promoting antioxidative properties of carotenoids is pushing growth and applications for a range of these colourants, from lycopene to astaxanthin.
Market researchers BCC pitched the beta-carotene market at $242 million in 2004, a rise of $30 million on 1999, and representing over a quarter of the entire carotenoid market.
Food, is still the most important outlet, where it is widely used as a colouring. But the supplement segment is coming up close behind. European players DSM and BASF dominate the market , but increasing competition from Asia is putting the pressure on prices.
According to BCC, DSM and BASF will remain the market leaders over the next five years. DSM with a global market share of 54 per cent for all carotenoids will dominate in 2009.
Astaxanthin, a carotenoid used to pigment salmon and trout, grabs second position in the carotenoid market, with a value of $234 million in 2004. The market has grown by less than $20 million over the past five years, mainly because of substantial competition, says BCC.
Canthaxanthin, traditionally used to give a red shade to egg yolks, is becoming popular for use in fish pigmentation, and has taken some of the traditional astaxanthin market away. Upcoming fermentation routes will put astaxanthin under further price competition, with the market value in 2009 estimated at $257 million.
BCC claims the fish pigment market could offset a diminishing market value in the traditional segment. The report places overall market value at $148 million in 2004. For 2009 a slight recovery to the old level of $156 million is seen, mainly because of strong volume growth and only a moderate price decrease.
But hooked up with eye-health benefits, the latest 'darling' of the carotenoids is lutein. Until the end of the 1990s, lutein was mainly used to colour egg yolks and partly for broiler skin.
After 2000 a new application developed in supplements when it was demonstrated that lutein could help to reduce age-related macular degeneration disease.
This new market pushed lutein's market value up to $139 million in 2004, compared to just $64 million in 1999. Strong growth is anticipated to continue, which BCC pitches annually at 6.1 per cent until 2009.
Red carotenoid lycopene also saw substantial growth in past years on the back of health benefits, while annatto and apo-carotenal products did not grow much in terms of market value. Zeaxanthin, acting synergistically with lutein, did see some major market growth, although starting from a very low level.
Europe still dominates the market, and tipped to continue in the near future, followed by North America.