Consumer suspicions, particularly in Europe, of genetically modified crops have encouraged food manufacturers to use non-GM ingredients in their formulations.
Anxious to guard market share and strengthen consumer perception of their brands, creating GM-free food products is the most practical route to respond to market expectations.
Used extensively in food applications, lecithin is mainly obtained from soybeans, although also from palm oil, rapeseed and other crops.
While supplies for non-GM lecithin were relatively smooth in past years when the GM issue had a lower profile, today demand is outpacing supplies.
The European market for Identify Preserved (IP) soybeans (both hard and soft) is estimated at about 40,000 to 60,000 tons for both food and feed.
But the deficit is in the region of 10 per cent, with supplies falling short by about 4,000 tons and pushing up prices.
Whereas non-GM lecithin used to be cheap, the IP traceability paper trail that can involve hundreds of documents has added considerable costs to the buyer.
Not only this, non-GM soy crops are just a small percentage of the world's soybean crops. The US, forecast to harvest some 75 million tons of soy in 2005, is the number one producer of soy. Next comes Brazil, with about 50 million tons and then Argentina. Combined these three countries represent 82 per cent of world production.
Supplies of non-GM soy drew even tighter last year when Lula's Brazilian government cleared the way for the planting and sale of GM soybeans for the 2004-05 season.
According to market analysts Frost & Sullivan lecithin is the main natural emulsifier (naturals take up 16 per cent of the market, synthetics 84 per cent) in the €307 million European market. The analysts pitched the lecithin market at €49 million in 2003, slightly higher than 2000.
Eyeing market opportunities, number one emulsifier firm Danisco is promoting a range of citric acid esters as a subsititute for soy lecithin in confectionery applications.
Lecithins are used in chocolate manufacture to control the flow properties by reducing viscosity and reducing the cocoa butter content from three to five per cent.
"Products in the range are a direct switch for food makers that use non-GM soy lecithin," Pia Madsen, Danisco product manager tells FoodNavigator.com.
Not only this, these alternatives remove the heavy burden of proof required by food makers with the IP documentation, she adds.
According to Madsen, the efficiency of an emulsifier is evaluated on the plastic viscosity and yield value.
The firm's Grindsted Citrum 2-in-1 product, a citric acid ester produced from refined sunflower oil, gives efficient yield value, claims Danisco.
On price, the Grindsted Citrem range is parallel to the non-GM soy lecithin, but Madsen emphasises that unlike the volatile prices of non-GM soy lecithin, the Citrem range is less exposed to price fluctuations.
"In addition, with the Grindsted Citrem 2-in-1 product, the fat content of confectionery goods, such as chocolate, can be reduced by up to 4 per cent, reducing cost-in-use price for the confectionery," says the Danisco product manager.
"Moreover Grindsted Citrem 2-in-1 acts as replacer of combined use of PGPR and lecithin - thus reducing number of additives on labelling," she adds.