The growth in natural alternatives as opposed to synthetic is part of an increasing consumer demand for healthier, additive-free foods, says Frost & Sullivan in a new report.
Antimicrobials are substances that inhibit the growth of microorganisms including bacteria, viruses and fungi.
Tougher food regulations implemented over the past year in the EU has left food processors looking for better ways to maintain hygiene during manufacturing.
Natural alternatives to synthetic antimicrobials are in more demand due to the increasing hype over the supposed health benefits, stated Frost & Sullivan.
"At the same time, technological advances are expected to modify the undesirable properties of synthetic antimicrobials, thereby improving product quality and contributing to an expanded application base," the analyst stated. "These trends will underline growth in the European antimicrobials market."
The European antimicrobial market had sales of $119.7m (€93m) in 2005 and is expected to reach $131.2m (€102m) in 2012, the analyst forecasts.
"The future of food antimicrobials lies in their ability to curb the growth of most spoilage organisms," Frost & Sullivan research analyst R. Nithya stated. "Food manufacturers still resort to the use of synthetic antimicrobials as an effective means to prolong the shelf life of their products."
With increasing global distribution and outbreaks of avian flu and BSE, the use of different combinations of antimicrobials along with efficient delivery systems are regarded as the most reliable means to maintain food quality. Without the use of antimicrobials, food safety would be jeopardised and costs would become excessive, Nithya stated.
"However, consumer suspicions about products containing antimicrobials are reducing opportunities for further growth," she stated. "Consumers fear that consumption of antimicrobials would have negative effects on their health."
For many consumers, this fear stems mainly from the fact that they are not willing to buy products containing substances described in unfamiliar terms, she note. Scientific reports linking these substances to diseases such as cancer is also lowering end user confidence in antimicrobials usage.
Stringent European legislation is not only limiting the quantity of antimicrobials that can be used in food products, but is restricting their application base as well, she said.
However, the European Food Safety Authority recently approved the use of four antimicrobials to improve hygiene and processing procedures in chicken manufacturing plants, thus setting the stage for expanded antimicrobials usage in meat processing plants.
"To promote consumer confidence and informed decision making, market participants will need to focus on educating end users about the antimicrobial terminologies listed on product labels," Nithya stated. "Consumers should also be made aware of the fact that scientific assessments are carried out before any antimicrobial is permitted for use."