Global sales of food additives were estimated at around US$23 billion in 2007, according to the report just published by UK-based consultancy Leatherhead Food International. It estimates the sector overall to be growing by just over 3 per cent per year since 2004. But additives that are "most relevant in the prevailing trend towards lower-fat foods" have seen much faster growth. Emulsifiers, or additives that can bind water and oil together in an emulsion, are important in many low-fat foods, where fat is removed, reducing the stability of the formulation. Emulsifiers are often necessary in baked goods and snacks when manufacturers want to remove trans fats for example. Consequently the category have been growing by an average 10.1 per cent per annum between 2004 and 2007, finds the report. "Emulsifiers play a central role in this process [lower-fat food trend] and have benefited accordingly from the global preoccupation with healthier eating," noted the Leatherhead to the report. The report does not include data on fat replacers or vitamins, although it values the sectors at around US$500 million and US$1 billion respectively in 2007. These, and a range of other ingredients, will see strong growth in the future based on ongoing demand for healthy foods. "The health issue is now paramount, as global obesity levels reach epidemic proportions. Huge demand for low-fat, low-calorie and functional foods is driving demand for a host of additives, including emulsifiers, hydrocolloids, sweeteners, vitamins and minerals, soya ingredients, omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics, prebiotics and plant stanol esters," says the Leatherhead report. The ingredients market is expected to grow by around 2.5 per cent per annum over the next three years, taking total sales to an estimated US$24.5 billion by 2010, it forecasts. The fastest growth sector is likely to be functional food ingredients. Of the more traditional additives, key growth categories are expected to include emulsifiers, enzymes and hydrocolloids. Strong competition from low-cost Chinese additives producers has however severely eroded margins for several additives such as sweeteners, flavour enhancers, acidulants and preservatives. The sweetener aspartame has seen its price decline by around 75 per cent since 1992. Jonathan Thomas, principal market analyst at Leatherhead, says this pressure is set to stay strong in the future. "Demand is rising in China from the end-users as their food industry develops. This means that manufacturers there are producing greater quantities of additives." Companies will increasingly need to specialise to stimulate growth. Many are expected to develop natural ingredients, a fast-growing area that started in flavours but is becoming more apparent across a range of different categories. The food ingredients industry should also benefit from fast growth in emerging markets in Asia and South America.