The company, which specialises in brewer's yeast fermented according to the strict German purity law using just malt, water and hops, has over 50 years of history supplying to the animal feed market. But is a relatively recent entrant into food, in the last five years.
Nonetheless, Dr Wilfried Brandl, who heads the food side of the business, told FoodNavigator.com: “We have to enlarge to meet demand.” The new capacity, at its existing base in Bramsche, Germany, is expected to be on-line in April.
The demand is partly a result of customer interest in natural, quality and healthy extracts, claimed Dr Brandl , and partly a facet of the market; manufacturers are tending to prefer yeast extracts to monosodium glutamate and hydrolysed vegetable protein, as they come with clean-label (no E-number) benefits.
According to market analyst Frost & Sullivan, the core commoditised European yeast market was worth €353m in 2007. However specialty extracts – particularly those geared towards health and wellness and clean label applications – represent important investment opportunities.
The news from Leiber follows hot on the heels of big time competitor announcing a 35 per cent increase in its yeast production on the back of growing demand, for which it cited much the same reasons.
As for Leiber's longer term plans, it is likely to expand production into more regions. It already has a daughter company in Poland, but may consider moves into Asia and North America.
Dr Brandl could not give a likely time frame for this, however. “One step at a time,” he said. He did not reveal the level of investment Leiber has made in the German plant expansion.
At present, Leiber employs some 100 people, its Polish entity 23, and it has 50 sales agents working across 25 countries.
Annual turnover for the private, family-owned firm is in the region of €30m, and it ploughs five per cent back into research and development.
Leiber has recently received external recognition for the broad scope of its yeast extract range, which Dr Brandl called “a painter’s palate” that can cater to different taste, regional and cultural requirements.
Earlier this month it received Frost & Sullivan’s 2008 European Yeast Product Line Excellence Award.
In addition to tapping the flavour and taste enhancing possibilities of yeast, Leiber also exploits the health attributes of brewer's yeast, which is rich in B vitamins, and beta glucan, for use in functional foods.
One part of the award was for being on the front line in biotech research, Dr Brandl said. Leiber works in cooperation with external experts, including a well-known professor based in the Bramsche region and the German food technology institute.
It was also recognised for its energy efficiency. It takes the waste water from the fermentation process and passes it through biogas machinery. The electricity it produces is then sold to electricity companies.