Tagatose is a low-calorie, low-GI monosaccharide that can be used as a sugar replacer. When Arla and Nordzucker decided to halt their joint venture to produce tagatose from dairy in 2006, despite having novel foods approval, Belgium-based Nutrilab stepped into the breach and bought up existing stocks.
Arla and Nordzucker said it was not possible to identify a volume potential to justify continued investments. But Nutrilab saw potential to produce the sweetener using an enzymatic process and the raw material galactose, a waste product from a biofuels manufacturing group. It started working towards this goal in August 2007, once Spherix’s patent on the tagatose molecule had expired.
Christian Vastenavond, director of R&D and international operations, told FoodNavigator.com that the Nutrilab plant is ready to start commercial production, but the main barrier is the novel foods go-ahead. Nutrilabs has been putting together scientific documentation for the last two years, and it submitted an 800-page document to the Belgian food safety authority FAVV in late November.
Vastenavond said the company is hoping receive a positive opinion by the end of February, after which it will have to be passed to the European Commission for approval and publication.
“We will be able to start selling in the last trimester of this year,” he said.
In the two to three years production is expected to be around 3000 tonnes a year, “not huge, but an acceptable amount”. In seven to nine years, it should be around 10,000 tonnes.
Since 2006 Nutrilab has been working through the tagatose stocks it bought from Arla and Nordzucker. While the JV’s market approach was top down – marketing the sweetener to food manufacturers for use in products – Nutrilab’s business model is bottom up. It has been creating consumer demand by making its own products tagatose through sub-contractors, which are distributed by its parent company Damhert.
Currently tagatose is used in some 55 products (including chocolate, spreads, cookies, and a table-top sweetener called Tagatesse), which are sold in over 3500 supermarkets in Benelux.
In the last year it has seen 19 per cent growth in sales of these products, which Vastenavond called “substantial”, especially in recession-struck 2009.
For now, however, Nutrilab is not supplying tagatose to any other mexternally, as about a year’s worth remains of the Arla stocks at the current usage level, but no more.
Tagatose is expected to receive another fillip later this year, according to Vastenavond.
Currently, all mono- and di-saccharides used in foods are classified as sugar. However polyols, isomaltulose and tagatose are expected to be excluded from this definition, which will enable tagatose-containing products to make ‘no sugar’ claims.
This change is currently being evaluated by the European Parliament. He added that EFSA has said it will publish its opinion on revalorization of the calorie content of tagatose before the end of May 2010.
Tagatose currently has an official calorie load of 4 kilo calories per gram (kc/g) Scientifically-speaking, however, it is has just 1.5 kc/g.