In an interview with FoodNavigator.com in 2008 Fabrice Bohin, global business director for hydrocolloids at Cargill, warned that raw material prices were on the rise due to climate events and energy prices. He said industry would need to compensate with greater productivity.
In retrospect these remarks were “very visionary”, he said last week. “We have seen more problems with raw materials in the last three years than in the 30 years before”.
Changing temperatures in seaweed producing regions like Indonesia and the Philippines, and diseases, have affected crop yields – and as farmers see their yields drop they consider switching to other, less risky crops like coconuts. This has had a major impact on supplies for carrageenan and alginates.
Citrus fruit, the source of pectin ingredients, is also causing concern. In Latin America crops are up to 40 per cent lower than they were three years ago due to temperature shifts, and commercial growing in the US is also dropping off.
It is not just a matter of shrinking supply, however. Hydrocolloids are used in a growing slate of consumer products – not just food but also, increasingly, cosmetics in place of chemical polymers.
Availability can also be affected by consumer habits. In China not only are more prepared foods containing hydrocolloids eaten, but more seaweed is being eaten in its natural form. Consumption of table lemons, too, creates competition for pectin producers.
Ways to cope
As well as affecting the volume of raw material on the market, different growing conditions also means the functionality of hydrocolloids is altered. This means there is a need for hydrocolloid suppliers to adapt their processes, Bohin explained.
He said that coping with raw material issues requires strong risk management capabilities, crop prediction, and the ability to switch to alternative sources where necessary.
“It has become a very capital intensive industry,” he said, emphasising that companies need critical mass and R&D capabilities.
Bohin agreed that there could be more consolidation in the market amongst companies that lack the cash to be nimble, or do not have the network capabilities to entre into a partnership.
Cargill, meanwhile, has continued to invest in its hydrocolloids production, ploughing between US$10 and 30m into facility upgrades each year, to improve reliability. It recently announced the completion of new upgrades at its Baupte facility in northern France, including a centralised control room and a new bagging line.
Bohin would not comment on whether there are any strategic moves on the cards at Cargill, beyond stating Cargill’s commitment to growth.