Review highlights challenges around natural preservative developments

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food preservation, Preservative, Leatherhead food research

The difficulty in defining a ‘natural’ preservative and the lack of comparable alternatives to synthetics means the ‘no added preservative’ claim will remain relevant only for sectors that can afford to remove their preservatives, such as foods with a short shelf life, finds a review.

Indeed 'natural' preservatives remain difficult to define scientifically as much of the processes involved in the extraction of antimicrobials, for example, compromise the ‘naturalness’ of the finished product, claims Leatherhead Food Research in its latest research, Current & Future Trends in Food Preservatives:Market & Technical Insights​.

The future of synthetic preservatives is a subject which is currently under debate.

Some preservatives such as nitrites have been linked with adverse health conditions, a situation not helped by a generally negative public perception. Increased consumer concern in this area has been ratcheting up the pressure on food manufacturers to address this issue.

Some sections of the food sector have either completey removed preservatives or have adopted the more ‘natural’ alternatives. As a result of the latter, there has been a strong interest in naturally produced antimicrobial compounds.

But the UK researchers note that the scientific ambiguity which exists in terms of defining natural methods of preservation presents “considerable difficulty for manufacturers seeking a more appealing method of preservation.”

This, coupled with the early stage of development of scientific research into antimicrobial preservation methods, is one major reason why companies have chosen to omit a preservative rather than include a more ‘natural’ one, finds the Leatherhead report.

But there is no denying that the potential rewards for more natural methods of preservation are huge, said Leatherhead. “It is, therefore, no surprise to learn that preservatives suppliers are focussed on providing these types of natural alternatives to suit manufacturer’s needs,” ​remark the researchers

They note that Danisco, Purac, Chisso and DSM all produce ranges of natural antimicrobials, with Danisco reporting double-digit growth for its range of natural preservatives in 2010.

That company claims that future investments will focus on assessing the efficacy of fruit and plant extract oils to ascertain their antimicrobial benefit. Purac also reports similar levels of growth, and stresses the importance of balancing levels of investment against sustainability, health and cost.

Leatherhead predicts that the global preservatives market including organic varieties such as sorbic acid, as well as nitrites, will be worth $1.38bn in 2012. Its projections for 2015 put the market at a value of $1.43bn.

It expects that value growth in the preservatives sector is likely to be heavily influenced by price with market entry by low-cost Chinese producers heightening the competitive nature of the industry.

The increasing importance of the Chinese supply chain, in addition to suppliers located within other emerging economies, is likely to continue to drive prices down, with growing concerns over cheap imports and market flooding.”

Related topics: Science

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