Functional ingredient manufacturer Beneo plans to increase the production capacity for rice starch at its Wijgmaal facility by 50%.
“Thanks to the investment of €50m at Wijgmaal, the capacity at the plant will be increased by 50% by 2022, with a step-up in capacity already operational in autumn 2020,” Roland Vanhoegaerden, operations managing director speciality rice ingredients, told FoodNavigator.
The company’s current capacity is meeting market demand. However, Beneo expects to see significant growth in the market for rice starches.
“We are at present meeting demand for our rice products. However, with clean and clearer labels increasingly expected by consumers, rice - as an easily recognisable ‘cupboard ingredient’ - is becoming ever more popular with producers. To respond to this, we are expanding our capacity to accommodate growing demand,” Vanhoegaerden noted.
Clean label ingredient finds new applications
Rice is widely considered a recognizable product. According to research from HFI’s global trend study, 61% of consumers view rice starch as a natural product. The ingredient therefore appeals to product developers looking to develop cleaner labels.
“Today one in two consumers are looking at the ingredient list before purchasing a product,” Vanhoegaerden observed, citing data from Haystack Consulting. “They want to know and understand what is included in their products, which is why rice, as a highly recognisable, clean label ingredient, is proving so popular.”
Vanhoegaerden said that this mega-trend is a key reason why Beneo is confident that its investment will pay dividends. “One of the key reasons for our confidence is the ‘clean label’ trend, where food manufacturers are moving away from artificial additives and replacing them with natural alternatives.”
Significantly, demand growth is coming from both 'natural and organic growth' as well as from 'new projects and applications', he revealed.
“Traditionally, rice starch was associated with baby foods and infant cereals, thanks to its ease of digestion and gluten-free properties. However, we are seeing more and more use of it by producers as a way of fine-tuning the texture of baked goods and in confectionery as well as dairy, non-dairy and cereal applications.”
Technical trials by the Beneo Technology Center have shown that clean label rice starch can also play a role in a variety of other applications, including baked goods and products that need to undergo severe processing conditions, such as sauces and dressings.
An alternative to titanium dioxide?
Rice starch is capable of filling the micropores on the surface of coatings for a ‘smoothing effect‘ that delivers a stable result where edges do not crack or splinter. It allows for the 'preservation of a brilliant white colour' for 'months', Beneo suggested.
This could prove particularly appealing to confectioners in Europe because it could serve as an alternative to titanium dioxide, which is used as a colourant to enhance and brighten the colour of white foods and to fill microscopic irregularities in coatings.
Since the beginning of January, the use of titanium dioxide in food has been banned in France. There are expectations that other EU markets may follow suit.
“We are already seeing some major companies looking at rice starch and we will soon have a much larger capacity in place to address this rising demand,” Vanhoegaerden explained.