French acacia gum major Alland & Robert has announced plans to invest €11m at its site in Normandy, to increase capacity by around 9,000 tons per year – taking total annual production to close to 30,000 tons.
A total of 8,000m² will be added to the company’s Saint Aubin sur Gaillon site to house a fourth production line. The expansion is expected to kickstart next year, with opening scheduled for the end of 2022.
According to the company, this 45% boost in capacity responds to ‘sharply increasing’ global demand for the food ingredient.
Global demand on the rise
Acacia gum, or food additive E414, is used by food and beverage manufacturers as a natural texturizing agent, emulsifier, stabiliser, and fibre. Family-run Alland & Robert sources the exudate from countries that make up the African ‘gum belt’, including Chad, Sudan, Nigeria, Mali, Senegal, and Ethiopia.
E414 is produced by cutting the outer layers of the acacia branch in a process known as ‘tapping’. To prevent further moisture loss in these arid climates, the tree exudes gum to form a nodule on the tree. The gum is harvested by local workers, before being sent to Alland & Robert’s factory in northern France for processing.
“The global demand for consumer goods is rising, and acacia gum is widely used in those fast-moving F&B product,” Alland & Robert’s marketing manager, Violaine Fauvarque told FoodNavigator.
“This effect is intensified by the COVID pandemic, when part of the world’s population must stay at home and cannot access restaurants or bars. In addition, the usage of acacia gum is constantly evolving and new applications are developed by our R&D team – which widens the scope for acacia gum.”
Soft drinks, confectionery, plant-based…
Acacia gum is both colourless and odourless, and has been known to extend products’ shelf life and improve mouthfeel.
While soft drinks remain a major category for acacia gum applications, Fauvarque highlighted flavours and confectionery as two other key focus areas. “They are the traditional main categories for acacia gum,” we were told, “however, new usages such as the fibre application in dietary products, in vegan products, or for sugar reduction, are growing.”
Plant-based is another growth area for the business. “Our R&D team focuses on plant-based desserts, like cream and yogurt alternatives. Acacia gum is definitely a part of new reformulation, thanks to its versatility and the role it can play as a texture agent and stabiliser,” the marketing lead continued.
Another category on the rise is meat alternatives, which Fauvarque said has ‘exploded’ over the past five years – showing ‘no sign of slowing down’.
“Our customers who work on these formulations are now targeting meat consumers, instead of the vegetarians [they were targeting] only a few years ago. They have made amazing progress on imitating meat, rather than ‘just’ replacing it with plant-based proteins.
“Now meat substitutes look, smell and taste like meat: very strong research on texturisers has been necessary to achieve this. And acacia gum is playing an important role: it is commonly used in meat analogues as a water retention agent and for cohesion, texture and fibre.”
The COVID pandemic has also accelerated the health and wellness trend, particularly in Europe and North America, we were told, which is driving customer demand for ‘clean label’ ingredients.
“More and more consumers prioritise their mental and physical health in 2020, as a way to cope with the current anxiety and uncertainties that surround us.”
Growth amid a pandemic
Of the latest investment, President Frédéric Alland (the great-great-grandson of company co-founder Francisque Alland) highlighted it will contribute to earlier investments made by the firm to improve its Normandy site.
“This new investment comes on top of our €3m already invested in 2020 and 2021 to improve our existing production facilities.”
Alland also indicated the company has managed to successfully ride out the first wave of COVID-19, and is on track for year-on-year growth. “We are happy the COVID-19 crisis hasn’t slowed down our project: for 2020, we estimate our turnover should increase by approximately 8%. It was €45m in 2019.”