Gum market poses challenges

by Jeff Gelski
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Prices for gum ingredients and other hydrocolloids may resemble a wave: rising, cresting, falling. Gum sources, including carrageenan, agar and alginates, also may come from the sea, as in seaweed. Recently, prices for those ingredients have risen.

When choosing gum sources for such applications as tortillas and ice cream, formulators may wish to consider price as well as other factors.

Changing stabilizers such as gums will involve changing a product’s label, but the change also may provide cost savings, such as paying $4 per lb for an ingredient as opposed to $12 per lb, said Jim Mitchell, category manager, chemicals, for International Food Products, in a March 6 webinar titled “Spectacular Stabilizers.”

In the same webinar, Sarah Clemons, product manager, stabilizers, for International Food Products, said companies should have a plan B ready in case the price of a certain gum or hydrocolloid increases dramatically.

For one example, food grade guar gum sold for under $1 a lb before rising in price, reaching nearly $6 per lb in May 2012, although prices have fallen since.

Seaweed sources are rising in price this year, according to the March 13 issue of Hydrocolloid News, a newsletter published by IMR International, a hydrocolloid consulting company in San Diego.

“Tightness in some seaweed supply (is) rumored to have resulted in plant shutdowns or at least curtailed operation,” the newsletter said. “Such rumors have yet to be verified but cannot be ignored. The price of seaweed for agar, alginate and carrageenan extraction has increased dramatically in the last 12 to 18 months.”

Mr. Mitchell said a typhoon hitting the Philippines last year affected carrageenan supply. More than 70% of the world’s carrageenan supply comes from the Philippines, he said.

Joshua Brooks, vice-president of Gum Technology, a business unit of Penford Food Ingredients, said the seaweed market in general has tightened because of poor crops and steady demand.

“The most severe impact has been seen in the supply of agar and alginates, most specifically from Chilean waters,” he said. “Carrageenan costs are also moving higher for material coming from Chile. Carrageenan from the Philippines, even with the occurrence of Typhoon Haiyan in November of 2013, was not impacted as greatly as these other seaweeds.”

Ms. Clemons said carrageenan is used to help suspend insoluble items in a system. Instead of altering the amount of carrageenan or how it is used in a system, formulators should manipulate other ingredients, she said.

“Once the network is made in these delicate systems, you really don’t want to modify those in any way,” she said. “What you can do is look at your overall system and try to manipulate some of the other ingredients that will help to make the overall formulation a less expensive formulation that will still give you the finished product attributes that you’re looking for.”

Aida Prenzno, director of technology for Gum Technology, said carrageenan comes in three main types with different characteristics, which makes them versatile and functional in a range of applications. Carrageenan may be used in dairy desserts, caramel sauces, beverages (both dairy and non-dairy), dips and sauces, instant beverages or other instant dry mixes, meal replacements, meat applications and marinades.

How to replace carrageenan will depend on the application, she said.

“For example, in some instant beverages you could be able to replace carrageenan with a blend of xanthan and cellulose gum to add viscosity and texture,” she said.

Welcome back, guar gum

Two years ago, food and beverage formulators dealt with high guar gum prices because of demand from the oil and gas industry for a process called hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking.” The oil and gas industry then gathered a lot of guar gum inventory, Mr. Mitchell said.

Guar gum is versatile, natural and now once again cost-effective, he said.

Mr. Brooks added, “The pricing for guar gum remains steady. It is still higher than its low of 2011, but compared to 2012 it is significantly lower in price. The oil and gas industries found alternatives to guar in their use in fracking. This reduced demand considerably and brought prices to a more stabilized range.”

During the time of ballooning guar gum prices, some food manufacturers turned to alternatives. They found other gums, such as tara gum, as well as combinations of gums with fiber or starches, may offer a functional improvement and improved texture in many applications, Mr. Brooks said.

“Tara gum typically provides a silkier, smoother mouthfeel than guar,” he said. “With systems incorporating tara or other gums with starch or fiber, overall usage levels can be reduced to provide a cost-effective product that may last longer on the shelf as it is more stable.”

In 2014, however, formulators should stay vigilant on following the prices of certain gums.

“Tara prices are soft even in the face of increasing LBG (locust bean gum) prices, proving they have been more linked to guar prices than LBG prices,” the March 20 issue of Hydrocolloid News said,

Prices are up for locust bean gum and lead times are longer, Mr. Mitchell said.

“You really need to stay in front of your supplier with locust bean,” he said.

Ms. Clemons said locust bean gum may be used to control heat shock in ice cream. It is functional, natural and formulators may manipulate the amount used in applications to save on costs.

Guar gum still may be a better option.

“I foresee that the trend will go back to more guar gum in ice cream products,” Ms. Clemons said.

Penford completes acquisition of Gum Technology

Penford Corp., Centennial, Colo., on March 25 said it had completed its acquisition of Gum Technology Corp., a gum and hydrocolloids blending, services and distribution company serving primarily the food and beverage industries. As a business unit of Penford Food Ingredients, Gum Technology will continue to offer a range of gums and other hydrocolloids in North America and Asia.

“Gum Technology’s product line, culture and approach to the market are aligned with Penford’s and with our efforts to build our specialty ingredients business,” said Tom Malkoski, chief executive officer of Penford Corp. “Both teams are enthusiastic about opportunities to create value for customers through technology, production innovation and technical service.”
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