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Boost to sunflower lecithin use expected with Cargill entry

By Jess Halliday , 18-Nov-2008

Cargill is launching its first ever lecithin from sunflower, which it expects to attract interest from manufacturers pursuing allergen-free claims and to prove particularly popular for confectionery.

The agro-foods giant has a broad range of lecithin of varying quality grades, which it brought together in its Lecithin Toolbox last year. However until now all of its lecithin has been derived from soy.

Unlike soy lecithin, the sunflower lecithin – which is called Topcithin SF and comes in at the premium end of the range – does not need to be labelled as an allergen.

The new ingredient is strictly segregated throughout its production to avoid contamination with potential allergens, such as soy and rape. The crushing takes place at Cargill’s plant in Donetsk, Ukraine, and the processing on a dedicated line in Vigonza, Italy.

It is also guaranteed GM-free, so is kept well away from any genetically modified material – an area increasing concern for soy-derived materials.

In a recent interview with FoodNavigator.com Lorna Macfadyen, confectionery category manager at Cargill Texturizing Solutions, said that the initial offering is a fluid lecithin, but this will be expanded to more forms, such as fractionated and de-oiled, over the next two to three years.

A major use is expected to be in confectionery, where lecithin performs an important emulsifying function. Lecithin can also enable less use of cocoa butter, depending on technology limitations, the type of chocolate, and regulations.

Macfadyen did note, however, that in order to make the allergen-free claim chocolate products would also have to be made in a milk and nut-free environment, too.

Lecithin is also used in chewing gum to keep it moist, and to help keep toffees and other sweets chewy and homogenous.

Natural replacement

Cargill would expect to see a proportion of soy lecithin users more to the sunflower version. Functionality is said to be the same, both in terms of production and in the eating; there is no taste or colour impact, the company claims.

There are already some suppliers of sunflower lecithin active in the market, but because it remains relatively small there are no figures for its market size.

Macfadyen agreed that Cargill’s entry into sunflower “will increase use of sunflower lecithin for sure”.

According to Euromonitor International, the global market volume of lecithin was 140796 tonnes in 2007, and use experienced a compound annual growth rate of 2.5 per cent between 2002 and 2007. This figure relates to all uses, however, not just food.

Sustainable aspects

Cargill is also stressing certain aspects of its latest lecithin offering that are in tune with sustainable working methods.

For instance, the Ukraine plant where the seeds are crushed is partly powered by their hulls, which are used as fuel.

In addition, the sunflowers used are grown only in Europe, which can bring benefits for firms wishing to reduce the import miles associated with raw material sourcing. Much of the world’s soy, by contrast, comes from the Americas.

The initial launch of the sunflower lecithin is in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia Pacific.

Availability in the Americas is expects to follow soon.

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