Obtained from Acacia trees in the gum belt that stretches from Senegal to Sudan, political and climatic factors have impacted the price of gum arabic, the 'Rolls Royce' of gums, in recent years.
But Alfred L. Wolff insists that stocks are, and always have been, available to guarantee supplies to the industry.
Seeking to quash suggestions that there is not enough gum arabic to meet industry demand Anita Bénech at Alfred L. Wolff tells FoodNavigator.com: "There is gum arabic, firms just need to ask the right person."
Diversifying their sources across several countries in the African producing belt, Benech claims that Alfred L. Wolff estimates annual demand at about 5000 tonnes, available to manufacturers either as crude gum or specialised.
Gum arabic, also known as acacia gum (E414 in the EU), is widely used by the food and beverage industry; particularly in confectionery categories, where it is included to delay or prevent sugar crystallisation and to emulsify fat.
Wherever film-forming and emulsifiying properties are needed - without affecting taste orviscosity - gum arabic can often be found. The emulsification properties of gum arabic are also used in various flavour emulsions.
Food and drink makers do have alternatives available in the form of gelatine and modified starches. Working in an increasingly tough environment, impacted by squeezed margins and growing consolidation, a new level of competitiveness appears to be opening up as starch and gelatine suppliers push to compete with gum arabic.
Faced with a step up in competition and eroding market share, gum arabic suppliers like French firm CNI and Germany's Alfred L Wolff have poured resources into campaigns to defend their product, both on availability and properties.
Price and properties are pivotal, with both gelatine and starch products undercutting gum arabic in price. But for gum arabic suppliers, their ingredient has 'value-added' strengths compared to the alternatives on the market.
"Food and beverage companies use gum arabic, and have always used gum arabic, because of its polyvant properties that are quite different from alternatives," says Benech.
A reduced gum acacia crop in 2002/03 in all the producing countries, especially in Nigeria (10 per cent of world exports), pushed up prices for this gum during 2003. According to gum arabic supplier the Agriproducts group, gum prices increased rapidly by 25 per cent to 30 per cent between March and May in 2003, quickly exhausting stocks in Nigeria, and then in Chad.
But since Spring 2004 prices have remained fairly stable seeing only slight fluctuations. Observers estimate gum arabic to be currently in the region of $4,000 a tonne.
Derived from two acaciaspecies; acacia senegal and acacia seyal: senegal sells for about $3 a pound, and seyal (used by the confectionery industry) at about half this price.
Sudan, the largest exporter, produces 25, 000 tonnes of acacia gum annually followed by Chad 10,000 then Nigeria whose production fluctuates between 3,000 to 5,000 tonnes.