3 Extending the natural and sustainable scope
Packaging is not the only area where these changing consumer demands impact opportunities. The agricultural-based alternatives to petrochemical detergents fit perfectly into this profile. In this area there are growing ranges of alternative washing and dishwasher powders and bleach type products, such as the Ecover® range (Fig. 4), which again seek to fulfil the needs of the consumer who wishes to source products the production of which are as important as their function.
Paint is another area where the alternative to petrochemical based products is expanding. This is especially important with conventional paints giving off large amounts of volatile organic compounds, which evaporate as the paint dries and cures with several environmental impacts. Various companies, such as Procter & Gamble and Cook Composites and Polymers, have created mixtures of vegetable based materials, e.g. a soya oil and sugar blend that can replace fossil-derived paint resins and reduce hazardous volatiles, be safer to use and produce less waste. In cosmetics the use of starch based products such as sorbitan esters  as emulsifiers, dispersing agents and defoamers enable the finished product to match the desired profile, whilst the pharmaceutical industry also prefers its Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients to be formulated with excipients of botanical origin. A wide range of specialist starch based products can meet the required consistent characteristics to allow dosage forms of improved bio-availability at excellent drug stability.
4 The cycle of influence
The chain of influence spreads across the whole business spectrum: the consumer interest is identified by the retailers, food consumer product and service producers match the demand and the suppliers have to respond. Clearly companies will provide what consumers want and the increasing demand for eco-friendly, natural sourced products grows year on year. This helps to lower concerns that businesses with little interest in the environment will not react since the implication is that if they do not, their business may fail in a growing market. In very basic terms it is therefore easier to persuade a business to make changes that potentially increase profit rather than altruistic concerns about the environment and industrial threats to it.
Thus looking forward businesses meet the demands of Millennials who make purchasing decisions based partly on ‘greenness’ and will accept higher prices for such goods and services. In turn this then provides some common ground between industry and environmentalists as the Millennials groups age and buying power increases. The net effect of all this is clearly that the whole area of green products relentlessly moves from niche towards core, mass market. Legislation also plays a significant part in the picture with a significant increase globally in the number of directives designed to manage resources and limit waste in production. Specific legislation for food contact packaging materials was also seen, which again drive the eco-friendly business opportunities.
5 How has the agro-industry already responded to changed consumer demands?
5.1 The starch industries
These consumer attitude changes led to a renaissance of interest in renewable raw materials for green products processed in recycling systems of minimised water and energy consumption in industries served by starch. A range of new product developments resulted for example in paper and board:
In-mill enzyme starch conversion for paper surface treatment and paper processing;
Semi-dry produced cationic starch for paper wet-end applications;
Chlorine-free thinned and cross-bonded starches for food and food contact materials;
Thermoplastic starch for biodegradable eco-packaging.
In the food sector health and fitness, natural interests drove consumers to seek low fat, sugar-free but fast and convenient food & drinks for a fitness-trimmed body. The starch industry responded with adequate ingredients for sugar-free/low fat indulgence food, isotonic sports drinks, dietary supplements, OTC Health remedies etc. New product development in this area resulted in e.g.
- Crystalline maltitol and isomalt for sugar-free/non-cariogenic confectionery
- Maltodextrins for isotonic soft drinks and as fat replacer
- Resistant starch, and fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS)
- Vitamin C and direct-compressible (DC) excipients
The interest in the ‘natural’ lifestyle with consumer’s awareness for healthy food and preservation of nature drove the demand for products labelled “bio-”, “eco-” “fair” and “organic” extending it into “natural” or “all-natural” products of sustainable consumption.
The starch industry responded by offering certified organic foods excluding GMO raw materials and chemical treatments of the ingredients. These “clean-label” organic food ingredients increasingly play a role in health related non-food applications such as pharmaceuticals, cosmetics but also in textiles and housing.
In these areas new product developments included
- Enzyme modified starch as gelatine replacement in pharmaceutical capsules;
- Erythritol as pharmaceutical excipient.
5.2 The sugar industries
It is difficult to achieve the same product variety with sugar as with starch. Sucrose is used to some extent in the industry for instance as polyol component to make poly(ether polyols) for the manufacture of polyurethane foams and for the production of sugar esters (emulsifiers). It is also worthy of notice that the biotechnological methods find increasing use for the selective derivatisation, functionalisation and rearrangement of the sucrose molecule .
Short chain fructooligosaccharides (scFOS). (Neosugar®, Actilight®) are obtained enzymatically from sucrose using a fructosyltransferase. ScFOS is used as a health food ingredient with favourable application properties.
– Enzymatic transformation of sucrose with a sucrose mutase, yields isomaltulose, which after hydrogenation yields isomalt that finds use as low caloric and non-cariogenic sugar substitute.