PETALING JAYA: Local palm oil producers should focus on developing palm phytonutrient-based products, which have lately attracted good demand from the global nutraceuticals market.
The proven scientific health benefits of palm phytonutrients such as tocotrienols and carotenoids also bodes well with the growing health awareness and food safety concerns, which have led more consumers and manufacturers worldwide to source for natural, preservative-free and non-GMO ingredients in their products.
Two leading players – Hovid Bhd managing director David Ho and Carotino Sdn Bhd executive director U.R. Unnithan – shared their views with StarBiz recently on the latest development in the palm phytonutrient sphere.
According to Ho, demand for palm phytonutrients in the nutraceutical segment was increasing but “still at its infancy stage.”
The global tocotrienols (mainly palm tocotrienols) market is estimated at 45 to 55 tonnes in 2015.
Ho: ‘More demand for palm phytonutrients in the nutraceutical segment.’
However, it is projected to grow by about 8%-12% in the next three years, reaching about 70 to 80 tonnes (US$28mil to US$32mil).
This is unlike the conventional vitamin E alpha-tocopherol and beta-carotene markets, which are well developed.
The global consumption of tocopherol is on the rise at an estimated 10,900 tonnes in 2013 compared to 10,300 tonnes in 2012.
By 2020, the volume is projected to grow to 18,100 tonnes thereby generating a compounded annual growth rate of 7.3% between 2012 and 2020. This is a clear indicator of potential for tocotrienol.
As the tocotrienol market is still in its infancy, Ho said: “These numbers show a significant potential for palm tocotrienols provided that hurdles such as regulatory approval, clinical studies and consumer awareness are addressed immediately.”
Meanwhile, Unnithan said the health properties of palm phytonutrients were unique with crude palm oil (CPO) and refined red palm oil (RPO) having the richest source of natural carotenoids.
Unnithan said the invention of a patented refining process for the refining of CPO to RPO based on the pioneering work by Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) and later by Carotino Group on a commercial scale in early 1990s led to the extraction of palm phytonutrients.
Today, natural palm carotenes in 20% and 30% concentration and palm tocotrienols in 50%, 70% and 92% are sold in the main markets in advanced countries such as the US, Japan and the European Union.
Last year, the global nutraceutical market is estimated to be US$182.6bil and expected to reach US$278.96bil by 2021.
Healthy palm oil
To counter the negative perception on phytonutrients, Ho and Unnithan concurred that more educational, nutritional and clinical efforts by the oil palm industry were needed.
Ho said phytonutrients such as palm tocotrienols and carotenes were the crown jewels of palm oil for promoting important health benefits.
Unnithan, meanwhile, said the negative perception on palm oil impact on environment, to an extent, has been overcome by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) movement.
“We at Carotino are able to offer palm nutraceuticals that are RSPO MB (Mass Balance) and even IP (Identity Preserved) certified.
Another good initiative is the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil standard that also offers credibility to Malaysia as a country to produce sustainable palm oil.
On the drive by several large multi-national food and beverage manufacturers such as Nestle, General Mills, Kraft to reformulate their products with natural colours and flavours, Ho noted that palm carotenoids has huge potential for its application as natural food colour to replace synthetic colours.
The overall natural food colourant market is projected to increase to US$1.7bil in 2020, from US$1.14bil in 2014.
Hovid, being the pioneer and largest producer of palm nutraceuticals in the market, is taking the initiative to convince MPOB to get palm carotenoids officially approved by the US Food and Drug Administrative as a food additive and food colourant.
On collaborative efforts between the public-private sector, Ho cited the Tocotrienol Industry Consortium set up by MPOB and relevant tocotrienol manufacturers including Hovid.
“The consortium is developing a comprehensive dossier with supporting safely analytical data of palm tocotrienol complex that will be submitted to the CODEX Alimentarius for review and approval to enable palm tocotrienol obtain global status as a safe food and supplement ingredient,” he added.
Efforts were also underway to get tocotrienol officially registered with the authority in China, which would open up a huge market for palm tocotrienols, Ho pointed out.
In the US, Hovid is collaborating with the Malaysian Palm Oil Council to increase the awareness of palm products (including tocotrinols and carotenoid) there.
Unnithan said Carotino also has a good R&D collaboration and commercialisation effort with the MPOB.
Through the government’s National Transformation Pro-gramme, several projects to commercialise palm phytonutrients have been partially funded.
In addition, funding has also been received for conducting clinical trials with select universities and research institutions worldwide to bring out positive evidence on the health benefits of palm phytonutrients, said Unnithan.
Ho added that the funding for clinical trials was important to develop future demand for palm phytonutrients.
“Unlike large pharmaceutical companies, smaller palm phytonutrient companies do not have the funds to support large scale clinical trials or marketing campaigns,” he added.
Under the 11th Malaysia Plan, RM280mil worth of grants are allocated to support palm oil downstream development in oleo derivatives, food and health-based products and clinical trials, with RM50mil being set aside specially for SMEs.
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