Picture: Wacker

“Healthier and sustainable food ingredients from biotech”

As food producers are taking up current health and sustainability trends more and more, the next EFIB (30 September – 2 October, 2019) will see a lot of technology providers and ingredient producers showcasing biotechnological solutions in Brussels. European Biotechnology spoke with Dr Gerhard Schmid, Head, Wacker Biosolutions, about the market, challenges, and growth strategies within the bioeconomy.

EuroBiotech_ What’s the current impact of health and sustainability trends on the food (and agriculture) market?
Schmid_ Eating habits change. More and more consumers in the developed countries are moving away from animal-based food and increasingly prefer plant-based products. The food industry is responding by seeking out new ingredients for proven recipes that will provide the customary taste and reassuring mouthfeel while catering to these trends. A good example of this is vegan burgers, which are made from plant proteins, a hot topic that also provides opportunities for Wacker. In addition, food supplements are particularly popular. Their active ingredients can promote health and prevent chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure. All these trends are leading to an increasing segmentation of the food market.

EuroBiotech_ What is Wacker’s strategy to benefit from these trends?
Schmid_ We are able to manufacture products naturally through fermentation. As a result, we are optimally positioned to serve the vegan trend. As a food-sector partner, Wacker supplies ingredients for a wide range of products, including beverages, dairy products, and baked goods. Innovative solutions that respond to the food and nutrition industry‘s current challenges: Cyclodextrins from Wacker, for example, ensure perfect, egg-free cakes. We developed a nature-identical plant antioxidant that can help strengthen the immune system and lower cholesterol levels as a dietary supplement. A further key auxiliary for food applications and, thus, also for the food business unit is cysteine. Wacker is the first company in the world to manufacture an amino acid by fermentation – thanks to a patented biotech process.

EuroBiotech_ What is the benefit of fermentative production from bio-based resources in terms of sustainability vs extraction from animal-derived raw materials?
Schmid_ The advantages of fermentative production are shown very clearly by cysteine: Traditionally, cysteine has been produced by extraction from human and animal-based raw materials, such as hair, feathers, and bristles. This process is very labour intensive and uses significant amounts of hydrochloric acid. The process that Wacker has developed, is vegetarian-grade and, at the same time, eliminates the need for large quantities of hydrochloric acid. That’s why we received the Environmental Award from the Federation of German Industries (BDI) for this process.

EuroBiotech_ How did competition change in this food market segment and what is Wacker’s strategy to assure long-term growth?
Schmid_ The food market is an important pillar for us. It is non-cyclical, growing, and open for innovation. Health, convenience, and sustainability are growing food-market trends. Competition is increasing. We have been successfully following the mega­trend of healthy nutrition for several years now. In the future, we will continue to focus on our customers’ needs by being innovative. We take products that are already on the market but have been chemically produced thus far and develop processes to produce them naturally.

Dr Gerhard Schmid, born in 1954, has been head of the Wacker Biosolution business division since 2010. The microbiologist joined Wacker in 1984. As head of Biotechnology Research, he started laying down the foundations and processes for all of the Group’s key biotech products from 1988 on. In 2005, he was appointed head of the Wacker Fine Chemicals business division, which he reorganized and renamed Wacker Biosolution not long thereafter.

First publishd in European Biotechnology, Summer 2019 Edition