The increasing number of vegans and vegetarians across the globe has prompted various substitutes for animal-based products such as gelatin in the food industry. Gelatin, once highly popular and a crucial ingredient for baked goods, desserts, confectionaries and similar items, is now considered by many as “non-vegetarian” since it is derived from animal sources.
These factors have driven the demand for substitutes of gelatin, including agar-agar gum. The gum is derived from seaweed, extracted and processed under stringent conditions to produce powders, squares or strips which may be utilized directly in cooking or baking applications.
The industry is likely to be hampered by dwindling seaweed supply as a result of restrictions on harvests of Gelidium seaweed in Morocco, that has created a global shortage of seaweed for microbiological laboratories. The shortage is largely attributed to newly enforced trade restrictions on the raw material, owing to environmental concerns associated with algae exhaustion.
Competition has also risen exponentially for purified agar, owing to its increasing demand in the food industry, which has created a shortfall in the supply for microbiological applications in the recent past.
However, increasing strategic alliances and the discovery of new micro-bacterial compounds in the soil have created a positive outlook for agar development and supply. Companies are also attempting to cultivate seaweed themselves, in an attempt to streamline their procurement and integrate themselves into raw material production along the value chain.
The industry also contributes largely to employment generation in rural areas, since the seaweed is washed ashore in places such as Spain, Portugal, Mexico, Chile, South Africa and Japan. Numerous women workers who do not participate in other community fishing activities actively take part in seaweed harvesting and collecting, which is a major driver for its expansion in these rural regions.
Major product forms include powders, squares, and strips, of which powders emerged as a dominant segment. The growing demand for antibiotics, baked goods, and other items manufactured using agar powders has contributed significantly to segment growth.
Cultivated Seaweed Production: Top 10 Countries
Food applications remain dominant, with confectionaries accounting for over 33% of the volume in 2015. The bakery & pastry segment is also anticipated to grow over the near future, owing to increasing consumption of non-fried foods to combat rising obesity levels across the globe.
Key companies such as TIC Gums and AEP Colloids are actively investing in R&D and supply chain management to improve their existing portfolio and boost the properties of these and other gums. Newer agar-agar gums facilitate quicker setting time and flexibility with a reduction in glaze chipping and cracking, making it ideal for high temperature cooking applications.
In-depth report on global agar-agar gum market by Grand View Research:
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