Cargill is seeking the go ahead for its Regenasure vegetarian glucosamine hydrochloride to be used in functional beverages, which would open up a whole new area for the joint health market in Europe.
Regenasure is produced from chitin that comes from the fungal microorganism Aspergillus niger and, as far as the company is aware, is the only non-shellfish glucosamine hydrochloride on the market.
The ingredient has been widely used in dietary supplements since 2004. But according to Cargill's novel foods application to the UK's Food Standards Agency, no glucosamine of any source is presently used in beverages marketed in Europe . If approved, the application will open up a whole new market for the ingredient.
Cargill is proposing that Regenasure be used in fruit juices and juice products including tomato, tomato mixtures and fruit smoothies; dehydrated instant drink mixes; and fermented milk-based products like yoghurts and fromage frais; sports drinks; and iced teas.
The idea brings together two sectors of the market that have been growing apace in recent years.
Glucosamine is a building block of proteins called glycosaminoglycans, which are part of the structure of cartilage. According to Mintel's Global New Products Database, glucosamine is contained in almost half of all joint health supplements launched since 2000.
There has been a steady trickle of healthy beverages coming to market, such as orange juices containing cholesterol-lowering plant sterols from Tropicana and Minute Maid, and Provexis' tomato-based heart health drink Sirco.
Leatherhead Food International valued the global functional soft drinks category at US$6.9bn in 2005 (using a broad definition of healthy products) and says it is growing rapidly - although the largest markets are Japan and the US, with Europe much less developed.
Likewise, milk-based drinks have proved popular carriers for functional ingredients like sterols and probiotic bacteria.
With this groundwork in place, it may not take too much of a leap in consumer imagination to take joint health ingredients in liquid form, too. The products Cargill is envisaging is "intended for population groups that seek nutritional supplementation to maintain joint health," it said. "Typically these groups include older people, sportsmen and women." Drinks may be particularly suitable for people who prefer not to take tablets or capsules, or who are seeking an easier way to incorporate joint care into their daily lives.
Cargill obtained in 2004 an expert opinion confirming that Regenasure is substantially equivalent to shellfish glucosamine hydrochloride when used in food supplements and foods for particular nutritional purposes.
But it decided to submit a full novel foods application for Regenasure's use in drinks because no such products are presently available in Europe with any source of glucosamine. Thus, it said, "the pattern of consumption would be new".
Its application is based largely on scientific evidence for a safe dose of the ingredient, citing clinical studies that took place over periods from 21 days to three years. Most used a dose of around 1500 mg/day, but some doses reported were as high as 3200 mg/day.
Cargill is proposing 750mg of Regenasure per daily serving of beverage products.
"Based on intakes provided it can be clearly seen that, for the proposed food used of Regenasure in specific beverages and fermented milk-based products, aimed at the nutritional support of joint health, the safe end-points of both animal and human safety would clearly not be exceeded by consumption of Regenasure at the recommended maximum uses levels," Cargill has concluded.