Dr. Susanne Leonhartsberger, President of WACKER BIOSOLUTIONS (Photo courtesy: Wacker)
WACKER marked its 30th anniversary in China with a celebration on October 11 in Shanghai. During his address, President and CEO Dr. Christian Hartel highlighted the significance of the Chinese market to WACKER. In particular, he pointed out that China has become their largest market over the past three decades.
As one of the four business units of Wacker Chemie AG, WACKER BIOSOLUTIONS has achieved remarkable progress over the last three decades, marked by notable growth in most recent year. Looking back on this impressive journey, what significant milestones has WACKER BIOSOLUTIONS achieved in China over these thirty years? How do they view the ongoing transformations in the Chinese food and beverage market? What are their strategies for the future? Dr. Susanne Leonhartsberger, President of WACKER BIOSOLUTIONS, offers her perspectives.
Revisiting 30 Years of Development
WACKER BIOSOLUTIONS offers complete, tailored solutions based on innovative biotech processes for growth sectors such as food additives, pharmaceutical actives and agrochemicals. Dr. Leonhartsberger explains, “In the realm of food processing, our core product offerings encompass Cysteine, Cyclodextrins, and PVAc solid resins meticulously designed to cater to the production of chewing gum base. Cysteine, for example, plays a pivotal role in the bakery industry as a dough softener. It enhances dough handling and molding, ultimately leading to an increase in loaf volume, thereby elevating both the texture and flavor of the final product.”
WACKER has the capability to manufacture all three naturally occurring cyclodextrins (α-, β- and γ-cyclodextrins), each offering unique applications across a wide range of industries, depending on their specific molecular compositions. Dr. Leonhartsberger provides detailed insights, explaining, “If we look at α-cyclodextrins, for instance, they have a dense structure which proves valuable in improving the texture of coffee and ensuring the stability, creaminess, and lasting froth of milk. On the other hand, γ-cyclodextrins excel at masking flavors and safeguarding light- and oxygen-sensitive components, making them well-suited for incorporation in products that contain functional active ingredients.”
Market consultancy firm Mordor Intelligence forecasts a notable 4.39% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for the global chewing gum market from 2018 to 2028. In China, the chewing gum market has already surged to 13 billion yuan, boasting an impressive market penetration rate of 70%. Dr. Leonhartsberger underscores the significance of this Chinese market expansion, stating, “Given the vast scale of both the global and Chinese chewing gum markets, our primary focus in the food sector has shifted to polyvinyl acetate solid resins.” In response to this soaring demand, WACKER initiated solid resin production at its Wuxi facility in 2004, later relocating this production to their Nanjing site in 2014. This strategic move marked a significant milestone in WACKER BIOSOLUTIONS’ journey of development in China over the past 30 years.
In 2019, WACKER BIOSOLUTIONS established its Shanghai food lab with the aim of bringing them closer to their customers in China and across Asia. Dr. Leonhartsberger elaborates further on recent lab developments, “Within this dedicated facility, a team of scientists and technical experts work diligently to create innovative, new products and applications, all tailored to meet the specific demands of Chinese and Asian consumers. One of the team’s most recent breakthroughs, crafted with a deep understanding of Chinese consumer preferences, is our CAVAMAX® Foam Topping Powder. Introduced in May of this year, this product has been specifically designed for the Chinese ready-to-drink tea and coffee market. This innovation allows for the creation of low-fat or plant-based foam toppings for tea and coffee, lending a smoother and more invigorating taste to these beverages. This achievement stands as yet another notable milestone in our growth and development in China.”
Health and Sustainability: Two key driving forces in China’s food industry
WACKER’s three decades in China have coincided with significant changes in the country’s food industry. Consumer preferences have transitioned from simply meeting basic sustenance requirements to a strong focus on nutrition and health. Product formulations are increasingly embracing more natural ingredients, while processing technology has adopted environmentally friendly and smarter practices. Dr. Leonhartsberger echoes these sentiments and acknowledges the growing health consciousness among Chinese consumers. They are actively seeking more natural and nutritious food ingredients that offer added health benefits, with a particular attraction for personalized and flavorful food products among China’s young consumers.
She explains, “This trend perfectly aligns with WACKER BIOSOLUTIONS’ product strategy. For instance, our newest product, CAVAMAX® Foam Topping Powder, delivers the delicate taste of foam toppings even when combined with plant-based milk or reduced fat content, in line with today’s plant-based and low-fat dietary preferences. Another example is our CAVAMAX® W6 α-cyclodextrin product. Derived from starch through a fermentation process, it can serve as a replacement for eggs and certain fats in baked goods, allowing consumers to reduce their cholesterol and fat intake without compromising the texture and flavor of the final product.”
Environmental concerns, the “dual-carbon” goal, and rising energy costs have made sustainability a crucial issue for the future of the Chinese food industry. Dr. Leonhartsberger describes WACKER’S ongoing efforts in this area, “Sustainability is also a significant focus for WACKER. We have set clear sustainability goals: a 50% reduction in absolute greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and a commitment to achieving Net Zero by 2045.” She goes on to explain, “WACKER is putting forward a series of plans to attain this objective, which includes implementing more stringent evaluations of their suppliers and demanding increased sustainability in their production processes.”
Dr. Leonhartsberger adds, “WACKER BIOSOLUTIONS can make a more significant contribution in this context by transitioning to green energy, much like we’ve done in the production of CAVAMAX® Foam Topping Powder. Our products are rooted in renewable raw materials such as sugar and starch, processed through a biofermentation approach. As a result, our products are inherently sustainable. We are committed to pursuing this direction in our forthcoming product development efforts.”
As the preferences of Chinese consumers increasingly gravitate towards natural, healthy, and nutritious food, China’s food industry stands at a pivotal juncture, marked by transformation and advancement through technological innovation. The development and utilization of modern and cutting-edge biological technologies, including synthetic biology and nutrigenomics, are poised to open up new vistas of possibilities for the food industry. Dr. Leonhartsberger, with her extensive expertise in this field, firmly believes that fermentation represents a powerful technological platform with the potential to steer the future progression of the food industry.
She explains, “Through the selection of beneficial bacterial strains, the fermentation process has the potential to craft products that are not only healthier but also more sustainable. Our R&D team has been actively exploring the production of certain chemically synthesized food ingredients via fermentation to meet the escalating market demand for natural health products.”
Dr. Leonhartsberger also shares insights into their upcoming product development initiatives. She reveals that they are currently in the process of creating an antioxidant curcumin product. Thanks to the incorporation of cyclodextrins, they have managed to markedly enhance its bioavailability. This product can be taken as a dietary supplement and seamlessly incorporated into a variety of food and beverage items. Additionally, there is a new product under development in their Shanghai food lab designed to serve as a cream substitute in cakes and other bakery products. This innovation is set to assist Chinese companies in crafting delicious, low-fat baked goods, in keeping with prevailing market trends.
Looking ahead, Dr. Leonhartsberger concludes, “The robust consumer demand for natural and healthy products is propelling the transformation and advancement of China’s food industry. This presents a significant opportunity for the future expansion of WACKER BIOSOLUTIONS in China. We will persist in our commitment to being natural and sustainable while crafting tailored products that cater to the specific needs of Chinese consumers in our Shanghai food lab. This dedication serves to further enhance our ability to serve the Chinese market.”