Cleared for US, Australian, New Zealand and Korean markets, the sweetener used in a range of food and beverage formulations from breakfast cereals to carbonated soft drinks, has yet to be approved by Europe; but with the dossier underway, the ingredients division of Denmark's Arla Foods firm is expecting clearance "within this year".
SweetGredients, a joint venture of Arla Foods and German sugar giant Nordzucker, produce the prebiotic sweetener made from milk sugar lactose.
Invented by US firm Spherix, tagatose costs about three times the price of sugar and is used in combination with a high intensity sweetener such as aspartame, acesulfame-K or sucralose.
In 1996 Denmark's MD Foods (subsequently taken over by Arla Foods) acquired the rights to tagatose; and today the product is manufactured and sold under the brand name Gaio tagatose for food and beverage uses under license by Arla Foods Ingredients.
Ingredients firms looking to bolster squeezed margins are developing and pushing their range of value-added products. The competitive sweeteners market is enjoying particularly strong growth on the back of mounting health and weight concerns - driving consumers towards reduced calorie formulations. Parallel to a 10 per cent fall in sugar sales, over the past five years, for example, the UK market for artificial sweeteners rose by some 12 per cent.
Market analysts Freedonia predict growth of intensity sweeteners at around 8.3 per cent year on year until 2008, with sales rising from a small base of $81m (€60m) in 1998 to $189m (€140m) in 2008.
Acting on behalf of Arla Food Ingredients, Bioresco has applied to the UK's Food Standards Agency for approval of tagatose into Europe under the Novel Foods Regulation (EC) No 258/97.
Before any new food product can be introduced onto the European market it must be rigorously assessed for safety. In the UK, the assessment of novel foods is carried out by an independent committee of scientists appointed by the FSA, the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP).
The FSA said last week that any comments on the tagatose application should be sent to the ACNFP Secretariat by 29 March 2005, to be passed to the committee before it finalises its opinion on this novel food.
Speaking to FoodNavigator.com last year, Mads Vigh, commercial director of tagatose at Arla Foods said new findings suggest tagatose has the ability to improve a flavour's profile.
In December last year the firm teamed up with German flavour house Symrise to trial new flavour systems that they say could bring cost savings to food manufacturers in their flavour formulations.
The low cal sweetener about three times the price of sugar can be added to flavour systems in quantities at less than 1 per cent. In certain confectionery flavour systems on trial the tagatose addition has cut total system costs from between 5 and 10 per cent, suggests the firm.
In addition to improving the flavour profile, Vigh suggests that because of the synergies identified between tagatose and high intensity sweeteners, food makers could also cut their quantities of these higher priced sweeteners.
Per pound high intensity sweeteners are considerably more expensive than tagatose (about $2.5 per pound), although food formulators use less in their recipes.
The Symrise-SweetGredients collaboration will initially kick off with studies on yoghurt, diet drinks and low glycaemic applications. Recent science has highlighted tagatose's low glycaemic (GI) response, an index increasingly used by dieters as a form of carbohydrate control. A low GI food will cause a small rise in blood sugar levels, whereas a higher GI food may trigger a large increase.
The link up will begin in the US, where tagatose is approved and already enjoying a certain success since market entry in 2003. Cashing in on the growing low carbohydrate fad number one global retailer Walmart recently announced it would emblazon the Gaio tagatose logo on the packaging of a new range of juices on sale in its stores.
In October 2003 the European Commission gave the thumbs up to a joint venture between Arla Foods Ingredients and Nordzucker, to bring tagatose to the marketplace.
The clearance came just a few months after the two companies christened their first tagatose plant for production of this full-bulk sweetener in Germany on the site of Nordzucker's sugar plant near Hanover.