by Christine O'Keefe, Ph.D.
May 18, 2017
Hydrocolloids are found in a wide variety of common products, but most American consumers are not familiar with them or what they are used for. Known as “work horses” of the food and beverage industry, these are more than one trick ponies, and exciting new applications are still being developed for them. One may even help solve a pressing environmental problem.
Consumption of bottled water has increased steadily in the US: in 2015, consumers drank 11.6 billion gallons of bottled water, up over 6% from 2014 levels.
Two-thirds of bottled water comes from single serve containers. In fact, consumption of single serve containers grew at a faster rate than bottled water overall. Plastic accounts for over 40% of all beverage packaging in 2016. With currently low cost of oil, there is no economic incentive for companies to use any other packaging except plastic.
Despite their popularity, many consumers have concerns about the environmental and health impacts of bottled water. According to Katie Wieser, an Industry Analyst with the Freedonia Group, “Americans are definitely aware of the environmental impact of single-use packaging. Bottled water manufacturers have tried to alleviate these concerns by using lighter weight bottles and increasing the amount of recycled content they use, but in the end there’s just a huge volume of plastic going into landfills. Compounding this issue is the fact that empty bottles take up quite a bit of physical space compared to other packaging that is flat when emptied out.”
Another concern is the chance that the plastic used in many water bottles may release chemicals into the water contained in them, namely bisphenol A, or BPA, and phthalates. Some people believe these chemicals interfere with the normal actions of hormones in the body and can have long term implications for the environment.
In response, Skipping Rocks Lab recently announced the development of Ooho, or water contained in edible packaging. The packaging uses alginate, a hydrocolloid made from seaweed, to enclose the water in a soft shell. Currently, only water is being packaged in this manner, but it’s possible that soft drinks and other beverages could be sold in alginate shells in the future.
Packaging such as this is superior to the plastic used in single serve bottles in many ways. The seaweed shell can be eaten or thrown out. However, unlike plastic bottles, the natural components of the seaweed shell will break down in a few weeks if it’s thrown out.
Because the shell is made from all natural ingredients, there is no chance that harmful chemicals will leach into the water. Additionally, seaweed is a much more sustainable raw material than the oil used in plastic bottles.
Although the future of this particular product is uncertain, it highlights the potential utility of hydrocolloids in non-traditional applications.
For more information on food and beverage hydrocolloids, check out the market research report Food & Beverage Hydrocolloids Market in the US by the Freedonia Group. This comprehensive study offers historical demand data and forecasts for food and beverage hydrocolloids, as well as key market factors, industry structure, company market share, and more.
Christine O’Keefe, Ph.D., is an Industry Analyst at the Freedonia Group, where she focuses on chemical topics and food ingredients.
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