Food engineers hit sweet spot with Nucane

January 2018… 2/3
A wide variety of food products could be made with dramatically lower sugar levels after an Australian technology firm secured a landmark partnership with two of the world’s leading food engineering companies and NSW sugar growers. The development has the potential to deliver a market-led response to high obesity rates and poor nutrition around the world. In Australia, it may also help circumvent a political stalemate over the role of governments in guiding consumer dietary choices. Health groups have long called for the introduction of a sugar tax to make soft drinks, in particular, less affordable, but the Coalition and Labor favour other approaches. The firm known as Nutrition Innovation Group, the brainchild of Sydney food scientist David Kannar, has developed a manufacturing process that delivers a healthier, low-GI industrial sugar known as Nucane that can be used by food manufacturers as a substitute for refined sugar. While Dr Kannar has been promising his process can change the world for more than a decade, Nutrition Innovation has now struck a series of agreements with heavyweight global and local players. They include international food engineering companies Foss and Schneider Electric, who install production technology in sugar mills all over the world, and Sunshine Sugar, a joint partnership between Manildra and sugar growers in NSW that operate in the NSW Sugar Co-operative. Sunshine Sugar chief executive Chris Connors said the group was preparing its Condong food-grade sugar mill on the Tweed River in northern NSW for the industrial-scale production of Nucane. “This is just a part of our business strategy. We are looking to diversify our income streams and not be just a producer of white crystal sugar,’’ Mr Connor said. “We are a raw sugar food-grade factory so this technology fits straight into our production arrangements.” Infrared technology with a proprietary algorithm developed by Nutrition Innovation allows the naturally occurring minerals found in cane sugar such as calcium, magnesium and potassium to be retained in the production process. It produces 100 per cent cane sugar that has the same taste and texture as regular white sugar, but a significantly lower GI. The sugar has been certified as low-GI to the World Health Organisation’s standards. “It (Nucane) is going to have a place in the world sugar market. There is no doubt about that. There will be strong support out of the health industry and from customers themselves. We are particularly focusing on the industrial side of it — in terms of supplying to ingredient businesses,’’ Mr Connors said. “I can see us in Australia leading the way initially on this and the world following. This is all about ensuring the sustainability of our growers.” The Australian Medical Association recently repeated its call for a sugar tax, claiming one in five Australians died from conditions related to poor diet and said it was “not an exaggeration to call sugar a killer”. The obesity rate among Australian adults increased from 19 per cent in 1995 to 28 per cent in 2014-15, with the high sugar contents in cheap soft drinks and processed foods cited by health groups as cause for alarm. A spokesman for Health Minister Greg Hunt said fresh fruit and vegetables were already cheaper due to the absence of the GST and “we don’t believe increasing the family grocery bill at the supermarket is the answer to this challenge”.

Dr Kannar, whose brother died during the development of Nucane after a battle with diabetes, said the product was designed for industrial customers in many supermarket staples. “We have a range of customers in trial in categories as diverse as beverages, fruit juice, canned products, flavoured milks, soy milk, yoghurts, breads, baked goods, ice-cream, confectionary, chocolates, sauces and quick service restaurants,’’ he said. “We additionally have customers in discussion or testing the product in Australia, Thailand, France, the US, the UK and Singapore ... we can scale rapidly to any mill in the world that accepts the technology and has food grade sugar mills.” He said Nutrition Innovation was also in talks with some supermarket operators on how their home-brand goods from baked goods to sauces could be made with Nucane to give them a competitive advantage. Foss instrumentation has been used in the sugar industry since 1999. As part of Nutrition Innovation’s partnership with Sunshine Sugar, Foss and Schneider-Electric will ensure the Nucane technology is installed, maintained, updated and configured to specification. Paul Slupecki, Foss’s vice-president sales and marketing for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said the two firms would help increase capacity to other milling sites as demand for Nucane increased. “We have our first production trial running in Australia at Condong. It is going extremely well. There is a lot of interest in Australia and Southeast Asia where sugar is such a big part of the economies. As well as Brazil. Both Foss and Schneider have big and strong footprints in those regions,’’ he said. Mr Slupecki said Thailand was the first focus of the partners, given that as many as 50 sugar mills were set to be built there over the coming years. “To help make the world a healthier place, we have global ambition for Nucane. We aim to make it available to food and beverage manufacturers in all major markets,’’ said Nutrition Innovation CEO Matthew Godfrey. “Importantly, six out of the top 10 sugar cane producing countries in the world are in Asia. Therefore, while Australia is the market that is leading Nucane (and has clear export opportunities) to reach our goals, we need to have a strong Asian supply of Nucane. Markets like Thailand and India are major global exporters of cane sugar, while Indonesia and China have significant total consumption,” he said.
Chris Connors nucane
Photograph by Natalie Grono

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