Chicago Sweeteners is to become the distributor for FiberGel Technologies' Z-Trim as the company starts to scale up production of the fat replacer.
Z-Trim, according to the manufacturers, is a natural, zero calorie fat replacement that reduces calories and increases healthy insoluble fiber in a variety of products without altering the food's original taste.
Designed to be used not as a fat 'substitute' but as a fat replacement, the GRAS status product comes as a fine powder and can be used as either powder or gel. The gel is created from combining the powder with water.
One of its major advantages, according to the makers, is its high fiber content which can aid digestion as long as it is eaten in normal quantities.
"A diet is a punishment, people don't want to give up the foods they enjoy," said Greg Halpern, "Z-Trim allows these people to eat what they want and lose weight." Moreover, the product is supposed to improve the flavor of certain foods by adding more texture to the product.Z-Trim can replace up to half the fat in foods, but Halpern says they would never suggest replacing more fat than this as "fat helps the distribution of essential nutrients in the body."
The fat replacer can pretty much be used in all foods, both savoury and sweet, from brownies and cakes, to burgers and sausages. As an example, Halpern cited a meal of lasagne, garlic bread and salad with dressing, followed by brownies and cheese cake he had consumed recently with some Japanese guests.
"Eaten as the original receipe it would have contained 1500 calories, with Z-Trim, it contained 985 calories."
According to Halpern, most of the major food companies are using Z-Trim in "pilot or research projects and some are developing new products."
Nobody, however, has the product on the shelves yet - Halpern expects a range of them to appear in the summer/fall of 2005.
The company has no public sales figures, though Haplern thinks things are going "quite well". The first indication of whether this is the case will be towards the end of March when the company releases its year end results. But, Halpern doesn't think any real progress will be revealed until the first quarter results come out in May.
The company opened a new plant in August last year, but has only recently begun producing significantly. The plant switches between corn and wheat production - the corn being a problem for exports to Europe. Halpern said the corn is non-GMO, but the company is having problems finding anyone to certify it as such.
He added that this is a model plant and that in the future the company hopes to set up a plant in each firm using the Z-Trim product, where the ingredient will be made under licence, which would keep costs down. Such a plant, according to Halpern, could be up and running in as little as six months.
"Customers have to pay a 35 percent premium charge for us to dry the product and then they rehydrate it. It would be better if they could make the gel themselves."
This could make the ingredient more attractive to food manufacturers, especially as Halpern claims that Z-Trim is already around 20 percent less expensive than the average price of other fats. As an estimate, a customer buying 40 000 pounds of the powder concentration a month would pay around $5 a pound, "though there is a sliding scale depending on the amount purchased."
"The current pricing levels don't go below $5.75 a pound," said Halpern, adding that people thought the ingredient would be a commodity, but it is in fact sold as a speciality.