Magnesium is needed for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body. It helps maintain normal muscle and nerve function, keeps heart rhythm steady, and is important for bone health too. It is also involved in energy metabolism and protein synthesis.
It is used in significantly lower quantities by food and supplement companies than calcium and lags way behind the bone health nutrient in mineral sales. But this trend is starting to change, with major brands increasingly using magnesium in energy drinks and even mainstream foods.
"Demand for magnesium is going up and will in the end become a product like calcium. There is awareness that it is just as important," Ernst Guenther, product manager at Boehringer's fine chemicals division, told NutraIngredients.com.
Guenther added that recent advertising campaigns for magnesium supplements in Germany have also played a role in driving demand for the mineral in the food industry.
"I'm sure things will change and we'll see yoghurts with both magnesium and calcium," added Guenther.
Both the dairy and juice sector have tapped into this trend, introducing a number of new products with added magnesium in the last 12 months. Mintel's Global New Products Database reveals 220 new products highlighting magnesium content this year, compared to only 150 last year, although GNPD director David Jago notes that some of these may be naturally rich in the mineral.
French dairy giant Danone has gone one step further with its new fermented drink Zen, launched on the Belgian and Irish markets this year. The drink's beneficial effects - it is said to help consumers relax in the evening - are directly based on its high magnesium content.
In anticipation of increased demand, Boehringer has produced its first batch of Potassium/Magnesium-L-Aspartate, in a one-to-one ratio. The product is a fully reacted material, rather than a blend, offering formulators more convenient handling.
"Our customers are already buying potassium and magnesium together so we decided to combine them in one product," explained Guenther.
The mineral salt is designed for use in supplements and dietetic foods like energy or sports drinks. Use in traditional foods would require special permission.
The largest privately held pharmaceutical company, Boehringer has an annual turnover of €7.6 billion, although minerals make up one of the smallest lines in the fine chemicals business.
The company reveals little about its market share in minerals but is known to be a leading supplier to Europe's major food and pharmaceutical firms.
"We are specialists in magnesium and potassium aspartate and have certified European Pharmacopeia," added Guenther.