NuTein, which exists to convert alfalfa farm products into nutra and pharmaceutical ingredients, has operated a pilot production facility in Cazad, Nebraska, for the past two years, where pre-production trials have indicated that large-scale extraction is viable.
The company has also announced a formal, exclusive agreement with Forage Genetics, a specialist in alfalfa genetics, to identify alfalfa germplasm with higher levels of lutein and manage the crop to ensure that lutein levels are maximized.
It will also develop protocol for the growing and harvesting of alfalfa in compliance with ISO.
Forage has invested an undisclosed sum in NuTein, and at a future date will be issued with one million warrants for the purchase of NuTein stock.
In a statement NuTein president and CEO Todd Leonard said: "This relationship with Forage Genetics is significant, as it addresses the challenges of alfalfa crop management and delivery of the feedstock to the NuTein production sites, to meet NuTein's need to harvest up to 15,000 acres of alfalfa each month at each of our sites across the country."
According to Mintel's Global New Products Database http://www.gnpd.com/sinatra/gnpd&lang=uk/frontpage/ (GNPD), the number of eye health products launched in the US has swelled in the past five years, the most fruitful year being 2003, when 30 new production saw the light of day. More than half of these contained the carotenoid lutein in their formulations.
The figure receded to 18 in 2004, but this was still respectable and in line with 2001 and 2002, which had 17 product launches each. In 2000, just four products came to market.
Driving the trend is increasing awareness of the link between diet and eye disease in old age - something that the aging baby-boomer generation is keen to avoid.
More than 10 million adults in the United States suffer from age-related macula degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of blindness amongst over-55s. AMD is a progressive eye disease that affects the central macula of the eye leaving sufferers with only peripheral vision.
Lutein and zeaxanthin, another dietary carotenoid, are found in the macula and studies have indicated that increased intake of these can help protect against the onset of AMD.
To date, the only source of commercial food grade lutein for human consumption is been marigolds petals; no synthetic lutein has been developed.
Kemin Health has a patent on purified crystalline free lutein in the US and certain other world markets. Other companies, such as Cognis, supply lutein esters, which the body must convert into free lutein before it can be used.
Kemin Health spokesperson Craig Maltby told NutraIngredients-USA.com that Kemin believes its process is very efficient, in terms of the ration of lutein from the marigold source.
The business viability of a company extracting lutein from another source would depend on its extraction efficiency.
NuTein could not be reached to comment on this prior to publication.