03 Mar 2015 --- Traditionally extracted from crabs and shrimps, Belgian health technology company KitoZyme has discovered a way to extract chitosan and chitin glucan from a vegetable source. It has been supplying the food & beverage industry with this new, non-GMO, non-allergenic source of both fibres since 2011.
Chief executive François Blondel talks to FoodIngredientsFirst about new opportunities in the healthcare sector.
“KitoZyme as a company was formed as a commercial spin-off from the University of Liège in Belgium in 2000,” he explains. Thousands of Euros of research later, in 2011, the company was ready to launch a product made using a chitosan extracted from a vegetable base.
“After ten years of extensive research, KitoZyme was ready to launch products into the weight management, cardiovascular health and digestive health arenas,” says Blondel.
Blondel joined the company in early 2013 with a wealth of experience in the industry, having led a medical device company and experienced the challenges of such a set-up in the marketplace. “I joined the company at the beginning of 2013, as an executive officer,” explains Blondel. “I brought the experience of running a commercial medical device company and foresaw the need to focus on growth areas for KitoZyme.”
Today, KitoZyme has some 50 employees and a recently announced turnover of €5m.
“From a very small base, this represents over 50% growth in two years,” said Blondel “We expect further double digit growth in 2015.”
It was reported in February that the global market for the carbohydrate polymer chitosan is set to reach $4.22bn in 2020 (Transparency Market Research), with market applications as far-reaching as water treatment, biomedicine & pharmaceuticals, food & beverages, cosmetics and agrochemical industries. This is almost exclusively derived from animal sources.
“The products that KitoZyme currently makes are produced by extracting the chitosan out of our vegetable source, which we believe is a unique process that no one is doing elsewhere in the world. We operate in the areas of weight management, digestive health and cardiovascular health, which we see as areas of strong growth for the future.”
Currently producing for private label sector in Europe, 2015 will be a big year for KitoZyme as it will launch its own brands, Slim MED FORTE and KiOcardio in the Gulf region.
“We have traditionally used business to business distribution channels, but now we are about to expand in a different way: through own label."
“Of course we can’t launch in the EU as in many areas we would be competing against our own customers, so our weight management product will launch in Kuwait this year. Other markets that we hope to target will be Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia in the near future,” says Blondel.
Recent research and the latest figures published by the WHO (World Health Organisation) have found that problems linked with overweight are particularly common in the Near and Middle East, with more than one third of the population affected. This is largely due to high-calorie foods, a lack of fruit and vegetables, and insufficient physical exercise due to difficult climatic conditions (high temperatures).
This research highlights the particularly important strategic decision to launch its branded products into the Gulf region, but will there be developments further afield?
“Of course,” says Blondel. “This region is our focus for now and it is too early to start talking about where we will go next. However, we will of course be looking to expand our geographical reach beyond the Middle East at some point.”
KitoZyme produces its active ingredient in a powder form, which is then formulated into tablets, capsules or sticks in order for consumers to receive the benefits. The fibre-based technology mops up fat in the system and so can act as an effective weight management tool, as well as reducing cholesterol, which makes it effective for cardiovascular problems, such as atherosclerosis.
For Blondel, the biggest market opportunity is weight management, but it is also the biggest challenge.
“Weight management is a difficult market to enter,” says Blondel. “It’s a very volatile market but we have been actively successful in it, producing for major companies and now launching our own brand.”
It is the cholesterol-reducing product, KiOcardio, however, that carries an EFSA-approved health claim. It has been shown to limit the intake of cholesterol and to prevent its absorption into the gut and EFSA says that chitosan, the active ingredient, is intended to be used to maintain a healthy cholesterol level.
KitoZyme’s digestive health product is KiOfiber. This has not been developed using chitosan, but KitoZyme’s other ingredient of interest, non-animal chitin glucan. The product is set to tackle the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, including bloating and constipation; and to improve gut microbiota.
“Once we started to market these products, there was a substantial acceleration in interest. We developed just two types of fibre, but no one else is doing what we are, so growth has been exponential,” says Blondel.
Confirming this success story, at the end of the year the company won the "Deloitte Fast 50" award as the strongest-growing of several hundred Belgian firms in its category (Technology – MedTech).