Harnessing oat hulls to make sustainable sweeteners

30 Jun 2022

Finnish company Fazer is transforming the oat hull side streams from its existing oat mill into the low-calorie sweetener, xylitol.

The Finland-headquartered bakery, confectionery, non-dairy and plant-based foods manufacturer recently began production on the world’s first xylitol made from oat hulls.

Harnessing oat hulls to make sustainable sweeteners
Fazer’s xylitol factory, producing xylitol from oat hulls, has started its commercial operations in Lahti, Finland.

“The Fazer xylitol production method utilises the side stream of our existing oat mill in Lahti so we do not need to purchase raw material on the open market,” James Dedman, vice president of Fazer Foodtech explained.

“This method and raw material are unique in the global xylitol production world,” he said, adding that the remaining oat hull waste after the xylitol has been produced is also used to produce energy in the form of steam power.

The resulting energy will power the xylitol production plant and, at full capacity, will provide the steam for the Fazer crispbread factory and the mill overall, said Dedman.

This zero-waste approach “sets Fazer Xylitol apart from other suppliers, and makes us unique in our sustainability approach,” he said. The sustainable production process was developed despite the fact that production of the sugar xylose – the raw material for xylitol production – is difficult to develop on an industrial scale across the board, Dedman added.

Consumer demand for sustainability & price competitiveness

Ingredients Network asked Dedman whether there are cost implications for this kind of sustainable production. Although the company does “not discuss cost position externally,” he told us that: “Fazer xylitol will be competitive in the global market and we will be the only supplier that can produce all of the three specific grades (crystalline, milled and granulated) at the same factory.”

Nevertheless, Fazer has research showing that sustainable products are preferred by consumers, “especially in northern Europe,” said Dedman, adding: “There is a willingness to pay more for these types of products.”

It is vital to continue driving consumer understanding and convince them of the benefits of sustainably produced ingredients, Dedman added.

Importance of sustainability in food production

Dedman went on to highlight the importance of sustainability as a driving force of Fazer’s company ethos. In the last three years, Fazer has invested €300 million in oats derivatives, the most significant investment of which is the Fazer Xylitol factory.

“At Fazer we take sustainability extremely seriously, and no new product or ingredient developments are undertaken without meeting our sustainability guidelines and goals,” he said.

In its press statement, Fazer marked the new xylitol production line as an “excellent example of modern circular economy innovation,” a term used to describe production which reuses and recycles materials and equipment as much as possible to avoid waste.

“The factory’s environmental footprint is very small, I believe that we could talk about the world’s most sustainable xylitol,” Christoph Vitzthum, president and CEO of Fazer Group said in the press statement.<.p>

Nordic oats go international

According to Fazer, the international demand for Finnish xylitol is expected to increase in future, “due to its many application opportunities in the food, cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries.”

The company claims that Nordic oats have an “unparalleled reputation internationally” and are known to be “pure and of very high quality,” while Finnish food and technology expertise is “at a very high level.”

Dedman said many large companies likely also share Fazer’s sustainable vision and goals, and would therefore “be willing to challenge existing ingredients or products with a more sustainable alternative.”

The company added that 90% of its new Fazer xylitol product is earmarked for export, and is of “special interest” in Europe, the US and Asia, according to Vitzthum.

Beside producing xylitol as a raw material, the Lahti factory’s patented manufacturing technology can also be licensed to other companies.

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