Layn Natural Ingredients is investing $148 million to expand its infrastructure and support R&D and innovation in plant-based, high-intensity natural sweeteners and botanicals, and shore up its supply chain. The Chinese company is one of the largest manufacturers of stevia and monk fruit natural sweetener extracts as well as a variety of functional botanical extracts, including pomegranate and rosemary, and tea extracts.
The investment will also go toward the construction of a manufacturing facility that is set to be completed in three years. Once finished, it will be able to process an additional 4,000 megatons of stevia leaf extract per year. The vertically integrated Layn is also expanding its sustainable agronomy innovation programs to bolster the transparency and traceability of its supply chain.
- As consumers increasingly cut sugar from their diets, food manufacturers are searching for alternatives that provide the same sweet taste consumers love without the calories. Shoppers are shifting towards clean label and better-for-you products, spurring demand for natural sweeteners like stevia and monk fruit.
The Food and Drug Administration's recent regulations requiring food manufacturers to list the amount of added sugars on the Nutrition Facts Panel has also driven many companies to switch up their formulations to avoid having to list high sugar levels that could deter health-conscious consumers. Alternative sweeteners have emerged as a popular option, with the segment worth an estimated $16 billion to $20 billion.
Stevia, which is about 200 times sweeter than sugar, is one of the most popular sweetener alternatives in the market, with the global market valued at $590 million in 2020. Layn's stevia products include items made from Reb A, Reb C, Reb D and Reb M. It sources its stevia mainly from Northern China, where it has developed strong relationships with local farmers that it says give it full control over its supply chain. In its press release on this latest investment, Layn noted that it was able to maintain a stable flow of supply to its customers over the past year despite a surge in demand for natural ingredients.
Layn is also said to be the world's largest producer of monk fruit extract, and offers concentrate and powder forms. It sources its product from farms in the Guilin area of China, where more than 98% of monk fruit is produced. The company is always working on intensifying the sweetness of its extracts. In 2019, Layn created a proprietary variety of a non-GMO monk fruit containing 20% more of the sweet components called mogrosides. The Super V Fruit variety can help food and beverage manufacturers with sugar reduction and limit the land, water and other resources needed to produce monk fruit, according to the company.
Layn's multimillion-dollar investment comes as a variety of ingredient manufacturers are making big plays for the natural sweetener space. SweeGen launched a network of regional innovation centers for stevia research that are aimed at increasing collaboration with its customers to create reduced-sugar products. In December, Tate & Lyle acquired stevia maker Sweet Green Fields to build on its existing natural sweeteners business.
Layn has also invested heavily in botanical extracts. In November 2020, it acquired Wagott, the largest Chinese exporter of green tea extract, and a producer of tea and resveratrol extracts. And it has even ventured into CBD, investing $60 million in the construction of a U.S.-based factory that would have the ability to process at least 5,000 tons of hemp biomass in a year, to create 160 tons of high-purity CBD and 290 tons of full-spectrum oil a year. At a time when consumers are clamoring for foods and beverages that offer functional benefits, investments like these seem more and more like a sure bet.