In recent years, however, producers of grapefruit-flavored foods and drinks have not had it easy. Figures from the US Department of Agriculture tell the tale: In the winter of 1996–97, Florida farmers harvested 59 million boxes of grapefruit. This season, the forecast is for a mere 4.6 million boxes.
Worldwide, the production of grapefruit and other citrus is in peril because of the spread of the citrus greening disease, as well as temperature shifts and extreme weather caused by climate change. Meanwhile, demand for natural citrus flavoring has gone through the roof.
Marifaith Hackett, director of specialty chemicals for the consulting firm IHS Markit: “When ingredients come out of by-products of something else, there is always the danger that supply and demand are really out of whack. If you are a purchasing manager, you’re likely thinking, ‘We just have to come up with something better.’ ”
In the flavor and fragrance industry, that something better may be a manufacturing platform based on fermentation using modified microbes.
Top flavor and fragrance companies have been quietly partnering with biotechnology firms for as long as 2 decades. Recently, their interest has become more public, thanks to acquisitions and in-house investments by firms such as BASF, Firmenich, Givaudan, and Takasago International. And biotech entrants, including Conagen and Manus Bio, are at work expanding the list of available molecules.
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