Supply spotlight: NutraCea

It has been a very good year for stabilized-rice bran producer NutraCea. In 2006, the publicly traded company grossed $18 million in revenues. It is currently on track this year to double that sum, according to Kody Newland, senior vice president of sales. NutraCea went from producing 8,000 metric tonnes last year to 70,000 metric tonnes this year.

Last year it raised $60 million to expand, and it now has production plants in Louisiana, California and Montana, with plans to build more in Indonesia, Thailand, Europe and South America. If all that wasn't enough, projects to measure the nutritional benefits of NutraCea's products are going on all over the world.

It's an impressive 'overnight success' for a company that actually began life 15 years ago as RiceX. The US government was interested in recovering nutrition from agricultural waste, and so it formed a partnership with the company to develop a process to stabilize rice bran. Some 60 million metric tonnes of the stuff is either thrown away each year, or is used in low-level animal feed because the enzyme called lipase begins to render the bran rancid immediately after it is stripped from the rice grain, making it unusable.

Enter RiceX's proprietary technology (seven US patents, currently). The process, which uses no synthetics or chemicals, provides a product that has a guaranteed shelf life of a full year, more than 107 naturally occurring antioxidants, and numerous nutrients ranging from a balanced amino-acid profile to essential fatty acids, all the while being able to claim to be all natural, hypo-allergenic and gluten free.

Margie AdelmanIf this sounds like a functional-ingredients' supplier's dream come true, add to that the extraordinary potential to feed a malnourished world, and you can understand the excitement of the company's principals. "We are working with nongovernmental organizations around the world to feed hungry people, especially children," says Margie Adelman, senior vice president of business development. "We've earmarked 160,000lb to donate over the course of the next year. We've had remarkable results in the pilot projects we've done so far."

Named RiceAde, the programme — in partnerships with groups such as Feed the Children and Happy Hearts fund — has produced powerful results with 67,000 preschool children in Guatemala, children in El Salvador, and orphans in Malawi. In Guatemala, some 30 per cent of the children were suffering from stages one or two of malnutrition. Within just 90 days, none were stage two and just five per cent remained in stage one. More than 50 per cent regained normal weight levels. "We even got reports from Malawi that the children did better in school," Newland says.

Some unexpected reports and testimonials from the Malawi programme prompted further studies by the Hadassah Medical Organization in Israel on stabilized rice bran's potential immunological benefits for AIDs patients. "We have hundreds of R&;D projects worldwide, all funded by multinational food corporations," Adelman says.

NutraCea gets constant calls for donations, Adelman says, but it can respond only if the requestors can meet three requirements: the recipients have to be able to accurately monitor the children, get the feedback to NutraCea and request the company's product from its sponsoring organization as a result.

Stabilised rice bran is a simple, nutritious ingredient that can be added to a wide variety of foods such as baked goods, bars, dairy drinks and cereals. In countries where a basic carbohydrate-rich but nutrient-poor corn maize is being used to feed starving people, for instance, stabilized rice bran sprinkled on top provides a full spectrum of nutrients. NutraCea supplies a growing number of companies, including General Mills, Kellogg, Stouffer's, WF Young Co, ADM and Purina. And a growing number of these companies have agreed to cobrand NutraCea on their labels. Kellogg, for instance, is selling Optivita cereal in Europe with NutraCea cobranded on the package.

Though the food applications for stabilized rice bran are beginning to be recognized, NutraCea's financial base still rests on animal feed, Newland says, where it can claim cobranding in numerous products, including Equine Shine and Satin Finish. He says NutraCea has four channels of distribution: ingredients sales for human and animal food, nutraceuticals, and international food aid.

As for competition, Newland says they haven't found any. "Others are trying to stabilize rice bran. We get calls all the time saying 'so and so has stabilized it.' So we get the product, and so far, none has been able to hold up past 90 days."

NutraCea's vision of the future appears to be getting clearer and clearer.

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