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Supply Spotlight: Cargill

Like a seed sprouting and spreading plant after plant to fill a vast field, Cargill grew from a small grain-shipping operation to a diversified global company with $116 billion in revenue in 2009.

Cargill began (in 1865) as a family-owned business, which it still is today, with one grain-storage warehouse in Conover, Iowa. With a few stumbles along the way, Cargill grew and diversified, moving into such divergent business channels as steel making to financial services.

But Cargill never lost its primary focus on farming.

"Agriculture is core to Cargill's business — we buy, process and distribute grain, oilseeds and other commodities to makers of food and animal nutrition products, and we provide crop and livestock producers with products and services," said Pam Stauffer, global communications manager at Cargill Health and Food Technologies.

But Cargill drilled below that surface and moved into the ingredients business, deriving functional compounds from the agricultural sources with formed the company's roots.

"We also provide food and beverage manufacturers, food-service companies, and retailers with high-quality ingredients, meat and poultry products, and health-promoting ingredients and ingredient systems," Stauffer said. "In addition to trading and processing, we have a strong focus on partnering with customers to help them build their businesses," she added.

Cargill now offers an array of health-promoting ingredients. The products address the areas of heart, bone and joint health, as well as support digestive health and weight management. The feed stocks for these ingredients are Cargill's long-time standbys: corn, soybeans and barley as well as other plant sources.

It's an area in which Cargill foresees continued growth, Stauffer said.

"Cargill continues to see high interest from customer partners in developing products to offer a specific health benefit. According to the Natural Marketing Institute, functional foods are projected to grow at a stable rate of about seven per cent over the next few years," she said.

One of the hottest sectors recently has been weight management, particularly ingredients that can boost the fibre content of foods without affecting taste or texture. Cargill's entry in this category is a branded ingredient called Oliggo-Fiber inulin. In addition to boosting fibre, the product also falls into the functional-carbohydrate category. According to the company, the ingredient, which is extracted from chicory root, acts as a prebiotic, arriving undigested in the lower GI tract where it supports the growth of beneficial bacteria through the fermentation process.

Cargill also features a unique entrant into the joint-health market. Regenasure, the only glucosamine on the market derived from a plant source, is also the only commercially available glucosamine ingredient that has GRAS status in foods and beverages. According to Stauffer, "This gives manufacturers an opportunity to differentiate and participate in the growing joint-health market by formulating innovative new products under a food label vs a supplement label."

Another major growth area in the natural-supplements marketplace is cholesterol management, and Cargill has two branded ingredients, a barley betafibre called Barliv, and CoroWise, a plant sterol, to address this need.

"According to NMI, awareness of plant sterols has risen to 30 per cent. Our consumer research indicated that many consumers prefer to manage their cholesterol naturally and avoid drugs if possible, making plant sterols a great first step," Stauffer said.

CoroWise, which opened the door for plant sterols in foods and beverages and has been on the market for a number of years, received a marketing facelift in 2004, including a new logo that prominently featured a stylized heart.

According to Stauffer, the logo redesign was meant "to better capture the positioning of natural and heart health. The cholesterol-lowering message is also clearly conveyed with the tagline 'Naturally Sourced Cholesterol Reducer.'" The logo redesign and the market research that went into the effort have positively affect ed sales, she said.

CoroWise is expected to continue to drive growth for Cargill, Stauffer said.

"As our customers continue to launch products with CoroWise cholesterol reducers, consumers will have an even greater array of choices to lower their cholesterol," she said. "The most recent product launch with CoroWise is a line of pastas and sauces from Racconto. Look for more to come at Expo West."

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