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Published: May 2011
Developed in the 1950s, sorbitol is now the most-consumed sugar alcohol. In all applications, demand for sorbitol is largely a function of its unique combination of functional properties as a humectant, sweetener, bulking agent, stabilizer, softener and emulsifier, and its surface-active properties. Use in personal care products (mainly toothpaste), food, and confections and in the manufacture of vitamin C accounted for 80% of world consumption in 2010; these applications will continue to account for over 75% of world demand in the near future.
During 2007–2010, flat demand in the United States, Western Europe and Japan (caused by the cessation of vitamin C manufacture, but also by the general economic downturn) was overshadowed by high demand in other countries and regions such as Indonesia, India, Taiwan, China and the Middle East.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of sorbitol:
China is the largest single consumer of sorbitol, accounting for over one-third of world consumption in 2010; it also accounted for 33% and 39% of world capacity and production, respectively, in 2010. During 2007–2010, consumption of sorbitol in China grew at an average annual rate of just over 6%. Chinese production of vitamin C currently accounts for 90–95% of world output. This trend is expected to continue during 2010–2015, as significant growth in Chinese demand will result in increased production. However, growth in Chinese demand during 2010–2015 is expected to slow.
Consumption of sorbitol in developing markets, such as the Middle East and Central and South America, is expected to be rapid; personal care products and food and confections are the main growth areas. During 2010–2015, sorbitol demand in Western Europe is forecast to grow at an average annual rate of almost 1.5%. Growth in Central and Eastern Europe is expected at just over 2%, largely as a result of the increased production of personal care products. Consumption in Asian countries is expected to grow at annual rates between 0.2% (for Japan) and 3.5% (for Thailand).
Among the key findings of this report regarding the sorbitol market are the following:
- Sorbitol is at risk for substitution by competing products, mainly glycerin.
- Isosorbide (produced from sorbitol) has the potential to replace bisphenol A monomer in polycarbonates and epoxies and anything else that uses this versatile chemical.
- Prices are expected to remain firm during 2010–2015 as a result of high feedstock costs.
- The industry is shifting to high-growth and high-consuming markets such as China and other Asian countries (excluding Japan).