Published December 2015
Citric acid is the most widely used food acidulant. The acid and its derivatives are also ingredients in detergents and cleaners, personal care products, pharmaceuticals, and industrial applications.
About three-quarters of the world consumption of citric acid is in beverages and food, primarily as an acidulant; carbonated soft drinks account for most use. Citric acid is used to control the growth of microorganisms, adjust acidity (pH), provide sourness and tartness, and enhance flavors. As an acidulant, citric acid competes with phosphoric, tartaric, DL-malic, fumaric, and lactic acids.
In household detergents and cleaners (approximately 13% of the global market), citric acid is used as a cobuilder with zeolites, mainly in concentrated liquid detergents. Environmental regulations have led to the replacement of phosphate builders with citric acid/zeolite builders in many liquid detergent formulations. Citric acid does not contribute to the eutrophication of water systems and thus is preferable to phosphates from an environmental perspective.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of citric acid:
Although there are regional differences in beverage and food tastes and preferences, the major trends driving demand for citric acid in beverages and food appear to be similar in many regions:
- Food safety (preservation)
- Desire for convenience (increased popularity of ready-to-drink beverages and processed foods)
- New beverage and food introductions, mainly fruit-flavored beverages and foods, including ethnic and exotic fruit flavors and flavor blends
Asia is the largest consumer of citric acid and citrates, accounting for approximately 28% of world consumption in 2015. China is the largest single participant in the citric acid and citrates market, accounting for 59% of world production in 2015; it also accounted for 62%, 74%, and 12% of world capacity, exports, and consumption, respectively, in 2015. China will remain the largest producer during 2015–20, but its share of global production capacity is expected to remain stable or decrease slightly, as Chinese manufacturers establish production facilities in other countries, in part to secure access to feedstocks. Although domestic consumption is forecast to grow at a healthy rate, China is expected to remain a major exporter of citric acid.
As a region, North America is the second-largest citric acid market, accounting for 23% of world consumption in 2015. During 2015–20, citric acid consumption in North America is forecast to grow at an average annual rate of 1.0%. Beverages and food will remain the largest end uses for citric acid and its derivatives despite flat to negative growth in carbonated soft drink consumption in the United States and Canada.
Western Europe is the third-largest regional citric acid market, accounting for nearly 22% of world consumption in 2015. Consumption growth during 2015–20 is forecast at an average annual rate of 0.9%. As in North America, growth in beverages has moderated because of the maturity and saturation of the carbonated soft drinks market.
Of the six largest citric acid producers, only Jungbunzlauer is based outside of China. Four of the six produce citric acid solely in China; only Anhui COFCO Biochemical and Jungbunzlauer operate in more than one country. These large producers target global export markets as well as domestic end users. In contrast, the more numerous midsized producers largely serve domestic and regional requirements.
World consumption of citric acid is expected to increase at an average annual rate of 3.7% during 2015–20. China, Africa, the Middle East, and Other Asia are expected to exhibit above-average rates of growth in demand; increases in population and living standards are expected to result in higher per capita consumption of beverages and prepared foods.