‘Doing a dairy’: Thai Union seeks to create more high-value functional ingredients from tuna by products

By Guan Yu Lim contact

- Last updated on GMT

UniQBONE can be used for various types of food, capsules, tablets and as an additive for pet food and pet nutrition ©Thai Union Ingredients
UniQBONE can be used for various types of food, capsules, tablets and as an additive for pet food and pet nutrition ©Thai Union Ingredients

Related tags: Thai Union, Tuna, Npd, Protein

The ingredient arm of Thai Union Group is exploring further new product development (NPD) opportunities from tuna as it seeks to expand its functional protein offering by emulating the success of the dairy industry in moving into high-value ingredients.

This follows the footsteps of its tuna oil and bone powder ingredient launched in 2017 and 2021 respectively.

According to Leonardus Coolen, managing director of Thai Union Ingredients (TUI), only about 45% of the tuna fish (mostly flesh) is consumed, while the rest is wasted or goes into low value applications.

TUI’s first product was a tuna oil derived from raw tuna heads which would have otherwise been thrown away. Tuna oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA, which is crucial to infant brain development and human health.

TUI is in the midst of opening a refinery plant in Germany, which will produce crude and refined tuna oil for the baby food industry.

Besides omega-3, tuna is also a good source of vitamins (A,B,D), minerals (calcium, iron, selenium), and protein.

We should look at the value of the entire fish​. I often make the comparison with the dairy industry, where the primary products are milk and cheese, but these days, we can derive functional ingredients like lactose and whey proteins​,” Coolen said.

He told NutraIngredients-Asia​ that the company hopes to introduce more functional protein products into the market over the next one to three years.

Bone powder

In January 2021, TUI launched its second product, a bone powder ingredient (UniQBONE), which is a fine, off-white powder derived from tuna bone.

It is targeting the dietary supplement and fortified food industry where the powder can be used in foods, capsules, tablets as well as an additive for pet food and nutrition.

UniQBONE contains calcium and phosphorus in the ratio of 2:1 in its natural hydroxyapatite form, which is the same structure that is present in human bones and teeth, making it readily absorbed by the body.

It is also a good alternative source of calcium, which can be an option for the Asian population where the average calcium intake is below recommended levels. While dairy is a good source of source, most of the Asian population is lactose intolerant.

UniQBONE also contains about 17% collagen.

Coolen said TUI has since received interest from Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Japan, China and US for the bone powder ingredient, which is Halal and Kosher compliant.

The first finished products to contain UniQBONE is expected to launch within weeks, and will include a ready meal-based product.

R&D

The bone powder launch responds to a growing consumer appetite for a healthier lifestyle, and is in line with Thai Union’s focus on ensuring that every part of the fish is properly used to reduce wastage and protect the world’s ocean resources.

R&D for UniQBONE took about two years, with the biggest challenge being the ability to maintain functionality of the proteins during processing.

This meant processing the tuna bones in raw form, rather than cooking it which destroys most of the proteins (enzymes)​,” Coolen said.

TUI uses a gentle manufacturing process which starts by cleaning the bones, and then going through a micronisation process to turn it into a fine powder. This also helps reduce any sandy mouthfeel.

However, one of the disadvantages of the bone powder is that it is not dissolvable, so the firm is not targeting liquid applications.

TUI is working on several studies to analyse bioavailability of the product in various applications.

Manufacturing

The powder is produced at Thai Union Group production facility at the Songkla Canning factory in southern Thailand.

The facility is already processing tuna for use in pet food, and the bones will be converted into bone powder.

Currently, the powder is made-on-demand and can be scaled up if market demand is strong.

UniQBONE follows in the footsteps of our oil business as we continue to develop products which take advantage of every part of the fish​,” Coolen commented.

This is the first of many to come as we have a number of other new products in the pipeline and are looking forward to bringing them to market​.”

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