October 26, 2017 / 1:01 AM / 10 months ago

French ingredient maker Roquette chases Asian growth with research hub

* Roquette opens R&D centre, Asia head office in Singapore

* Asian middle class seen boosting health, nutrition demand

* Roquette supplies plant extracts for food, drug products

PARIS, Oct 26 (Reuters) - French ingredients maker Roquette wants to expand further in Asia to tap rising demand for nutrition products from a growing middle class, planning to follow up a new research centre in Singapore with acquisitions and new factories, its CEO said.

The company, which supplies plant-based ingredients for food and drug products, expects double-digit annual growth in its sector in Asia, faster than elsewhere, Jean-Marc Gilson said.

Asia already generates a quarter of Roquette’s annual sales of about 3.2 billion euros ($3.8 billion), but much of its business is accounted for by less specialised ingredients sold in India, he said.

“We needed to have a significantly bigger investment in the Asia area,” he said in a phone interview. “This is where you will see the highest number of middle-class people who will buy these products.”

He cited projections that Asia would account for 60 percent of the world’s middle class by 2030.

Higher-income households tend to be more focused on food and nutrition products seen as healthy and natural, while in Asia there was also growing awareness of obesity risks, he said, speaking on Thursday as Roquette unveiled a research centre and new Asia headquarters in Singapore.

The initiative would be followed by larger investments in acquisitions and production in Asia, Gilson said.

He declined to disclose the size of planned investments but cited Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia as priority countries.

Roquette processes crops like maize, potatoes and peas to extract substances like starch and protein for processing into ingredients.

The food ingredients sector has also drawn investments from commodity trading groups like Cargill that have faced shrinking margins for bulk buying and selling of grain.

Roquette sees itself as well placed to benefit from health and nutrition trends as it spans both food and pharmaceuticals.

The family-owned firm has already this year announced plans to develop the world’s largest pea protein factory in Canada and a deal to acquire pharmaceutical tablet maker Itacel in Brazil. ($1 = 0.8484 euros) (Reporting by Gus Trompiz; Editing by David Holmes)

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