The Global Market for Polyols

Published - Oct 2001| Analyst - Ulrich Marz| Code - FOD040A
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Report Highlights

  • The global market for polyols was estimated at $1.3 billion with a sales volume of nearly 1.4 million metric tons in 2000.
  • Total tonnage is expected to grow at a slightly faster AAGR (average annual growth rate) of 2.7% to reach 1,597 metric tons by 2005.
  • Sales in dollar terms will total nearly $1.4 billion as the market grows at an AAGR of 1.3% during the five-year forecast period.
  • Sorbitol, developed in the 1950s, is the largest polyol in volume and dollar sales with more than one million tons sold per year.
  • All other polyols, typically introduced to the market in the 1990s, feature volume sales in the range of 20 to 200,000 tons per year.



As all world markets have become less insular and subject to increasing international competition and opportunities, the need for international information is also increasing.

Many markets undergo important changes as the marketing environment, political framework conditions and consumer preferences change. This increasingly applies to the food markets. Consumers are more and more aware of their health and in most industrialized countries of their weight. Food producers have to react to such trend and are increasingly trying to reduce the calorie content of their produce by keeping taste and appearance of the product attractive. Such trend is seen for more or less all food categories especially beverages, confectionery, preserves, bakery products and snacks. Moreover, calorie reduction is effectively a marketing argument and can stimulate increasing sales.

There are several ways to reduce calories in food. Fat replacement is one possibility. Another is the substitution of commercial sugar with sugar analogs, the polyols. The most important characteristic of polyols is that they behave similar to sugar in final products, but do attribute a much lower calorie content. This is because the decomposition of polyols in the digestion tract of humans follows a different pathway than sugar. Similarly, in mouth hygiene items such as toothpaste and mouthwashes, polyols give a sweet taste but are non-cariogenic, as the bacteria in the mouth cannot metabolize it.

What applies for food is also valid for pharmaceutical preparations. Active components of drugs have to be formulated in such a way that their intake is convenient for the consumers. This is why polyols developed into one of the most favorite fillers and formulation aids in tablet and capsule production.

In addition to these major application segments polyols, and especially the most prominent one, sorbitol, serve as intermediates in the production of chemicals. Vitamin C production, for instance, is based on sorbitol and despite many efforts to replace it, most of the vitamin C is still produced with sorbitol as one key intermediate. Also, in plastic production, sorbitol is increasingly used, as it is a natural product and replaces synthetic components derived from petrol, thus meeting the increasing demand for environmentally friendly production systems.

Polyols are produced from natural raw materials. In most cases, starches and sugars are hydrogenated to yield sugar alcohols. Hydrogenation, as simple as it sounds, is quite a sophisticated process. Due to the immense economy scale of production and considering the strong price pressure on virtually all polyols, only major companies with a strong know-how base in hydrogenation are producing them. Most polyols have become commodities and are essentially sold on price. Research on new products is rare, but development work for new applications is widespread. The market for polyols is therefore faced with an increasing demand, but at the same time with decreasing prices. Therefore, producing companies need to continuously adjust their marketing and production strategies.


This report reviews the global markets for all polyols, such as

  • Sorbitol
  • Maltitol
  • Mannitol
  • Lactitol
  • Erythritol
  • Xylitol and
  • Isomalt

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