Mexico’s poultry pigments industry on verge of revival?

Mexico may had developed the natural poultry pigments industry, but production has moved overseas. Changing market conditions, however, could favor a return to its home soil.

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Could production of marigold additives for use in poultry diets be about to undergo a renaissance in Mexico? The conditions may now be right for a revival of this industry in the country that was responsible for its development.

Mexico was the first country to commercially sow marigolds and develop an industry for their use in both broiler and egg production. It remains the largest consumer of these pigments, consuming 500 million grams of xanthophylls, or yellow pigments, annually. This puts it way ahead of second largest consumer in the world, China, consuming 200 million grams, while the rest of the world consumes approximately 250 million grams.

However, despite being pioneers in the industry, and using a flower native to the country, Mexico is now almost entirely dependent on imports from China, which now accounts for 98% of the world’s commercial production of marigold additives.

What went wrong? 

Mexico not only established the marigold pigments industry, it also long held advantages over its competitors, for example in the saponification of xanthophylls. However, as time went by, the industry failed to invest, leaving only a few producers in the country.


Manuel RojoDr. Manuel Rojo says that the client really wants the right tone of pigmentation. Courtesy Leader BiotecnologĂ­a de MĂ©xico 


Production now established in China

Dr. Manuel Rojo, director, Leader Biotecnología de México, SA de CV, a division of the world’s biggest marigold pigments producer Guangzhou Leader Biotechnology Co Ltd., notes that the company planted 4,500 hectares of marigolds last year.

“The fields of marigolds in China are truly impressive,” he said. “There are mountains and mountains of them.”

Beyond this large scale, the Chinese industry benefits from a number of other advantages.

Local producers are experts in sowing, the country has good soils and costs are low. Flowers are well-dried, resulting in high-quality powder.

Importantly, government support is available to the industry. Producers receive subsidies, and purchase prices are guaranteed. Contracts are exclusive. Also, producers receive tax breaks and, if they export, additional help is granted.

In Mexico, no such support was offered to foster or protect the industry.

Why might the Mexican industry revive?

While marigold pigment production in Mexico may now only be a shadow of its former self, the country is still home to a significant body of expertise and has an understanding of the industry that is second to none. Rojo, for example, notes that he is regularly contacted from around the world.

Production plants still exist in the country meaning that the industry could easily be revived.

Rojo notes that restarting production would offer Mexico its own supply and, given current and projected prices, the industry would be sustainable.

Maritime freight costs are currently very high, making imports more costly. To bring a container of oleoresin from China now costs six times more than it did a few years ago, and there can be delays. Additionally, customs authorities may delay entry into the country by 7 to 10 days. Given these difficulties, Chinese producers are said to be considering raising the cost of oleoresin.

It is worth remembering that Mexico is already the largest consumer of these products, offering a ready market, yet world consumption continues to grow offering yet further opportunities.

Strong home demand

The Mexican broiler industry alone consumes about 450 million grams of xanthophylls, while the layer industry consumes an additional 50 million grams; however synthetic, rather than natural, pigments are now often used.

Synthetic pigments, which are currently not produced in high enough volumes to meet the demands of the whole industry, may not decay over time in the same way that natural pigments do; however, they cannot achieve the variety of tone that can be achieved using natural pigments.

“What the client really wants is the right tone,” notes Rojo.

There are numerous reasons why the Mexican industry could experience a revival in its fortunes. All poultry producers use pigments, and their use continues to grow, but their use beyond the poultry industry also offers opportunities. For example, in the production of lutein and zeaxanthin as antioxidants for human health, both are areas that researchers continue to investigate.


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