Food manufacturers will use increasing amounts of industrial gases in coming years, according to a study.

This growth will be boosted by a rise in total food consumption, the popularity of frozen foods and a slight gain in carbonated beverage output. Overall growth will also be driven by the continuing efforts in the sector to prolong the shelf life of food through new technologies based on industrial gases, according to the report by the Freedonia Group.

The firm estimates demand for industrial gases in the food and beverage-processing sector will expand 2.3 per cent per year through 2010 to over 200 billion cubic feet. Packaging developments such as modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) which uses oxygen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide, and controlled atmosphere packaging (CAP) will fuel this growth.

Freedonia analyst Bridget McMurtrie explains, $quot;In most applications for gases in the food and beverage industry there is little competition from non-gas technologies at this point and it's more an issue of competition between the two main gases, nitrogen and carbon dioxide.$quot;

With the exception of soft drink carbonation, where carbon dioxide is used exclusively, the two gases compete against each other in nearly all major food-related manufacturing uses. The choice of gas is often based on cost, availability and customer familiarity, the report stated. The report's authors explain further, $quot;In some cases, nitrogen is more cost-effective than carbon dioxide, especially in situations where the use of noncryogenically produced nitrogen is feasible.$quot;

Nitrogen and carbon dioxide are also used for in-transit refrigeration, packaging, processing, and to quickly freeze foods before shipment. The food and beverage processing sectors accounts for about six per cent of overall gas demand in the US.