A powerful antioxidant, CoQ10 plays a vital role in the production of chemical energy in mitochondria - the 'power plants' of the cell - by participating in the production of adenosince triphosphate (ATP), the body's co-called 'energy currency'.
It has been studied for its role in cognitive health, heart health, and anti-ageing (in oral and topical formulations).
Historically the CoQ10 market has been dominated by four Japanese players with the capacity to supply multi-ton quantities of the ingredient, three of which produce CoQ10 through a fermentation process, with one through organic synthesis.
Until 2002, CoQ10 use in Japan was limited to pharmaceuticals, which meant that the remainder was available for export to other countries for use in dietary supplement and skin care products.
But in 2002, Japanese regulations were eased to allow CoQ10 to be used in supplements and skin care products sold domestically, resulting in a considerable drop in the quantities available for export.
This coincided with publicity surrounding a scientific study that presented strong evidence that CoQ10 could help slow the progression of the neurodegenerative disease Parkinson's.
With consumers clamouring for supplements containing the antioxidant that could help them maintain their mental faculties for longer - not to mention those seeking fewer wrinkles - and formulators sought to meet this demand.
Last year supply was reported to be so tight that the on-the-spot price of CoQ10 was said by some sources to have reached between US$4000 and $5000 per kg.
By the beginning of May this year the on-the-spot price was said to have dropped to around $1500 per kilo - a significant come-down as the major manufacturers have increased their capacity to meet demand.
In particular Kaneka, one of the 'big Japanese four', has expanded production at its facility in Takasago, Japan, from 150 metric tons to 180 metric tons. It is also constructing a plant in Pasadena, Texas with an initial annual capacity of 100 metric tons to cater to US demand.
The Pasadena plant was originally foreseen to be completed this spring, but was hampered by last year's hurricane season. Completion is now slated for summer 2006. Athough the summer fast approaching, a spokesperson for the company was unable to give NutraIngredients.com a more precise date.
Nor is Kaneka planning to stop there; in a statement issued at the end of 2005, it said it is planning "further expansion of its CoQ10 production capacity in both of its US and Japanese facilities".
New market entrants include Taiwanese company PharmEssentia, which has spent the last two years perfecting its own organic synthesis production process (with care not to violate the patents of the Japanese producers) and scaling it up to bulk capacity.
In August last year it signed an exclusive deal for the US and Europe with US-based Frontier, which Frontier said effectively makes it the world's fifth multi-ton supplier of CoQ10. Precise capacity was not disclosed.
Ingredients companies who source their CoQ10 from such manufacturers have been working hard to open up use of the ingredient in more kinds of products.
Alan Abolencia, new business development manager at DSM Nutritional Products told NutraIngredients.com at the Vitafoods trade show in Geneva last month that the potential for its use in foods is huge.
He said that is where DSM sees future growth - as well as in cosmetics and skin care.
There has been a lot of interest in the sports nutrition field in particular, since CoQ10 may play a role in helping athletes to maintain energy levels.
DSM's expertise is in facilitating formulation; in September last year it introduced its All-Q brand that uses a starch-based powder as a carrier for 10 per cent purity CoQ10, making the normally fat-soluble ingredient stable for formulation in water-based beverages, dairy products or energy drinks, the company said.
Others have set their sights on similar functionality. For instance, AquaNova has applied its nanotech system known as NovaSol to CoQ10, whereby the active substance is contained within product micelles. This is said to make it more bioavailable, and lend the active ingredient fat and water solubility, which means it can be added to clear liquids without affecting the clarity.
Israeli start-up NutraLease has also been conducting research in the same area.
For dietary supplements, BASF unveiled two new grades, SoluQ10 5% and Coenzyme Q10 10% DC, at the end of April. The former, it said, is a solubilizate of CoQ10 said to have excellent liquid dosing properties for use in softgels, while the latter is a 10% DC stable, fast-acting powder for direct compression into tablets.
The company says this means manufacturers no longer need go through the wet granulation and compaction processes that are necessary when working with conventional powders.
US distributor Blue California is also offering a new line of water-soluble coenzyme Q10 ingredients said to be more bioavailable than standard forms of the co-enzyme. CoQ10-WS is said to be a free-flowing, water-soluble powder, available in both 10 and 20 percent concentrations. It is suitable for use in beverages, tablets and capsules.
Swiss company Emmi has turned to packing innovation to overcome stability issues with CoQ10 and other micronutrients. Its LactoTab performance drink based on milk serum has CoQ10, vitamins and minerals contained within a tablet sealed in the lid of the bottle.
This protects the nutrients from degradation by light and oxygen, since they are only mixed with the liquid just prior to consumption, said the company.