The U.S. has seen some wild monthly fluctuations in imports of tapioca (cassava) starch since last September, as world demand increased with recovery from the worst of the pandemic, intensifying competition and pricing. The war in Ukraine added even more demand this year due to the disruption in the grain trade; tapioca can substitute for wheat in many applications.

Between January and April, top-producer Thailand exported 4.6 MMT of tapioca and its derivates, including starch—28 percent more than during the first four months of 2021. The rise in demand is attributed to higher demand for new product streams, such as intentionally gluten-free products, as well as the need for wheat flour/starch substitutes. There has also been more demand from the livestock sector for cassava meal. About 70 percent of Thailand’s exports were destined for China.

Thailand has historically supplied about 90 percent of U.S. tapioca starch, but in 2021 that share dropped to 69 percent, and this year Thailand supplied about 75 percent of U.S. tapioca starch imports during Jan-May.

In the U.S., tapioca starch is a specialty starch used mainly in products that promote being non-GMO or organic. As such, a premium over domestic corn starch is expected and priced into the product. However, changes in tapioca starch pricing relative to past years will naturally hurt a manufacturer’s bottom line. The CIF value of imported tapioca starch this year is up 33 percent from Jan-May 2021.

Monthly U.S. starch imports


Source: USITC
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