Seaweed and microalgae driving new product development

[Seaweed is making waves in nutrition-rich NPDs and with its many varieties is tipped to become the next super green “superfood”, and this staying true to its title, seaweed is finding new product applications in Western markets due to its wide ranging health benefits.

Although seaweed cultivation has been around for decades, the challenges for today’s burgeoning industry is to keep pace with demand for the super speeding growing and nutrient-rich algae that is being included in new product innovations across the food, supplement and animal feed segments.

FoodIngredientsFirst examines the surge of seaweed and microalgae as an ingredient – often used for innovative flavoring or as a salt substitute amongst a myriad of other things – and speaks with industry professionals making waves in the sector.

Innova Market Insights has reported a +10% increase in global supplements launches containing seaweed ingredients (2015 vs. 2014). Global product launch activity containing seaweed ingredients has risen consistently since 2011, with 4% growth in launches reported between 2014 and 2015. According to Innova Market Insights, salt intake is an important influencer to more than half of Americans (54 percent) and so seaweed could function as a natural salt substitute.

Aquaculture, or farming the ocean, is playing its part in the rise of alternative proteins – and the seaweed sector is booming with reported increases in worldwide production. On top of being an organic protein booster, seaweed is considered a good salt alternative, another reason the Western world is increasing cultivation volumes which currently exceed 25 million metric tons.

Seaweed’s global versatility is a major plus, with very different market categories leading in different regions around the world: North America (sports powders), West Europe (gummies/jellies), Latin America (savory biscuits/crackers), Australasia (sports powders), Asia (savory/salty snacks) and Middle East (gummies/jellies).

As the West considers seaweed a burgeoning market, the East, of course, has been hailing the superfood qualities of seaweed for centuries.

Alternative food sources derived from the sea are packed with protein and there’s plenty of research focusing on microalgae and seaweed as nutrient-rich proteins.

Earlier this year health store specialists Holland & Barrett launched alternative eggs made from algae, retailing in the UK at £7.99 (US$9.93). High in fiber and half the calories of hen eggs, the plant-based vegan egg is a flour made of algal, an ingredient derived from water-dwelling algae.

Just last month, Univar announced a distribution agreement across Europe for the AlgaVia brand of Whole Algae Ingredients from TerraVia, a plant-based food, nutrition and specialty ingredients company, including algae-based products – a portfolio expansion responding to increasing consumer demands for clean label, natural, non-animal sourced and allergen-free ingredients.

TerraVia’s product lines include Lipid-Rich Whole Algae and Protein-Rich Whole Algae. Lipid-Rich Whole Algae is available in golden and cream varieties, which can replace eggs and dairy fats in a wide range of applications including bakery, beverages and desserts. The removal of the animal-derived components can reduce calories, cholesterol and saturated fat, whilst maintaining the desired taste, mouth-feel and texture of the end product. Protein-Rich Whole Algae, which contains 63 percent protein and has a high digestibility of 88 percent, contains all essential amino acids and six times the arginine levels of standard whey. Suitable applications for the ingredient include, but are not limited to, beverages, bakery and snacks for protein enrichment purposes.

“There are opportunities for our Lipid-Rich and Protein-Rich Whole Algae ingredients across every aisle of the grocery store,” said Mark Brooks, SVP and General Manager of Food Ingredients at TerraVia. “The relationship enhances our ability to serve the European markets and provide plant-based allergen-free ingredients to brands and consumers throughout the regions.”

“TerraVia’s innovative portfolio of products and company culture complement Univar’s approach and direction,” commented Simon Atkins, EMEA Industry Director, Univar Food Ingredients. “This portfolio will enable our customers to manufacture the next generation of food products to support the most important food trends that we see in the marketplace in 2017 and beyond.”

Another company looking at microalgae is flavor and natural ingredients company Frutarom, where its president natural product solutions, Yoni Glickman, has been involved with microalgae for many years.

“I think that it is a fantastic platform moving forward for 2017. Being able to deliver active nutrients in a very effective manner but which is also environmentally friendly is a very appealing and significant trend,” he says.

Currently, Frutarom is working on several new strains of microalgae and mainly supplying ingredients to support the growth of natural products in the cosmetic ingredients markets. “An important focus for us is pigments which are coming from algae sources,” Glickman states. “There are multiple ingredients which can be derived from algae sources; we have our own algae technology and ability from this area. The idea is that they are integrated from the algae farms to the finished product formulations.”

Algaia recently bolstered its growth in specialty marine ingredients by completing the acquisition of Cargill’s Alginate business and manufacturing plant, further strengthening its portfolio following another acquisition of Alganact SA. The start-up company specializes in seaweed biomass valorization.

According to CEO of Algaia, Fabrice Bohin, sustainability is a key driver pushing the seaweed products space. “The main driver for the increasing interest towards seaweeds is linked to consumer pressure for natural products with a healthy nutritional profile but also the mainstream trend towards sustainability. Seaweed is one of the most sustainable raw materials as it does consume CO2 when growing and does not require any irrigation water, cultivation land, pesticides or fertilizers to grow. In addition, there are a lot of possibilities to naturally cultivate seaweed to expand the resource if needed without impacting the planet,” Bohin tells FoodIngredientsFirst.

According to Bohin, today only around 20% of seaweed biomass when processed is currently being used, mostly as texturizing agents like carrageenans and alginates.

“Algaia is gearing up to become a major player in innovative specialty seaweed extracts. Our R&D center, in partnership with various universities and institutes, has been working to develop innovative extraction processes that will enable us to introduce new solutions for the food industry by 2018.”

Right now Algaia offers a large range of brown and red seaweed based extracts such as alginates and Carrageenans, backed up by developing specific customized solution and decades of manufacturing experience dealing with very low and very high viscosity.

“In parallel, we develop with partners some specialty seaweed extracts for various health and personal care applications,” adds Bohin. “Seaweeds or microalgae are considered by many as an essential raw material that can play an important role in human health and nutrition in the future. Already known for decades as major texturizing or gelling agents, seaweeds are now expanding into the specialty ingredient market as they can be excellent source of nutrients and are widely used as fat replacers or alternatives to animal based ingredients.”

So we know seaweed is surging forward, both as a whole food and ingredient and substitute, but what are some of the challenges associated with producing it and how are manufacturers and growers overcoming them?

“Producing seaweed extracts requires tremendous expertise and manufacturing skills. The main challenges are to be able to produce high quality seaweed extracts sustainably and in sufficient quantities. Therefore, our control over sourcing and being located next to fresh biomass is a key element of differentiation and a guarantee for high quality and traceability,” according to Bohin.

“This is precisely where Algaia can make a difference as we do have decades of expertise in-house and we just invested 2 million euros in our facility in Britanny, France, to allow us to grow even further while increasing production standards. Our R&D findings in terms of process are also helping to constantly innovate towards more sustainability.”


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