With partnerships building around algae ingredients for food purposes, will we see more use of these ingredients in the near term?
The need is certainly growing, according to Mark Brooks, senior vice president, food ingredients, Solazyme (San Francisco). “We expect to see great success given that these oils have been shown to allow food manufacturers to remove added preservatives in foods such as dressings and mayonnaise and to remove partially hydrogenated vegetable oils completely.”
Brooks is referring to Solazyme’s AlgaWise oil line, now marketed in partnership with oils specialist Bunge Ltd. (White Plains, NY). Announced late last year, the two are teaming up to develop and commercialize food and animal nutrition algal oils and have rolled out three ingredients to start: an oil to replace saturated fat, a high-stability trans fat-free oil to replace partially hydrogenated oils in frying and other applications, and an oil specifically geared to confectionery, bakery, and spreads. "The Bunge partnership will help grow the demand for algae food products, given Bunge’s global leadership and expertise in food and ingredients and their deep understanding of the value of algae as an ingredient,” Brooks says. AlgaWise saw its first consumer-facing launch last year—a cooking oil called Thrive—providing home cooks with a healthier, monounsaturated fat–rich oil alternative for frying, baking, sautéing, searing, roasting, and more.
Solazyme also partnered with Glanbia Nutritionals (Carlsbad, CA) last year on another algae food interest, algal protein, with Glanbia distributing Solazyme’s AlgaVia Whole Algal Protein to grow this still-emerging protein source. "While algal protein does occupy a relatively small portion of the protein market, we are confident in the significance of its role,” says Elaine Drummond, clinical and technology development officer, Glanbia. She points out that AlgaVia feeds in perfectly to demands for vegetarian/vegan and non-GMO products, while providing whole-food complex carbohydrates, polyunsaturated fatty acids, tocopherols, vitamins, and minerals. In 2016, she expects upward movement for vegan proteins like AlgaVia.
Chlorella algae like Solazyme’s have successfully made inroads in the food market. Spirulina is also found in numerous launches. At the Vitafoods Europe show last May, Portugal-based chlorella supplier Allmicroalgae boosted its chlorella powder line for food, introducing a new liquid chlorella extract specifically made friendlier for certain food and beverage applications. (The company was formerly known as Allma until it became part of the company Allmicroalgae last November.)
Business development manager Sofia Hoffman de Mendonça says the new Chlorella Water Extract has a higher solubility (removing some of the omega-3 and omega-6 oils present in the powder version of the ingredient) and a “less intense” color and flavor. The year before, the company also introduced chlorella pieces to the food market. A Swedish company is now using Chlorella Crunches to make health food. “We also have other companies exploring the possibility to include the crunches within cereal bars and to use the flavored versions as healthy snacks,” de Mendonça says. Allmicroalgae’s ingredients are also in chlorella pastes for foods like cream cheese, as well as in “bubbles” for bubble tea (“green pearls containing a sweet solution with chlorella powder inside”), both developed by Portuguese food company Frulact.
What kinds of products can benefit from algae? Suppliers name endless applications. “Algae are very versatile and can also play a role in the switch from artificial and/or synthetic ingredients towards natural ingredients such as whole algae or extracts derived from algae,” says Anneke Roes, marketing and sales manager for Dutch algae firm Nutress.
Market researcher Innova Market Insights pegs some specific product types as promising. Given algae's protein potential, meat substitutes are growing, such as vegetarian algae sausage Brat-Algenwurst by German company Remis Algen or soy cakes with algae by Natursoy in Spain, both launched last September. Algae drinks like those introduced by Helga and Natufood last year saw the highest global growth in terms of algae food launches in 2015, Innova says.
Last year, algae drinks also grew in the United States. New to market were Spiru-Tein’s whey protein powder (spirulina) and Goodbelly’s Tropical Green Flavor probiotic juice (spirulina and chlorella). Sports-nutrition powders like Spiru-Tein are “fertile ground” for algae in the U.S., with market-penetration growth of 3.6% last year, Innova says.
Also in the United States, algae ingredients are picking up in cereal and energy bars, as well as other traditional foods like ice cream and chocolate bars such as those from Doisy & Dam in the UK (spirulina) and Conscious in Belgium (blue-green algae), both launched last year.
Nutress believes there is plenty of potential globally, and the company has its eye on the Benelux region for its food-grade chlorella. In December, the company partnered with Belgian distributor Azelis to bring the ingredients to Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. The line includes frozen (IQF) ingredients, dried flakes, and powders, which can be used to reduce sugar, salt, and "bad" fatty acids, while serving as a clean-label natural colorant and shelf-life extender, Roes says. Chlorella's subtly salty umami flavor “stimulates the salivary glands and therefore enhances sweet and salty flavors,” she adds, all while improving nutritional value with chlorella’s macro- and micronutrients. Algae can enhance the color of smoothies or be added to dough to reduce salt. It can also mix in with icings, coatings, mousses, and creams or be applied as a garnish (flakes or powders).
The options, it seems, are endless, and along with it, business for suppliers. “Our algae-based ingredients can be found in food products in more than 10 aisles of the grocery store here in the United States,” says Solazyme’s Brooks. “Our customers are using us in a range of applications. We expect to see an increased interest in algae as a food ingredient in 2016, given the consumer interest in healthier and wholesome food ingredients.”
* Updated 1/15/16 12 PM PST. Photo changed to photo of Solazyme’s AlgaVia Protein Powder courtesy of Solazyme