KEY INTERVIEW: Algae Trending as Top Plant-Based Protein Source

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31 Oct 2016 --- TerraVia, a next-generation food, nutrition and specialty ingredients company and pioneer in algae innovation, have highlighted that its AlgaVia Protein-Rich Whole Algae continues to gain traction among leading food manufacturers and pioneering plant-based brands. 

TerraVia’s AlgaVia Protein-Rich Whole Algae is part of the company’s proven portfolio of algae food ingredients and products (including AlgaVia Lipid-Rich Whole Algae and AlgaWise Algae Oils) that are the result of over a decade of product development focused on unlocking the power of algae, the mother of all plants, and earth’s original superfood.

According to Innova Market Insights data, product launches in algae with high protein claims have almost doubled since last year, up from 7.20% in 2015, to 14.26% in 2016 YTD. The market category where algae is listed most as an ingredient, is in the supplements category. Health is the top claim for algae products, with 48.56% of claims including the word ‘health’ on packaging. 

FoodIngredientsFirst caught up with Mark Brooks, SVP Food Ingredients at TerraVia who noted the growing trend of eating plant-based foods is prompting a rise in demand for plant-based proteins, across the broad base population. “This trend, coupled with the demand for allergen-free protein sources, has driven industry adoption of ‘next generation’ plant-based protein sources, such as algae,” he says. 

AlgaVia Protein-Rich Whole Algae is claimed to be unique versus traditional plant-based proteins as it is a whole food, not a processed isolate or concentrate and yet contains approximately 65% vegan protein, with high protein digestibility. It also delivers dietary fiber and beneficial lipids and contains all essential amino acids. This whole food ingredient is also distinct from typical plant-based proteins because of its natural encapsulation, which helps enable food manufacturers to formulate with higher levels of protein while maintaining a food’s natural texture and consistency. AlgaVia Protein-Rich Whole Algae is non-GMO, gluten-free and free of known allergens.

“Algae is one of nature’s first foods and is rich in protein, fibers, and micronutrients,” explains Brooks, “Our Protein-Rich Whole Algae is made from a native algae strain and naturally converts sugars into healthy protein in a matter of days. We grow the algae in enclosed fermentation tanks providing absolute traceability and consistency. We are able to produce three times as much Protein-Rich Whole Algae per hectare of land than other plant-based proteins like soy, pea and rice.”

A major trend driving the growing popularity of plant-based diets is consumers’ desire to improve overall health and wellness. 

Protein-Rich Whole Algae is a whole food ingredient providing protein, plus a rich collection of dietary fiber, healthy lipids and micronutrients, such as lutein and zeaxanthin. Brooks adds: “Being a whole food has resonated well with consumers because they value the multi-nutrient content.” Click to Enlarge

“In addition to the protein, we also have AlgaVia Lipid-Rich Whole Algae Powder helping to accelerate the trend toward more plant-based eating. Lipid-Rich Whole Algae is an ingredient that can replace dairy fats, oil, and egg yolks. It also can boost healthier nutrition profiles, while still making delicious, indulgent-tasting food products. Using the ingredient can help food companies reduce fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and calories in their products,” he says. 

Algae from TerraVia is produced in a contained and controlled environment, AlgaVia Protein-Rich Whole Algae can be produced in a matter of days, making the production process efficient in terms of cost, scale, time, and sustainability. For Brooks, this also means that TerraVia can produce this ingredient in a diversity of geographies and seasons, tremendously improving supply chain integrity and resilience in the face of changing climate conditions. He notes: “We see offering a sustainably produced vegan protein product as a long-term solution to some of the serious challenges of sustaining traditional animal protein sources in the future.”

While manufacturers have already recognized the potential for algae protein, TerraVia see great opportunity for elevating algae into consumer conversations around plant-based protein sources. According to Lux Research, 'alternative proteins' such as soy, algae, pea, rice and canola, will account for up to a third of the protein market by 2054. 

“We feel there is room for growth in generating greater consumer awareness of algae protein, which will ultimately drive demand for this ingredient,” confirms Brooks. 

“We work closely with customers’ R&D teams and have found success fortifying a range of products using our AlgaVia Protein-Rich Whole Algae, with minimal impact on the taste and texture of the foods that consumers know and love,” he says. “With the Protein-Rich Whole Algae, we seek to answer the food industry’s demand for a vegan protein that is free of known allergens and allows easier formulation without impacting texture.” 

Brooks also notes a clear increase in consumer perception of the benefits of protein fortified foods related to sports nutrition: “Studies show that 68% of adults believe protein helps with exercise recovery and that two-thirds of adults (64%) think protein helps provide energy throughout the day,” he says.  

“Our AlgaVia Protein-Rich Whole Algae differs from other protein concentrates in the sports nutrition market in that it delivers more than just protein – as a whole food ingredient, it offers a rich collection of dietary fiber, healthy lipids and micronutrients.”

According to Brooks, the unique combination of a protein that contains all essential amino acids, is highly digestible (88%) and doesn’t interact with other ingredients in a formulation.  Because the protein is completely protected by the microalgae cell wall and due to its small particle size, the Protein-Rich Whole Algae eliminates the gritty texture often found in other fortified products.  

Today, consumers can find food with algae ingredients in over 10 aisles of the supermarket– including bakery, snacks, beverages, nutritional meals, and bars. Consumers can expect to see more products in the year ahead, as TerraVia have been working with leading food companies and sustainable food innovators in the US, Europe and South America.

“We are excited to have active projects underway in a breadth of new arenas, including savory snacks, salad dressings, cereals, cheese analogs, cookies, coatings, cooking sauces, yogurts and RTM supplements,” concludes Brooks. 

by Elizabeth Kenward

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