The company, a subsidiary of Fuji Health Sciences-owned BioReal in Hawaii, took the decision to expand capacity six months ago.
Annual growth of the global market for astaxanthin for human use is thought to be at least 15 per cent, with current estimates valuing the market at $15-20m (€12.4-16.6m) per year. Although Fuji also has its own astaxanthin-growing operations in Japan, most of the astaxanthin produced by BioReal Sweden is destined for the Japanese market where there are more than 100 retail products on the market.
"We also see growing demand in Europe too," åke Lignell, general manager of BioReal Sweden, told NutraIngredients.com.
BioReal Sweden's astaxanthin was last year approved as a new dietary ingredient in the US, but Lingnell said that the Hawaiian parent company currently focuses on that market.
In Sweden the company can now produce "several tonnes of biomass per year", although he was not able to give precise capacity figures. The first batch is about 200kg of biomass, with six per cent pure astaxanthin.
The Swedish facility, located on the archipelago outside Stockholm, also has the potential for further expansion at relatively short notice, if industry demand requires.
This is flexibility is possible because the algae is grown indoors in bioreactors, under intensive, fully-controlled conditions that Lignell compared to "an intensive green house for tomatoes". The company now has the expertise to quickly build new bioreactors without a long run-in period.
Astaxanthin is produced by the haematacoccus pluvialis algae when water supplies in its habitat dry up to protect itself against the effects of UV radiation. Research has shown it to have a similar structure to lutein and zeaxanthin, but there are indications that it has an even stronger antioxidant activity.
BioReal offers astaxanthin as a biomass with more than five per cent pure astaxanthin, 90 per cent of which for human nutrition. Five per cent is for animal nutrition, and the remaining five per cent for 'designer eggs' - that is, where astaxanthin is used in place of synthetic pigments for a brightly coloured yolk.
Lignell explained that the decision to change the company name from AstaReal to BioReal was taken because AstaReal is also the name of the product. This has caused some confusion, especially in the US.
Prior to its acquisition by Fuji in 2003, the company was known as BioProcess, and before that as AstaCarotene.
Fuji also has another astaxanthin-producing subsidiary in the US, called AstaVita (formerly GoForLife).
Fuji has world patents for the use of astaxanthin in physical and muscle endurance, gastric health, fertility and for the immune system disorder Crohn's disease. It also has a patent pending for eye fatigue and visual acuity.
Valensa (formerly US Nutra) holds both US and world patents for its use in retarding and ameliorating central nervous system and eye damage, and Hawaii's Cyanotech holds three patents - for carpal tunnel syndrome, for cold and canker sores, and as an internal and topical sunblock to prevent skin damage from UV radiation.