Alga’s current 35 tonne output of natural astaxanthin is set to be boosted as the company reaches maximum capacity. It added 120 per cent to its potential output in 2006.
Driven by increased exposure from the likes of superfruits, public interest in carotenoids and antioxidants is surging. The interest is being assisted by a growing body of supporting science in areas such as eye and heart health.
Food supplements account for 90 per cent of Alga’s food-based turnover but functional foods and beverages, as well as cosmeceutical applications, are taking an increasingly important role for the company that began commercially manufacturing astaxanthin in 2003 – five years after it was established in 1998.
While Alga supplied astaxanthin-bearing functional foods and drinks are only sold on the Japanese market at the moment, the company is engaging in a major push to bring product to market in Europe and the US.
Its expansion is partly driven by this reality, and follows European Union Novel Foods approval for versions of its algae-based ingredients used in supplements approved this year. Food approvals are in lieu.
Alga’s ingredient, AstaPure, appears in products from major supplements companies in the UK, Spain, Italy, France and Germany, often in combination with other carotenoids such as lutein or zeaxanthin.
Alga last week appointed Italian company, Giellepi Chemicals, as exclusive distributor of AstaPure in Italy.
"Giellepi are ideally placed to both distribute the AstaPure line of products and also offer value-added formulation solutions,” said Algatechnologies marketing and sales director, Efrat Kat. "Italy is an important market for natural astaxanthin due to the fact that sales of nutraceuticals are mainly based on physicians' recommendations who usually prefer active ingredients with proven health benefits. “
Giellepi will distribute, Algatechnologies' entire line of AstaPure products that include 10 per cent astaxanthin oleoresin, and beadlets including vegetarian and cold water versions.
Giellepi sales manger in the nutritional department, Anna Costa said the deal would “open up new market segments for this unique ingredient.”
Fish or human?
The global astaxanthin market is estimated at about €190m globally, most of which is used in fish colouration. The human uses market is growing and estimated at about €20-€30m.
Some forecasts put the human uses market at around €100m by 2013.Algatechnologies said it had recorded double digit growth in the astaxanthin market in recent years.
While no health claims can yet be made in regard to the ingredient, Kat said applications had been submitted under article 13 of the EU nutrition and health claims regulation and would be assessed within a year.
The company was becoming increasingly involved in B2B and B2C awareness-building campaigns.
Asta to star?
Astaxanthin is an antioxidant-rich carotenoid around which a growing body of science is demonstrating eye, heart, skin and cancer prevention properties. Some versions of astaxanthin are said to have an antioxidant payload 500 times that of vitamin E.
Algatechnologies is one of four major astaxanthin players – the others being Hawaii-based Cyanotech and Japan’s Fuji Chemical Industry Company via its Scandiniavian subsidiary, Astareal as well as Florida-based Valensa.
Alga’s patented process sees the ingredient extracted from algae that passes through 100s of metres of transluscent cold-water piping exposed to sunlight in the Arava desert in southern Israel.
It is believed this “closed system” provides more protection against contamination than “open systems” where astaxanthin is extracted from algae stored in vats.
Ten per cent astaxanthin oil sells for about €950-€1350 per kilogram, Kat said, with vegetarian beadlets and cold water versions being more expensive.
Algatechnologies natural astaxanthin version is derived from Haematococcus pluvialis microalgae.
It also grows another type of algae for fellow Israeli supplier, Frutarom.