The microalgae specialists told NutraIngredients that while demand for astaxanthin - a red coloured carotenoid found in certain algae - has traditionally been big in Japan and the USA, the European interest has grown 'significantly' in recent months.
Speaking with us at their main facilities based in Israel's Negev desert Efrat Kat, director of marketing & sales noted that while much of the initial demand for astaxanthin came from the Japanese market other Western markets have quickly caught up - first with the US market taking off in 2011, and now with Europe.
"Europe has been growing mostly in the last six or seven months," said Kat. "It started in Japan, moved to the US, and now it is in Europe."
"We are seeing many more enquiries from the European market."
She noted, for example that the UK market has traditionally been "very conservative on astaxanthin" with very few products containing the carotenoid on retail shelves.
"It' s a matter of awareness," said Kat. "Now we get a lot of enquiries."
Kat added that the ever increasing awareness and interest in astaxanthin has seen demand significantly outstrip current supply on a global scale.
"If you consider that in 2004 the market size for the natural astaxanthin for human consumption was less than $1 million – now its $70-90 million,"
"It looks like demand is still going up," she commented. "It could be much more but it depends on the supply situation."
The marketing and sales director explained that it is difficult to put together a realistic picture of how big the potential market for the nutrient has grown in recent years because market demand has consistently surpassed supply capabilities.
"This is the reason we are expanding" she said, commenting on plans for the firm build new algae facilities that will more than double its output in the next 12 months.
However the Algatechnologies expert noted that the lack of supply to meet ever growing demand has already negatively impacted the industry - adding that the firm hopes this can be recovered as supply starts to increase in the coming years.
"We want to keep the interest in the market, if there is not enough supply people will switch to other ingredients."
Health claims hopes?
Kat and her Algatechnologies colleagues told us that while the firm has never submitted a health claims dossier for evaluation, it has been watching the situation regarding health claims in Europe very closely - adding that once more research data is accumulated then the company may think about submitting a dossier to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for assessment.
Astaxanthin, along with other carotenoids and antioxidants, was dealt an initial negative health claims opinion by EFSA in 2011.
"There is not yet enough data accumulated," said Kat. "When we feel we have enough, we may go. Perhaps working with other manufacturers"
She did note, however, that 10 structure-function claims relating to astaxanthin have already been allowed in the USA.