Solarvest has been ‘close’ to being market-ready for a while, something that it has in common with other suppliers of algal dietary ingredients. Getting the production process firmly nailed down almost always seems to take more time that originally anticipated.
Commercial scale achieved
“We spent quite a bit of time working with our production partners on the scale up program. We recently had a nice bump in yield levels. I wouldn’t call it a breakthrough because these things are all in small steps but we did achieve a 30% improvement in yield and we already thought we were at commercial scale so that provides some comfort,” Garth Greenham, Solarvest’s COO, told NutraIngredients-USA.
Solarvest had previously announced a partnership with two German firms to develop the method to produce the company’s Chlamydomonas reinhardtii algal strain. Solarvest has kept the name of these producers close to its chest, only revealing that it is a company well versed in fermentation technologies. Greenham said trying to make the ingredient fit within an organic positioning complicated the process somewhat.
“This was a matter of putting our heads down and getting the commercial quantities we needed out of the fermenters. We are dealing with nothing but organic inputs like vegetable and fruit juices that are a little more difficult as nitrogen sources to use. There are some very simple nitrogen sources you could use that make it easier but they are not organic,” he said.
Deriving DHA from algae via fermentation is nothing new. What’s unique about Solarvest’s ingredient is that the company has demonstrated the process with the organic inputs, and Greenham said the result is certified organic in the EU, which is accepted by the United States Department of Agriculture. Greenham said so far as he knows it will be the only certified organic omega-3 on the market. (Another marketer, Source Omega, which sources its ingredients from a Chinese supplier, claims on its website its algal omega-3 oil ingredients are “National Organic Program compliant.”)
Greenham, who founded the company with his brother, said his team’s background has helped in the launch as a dietary ingredient supplier. In particular it helped in paving the way for a smooth NDI notification with the US Food and Drug Administration.
“We come from the biotech business so we are used to doing complex submissions. We ran a biotech company for many years making injectable animal vaccines. We were attracted to algae first; we found it fascinating as a platform. We had spent a couple of decades using bacteria to make vaccines, and one of our early patents in algae was for the expression of proteins. But during that development time we had to get a little more pragmatic, and the idea shifted to omega-3s,” he said.
Organic positioning helps in differentiation
Greenham said with all the suppliers in the omega-3s market, no one company dominates the picture. While that diversification creates crevices within which a startup can get some traction, there still is a need to be able to stand out.
“If you talk about product differentiation this industry has seen various attempts to do that. The organic positioning is one that people understand and it’s not like we need to engage in a long conversation with customer about why organic is different. From the market numbers I see, the organic products seem to be growing very rapidly. And there are companies in Europe that have not been adding omega-3s because they have built their whole market positioning on organic,” Greeham said.
Greenham said Solarvest is now looking for additional capital to facilitate the final workup of a marketing program. He said the amount of funds needed is not large, and anticipates full scale market entry by the first quarter of next year.
“It’s been a long road, but we are very close and I don’t see much in the way,” he said.