The new protein is called INVI, which Aker CEO Matts Johansen captures one of the product’s prime differentiating attributes.
Protein for clear beverages
“‘INVI’ is short for invisible. It’s a clear protein that’s fully soluble,” Johansen told NutraIngredients-USA.
Johansen said the new protein is a hydrolyzed protein isolate with a complete amino acid profile. The protein is also said to include minerals such as calcium and magnesium.
“It’s a complete protein that has all the amino acids and in greater quantity than most of the other protein sources. It’s a very high quality protein from the nutritional aspect. And it’s fully water soluble—it becomes clear in water. It’s pH and heat stable, so customers can pasteurize beverages without destroying the protein,” Johansen said.
Johansen said the protein project has been underway for about five years. The potential for a protein from krill was there from the outset. When the krill is harvested and goes through its initial processing stage at sea the raw material is split into a lipids stream and a ‘meat’ leftover portion, which is mostly made up of protein.
One of the biggest challenges in working with krill as a raw material has always been its sensory aspect. Over the years Aker has introduced new processing technology at its main plant in Houston to remove the bait bucket odor from its krill oil products. That technology was applied to the protein development process to arrive at an ingredient that matches up well with any protein source in the market, Johansen said.
“It actually has a very neutral taste,” he said.
First plant in Norway
Johansen said Aker is producing the new INVI protein now at bench scale, with amounts available appropriate for customers to use for prototype purposes. With help from the Norwegian government, the company plans to build a small commercial scale facility near Oslo.
“We wanted it to be near to our main R&D team,” he said.
Aker has its main krill oil processing facility in Houston. Johansen said when the time comes for a full scale commercial facility, locating it there would make the most sense.
“The US is a big protein market, so it makes sense to be close to our customers,” he said.
Sustainability bona fides
Johansen said the decision by EU leaders in December to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 55% from 1990 levels by the year 2030 will put increased emphasis on sustainability for all product categories. Johansen said he believes Aker’s long history of emphasizing sustainability and environmental responsibility will stand the new ingredient in good stead.
“In order to help meet the future food demands for the world’s growing population and to provide alternatives to land-based food production, we need to look at the oceans for innovative solutions and opportunities,” he said.
“Sustainable operations have been at the heart of Aker BioMarine since its inception, and we believe that the health of the planet should be as important as, and naturally linked to, the health of an individual. Based on all of this, we feel that INVI is the answer and our ambition is to produce 5000 metric tons of INVI for our partners looking to shape the future of the protein market,” he added.
Early target: sports nutrition
Sports nutrition products will be an easy early target for the new protein, Johansen said. He pegged the global market for sports nutrition protein at 925,000 tons. At the outset, Aker is seeking to capture about 0.5% of the market. Along with beverages, other applications could include nutrition bars.
“We intend to become an important player. We want to become a company that is part of the protein debate, as we have in omega-3s,” he said.
Johansen said Aker’s history of putting substantial investment behind its product development can give potential customers confidence that it can deliver on its promises. Some ingredients that appear promising at bench scale stumble when it comes to taking the commercial scale leap.
“I’m not too worried about sensory as we scale up. I’m more worried about economics,” he said.