Japanese firms target mass production of Spirulina to meet alternative protein demands

By Tingmin Koe contact

- Last updated on GMT

Spirulina, a green algae, is commonly consumed as a fruit juice.  ©Getty Images
Spirulina, a green algae, is commonly consumed as a fruit juice. ©Getty Images
Innovation Network Corporation of Japan (INCJ) and Mitsubishi Corporation (MC) have invested 1.7 billion yen in Spirulina manufacturer Tavelmout Corporation.

After this capital increase, INCJ and MC will join Tavelmout – also a Japanese company, as new shareholders, with each of them having 31.43% ownership of the company.

Funds injected will be used to construct a new production site in Brunei to beef up production. Tavelmout currently only has a production site in Mt Fuji.

In an interview with NutraIngredients-Asia and FoodNavigator-Asia, executive officer and chief financial officer of Tavelmout Kengo Fukui said that with the increase in production, the companies hope to mass produce spirulina and contribute to the diversification of sustainable protein sources.

Spirulina is viewed as a potential vital source of protein, as it has a protein content of over 65% on a dry weight basis.

“There are more companies producing artificial meat made from plants. We hope to use algae as an alternative source of ingredients for making artificial meat,” ​said Fukui.

He added that the company is still researching on product development in this area. On the other hand, he is also considering to supply algae for production of artificial meat.  

After two years into the business, Fukui revealed that the maximum production achieved is 100 tonnes per year.

He said that the company is hoping to “multiply production by 10 times, which is a target of 1000 tonnes per year. We hope to become the world’s largest algae supplier.”

Expansion into Southeast Asia

Fukui explained that stable temperature and sun exposure are reasons for choosing Brunei as its new production site.

With the new facility, it hopes to expand its sales out of Japan and Singapore and reach out to consumers into Indonesia and Malaysia. Other countries such as Australia, Brunei, Myanmar and Vietnam are part of the expansion plan as well.  

Currently, the company’s main customers are fruit juice stallholders, cafes, restaurants and individual buyers – especially female consumers who see spirulina as a type of beauty product.

He shared that Brunei’s production site will commence building this year and will go into operation in late 2019 or early 2020.

Market size

Spirulina is said to be rich in vitamins, minerals, and fibres, as such, it is seen as a type of “big super foods.” It is can be consumed in the form of dry powder, tablet or frozen gel that could be added into drinks after it is thawed.

The world's spirulina market will reach an estimated €1.6bn ($2bn) by 2026, growing at a CAGR of 10% each year from 2016, according to Persistence Market Research.

Within this, the global spirulina extracts market​ should generate €220m ($270m) by 2025 and Europe is expected to maintain its position as the helm, reaching an estimated worth of €70.4m ($86.1m) by 2025.

Europe saw the highest number of spirulina-containing food, drink and dietary supplement product launches in the world last year, representing 70% of global launches in the market, according to Mintel's Global New Products Database (GNPD). Asia-Pacific represented 14% of product launches; North America 10%; the Middle East and Africa 5%; and Latin America 1%.

Besides being seen as a super food, there are also companies which incorporate spirulina into common consumer products such as chocolates.

For instance, Dutch start-up The Algae Factory has produced algae chocolate​ that contains spirulina.

Data from Mintel's GNPD also shows that the majority of spirulina-containing product launches were in the sugar & gum confectionery sector (45%). This was then followed by chocolate confectionery (12%), bakery (9%), desserts & ice cream (7%), juice drinks (6%), and vitamin/mineral dietary supplements (5%) in 2017.

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