Unilever and biotech start-up Algenuity have partnered up to develop Chlorella Vulgaris microalgae in a plan to feed mass populations sustainable alternative protein.
According to estimates, our planet will inhabit 9.8 billion people by 2050, and food production demand will grow by over 70%.
Unilever stated: “There is a critical shift needed to build an equitable and resilient food system.”
Chlorella Vulgaris algae is an optimal ingredient in plant-based diets. It can produce year-round, in big volumes, with low land and water use, and a low carbon footprint. The companies’ partnership will also be analyzing the full life cycle of their end products, to pinpoint any stage where “sustainability measures can be further improved upon”, Manfred Aben, Unilever’s vice president of science and technology for foods and refreshment told FoodNavigator.
As well as sustainability, the ingredient offers a rich range of nutrients. Algae yield four to 15 tons of protein annually. Which is over 10 times more than that of wheat, pulse legumes, or soybeans. Furthermore, algae is a source of vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, B12, C and E. As well as of potassium, iron, magnesium, calcium, and iodine.
One challenge the partnership is facing is the high chlorophyll content. That gives algae that bitter taste and dark green colour. Much like the way leaves turn orange in the autumn. Unilever and Algenuity will develop their ingredients using non-GM plant breeding methodologies. So as to lessen the bitterness and ensure it can be presented in more neutral colours. They hope this will help facilitate the transition of microalgae into mainstream diets. This will also allow for algae to eaten in pasta, rice and even everyday sandwiches.
The company’s partnership with Algenuity is one step in its plan to get plant-base foods into the mainstream market. A massive one-third of Unilever’s product portfolio is now plant-based, including Hellmann’s Vegan mayonnaise, Magnum Vegan, and a vegetarian butcher brand.
Unilever and Algenuity’s partnership is also one of many new brands bringing algae and seaweed to the forefront of veganism. Biomarine ingredients company Algaia also recently launched VegAlg, used at the core of plant-based meat products.