Business ideas for 2018: Algae

One of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet – blue algae (or spirulina) is the superfood ingredient you’ll hear everyone talking about in 2018...

Healthy eating really has gone mad.

Gone are the days when you could feel virtuous just for eating a simple salad, today health-conscious consumers are superfood obsessed – and rainbow bowls and supplement-packed smoothies are all the rage.

From kale and avocado to goji berries and seaweed, there’s always an on-trend new product you must be eating and this year is no different.

Last year it was all about fermented foods (yes, really) and 2018 will see the rise of a new superfood powder you might not quite believe.

Forget green foods, in 2018, it’s all about blue algae. Push aside your preconception of pond scum and think instead of an Instagram-friendly blue smoothie that needs no filter.

Perfect for anyone looking to eat a more plant-based diet, it’s one of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet – and the ingredient you’ll hear everyone talking about across the next 12 months.

Starting an algae business: Why it’s a good business idea

Superfoods have received some backlash recently, as sceptics point out the notion of a ‘superfood’ is more marketing ploy than scientific fact. However, while there are undoubtedly some myths surrounding ‘clean eating’, (putting green powder in your smoothie is not a magic cure for all sins), the popularity of such supplements is unabating.

In its top food trends for 2018 report, Whole Foods named super powders such as spirulina as “serious power players” for the year ahead.

And as more and more people turn to plant-based and vegan diets, it’s a trend that is only set to rise – as consumers look to find substitutes for protein and other essential vitamins and minerals they may lack from their diet.

In 2016, The Telegraph reported a 360% increase in veganism over the last 10 years, and this January ‘Veganuary’ – a commitment to eating vegan for the month – has seen 52,000 people accept the challenge (compared to just 1,500 in 2014).

What’s more, when it comes to algae, the nutritional benefits really are immense. Mandy Saven, head of food, beverage and hospitality at research firm Stylus, says “Gram for gram, spirulina – a common form of algae – has more calcium than milk, more beta-carotene than carrots and more protein than meat.”

In fact, 60% of algae is made up of protein, music to the ears of fit-foodies.

And the benefits of algae are twofold. Not only does it have a high nutritional value, but in today’s social media-obsessed culture, where the look of our food is almost as, if not more, important than the taste itself, it has a striking natural colour that garners attention. At the time of writing, there are staggering 254,334,227 posts on Instagram for #food.

Emma Schofield, global food science analyst at Mintel, explains the growing popularity of blue algae:

“With the exception of a few examples such as blue cheese and blueberries, blue colours aren’t associated that positively with food and drink, however, more blue coloured foods are beginning to emerge. Blue spirulina is making its way into cold-pressed juices, protein powders and even lattes.”

Algae business opportunities

So, how can you turn the growing popularity of this superfood powder into a business opportunity?

Well, spirulina as a powder has been around for a while in retailers such as Holland & Barrett – but although it may be familiar to some early adopters, foods that use algae as a core ingredient are still hard to come by.

US-based start-up nonfood (don’t be fooled by the name, it’s a deliberate ploy to make buyers re-evaluate what they think about certain untraditional foods) launched its first product in November 2017 – with algae as one of its core ingredients.

The Nonbar, which is made from spirulina, lemna, algae oil, and syrup, is the first in what will be a range of protein-dense nutrition bars with high contents of algae. The LA-based start-up is on a mission to promote food that minimises waste and resource, and according to its site when “algae goes from non-food to food we will live on a healthier, cleaner, and more interesting planet.”

Yet another reason to consider launching an algae-related business.

nonfood is pioneering algae bars in the US and there’s plenty of opportunity to be a similar market-leader in the UK.

Initially, it may be a challenge to gain traction for a new category of food. James Shillcock, founder of UK start-up Vivid (a matcha specialist), explains how when they first launched they “had to educate consumers with a tiny budget and convince retailers who are often risk averse.” However, the benefits of capitalising on a trend early are vast.

Shillcock adds: “We launched with a first mover advantage and matcha is now available all over the UK in places like Starbucks and Pret and Vivid can also be found nationwide in Tesco, Waitrose, Boots and Holland & Barrett.”

Another avenue to consider is opening a street food outlet dedicated to algae products or a speciality cafe.

Looking across the pond again, The End in Brooklyn has become well-known for its Unicorn Latte which contains E3 live blue green algae. The plant alchemy bar claims the latte has “every fibre, nutrient, and amino acid that your body needs to feel balance” – and it definitely makes for a very attractive picture on Instagram.

Insider opinion

Sean Raspet, founder of nonfood, explains why he believes algae to be an ethical and important business opportunity:

“I chose to focus on algae because it is the most ecologically efficient known food source while also being extremely nutritious. I’ve done a lot of research on the ecological footprint of different foods. Algae can use 100 times less resources than common plant-based crops and 1,000 times less than animal products.

“It has the potential to drastically reduce humanity’s resource and carbon footprint on the world if it were to become a common food staple, but no company is making food that is primarily algae-based.

“So, I started nonfood because it was urgently important to make healthy and delicious foods where algae is the primary ingredient and the first ingredient on the label. We think it’s likely to become a primary staple in the years to come and if it does, we will live in a cleaner and healthier world.”