By 2050, there will be 10 billion people on the planet. It is estimated they will need 70% more food than is currently produced. Changing the world’s food systems is no longer a choice, it is an imperative.
The announcement of Unilever’s partnership with microalgae expert Algenuity marks an important step in making this critical shift toward the development of sustainable food alternatives.
“Microalgae offer much untapped potential as a viable, climate-friendly protein alternative,” says Alejandro Amezquita, Future Bio-based Ingredients R&D Director, Unilever Foods & Refreshment. “They have a significant part to play in food system transformation.”
Better, not bitter
Packed full of protein, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, algae as a source of sustainable nutrition is nothing new. Microalgae like Chlorella and Spirulina have been widely available for years as a health supplement and also – thanks to their vibrant pigments – as colourful additions to food.
However, despite a short-lived fad for lurid green Chlorella lattes and other crazes, microalgae have never really made it into the mainstream, principally because of their bitter taste and smell.
Algenuity has found a way to overcome this. Its ‘Chlorella vulgaris’ microalgae are different. The biotech start-up has succeeded in developing an innovative technology named Chlorella Colours® which removes the unpalatable taste, without reducing any of the microalgae’s valuable nutritional content.
Offering a taste of change in the kitchen
With a more neutral taste and smell along with an array of colours that range from white to lime green, Algenuity’s microalgae not only taste and look good, they also perform well in cooking.
For example, their emulsifying and enriching properties are similar to those of traditional ingredients such as eggs, which means they can be used in a wealth of foods including mayonnaise, soups, sauces, meat alternatives, baked goods and pasta. This also, of course, makes microalgae particularly relevant for Unilever brands like Hellmann’s, Knorr and the Vegetarian Butcher.
“We are delighted to partner with Unilever on this,” says Andrew Spicer, CEO and Founder of Algenuity. “Our Chlorella Colours platform provides plant-based ingredients that are sustainable, natural, non-GM and protein-rich with neutral flavours. They are also vegan-friendly, making them extremely relevant to today’s growing consumer appetite for more plant-based foods with additional functional benefits.”
A force for good
Rising consumer interest in sustainable ingredients mirrors Unilever’s own wider ambition to help lead a global transition to fairer, more sustainable food systems and, more specifically, its commitment to making plant-based options available to everyone. One-third of the company’s foods portfolio is already plant based.
This commitment, already highlighted in Unilever’s work to promote sustainable diets through its Future 50 Foods collaboration with WWF, will continue as Algenuity partners with Unilever teams at the €85 million foods innovation centre at the Wageningen University campus in the Netherlands.
Also known as the Hive, the centre is at the heart of innovative research aimed at formulating the next generation of meat and dairy alternatives, including microalgae.
“Transitioning to a sustainable food system requires all of us working together. It’s one of the world’s greatest challenges and will not happen without partnerships and collaborations. This is what our Hive ecosystem is all about,” says Manfred Aben, VP, Science & Technology R&D and Site Leader of Hive. “We are very excited about the huge potential working with Algenuity brings to advance nutritious foods that taste great and are a force for good.”
It is a force that is set to grow. Brand new research by ethical investor network FAIRR, for example, highlights that two in five global food giants now have dedicated teams to develop and sell plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy. Unilever is one of only two companies to be cited as a ‘pioneer’ in this year’s FAIRR ranking of the world’s top 25 food retailer and manufacturers that are shifting to more sustainable protein sources.
It’s clear that plant-based alternatives offer huge commercial growth potential. More importantly, perhaps, they offer a simple way of helping consumers transition to more sustainable diets.
“Every day, half a billion of our products are consumed, so we can and should lead the transformation of the food system,” says Hanneke Faber, Unilever President, Foods & Refreshment. “It is our responsibility to make it easier for people to eat healthy, tasty and more sustainable food.”