Chlorella: the lean, green protein machine

Published: 13-Aug-2014

Allma is a producer and supplier of high quality, sun-grown Chlorella vulgaris powder for use in a wide range of food, beverage and dietary supplement applications. Nutraceutical Business Review went to find out more about the company

At its state-of-the-art Algafarm production facility in Leiria, 100km north of Lisbon in Portugal, Allma uses its knowledge and expertise to harness the nutritional and functional benefits of Chlorella to create — and add value to — a host of natural, sustainable and innovative products that meet the needs of modern consumers. During a site visit to the plant, Nutraceutical Business Review spoke to Sofia Mendonça, Business Development Manager, to find out more about the thriving microalgae market.

“As my title suggests,” says Sofia, “I’m responsible for business development at Allma, being the face of the business and representing the company in the market.” A marine biologist by training, Sofia’s university thesis was based on microalgae and how they influence the development of fish larvae, so she’s well versed in Chlorella’s behaviour and the biology of this “tiny little organism”.

Chlorella is still a relatively unknown ingredient and it’s important to make consumers aware of its properties and benefits

After gaining some experience in the marketing and retail environment, she joined A4F three years ago and took on the company’s business development, marketing and PR project to spread the word about microalgae and bring a better understanding of their benefits and applications to both the commercial and public sector.

“Chlorella is still a relatively unknown ingredient,” says Sofia, “and it’s important to make consumers aware of its properties and benefits.”

Allma’s Chlorella (Chlorella vulgaris) offers a rich, natural and 100% vegetable source of protein, including all nine of the essential amino acids. It also contains significant levels of complex carbohydrates, omega-3 and -6 oils, phytonutrients — including lutein, beta-carotene, chlorophyll and zeaxanthin — and a wide spectrum of vitamins and minerals that are essential for a healthy life. In particular, Chlorella is renowned for its detoxification and immune system-boosting properties.

Speaking about the company, Sofia notes Allma’s mission to deliver quality and quantity in the market with good service and a competitive price proposition. “We’re still a young company,” she adds, “but we’re very enthusiastic and feel that we’re both growing and gaining acceptance in the market.”

Solar-powered production

Allma’s Chlorella is cultivated in water, in closed, transparent food-grade production systems called photobioreactors. The photobioreactors are exposed to sunlight to encourage photosynthesis, mimicking the growth of microalgae as it occurs in nature. Sun-grown Chlorella is highly valued because it is exceptionally high in nutrients that develop naturally as a result of exposure to the sun. However, because Allma’s Chlorella is grown in closed production systems, there is far less risk of the contamination often associated with Chlorella produced in uncovered ‘ponds’ that are exposed to external elements.

After reaching an optimal biochemical profile, Allma’s Chlorella biomass is pasteurised and gently spray-dried to preserve its rich nutrient content. In the short- to medium-term, Allma will have the capacity to supply 100 tonnes a year of sun-grown Chlorella for the global market.

The closed production systems also enable greater control of the cultivation conditions, ensuring consistently high quality Chlorella every time. Using gentle spray-drying technology, the Chlorella is converted into a powder that’s easy to use in a wide range of applications, including, for example, beverages, yoghurts, ice cream, cookies, snacks and dietary supplements. “Beyond its outstanding nutritional qualities, Chlorella can also be used in foods to add a natural green colour, which gives consumer products a distinct health halo,” notes Sofia.

Quality counts

Allma is able to guarantee the quality of its Chlorella thanks to a rigorous and ongoing testing and analysis programme. All of Allma’s Chlorella ingredients are manufactured sustainably in Portugal to HACCP food-grade standards. They are non-GMO and fully approved for use in foods by authorities worldwide, including in the EU.

Sofia adds: “There is growing demand for microalgae ingredients, but we believe the quality end of the sector remains relatively poorly served. Allma’s entry into the market will address this with an exceptional Chlorella ingredient proposition that is grown in the strong Portuguese sun and backed by Allma’s first-class customer service.”

Communication and education

Sofia believes that the two-fold approach of communication and education is a key part of her role at Allma. “Without understanding about the product itself or how it’s produced — especially as Chlorella is still a comparatively new addition to the nutraceutical portfolio — both manufacturers and end-users alike won’t fully appreciate its applications or even how to use it to the best advantage. It’s important to explain how Chlorella can perform in a specific food formulation and what benefits it can provide; often, it has never been tried before, and we have to demonstrate its full potential as an ingredient replacement and/or a dietary supplement. Of course, we have to provide evidence to support its use, by doing lab-scale trials and tests, and then present our findings and further explain how the algae powder can and should be used.”

She continued: “Our mission is to take Chlorella to the next level in terms of its value as a food ingredient. We aim to be more than a company that sells Chlorella, but also a good partner that works closely with customers to find the perfect Chlorella solution for their products.”

Finished Product Applications
Allma has marked its recent entry into the ingredients market with the announcement that it has agreed partnerships with two new customers in the food and beverage industry. Allma has finalised a deal to supply its high quality sun-grown Chlorella to major Portuguese group Frulact, which supplies fruit-based ingredients to blue-chip food companies globally and markets jams, beverages and smoothies to consumers.
Frulact has collaborated with Allma to develop an innovative ‘bubble tea’ containing tiny pearls of Chlorella that provide a burst of nutrition in every sip. Frulact is now seeking partners to take the concept to market as a consumer-ready product.
Meanwhile, leading Portugal-based frozen desserts company Santini is selling Chlorella-enriched sorbet in its chain of café-stores. Named ‘Greenfest’, the sorbet is made with pineapple, orange and lemon, plus 1.3% Chlorella powder, which gives the product a distinctive green colour. It has proved popular with customers, who bought 280 L of Greenfest in an initial 2-week trial.
Sofia Mendonça said: “We’re delighted to announce these partnerships with Frulact and Santini, both of which are highly respected companies with a strong innovative streak. Chlorella adds enormous value — and a real health halo — to a range of food, beverage and dietary supplement applications and we are seeing more and more businesses discovering the benefits of incorporating microalgae into their products.”

Sofia admits that bringing something new to a large industry can be challenging. Not every company is ready to accept a new concept — or even to talk about it — depending on their vision or attitude to innovation. And, as for reaching the end-user, the consumer, Sofia is keen to emphasise the health and nutritional benefits of this “wonderful, natural, very tiny vegetable”. She says: “It’s a very good source of minerals and protein, a well-rounded supplement and a great way to enrich your diet if you are time-poor, need a meal replacement or just need an energy boost.”

There’s no doubt that functional studies are required to support health application claims, adds Sofia, but these trials are already taking place — and Japan has led the way in this field — which will reinforce the functional role of Chlorella in immune health and detoxification, and as an antioxidant, particularly in the European market.

There is growing demand for microalgae ingredients, but we believe the quality end of the sector remains relatively poorly served

The market for microalgae ingredients is currently very buoyant, but most of what is available today is sold as a commodity with very little focus on quality. Allma’s Chlorella breaks the mould in the sense that although it is produced in the high volumes required by industry, it is grown to be far superior in terms of nutrient content and purity.

“Our entry into this market is a significant development because, for the first time, companies will be able to access the very best microalgae ingredients in the quantities they require, at competitive prices and produced in accordance with demanding European food safety laws,” notes Sofia. “Chlorella is an exceptional ingredient. If you look at its nutritional composition, it provides almost all the essential nutrients and, when used a powder (which is practically water-free), you’re taking a high concentration of vegetable nutrients in a very convenient form. It’s sustainable, natural, has a novelty factor and is gradually being discovered by consumers and finished product suppliers.”

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