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Ful spirulina-based beverage: a soda to save the planet

The emergence of startups in algae-based foods is driving innovation and fueling spirulina market growth. Here’s news of an interesting beverage development…

A new Dutch soda, branded Ful, aims to take spirulina, the blue-green algae normally found only in health/supplement shops, into the broader drinks market.

Aside from health, Ful’s positioning is to make algae a more popular ingredient in order to help shrink the carbon footprint of the food system.

The founders, who met as students at the Singapore campus of the business school INSEAD (a French acronym that translates to European Institute of Business Administration), spent months exploring ways to speed up the global shift to net zero emissions before settling on blue-green microalgae.

“What I think particularly caught our imagination was how efficient it is at transforming CO2 into nutrients and oxygen,” says Julia Streuli, one of Ful’s three cofounders.

Per kilogram of protein produced, beef has a carbon footprint of around 500 kilograms; soy has a carbon footprint of around 20 kilograms. But algae quickly takes up CO2 as it grows.

In a lifecycle analysis, the startup calculated that in its own production process — which uses CO2 captured from industry — its spirulina takes in more carbon than the total process emits, giving a carbon footprint of negative 1.5 kilograms.

Algae also doesn’t need arable land to grow and doesn’t require pesticides, fertilizer, or the huge amounts of fresh water used to produce most food.

Beyond protein, it’s a source of nutrients like iron, vitamin C, magnesium, and antioxidants like chlorophyll, all of which can be found in the soda, which the company hopes will appeal to a wellness-focused clientele. Spirulina isn’t yet widely used outside the supplement aisle at health food stores.

“Very few people were focusing on the demand-gen side — how you make this product appealing to final consumers,” Streuli says. The flavour and smell can be unappetising. It also doesn’t look great.

“If you try to pasteurize it, which a lot of foods need for longer shelf life, the green colour turns to very unappetising brown,” she says.

Just before graduation, the founders won a business plan competition for their concept of a new spirulina-based brand.

“It basically gave us enough money to justify turning down our corporate jobs,” Streuli says, and the team moved to the Netherlands to begin working with food scientists to deal with the challenges that they saw holding the ingredient back, and developed a patented new way to process the algae to extract the best-tasting parts.

Their new ingredient “has a little bit of a saltiness, but it doesn’t have the fishy off-taste of spirulina,” she says. “It’s quite pleasant, and it pairs very well with other flavours.”

The extraction process also makes it a particularly bright shade of turquoise, which comes from the chlorophyll in the algae. The company decided to embrace the odd colour, rather than trying to hide it.

“If you’re describing that colour to a friend in five years, I want you to say, ‘Oh, that’s Ful colored,’” Streuli says…. Read the full article here