Look out Haematococcus pluvialis. You might not be the only game in town. Credit: Ude, http://www.tci.uni-hannover.de/

Look out Haematococcus pluvialis. You might not be the only game in town. Credit: Ude, http://www.tci.uni-hannover.de/

J dropcapennifer Grebow reports for Nutritional Outlook magazine from the SupplySide West ingredient trade show in Las Vegas that, according to natural astaxanthin suppliers, the industry’s struggles to meet rising demand with supply are a thing of the past. Suppliers are now looking forward with a focus on new research, new applications, and even new algae strains.

“The supply gap was short-lived. It’s almost ancient history,” said Joe Kuncewitch, national sales manager of AstaReal, of Burlington, NJ. “Since then, folks like AstaReal have taken the care to do the right thing, and that is to ramp up supply.”

In 2014, AstaReal opened a facility in Moses Lake, WA, where the company uses photobioreactors to produce AstaReal natural astaxanthin. Mr. Kuncewitch said that the firm also tripled capacity at its Gustavsberg, Sweden, facility, adding more indoor photobioreactor tanks to grow algae using UV light. “It’s a modular system, so we can just add more reactors and grow more algae,” he said, noting that expansion may not be so easy for astaxanthin suppliers engaged in autotrophic growing requiring open ponds.

Ed Hofland, chairman of Algatechnologies at Kibbutz Ketura, in Israel, agreed that supply is back. “There was obviously a shortage in astaxanthin supply up to about a year, year-and-a-half ago,” he said. “What happens normally then, everybody’s expanding, so the new supply came to the market at one time.”

Producing algae isn’t always easy, as Haematococcus pluvialis, the source of most natural astaxanthin on the market today, requires mild growing conditions. “It’s the Goldilocks of algae,” Mr. Kuncewitch said. “It doesn’t like it too hot; it doesn’t like it too cold. It’s very finicky. You can’t grow it just anywhere. It needs the right nutrients, the right light, the right heat, the right temperature.”

Astaxanthin’s claims to fame are its wide-reaching antioxidant benefits. Studies show that by improving mitochondrial function, natural astaxanthin can benefit many aspects of human health, from eye health to skin health to heart health.

Sports nutrition is a big focus area for many natural astaxanthin suppliers these days, and sports nutrition marketers are interested. In 2011, for instance, the Gatorade Sports Science Institute performed a small, one-month study on a low dose of 4 mg/day of AstaReal astaxanthin in 14 cyclists. Researchers found that AstaReal group significantly reduced cycling times by 5% and increased power output by 15% following supplementation.

Another future direction for astaxanthin may be exploring algae strains other than Haematococcus pluvialis. “In the past two years, our efforts have been on the marketing and creating a pipeline of new microalgae, which we will start turning out with new active ingredients [beginning] three or four months from now,” Mr. Hofland said.

“I think that we as an industry, the Haematococcus pluvialis industry, should try and bring other microalgae into the picture,” he said, “because the microalgae business in itself is so unexplored and its potential is so huge that, in our mind at least, we’re spending a huge amount of money on making ourselves capable of bringing every year a new ingredient from a new microalgae on the market. That’s our plan. We just hired another three PhDs, biologists, and the focus of the company is very much on growth.”

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