Unilever and biotech start-up Algenuity are announcing a new partnership to delve into the huge potential microalgae bring in innovating future foods for Unilever’s plant-based portfolio. Algenuity, which specialises in developing microalgae for use in consumer products, will work with the R&D team within Unilever’s Foods and Refreshment (F&R) division to explore ways of bringing foods made with microalgae to the market.
Developing alternative protein sources like microalgae represents a significant step forwards in the critical shift needed to an equitable and resilient food system. By 2050, the world will need to produce 70% more food to feed a growing population of 10 billion people. These foods will need to meet a high nutritional standard, while reducing their impact on the environment.
Unilever and Algenuity recognise the key role that diverse, plant-based proteins like microalgae will play in transitioning towards this new food system. Chlorella vulgaris, a widely recognised (micro)algae, is a nutrient-rich, plant-based source of protein and fibre, with a low environmental footprint. Chlorella possesses a number of additional beneficial nutrients including antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids. It has been consumed globally for many years, yet its high chlorophyll content, which gives plants their green colour and a bitter taste and smell, has proven a barrier to its inclusion in mainstream diets.
Innovative technology unlocks new potential
Algenuity has developed an innovative technology to overcome this limitation. Its Chlorella Colours® palette significantly reduces the chlorophyll content of microalgae while still allowing them to retain their natural nutrients. This unlocks a wealth of potential applications for microalgae in the food and beverage sector. It brings the opportunity to develop a sustainable source of protein that meets increasing consumer demand for nutritious foods that taste great.
“Microalgae offer much untapped potential as a viable, climate-friendly protein alternative,” says Alejandro Amezquita, Future Bio-based Ingredients R&D Director, Unilever F&R. “They have a significant part to play in food system transformation. We are very much looking forward to working with Algenuity to explore the possibilities of making foods that contain microalgae more mainstream.”
Andrew Spicer, CEO and Founder of Algenuity says: “We are delighted to partner with Unilever on this. 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 for today’s growing consumer appetite for more plant-based foods with additional functional benefits.”
“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,” says Manfred Aben, VP Science & Technology R&D and Site Leader of Hive, Unilever’s Global Foods Innovation Centre, in Wageningen. “Transitioning to a sustainable food system requires all of us to work 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. We are delighted to welcome Algenuity to our community.”
The partnership builds on Unilever’s ambition to make it easier for people to eat more plant-based foods that are good for us, good for the planet and delicious at the same time. Plant-based products now make up around a third of the company’s portfolio, including dairy-free and vegan options such as Hellmann’s Vegan, Magnum Vegan and Vegetarian Butcher products. In 2019, Unilever’s Knorr brand partnered with WWF UK to publish the Future 50 Foods report, which promotes three important dietary shifts and aims to inspire greater variety in what we cook and eat.
The company’s efforts and commitments to the transition towards low-impact protein sources continues to be recognised. The latest report by ethical investor network FAIRR, released on 27 July 2020, ranked Unilever as the best-scoring food manufacturer in an annual survey of the top 25 global food retailers and manufacturers shifting towards more sustainable protein products. Unilever is also one of only two companies to have achieved “Pioneer” status in the 2020 ranking.
The report, titled “Appetite for Disruption: A Second Serving”, also highlights Unilever’s notable investment in plant-based R&D and its commitment to partnerships and collaborations. Central to this work is the opening of Unilever’s Hive Foods Innovation Centre in the Netherlands in 2019, representing an investment of €85 million. Hive is home to 500 food innovators and is dedicated to global food system transformation. For more information on HIVE, please visit: https://www.unilever.com/about/innovation/hive/
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