Spotlight on sustainability in supplements and beyond

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Spotlight on sustainability in supplements and beyond


Contents Introduction: Future frontiers for sustainability . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

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How will the proposed EU Directive on Corporate Sustainability impact the nutraceutical sector? . . . . . . . 04 Establishing sustainable and responsible corporate practices . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 04 Far-reaching: Impacting almost 17,000 business & their value chains . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 04 From fish oil to botanicals: Many nutraceuticals are ‘high impact’ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 05 Environment and human rights: A priority for businesses . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 05 Ask the experts: Stakeholder reactions to the EU Directive . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 06 Maria Pavlidou, Partner and Senior Strategy Consultant at the Healthy Marketing Team . . . . . . . . 06 Len Monheit, CEO of the Industry Transparency Center and Trade Association, the Collagen Stewardship Alliance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 07 Dilip Ghosh, Director, Nutriconnect, Nutrition and Natural Medicine Consultant . . . . . . . . . . . . . 08 How upcycling and circular sourcing are giving under-used ingredients new life . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 09 Consumers seek out ethical shopping choices . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 09 Certification helps brands authenticate upcycling credentials . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10 Upcycling ‘could become as big as organic’ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10 Closing the circle: Turning whey into animal feed . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11 Big ideals, big business . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11 Upcycling innovators: Spotlight on sustainable startups . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12 Microalgae: The sustainable superfood saving the food system . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14 The seaweed-like superfood taking the alternative market by storm . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14 Spirulina is leading the microalgae wave . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15 Could chlorella be the new soy? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15 Astaxanthin’s role in sustainable animal agriculture . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16 Can we make sustainable wild ingredient harvesting the norm? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17 ‘Lack of awareness and interest’ in wild plant sustainability . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17 Responsible sourcing of wild bioactives is ‘a great story to tell’ consumers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18 Certified FairWild: Small but growing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18 Could cultivation of botanicals be a solution . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19 Wild or cultivated? Deciding on a case-by-case basis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19 Shining a spotlight on three wild harvested plants: Pain points and potential for action . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20 Pygeum or African cherry tree . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20 Jatamansi . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21 Baobab . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22 ‘The oceans cannot meet global demand’: Exploring novel methods of producing omega-3 . . . . . . . . 23 Transgenic crops . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24 Precision fermentation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24 Cell cultivation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25 Indoor vertical farming . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25 Why the Nagoya Protocol matters for the nutraceutical industry . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26 Functional foods are growing in popularity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26 The Nagoya Protocol in action: Kaduku plum, rooibos and devil’s claw . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27 Are brands doing enough to uphold the Nagoya Protocol? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28

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Future frontiers for sustainability By Heather Granato, vice president of partnerships and sustainability At a basic level, the concept of sustainability can seem simple: meeting our own needs while ensuring we don’t endanger the ability of future generations to do the same. Commercially, we talk about people, planet, and profit - balancing the equation to support health and livelihoods around the world. And, certainly within the broader nutraceutical industry, there is a foundational recognition of the power of what the Earth provides in terms of ingredients and resources from the land and the water. However, there are myriad challenges facing the industry, from economic investment in indigenous communities to discovering new ways to eliminate food waste throughout the supply chain. This e-magazine offers perspectives on a few of the issues and insights on possible steps forward. From the balancing act of wild harvesting vs cultivated botanicals to the shifting regulatory compliance landscape and transparency in consumer communication, the information you’ll find is designed to help you make informed business decisions and fuel your own sustainability journey. As we head into 2023, let us know what else we can offer in the realm of sustainability. Through our events, media and sourcing platforms, Vitafoods is here to bring the nutraceutical community together to make a positive impact on human - and planetary - health.

Ashwagandha

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How will the proposed EU Directive on Corporate Sustainability impact the nutraceutical sector? By Lucy Whittaker, content editor The EU Directive on Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence will have far-reaching impacts for many businesses in both the nutraceutical sector and wider food industry. Here’s what companies in this space should know. The European Commission (EC) recently proposed a new directive on Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence that seeks to minimise human rights and environmental harms across global value chains. The directive, which is currently in draft form and therefore remains subject to further scrutiny and approval, is expected to have far-reaching implications for companies across all major industry sectors, both within and outside of the EU.

Establishing sustainable and responsible corporate practices Adopted on 23 February 2022, the proposed Directive on Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence seeks primarily to require large companies to implement sustainable and responsible corporate practices, built around a shared understanding of and respect for human rights and environmental considerations. The rules set out by the regulation will ensure that businesses take responsibility for the consequences of their actions, both directly, and more broadly, across the entirety of the value chain. If adopted in its current form, companies will be required to identify, eliminate, mitigate, and prevent negative environmental and human rights issues stemming from their own actions, as well as those of their subsidiaries and stakeholders. For certain large businesses, more specific rules apply, such as the requirement to align their corporate strategy with the Paris Agreement, by limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The directive also allows for sanctions to be imposed in the event of non-compliance with the obligations and assigns duties to the directors of involved EU companies. These duties include initialising and overseeing the due diligence process and building it into the corporate fabric of the business. Once approved by the European Parliament and Council, member states will be given two years to transpose the directive into national law and share the necessary information with the Commission.

Far-reaching: Impacting almost 17,000 business & their value chains In terms of scope, the new rules will apply to around 12,800 large EU limited liability companies. Over three quarters of these (9,400) are those exceeding 500 employees and a net €150 million turnover, while the remainder are companies in ‘high impact sectors,’ (see below) with over 250 employees and a net turnover of €40 million. While small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are exempt, some 4,000 third country enterprises will also be liable under the regulation. The directive will not only apply to Europe-based companies but will also apply indirectly to several global businesses that operate and generate a proportion of their turnover within the EU. “Although some NGOs have claimed that less than 1% of EU companies would be caught within the scope of the bloc’s Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence proposal, this claim underplays the potential impact of the legislation for both large and small EU businesses,” said Viviana Spaghetti, COO and head of European Affairs at Whitehouse Communications, policy advisor to The European Specialist Sport Nutrition Alliance (ESSNA), among others.

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It is worth noting that the directive will also apply to the ‘value chains’ of these companies, which means that many small and medium enterprises (SMEs) will also likely be impacted. “Many SMEs will likely need to adhere to the environmental and human rights obligations of the directive if they wish to retain their contracts with larger companies under the legislation’s direct scope,” Spaghetti said.

From fish oil to botanicals: Many nutraceuticals are ‘high impact’ To what extent might these new rules apply to the nutraceutical and supplement industries? The directive identifies several ‘high-impact sectors,’ including but not limited to agriculture, forestry, fisheries (including aquaculture), the manufacture of food products, and the wholesale trade of agricultural raw materials, live animals, wood, food, and beverages, as well as textile manufacturing. “Taking into account the above, the nutraceutical and functional food and ingredient multinational companies would be largely impacted by the directive, considering that it applies to the company’s own operations, their subsidiaries and their value chains (direct and indirect established business relationships),” said David Pineda Ereño, managing director at DPE International Consulting and expert in food supplement regulations. In this sense, it is important to note that nutraceutical and functional food and ingredient companies also exist as smaller subsidiaries to larger food corporates, or have merged or are merging, likely fulfilling the turnover criteria. “A particular focus would indeed be in the functional ingredient companies, supplying a broad range of ingredients, between vitamins and minerals, to fish oils or probiotics to food for human consumption and animal feed companies. However, those small and medium enterprises (SMEs), many of which exist in the nutraceutical sector, would not be directly in the scope of this proposal,” Pineda Ereño explained.

Environment and human rights: A priority for businesses? Minimising the human rights, and more prominently, environmental harms associated with the global food industry has been a key priority for EU lawmakers over recent years. An example of this, the European Union’s Green Deal and its Farm to Fork strategy, presented in 2019, seeks to improve diets and reduce food loss across Europe, while at the same time improving the resilience of food systems and achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. Given this focus on the environment and human rights, the new legislation is likely to have an equally significant bearing on businesses across the food supply chain. “With the legislation specifically highlighting agriculture as a high impact sector for environmental damage and human rights abuses, large food and drink businesses will particularly need to implement effective due diligence procedures to ensure that their suppliers adhere to several key international conventions,” Spaghetti said. “Both large and small companies across the sector should ensure that they stay ahead of the curve by adequately analysing and addressing the potential adverse impact of their business activities, in line with policymakers’ political priorities.”

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Ask the experts: What does the nutraceutical industry really think of the EU Directive on sustainability? The proposed EU Directive on Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence will have far-reaching implications for stakeholders in a variety of sectors across the nutraceutical industry. From healthy food marketers to nutraceutical trade associations, we put these questions to a range of industry sector experts. Maria Pavlidou, Partner and Senior Strategy Consultant at the Healthy Marketing Team (HMT) How might this regulation impact consumer perception of the nutraceutical, supplement and healthy food industry? “The first thing to consider is: will this Directive be meaningful for consumers and how? As an industry, of course it feels important and has many implications on the business side of things, but what will it really mean (if anything) to consumers? Is there an education component or is it just a legal [or] regulatory obligation that companies will have? It will depend so much on the execution. “Ideally the new Directive should be implemented in a way that is meaningful to consumers. They will need to be explicitly told why it is important. If they don’t know about it, they will not get it. “It can end up being a ‘silent’ change and really miss an opportunity to advance sustainability topics and bring them forward, closer to the mass market.” Could there be any other potential impact of the regulation with regard to marketing? “With the new Directive, sustainability will become a hygiene factor since all brands will be obligated to deliver on this front. It won’t be a differentiator anymore for those brands who decide to communicate about it. “The opportunity is for the ones who decide to lead the front in education and authentically engage with their communities in a transparent way. Emotional and authentic connections from brands with a strong purpose, who are not simply fulfilling their regulatory obligations, will always be the winner.”

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Len Monheit, CEO of the Industry Transparency Center and Trade Association, the Collagen Stewardship Alliance Does your association welcome this Directive? “We certainly support this initiative in principle, and the premise behind this Directive - to gather data, to allow benchmarking, identify risks, build resilience, pressure supply chain partners and to ultimately change behaviour - these are all also pragmatic business decisions. We also support the fact that this will drive transparency, will call out greenwashing and drive better and broader accountability in this area. “As with many Directives, it is the practical application that really counts. Some concerns we have are even expressed in the Directive and must be navigated, including treatment of SMEs as well as the global supply chain and treatment of companies and regions not part of the EU harmonisation process. In addition, while current standards, goals and benchmarks already exist (such as the UN [Sustainable Development Goals] SDGs), terminology and definitions have either been inconsistent, abstract or difficult to implement in unique business environments with unique starting points and challenges.” What steps should companies be taking in response to this Directive? “The first step is awareness, the next is benchmarking - no matter the size of the company. With the first, it would seem that a lexicon is needed, followed by an assessment of key staff understanding of role implications relating to the Directive. “With the second, metrics (as standardised and harmonised across supply chains as possible) are required, followed by baseline analysis. As noted, many companies are well beyond this baseline, but still a common lexicon and a set of metrics needs to be built.”

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Dr Dilip Ghosh, Director, Nutriconnect, Nutrition and Natural Medicine Consultant What are the implications of this Directive for the nutraceutical sector? “Mostly large companies will get advantages in the short-term by deploying due diligence processes which are hugely expensive. “The ramifications on energy use, supply chains, agriculture, packaging, product claims, ingredients, and labour are vast, and will be a huge financial and technological burden to small to medium industries. “There should be option for small and medium size industries to be able to adhere to reporting standards on a voluntary basis. “[The Directive should bring about] better management of non-EU companies operating in the internal market and a higher level of financial and logistic support from local governments or the European Union.” What steps should companies be taking in response to this Directive? “Companies need a globally harmonised definition of environmental, social and governance (ESG), which is lacking at this stage. Oftentimes today, sustainability isn’t considered during the initial R&D phase of product development, but this has to be included now. “Across the nutrition and dietary supplement industry, a rising number of consumers are making purchasing decisions based on products’ ethical and sustainable credentials. Companies should respect this consumer attitude and respond accordingly.”

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Waste not, want not: How upcycling and circular sourcing are giving under-used ingredients new life By Kirstin Knight, content editor Upcycling may be a hot topic at the moment – but the concept is nothing new. What is driving consumer interest in these ingredients, and how relevant is upcycling for the nutraceutical industry?

Consumers seek out ethical shopping choices Globally, people are becoming more concerned about food waste: 81% of worldwide consumers cite it as a factor they try to avoid when shopping, according to market research firm FMCG Gurus. This is driving people to make changes to their diets and lifestyles, with as many as 48% of respondents saying they have changed their diets to be more sustainable. Six in 10 consumers who are familiar with the concept of upcycled ingredients – ingredients directly sourced from food that would otherwise potentially go to waste, which are then re-used to make other products – say that they find the concept appealing. And it’s big business. The global upcycled ingredients market was estimated at $275.3 million in 2022, and worldwide consumption of these ingredients is projected to increase at a compound annual growth rate of 6.4% between 2022 and 2032, according to market intelligence company Fact.MR. The trend can be seen from product launches worldwide: earlier this year in Chile, Cáscara Foods brought to market a collagen powder, made from hydrolysed collagen with upcycled blueberry and strawberry fibres; in Switzerland, Wood and Field launched its Wheycation recovery shake powder, made from upcycled whey; and in Australia, Fine Fettle Foods brought out a range of functional powders – Eat the Rainbow Vegetable Powder, Mighty Root Veg Powder, and Good Gut Powder – made by upcycling overly abundant and wonky produce. Meanwhile, industry stalwart Dole is investing in upcycling programmes in Asia as part of its goal to eliminate food waste and petroleum-based packaging by 2025. In 2021, the company announced that it would repurpose 80% of ‘ugly’ fruit from its Thailand farms to make snacks and packaging, while in the Philippines, it partnered with a startup called Ananas Anam, converting pineapple leaves into vegan leather.

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Certification helps brands authenticate upcycling credentials The Upcycled Food Association (UFA), formed in 2019, is a non-profit focused on preventing food waste by growing the upcycled food economy. It developed Upcycled Certified – the first and only third-party verified programme of its kind. To receive certification, ingredients must contain at least 95% of materials from surplus food or food by-products from manufacturing. CEO Turner Wyatt said the UFA has been “more and more active in the nutraceutical space”. He pointed to SPINS statistics showing that sales of Upcycled Certified products grew by 1,046% between 2021 and 2022. He told Vitafoods Insights: “There’s a huge opportunity here for businesses to make more money while they are actively preventing food waste. And whether you’re looking for a nutrient, a fruit or vegetable powder, a fibre or fat, or a sweetener – whatever it is, there’s probably an upcycled ingredient that meets those needs.” He cited research from Innova Market Insights which found that 62% of consumers were willing to pay more for products that prevented food waste; 70% were more interested in buying a product once they saw it was Upcycled Certified. Wyatt added: “Most importantly, [certification] helps to legitimise what’s happening by auditing the supply chain of anyone who is claiming to do upcycling in their product development or in their formulation and ensuring that in fact there is a meaningful impact.”

Upcycling ‘could become as big as organic’ Comet Bio, a North American food ingredients company, joined the UFA in 2021. More than 200 of its products and ingredients are now Upcycled Certified, including its arabinoxylan dietary fibres, which have been recognised as such under the definition approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. “The upcycling story has really resonated with customers and consumers,” CEO Rich Troyer told Vitafoods Insights. “We recently performed a third-party consumer research study that found that 42% of consumers believe that reducing food waste is a reason to purchase healthy and sustainable products.” The plant nutrition containing arabinoxylan “has mostly been left behind in our modern food system”, he explained. “Comet’s patented upcycling technology extracts valuable plant nutrition from crop leftovers including straw, leaves, and shells. The proprietary process is simple, yet hard to replicate, using only steam, water, and pressure for extraction,” he said. “By leveraging materials that would otherwise go to waste – such as straw left over after a farm’s harvest or leftover parts of food processing, like spent brewers’ grains – we can close the loop on the food supply chain.” Upcycling is poised to become a trend “as important as organic”, said Troyer. Circular food solutions not only help to combat climate change but “can counter current global economic pressures and supply chain volatility”, he added.

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Closing the circle: Turning whey into animal feed What about companies that have been using these methods for years? Arla Foods Ingredients says it is “proud” of its progress in developing a circular bioeconomy, which it says began with its founding idea: to turn waste whey into animal feed. Levinia Scotti, the company’s sustainability programme manager, told Vitafoods Insights: “The whole basis of whey as an ingredient is the circular philosophy of creating value from a by-product.” “It all began years ago with the idea of turning renewable biological resources (whey and other dairy raw material flows) into value-added products. The aim of doing so is to create a circular bioeconomy that keeps the value of products, materials, and resources in the economy for as long as possible. Of course, that concept is particularly timely now.” Asked about the challenges of creating efficient upcycling processes, Scotti said the biggest was “probably building the right knowledge and technology”. Scotti added: “It has taken us time and research to develop the knowledge and technologies needed to maximise efficiency in our upcycling processes, and to realise as many cross-segment synergies from our raw material as possible. Now we constantly valorise whey and milk ‘streams’ through fractionation, and reduce waste by upgrading the resulting third, fourth, and fifth side-streams for use in areas like feed and energy production.”

Big ideals, big business As for what is driving the increased interest in upcycling, Wyatt said: “The reason that you’ve heard about upcycling more recently – even though it is an ancient concept, really – is because there is a newfound effort to align the consumer products industry with the increasingly sustainability-driven desires of consumers… and to specifically call out upcycling as a solution to climate change.” “We’re standardising this industry, giving it a common vernacular… [that] activates all of these people across the supply chain to prevent food waste together.” Scotti said that to maximise upcycling potential, “a collaborative approach is key”. Scotti added: “We make many of our side-streams available to other companies, enabling them to add more value to their by-streams – for example, as feed products or materials for biogas. Another opportunity lies in consistently applying circular economy principles to all the resources we use in our production – for example, water, packaging materials, and energy.” The biggest barrier to demand is awareness, Wyatt explained. “Most consumers want to buy more upcycled products – but they just don’t know what upcycling is yet,” he said.

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Upcycling innovators: Spotlight on sustainable startups Circul’Egg French firm Circul’Egg works with companies that produce egg-based products to upcycle their rejected eggshells and transform them into two finished products: a calcium carbonate powder and a shell membrane powder. The calcium carbonate powder is used by the food and feed industries, while the eggshell powder offers a biosourced alternative product rich in functional molecules such as hyaluronic acid, collagen, and chondroitin sulphate.

Coffee Cherry Co The Coffee Cherry Co is an agriculture start-up that utilises an organic conversion process that converts discarded coffee cherry fruits into fibre, protein, potassium, calcium, and iron-rich culinary ingredients. The USbased certified B Corporation company offers products such as coffee flour – a combination of a bean, coffee cherries, and pulp – which can be used for creating bread, energy bars, and chocolates.

Kaffe Bueno Danish company Kaffe Bueno utilises coffee by-products – such as spent coffee grounds – as a platform to produce ingredients for personal care, nutraceuticals, and functional foods and beverages. The company uses green chemistry and biotechnology to exploit coffee’s full health and commercial potential by preserving, extracting, and industrialising all of its health-promoting compounds.

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NETZRO US-based NETZRO works with large- and small-scale farmers to reharvest food byproducts and develop innovative ingredients. Projects include reharvesting spent grains from breweries and distilleries to be used in snacks, cereals, and seasonings, and milled as specialty flour, as well as processing eggshells for calcium and collagen protein. The company’s CEO, Sue Marshall, is also a founding member of the Upcycled Food Association.

Outcast Foods Outcast Foods works with farmers, processors, and retailers to create a supply chain wherein it upcycles rejected fruits and vegetables. The US-based company manufactures dried whole foods and powders, which are used in a variety of products, including protein powders and dietary supplements. Its plant-based nutritional powders are 100% vegan, certified organic, and gluten- and soy-free.

Treasure8 Treasure8 is a food technology company that uses regenerative technologies to produce long-lasting, shelf-stable products and ingredients, some of which are upcycled from food waste streams. The US-based company has exclusively commercialised the USDA’s patented SAUNA™ technology, one of the world’s most powerful dehydration technologies in the world, which it uses to convert potential food waste into affordable nutrition solutions for people and pets.

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Microalgae

Microalgae: The sustainable superfood saving the food system By Lucy Whittaker, content editor Seaweed, rich in essential nutrients and minerals, is gaining popularity as a sustainable protein alternative ingredient. How do the top three commonly used species - spirulina, chlorella, and astaxanthin - compare? Feeding the world in 2050 will be no mean feat. With the global population expected to grow by two billion from 2019 levels, an area equivalent to double the size of India will be needed to sustain a required 60% increase in food production, data from the World Resource Institute (WRI) shows. The task for food manufacturers today is to find ways of feeding the world’s booming population that are less harmful to the environment and to the climate than traditional agricultural practices. That’s where macro- and microalgal cultivation comes in. Rich in a variety of nutritional compounds such as proteins and essential amino acids and requiring minimal resources for growth, algae could be one solution to feeding the world, without destroying it.

The seaweed-like superfood taking the alternative market by storm Macro- and microalgae are aquatic organisms found in fresh and saline water. Macroalgae, like wakame and nori seaweed, have been consumed by humans for thousands of years, traditionally in Asian and Aztec cuisine. In recent years, microalgae, microscopic photosynthetic organisms, have grown in popularity in applications in nutraceutical, diet supplement and alternative protein products. Containing essential amino and fatty acids, including omega-3, omega-6, omega-7, as well as vitamins, such as A, D and E, algae is well-aligned with the ‘better for me, better for the planet’ trend and is quickly gaining interest in the functional foods, natural, and free-from product sectors. In 2019 alone, over 500 patents were filed globally for algae-based food and drink products, more than double that of 2010 (172), data from Mintel shows. This excludes patents filed only in China which recorded 639 alone in 2019, showing the importance of algae as a food source in the Asian market specifically. Given its high protein content and relatively low cost, algae are fast growing in popularity amongst vegetarian, vegan and sustainability conscious consumers. According to Mintel, around four in ten consumers in the US (36%), Canada (40%), and France (38%) are either already eating algae as a protein source on a regular basis or are interested in trying it. Several types of algae exist for human consumption, yet three species currently dominate the market: arthrospira, otherwise known as spirulina, chlorella, and astaxanthin.

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Spirulina is leading the microalgae wave Spirulina is a blue-green algae, packed with nutrients including fat-soluble vitamins (A, E, K), the omega-3 fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), beta carotene, and minerals. It is the leading edible algae in the food, drink and healthcare categories, representing 12% of new product launches globally from April to March 2020. Several studies have found that spirulina may have a positive impact on varying areas of human health including blood pressure and sugar control, antioxidant capacity, cancer, and cholesterol, to name but few. Due to its high nutrient content, spirulina has been dubbed as a key ingredient in overcoming global malnutrition’ with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimating that seaweed in just 0.03% of the world’s oceans would be enough to boost global food supply by up to 10%. One company using spirulina is Nordic-Indian startup, Prolgae Spirulina Supplies. It has created a protein-rich sweet spirulina powder to be used as a superfood ingredient in the food and nutraceutical markets, as well as a variety of ready-to-eat protein bars. By sun-drying the spirulina, Prolgae have found a way to preserve the ingredient’s high levels of protein and phycocyanin, while creating a crunchy texture. Containing fewer heavy metals and around 50% cheaper than its competitors, Prolgae stands out in the increasingly crowded market, according to Aakas Sadasivam, CEO and co-founder.

Could chlorella be the new soy? Another microalgae ingredient making its way onto our supermarket shelves, chlorella is a single-cell green algae, well-known for its nutritional profile. Naturally rich in proteins, vitamins B8, B9 and B12, minerals and fibres, chlorella is becoming a common ingredient in the sustainable, plant-based alternative sector. Danish start-up, Aliga Microalgae, produces a neutrally tasting and coloured, chlorophyll-free chlorella for application in the food, beverage and nutrition industry. “Microalgae is one of the most nutritional plants that can be consumed today and in recent years, more and more food and beverage manufacturers have started to explore the usage of algae as a vegan, sustainable, plant-based and protein-rich alternative to existing crops already used,” David Erlandsson, co-founder of Aliga Microalgae said previously. A key obstacle preventing microalgae from becoming a widely used ingredient has long been its strong, undesirable green-blue colouring and fishy flavour. By carrying out random mutagenesis of a non-genetically modified organism variety, Aliga Microalgae is able to produce a white chlorella ingredient, which it believes can rival the likes of soy and pea protein in vegan, alternative formulations. “Soy, pea, wheat and pulses are the most used crops in analogues today, yet all these require vast agricultural land areas to be cultivated as well as some of them contain allergens,” Erlandsson said. Microalgae such as chlorella and spirulina are much less resource intensive than conventional alternative protein sources such as soy, making them preferable amongst many environmentally conscious consumers. “As it is a sustainable crop that is vegan, plant-based and protein-rich, many consumers see it as a good complement to other plant-based sources being consumed today,” said Erlandsson.

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Astaxanthin’s role in sustainable animal agriculture As well as being a viable protein alternative in food for human consumption, microalgae also offer opportunities for the animal feed market. Astaxanthin is a red-coloured micronutrient that occurs in certain algae and is often used in human and animal nutrition for its antioxidant properties. Given its unique molecular structure, the antioxidant activity of astaxanthin is considered to be significantly highly than that of other carotenoids, such as zeaxanthin, lutein, canthaxanthin, ß-carotene (ten times higher) and α-tocopherol (100 times higher). Compared with vitamins, these antioxidants are also more than 6000 times stronger than vitamin C and 550 times stronger than vitamin E. California-based biotech startup, Bio-Kai, is producing 100% organic, non-GMO astaxanthin to feed salmon, chicken, and cattle. The startup uses a method of organic biosynthesis to naturally extract astaxanthin and cultivates it via fermentation of proprietary yeast. By using fermentation, Bio-Kai says it can produce large amounts of high-quality biosynthetic astaxanthin, which is identical to the one found in nature, but at a much lower cost to both planet and wallet. With 62% of all cereal crops grown in Europe ending up as animal feed, raising livestock on less resource-intensive, alternative forms of protein will be key in establishing more sustainable and secure global food systems in future.

Astaxanthin powder

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Can we make sustainable wild ingredient harvesting the norm? By Niamh Michail, senior content editor From baobab to goldenseal, the nutraceutical sector relies on wild harvesting for many of its ingredients, but supply chains can be opaque and the harvesting unsustainable. Third-party certification for sustainably wild harvested ingredients exists. How much potential does this solution have? It is estimated that somewhere between 60 and 90% of traded medicinal and aromatic plant species are wild harvested, according to non-profit organisation TRAFFIC. However, the sustainability of their harvest is relatively unknown, while the working conditions of the harvesters – often from poor, rural, marginalised, and minority communities – can be precarious. There is already huge pressure on the planet’s natural resources: one in five of the world’s plant species is endangered, threatened by habitat loss, overexploitation, invasive pests, disease, and climate change. However, rising demand for medicinal and aromatic plant species is putting further strain on these stretched resources. Between 2000 and 2020, there was a 75% increase in trade value and a 22% increase in trade volume of medicinal and aromatic plants, according to 2021 United Nations COMTRADE data. What’s more, the global supply chain for aromatic and medicinal plants is vulnerable to illicit trade and far from transparent. Nearly one-quarter (23%) of all EU wildlife seizures in 2019 were of plant-derived medicinals, according to data from TRAFFIC.

‘Lack of awareness and interest’ in wild plant sustainability A recent report called WildCheck: Assessing the risks and opportunities of trade in wild plant ingredients, co-authored by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), TRAFFIC, and other organisations, draws attention to these issues and offers solutions. The report picks out 12 commonly wild-sourced ingredients dubbed the “Wild Dozen” – several of which are used by the nutraceutical industry, such as goldenseal, jatamansi, baobab, pygeum, and liquorice – and highlights the threats and opportunities they face. The authors criticise companies for displaying a lack of interest in sustainable wild harvesting, even though their supply chains are directly threatened. “For companies manufacturing and selling final products, [...] there is a lack of awareness of the extent to which their products depend on wild ingredients, and a lack of interest to demonstrate the sustainability of wild plant supply chains,” write the authors. “However, current risks related to the global decline in biodiversity and ecosystem services are a direct threat to the supply of wild plant ingredients.” The authors cite a 2021 World Bank Report that estimates the collapse of select ecosystem services could result in the decline of global GDP to the tune of around $2.7 trillion annually by 2030.

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Responsible sourcing of wild bioactives is ‘a great story to tell’ consumers Supplement and nutraceutical brands may feel limited when it comes to communicating about sustainable sourcing, with limited space on packaging to add logos and claims. However, there is evidence of consumer appetite for sustainable nutraceutical and functional food and drink products. In 2019, researchers from NYU Stern’s Center for Sustainable Business found that sustainably marketed products were outpacing their conventional counterparts for growth across 36 different categories – including categories where botanical ingredients may be used, such as vitamins, energy drinks, and skincare products. Voluntary certification is therefore an option for suppliers looking to provide extra reassurance to consumers about their ingredients. One certification scheme, FairWild, sets its standards according to the Convention on Biological Diversity and aims specifically to reduce the social and biological risks of wild resource harvesting. Emily Robinson, project support officer at TRAFFIC and FairWild, told Vitafoods Insights: “Sustainability and ethical trade of wild-harvested ingredients have suffered from a lack of attention across all industries and sectors. [...] However, responsible sourcing of these ingredients represents a massive opportunity for businesses – contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals, supporting wildlife conservation, and being able to tell great stories about their products to customers.”

Certified FairWild: Small but growing While the number of FairWild certified ingredients is a drop in the ocean of the global botanical market, demand for certification is slowly rising. FairWild started with 10 certified companies in 2017 and counted 17 in September 2022. Most certified companies – 13 out of 17 – produce ingredients for the nutraceutical, food supplement, and health food sectors. Certified companies, which collect wild plants and are audited every year, include Georgian supplier Geoflower for liquorice root and elderflower, Ghanaian company ORGIIS for baobab, and the Pingwu Shuijing TCM Cooperative in China for southern schisandra. Around 10 firms are currently working towards certification, including Himalayan Bio Trade for jatamansi and gentian; Peruvian supplier Pebani, which works with local communities in the Amazon to source medicinal plants such as cat’s claw; and Afrigetics Botanicals, which has conducted a risk assessment for umckaloabo (Pelargonium sidoides) and will undergo a full audit if there is market demand. Consumer-facing brands and traders that use wild-sourced ingredients can also become FairWild registered, which allows them to make on-pack sustainable claims. UK baobab brand Aduna, tea brand Pukka, and Neals Yard Remedies are examples. Emily King, business engagement officer at FairWild, said its work also involves providing B2B support to suppliers and there are many companies it cannot name. “There’s a lot going on behind the scenes!” Emily said.

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Could cultivation of botanicals be a solution? While certification of wild-harvested ingredients is a solution for a more sustainable supply chain, wild resources may simply not be sufficient to cover growing demand. In certain cases of overexploitation, should suppliers invest in cultivation or conduct research to see if cultivation is possible? This is already the case for some botanicals. US-headquartered Natreon recently launched a cultivation programme for ashwagandha, while HG&H did so for sceletium and Spain’s Nektium did so for rhodiola. However, some industry commentators have warned that this may impact the properties and potency of their bioactive compounds. David Foreman, herbalist and industry consultant, told this publication previously: “The question I posed to [...] companies, is this: ‘Since these [plants] are not being grown in the same soils or wider environments, will their phytochemical and nutritional profiles be the same as the wild-grown botanicals?’ No [company] could answer my question – but I was told this would be examined.” Some research has been done in this field. One 2020 study studied the composition of wild and cultivated plants of the same genotype, Centaurea raphanina spp. mixta, a perennial plant native to Greece. The researchers found that the wild plants contained more phenols, less sucrose and glucose, and had higher antimicrobial activity than the cultivated ones. The study authors concluded that, on the one hand, individuals could get the desired level of nutrients by consuming smaller quantities of the wild plants; on the other hand, commercial cultivation could make the plant more easily available and affordable to consumers without endangering agrobiodiversity. Nevertheless, results vary depending on the plant species. A 2012 study on jatamansi found a “higher quantum of antioxidant phytochemicals in samples of planted source, thereby suggesting possibilities of greater returns from commercial cultivation of the species”.

Wild or cultivated? Deciding on a case-by-case basis From a sustainability perspective, the answer differs for each wild plant as it depends on the circumstances of the harvest, according to Robinson from TRAFFIC and FairWild. “For example, goldenseal is both wild harvested and cultivated. But based on the findings of the WildCheck report, as well as trade restrictions related to [the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora] CITES, we recommend that only cultivated goldenseal is purchased,” Robinson said. “Additionally, in cases such as shea, the lines between cultivated and wild are not so clear – for example, with some trees selectively protected on farmland – and harvests could benefit from additional trees being planted.” “Furthermore, this question only considers biological risk and doesn’t touch on social implications, where the answer becomes more nuanced. The ingredients and their harvest are critical to a lot of people’s livelihoods, so a direct swap to cultivation could have broader implications on livelihoods and culture.”

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Shining a spotlight on three wild harvested plants: Pain points and potential for action By Niamh Michail, senior content editor There are many ways in which the nutraceutical industry – from traders to suppliers, manufacturers to retailers – can contribute to a more sustainable supply chain, such as through wildlife conservation and restoration, access and benefit sharing, scientific research into cultivation and sustainable harvesting practices, partnerships, and engagement with best practice standards and certification. We look at three plants that are wild harvested, their nutraceutical applications, and sourcing pain points – as well as potential solutions for a more sustainable supply chain. “The outlook for [...] for wild ingredients as a whole can be bright if appropriate actions [...] are taken by various stakeholders now,” write the authors of the WildCheck report.

Pygeum or African cherry tree Pygeum (Prunus africana), also known as the African cherry, plum or almond tree, is an evergreen tree that grows across tropical regions in Africa. Extracts of its bark are used for medicines and herbal products to treat and alleviate the symptoms of prostate conditions in men, which is the main driver of global demand. Several compounds in pygeum may reduce inflammation by stopping the production of prostaglandins, which are indicators of inflammation in the body, according to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, a research institute. Nutraceutical brands use the ingredient for prostate-related health benefits. This year, for instance, Nigerian brand Gotea launched a “Prostate Healthy” herbal tea, with stinging nettle, pygeum, and saw palmetto, to help maintain normal urinary and prostate function. Canadian brand Magnum Nutraceuticals E-Brake also launched supplements with pygeum to reduce urologic symptoms associated with prostatic hyperplasia. However, the pygeum tree, which is a valuable food source for many endemic animals and birds in the Afromontane forest, has a “vulnerable” conservation status, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The fact that it is harvested through the bark of the tree means overharvesting is risky and can potentially destroy the tree. In fact, pygeum faces a single threat across its geographical range distribution: the harvesting of its bark, according to the authors of the WildCheck report. They recommend that suppliers wishing to contribute to a more sustainable supply chain could support scientific research efforts to identify sustainable harvesting methods for pygeum and to support cultivation trials that could reduce pressure on wild populations.

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Jatamansi Jatamansi (Nardostachys jatamansi), also known as spikenard, is an aromatic plant that flowers and grows throughout the Himalayas. It has a long history of use in Ayurvedic medicine and Chinese traditional medicine, where its roots and rhizomes are used for mental health conditions. The roots are also used to make essential oils that are said to have antibacterial and antifungal properties. However, the ingredient is also being used by packaged food manufacturers. One recent product launch using jatamansi is Indian manufacturer Amul’s ashwagandha milk, a functional dairy drink made with Ayurvedic ingredients, including ashwagandha, jatamansi, and holy basil powder. According to the brand, the ready-todrink beverage improves insomnia and reduces mental stress. Jatamansi is critically endangered, according to the IUCN. The main threats are overharvesting and habitat loss, which is largely due to agricultural and urban expansion. Additionally, the jatamansi supply chain is not always transparent. In 2017, the US government sentenced essential oil brand Young Living to pay $760,000 for violations to the US Lacey Act and Endangered Species Act Violations for illegal trafficking of jatamansi and Brazilian rosewood. According to the WildCheck report authors, many jatamansi traders pay the harvesters an advance, which leaves them in “debt bondage” and pressures them to harvest enough to pay back the money. This can encourage unsustainable practices as harvesters pick immature plants or harvest the entire rhizome, leaving none for the plant to regenerate. Brands looking to use sustainable jatamansi in their products should purchase certified supplies or connect with relevant trade bodies such as the Nepal Herbs and Herbal Products Association (NEHHPA), Jadibuti Association of Nepal (JABAN), the Herbal Entrepreneurs Association of Nepal (HEAN), and the Ayurvedic Medicine Producers Association of Nepal (AMPAN).

Jatamansi

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Baobab tree fruit

Baobab The iconic baobab tree (Adansonia digitata) is native to the semi-arid sub-Saharan Africa region and almost every part of it can be used for human consumption, from the fruit, seeds, and leaves to the flowers, roots, and bark. The fruit powder has become a popular ingredient in recent years, particularly in Europe, where it is often marketed as a superfood thanks to its high vitamin C, fibre, and antioxidant content. According to Mintel’s Global New Product Database, there have been nearly one thousand recently launched products using baobab around the world. Examples include functional beverage brand Microdrink’s lime, baobab, and acerola flavoured focus drink, launched in Europe; Dragon Superfoods’ immunity powder mix, made from a blend of organic rose hip, acerola, and baobab powders, launched in Oman; and US-based Llama Naturals’ multivitamin whole fruit gummies for adults, made with apple, strawberry, and baobab. The oil from pressed baobab seeds is used in cosmetic products thanks to its high antioxidant content, which protects skin from free radical damage and high levels of omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids, which have antiinflammatory effects. Demand is also growing considerably. According to the African Baobab Alliance, baobab powder exports amounted to 450 tonnes in 2017 but are predicted to reach 5,000 tonnes by 2025. The IUCN classifies baobab trees as having a medium biological risk. This is because the trees trend to grow as solitary individuals, meaning the population density is low, and because demand is increasing, putting strain on existing resources. However, the baobab supply chain is classified as high risk for social reasons. In four of the top producing countries – South Africa, Ghana, Senegal, and Zimbabwe – there have been documented cases of child labour and dangerous working conditions, as well as discrimination and access rights being denied for harvesters. Despite these challenges, FairWild says that baobab presents an excellent opportunity to support development, female empowerment (most harvesters tend to be women), and conservation efforts in some of the poorest countries in the world, if sourced responsibly. It notes that baobabs are being planted across Ghana and Burkina Faso to support women’s livelihoods in the dry season and contribute to the Great Green Wall Project, which aims to restore one million km2 of degraded land and halt the expansion of the Sahara desert by 2030. Responsible health and nutrition brands can opt to source certified baobab products – EU Organic, Ecocert Fair Trade, Fair for Life, FairWild, Union for Ethical Biotrade, and ABS all certify baobab suppliers – as this can offer a price premium to the producer.

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‘The oceans cannot meet global demand’: Exploring novel methods of producing omega-3 By Niamh Michail, senior content editor From transgenic plants to cell cultivation and from precision fermentation to high-omega algae, industry disruptors are developing novel methods to produce omega-3 that are fish- and krill-free. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids that bring numerous proven health benefits for brain function, vision, blood pressure, and heart health, and demand for omega-3 supplements is increasing, with an expected compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of over 8% from 2020 to 2028, according to Grand View Research. However, levels of over-fishing mean that the oceans’ resources are already stretched. What’s more, 70% of fish oil that is produced is currently used by the aquaculture industry to improve the nutritional quality of fish feed and is therefore not available to meet rising consumer demand for omega-3 oils. In addition to addressing the issue of overfishing, there may another reason to develop alternative sources of omega-3. Rising sea temperatures linked to climate change mean that natural levels of these fatty acids in the oceans may be falling. The Global Organization for EPA and DHA omega-3 (GOED), which represents the interests of the omega-3 industry, supports the development of novel methods to produce fish- and krill-free omega-3. “It’s a fact that the total EPA and DHA currently supplied by the oceans cannot meet global demand for even the most conservative recommended daily intake,” said Chris Gearheart, director of growth and engagement at GOED. “We fully support all companies developing scalable ways to produce EPA and DHA without adversely affecting marine resources, especially as nutritional literacy increases and global demand for omega-3 continues to grow.” Non-profit organisation the Good Food Institute (GFI), which champions an animal-free food system, echoes this. “There is a need for a more robust supply chain for animal-free omega-3s as ingredients for all three alternative protein production platforms: cultivated, fermentation-derived, and plant-based,” it says. So, what are the next-generation alternatives? How are they being produced, how do they compare nutritionally, and how much potential do they really have to alleviate pressures on wild fish and krill stocks?

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Camelina Sativa

Transgenic crops UK-based non-profit research centre Rothamsted Research has produced plant-based omega-3 fatty acids by genetically modifying the common commodity crop Camelina sativa to synthesise EPA and DHA. According to the lead scientist behind the research, Professor Johnathan Napier, transgenic plants are a sustainable and environmentally friendly source of omega-3 fish oils for use in novel foods. Napier and his team of researchers say they have scientifically demonstrated there was no difference in the bioavailability of their EPA- and DHA-rich plant oil in human studies compared with conventionally produced fish oil. “The only difference [was] that our plant oil is significantly more sustainable!” Napier said. Rothamsted Research is collaborating with a US company, Yield10 Bioscience, to commercialise the novel crop. Yield10 Bioscience says its engineered camelina lines produce approximately 20% of EPA and DHA fatty acids, which is similar to the composition of northern hemisphere fish oil. It has conducted several field tests in the UK, US, and Canada for four years, collecting the oil samples and conducting further studies on both salmon and human consumption. “Equivalence to natural fish oil has been demonstrated,” it says. While admitting that he was biased, Napier said there were clear benefits of using transgenic crops to produce omega-3 over other approaches. “I am not too familiar with the [cell-cultured] approach, but I can’t imagine that any system that relies on cell culture could compete economically with a plant-based approach. I mean, the cost of growing a plant in a field, versus culturing cells in a sterile environment and using expensive reagents to allow the cells to grow, means that agriculture always comes out on top. This is also true if you compare with systems that are making EPA and DHA via algal fermentation,” Napier said. “In addition, whilst it is simple to scale up with a plant-based system – you just plant more fields – if you are trying to scale up with a cell-culture system or fermentation, you need significant infrastructure to support this, plus energy costs, which are obviously increasing dramatically,” Napier added.

Precision fermentation Precision fermentation uses microorganisms, such as yeast or bacteria, as a production host to synthesise a specific molecule of interest, and could also be a promising way to produce animal-free omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA). The GFI notes that oleaginous yeast, such as Yarrowia lipolytica, may be the most suitable candidate for synthesising fats because it can accumulate large amounts of intracellular lipids. Scientists have already produced EPA using this method. In 2013, the researchers described how they metabolically engineered the yeast lipid to comprise 56.6% EPA and fewer than 5% saturated fatty acids by weight. “[These] are the highest and the lowest percentages, respectively, among known EPA sources,” they wrote. However, numerous variations on the idea of producing long-chain omega-3 PUFAs via fermentation may be imagined, according to the GFI. “Different hosts will pose different advantages and disadvantages. They can be optimised for greater efficiency, and the variety of metabolic pathways through which these compounds can be produced allows a great deal of room for optimisation, both in the interest of cost and scale and in the interest of optimising the fatty acid profile of the final product,” it says.

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Cell cultivation Cell cultivation, also known as cell culturing, is another method being used to produce animal-derived ingredients without the use of animals. While the technique is mostly being used to develop meat products, it can also be leveraged for omega-3 fatty acids. Spanish startup Cubiq Foods is developing cell-cultured DHA and EPA in addition to a range of cultivated fats for food applications. It has already partially submitted a novel food dossier to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and aims to have a cultivated omega-3 product on the market by 2025. It uses duck cells in its cell-culturing platform. According to the company’s CEO, Andrés Montefeltro, this is ideal for producing omega-3 in a laboratory because Cubiq wants to produce fats in an animal format, with the right ratio of fatty acids by triglycerides and phospholipids. “If we produce just fatty acids and then reassemble triglycerides by enzymatic steps, we will produce non-natural fats that probably can be less efficient to become active in the body. Duck cells produce the fat in the proper format, and we don’t need to add steps in order to have the ingredient ready for food development.” Montefeltro added: “[...] Animals are the perfect production machine for animal fats. Years of evolution bring this capacity. Replacing the animal synthetic pathways by a combination of microbial and chemical steps will be always less efficient for complex molecules. For example, bacteria cannot [make] fatty acids longer than C18. If you push that, by genetic engineering, to C22 and polyunsaturation, you will have a product, but the efficiency will be lower.” Besides the sustainability argument, another benefit of producing DHA and EPA via cell culturing is the ability to tweak the nutritional format. Cubiq Foods is also working on a second product that uses genetic engineering to achieve even higher levels of DHA and EPA than conventionally sourced omega-3 fatty acids.

Indoor vertical farming Fish and krill do not produce omega-3 themselves; it is present in plankton and builds up in their bodies through bioaccumulation. Using microalgae as a source of omega-3 oils is, in a way, going straight to the source. The consumer-facing brand Örlo Nutrition, owned by Icelandic supplier Vaxa, uses photobioreactors and an artificial intelligence-powered platform to grow microalgae indoors. Its photosynthesis-based process is similar to growing algae in open ponds where they harness the light of the sun. One advantage of producing microalgae indoors, however, rather than in the sea or open ponds, is the absence of environmental pollutants like mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), or pesticides, it says. Vaxa feeds the microalgae nutrients such as phosphorous, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide as inputs, which also contributes to lowering the carbon footprint of its manufacturing process. “As our oceans change, as they become just a little bit warmer and more acidic, the algae species that are actually flourishing in our oceans shift, which has impacted even the levels of EPA and DHA that are found in fish oil,” said Corrina Bellizzi, head of sales and marketing at Örlo Nutrition in a recent podcast. “This reveals [...] why it’s so important that we find better and more consistent sources that don’t necessarily have to impact our ocean eco-systems. That’s where, I think, we are headed in this space of omega-3s: new nutrition solutions that go directly to the source, to algae.”

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Why the Nagoya Protocol matters for the nutraceutical industry By Lucy Whittaker, content editor The Nagoya Protocol seeks to promote the conservation of biodiversity and fair trade and sustainability practices. How does this apply to the nutraceutical industry, and what actions should brands be taking to uphold it? The Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization, otherwise known as the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) promotes the fair and equitable sharing of benefits resulting from the use of genetic resources, and seeks to hold businesses to account vis-à-vis their contribution to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. First drawn up in 2014, the Nagoya Protocol is relatively new to the food and beverage industry and lacks awareness among industry stakeholders, particularly those at the beginning of the value chain, according to a European Commission report. Nevertheless, due to recent technological, scientific and market advances, the use of biological resources in the food industry is continually expanding. “Put simply, the Protocol is about fairness and equity […] ABS principles provide that when a company seeks access to biological resources for scientific or commercial purposes they must obtain the consent of the national authorities and agree on the terms of use of these pieces of biodiversity, including the sharing of benefits arising from their use, which may be monetary or non-monetary,” said Rik Kutsch Lojenga, executive director of the Union for Ethical Bio-trade. The protocol does not cover the commodity trade of raw materials, nor local trade or subsistence use. It does however apply to the use of traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources covered by the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), defined as ‘all living organisms (plants, animals and microbes) that carry genetic material potentially useful to humans.’

Functional foods are growing in popularity In recent years, functional ingredients sold as supplements in mainstream markets have seen dramatically increased sales such as kelp (+41%) and cayenne pepper (+49%) in the US and green tea extract and cocoa in Europe. This sector, as well as, medical foods, personalised nutrition products, new agricultural products, novel foods, and new flavours commonly make use of genetic resources such as those covered by the ABS. Bioprocessing, where novel enzymes from microorganisms are used to produce new products and flavours, innovations in existing products that derive from using genetic resources, and the use of ‘new’ species or traditional knowledge to investigate bioactive compounds for use in food production are all examples of food industry-related activities that would fall under the ABS, according to a CBD report.

Green tea

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The Nagoya Protocol in action: Kaduku plum, rooibos and devil’s claw The traditional knowledge of indigenous communities and local peoples often plays a key part in the development of natural products within the nutraceutical space. Take the Kakadu plum, for example, which is found across Northern Australia and was originally used in traditional medicine to treat the flu or as an antiseptic. Considered to be the world’s highest source of vitamin C, it is now used in food and nutraceutical products for its antioxidant properties. An alliance of Aboriginal-owned enterprises, the Northern Australia Aboriginal Kakadu Plum Alliance, is working to provide stability and reliability to the industry by working with local people to source, supply and protect the Kakadu plum value chain. Similar action is being taken in the rooibos industry. Considered to be the first such arrangement since the 2010 ratification of the Nagoya protocol, under the landmark rooibos agreement, companies assign 1.5% of the ‘farm gate price’, the price that agribusinesses pay for unprocessed rooibos (Aspalathus linearis), to the San and Khoi communities. Originating from Southern Africa, these communities are understood to have existed for some 100,000 years and are believed to have used rooibos to brew tea – a skill they passed onto colonial-era settlers. In 2019, the estimated compensation amounted to 12 million rand. (US$799,000), which was split equally between the Khoi and San groups, according to an article published in the journal Nature. Another nutraceutical supply chain working to uphold the principles of the Nagoya Protocol is that of devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens and Harpagophytum zeyheri), an indigenous plant growing in Namibia. Believed to contain chemicals that may decrease swelling, devil’s claw is used in products which aim to treat pain and inflammation. Under the umbrella of the BioInnovation Africa (BIA) project, various industry stakeholders – namely, Naturex, a branch of global flavour giant, Givaudan; German development agency, GIZ; the Namibian Devil’s Claw Exporter’s Association (NDCEAT); and the Network of the Cosmetics Industry (NANCi) - are running a training programme on sustainable harvesting techniques for producers of devil’s claw. “[BioInnovation Africa] is a BMZ-funded project implemented by GIZ with the objective to develop European-African cooperation for biodiversity-based innovations and products based on fair and equitable benefit-sharing for biodiversity conservation,” said Freidrich zur Heide, project coordinator, GIZ. “The partnership endeavours to set and implement sustainability standards in the devil’s claw industry to ensure long term availability of the botanical resource and the viability of subsequent economical activities for all the stakeholders.”

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Are brands doing enough to uphold the Nagoya Protocol? Despite the efforts from some brands to support indigenous communities and knowledge, is enough being done by the industry to uphold the Nagoya Protocol? Where wild collection of ingredients by large corporates is concerned especially, brands should act with sustainability at the forefront by focussing on preserving the biodiversity of the ingredient, rather than on securing the lowest price, according to Christian Pierron, head of procurement functional and nutritional ingredients, Naturex. “Brands should commit to procuring only sustainable products and promote this virtuous evolution to their customers. When possible, they should also finance sustainability programs in collaboration with their suppliers,” Pierron said.

Rooibos fields

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While several companies are familiar with the Nagoya Protocol and are taking steps to respect national legal ABS requirements when accessing biological or genetic resources, many are still unaware of ABS principles or have the impression that they do not apply to them, said Kutsch Lojenga. “Companies that rely on biodiversity need to establish due diligence systems to ensure that they comply with the ABS requirements of countries they rely on and access resources from and in countries where they are used, as these requirements are legally binding,” Lojenga said. “Also, it is important for companies to be aware there is a large diversity of national approaches to ABS implementation. Therefore, while some company activities may not be covered by ABS requirements in one country, these requirements may apply in another.”

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