Krill oil specialist Aker BioMarine is bringing to market an algal DHA ingredient. The raw material, which is extracted in its Houston facility, comes from a partner. Aker is also developing a protein ingredient at a pilot plant in Norway.

Hank Schultz, Senior Editor

March 19, 2024

4 Min Read

At a Glance

  • Aker BioMarine has a new partnership to produce an algal DHA ingredient. 
  • Changes in the fish oil sector have made algae more cost competitive.
  • The company is also introducing a protein ingredient derived from leftover krill meal. 

Aker BioMarine is entering the algae omega-3s space with a new partnership to extract DHA-rich oil at its manufacturing facility in Houston. The company has also announced the development of a new krill protein ingredient. 

The company has had both ideas under development for several years, said CEO Matt Johansen. 

Johansen and Christine Strømhylden Lunder, Aker’s venture lead for the new protein project, shed light on the developments during a conversation last week at the Natural Products Expo West trade show in Anaheim, Calif. 

The company, which is based in Oslo, Norway, had been planning for new product streams from early in the history of the Houston plant, Johansen said. 

Changes in fish oil market 

The development of the algae partnership was driven by ongoing changes in the supply of omega-3s for dietary supplements. Really since the inception of the category, most of the supply of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) derived from fish oil has come from just one source: the Peruvian anchovy fishery. 

That fishery, driven by the cold upwelling Humboldt Current that delivers trillions of tons of nutrients to surface waters annually, is enormously productive and the world’s largest by total catch. But it is not unlimited. 

Related:Aker hits high gear in krill oil innovation with mature Houston facility

It has also been subject to big swings in abundance. That has caused authorities to periodically shut down the harvest completely, which has happened again recently

While the supply constriction is grabbing headlines, it is not unprecedented. The abundance swings have been driven by still imperfectly understood natural phenomena, such as El Niño events in which the waters in the region warm significantly for a period of several months. Other factors, such as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation — a periodic shift in ocean-wide conditions — are also thought to play a role. 

Fishing pressure has been stringently regulated in recent decades and some experts have concluded it has not played a significant role in the population swings. Other harvest seasons (there are two annually) have been restricted or closed in the past decade. 

What is new, however, is the increasing demand for fish oil from the aquaculture sector. Johansen said fish farm managers have been able to steadily reduce the proportion of marine-based feed used to grow their captive salmon. But that process has hit a natural limit at about 20% of overall feed (with the rest coming from soy meal and other plant-based inputs).   

So now, with the demand for farmed salmon growing steadily at 5% or more every year, Johansen said the amount of fish oil devoted to aquaculture will grow at a similar rate. That will drive up prices, making other omega-3 sources such as krill and algae much more cost competitive. 

“The 20% (feed) level was hit about three years ago,” Johansen said. “Since then, the growth of demand has gone in lockstep with the growth of salmon. Meanwhile, the availability of fish oil is flat.” 

Raw algal oil produced by partner 

Johansen said the new algal ingredient, which is branded as FloraMarine, is being produced by a partner, as the company didn’t believe it made sense to try to develop fermentation expertise to go along with its lipid extraction capabilities. The raw material comes from a strain of Schizochytrium grown autotrophically, a technology first pioneered by Martek in the 1990s (and later patented). 

With the expiration of that patent many fermentation-based algal omega-3 oils started to appear on the market. Johansen said Aker’s new ingredient will be differentiated by the proprietary strain used. 

“We have a strain that is quite unique and produces an extremely high level of DHA,” Johansen said. 

He explained one of the impetuses for the new project was to more fully use the capacity of the Houston extraction facility. 

“We can enter into this algae space really without any additional cost,” Johansen added. 

 The drive behind the protein project was to more fully utilize the left-over krill meal, one of the waste streams from the Houston plant, Strømhylden Lunder noted. 

“We are upcycling that into human grade pure protein,” she said. “We started on the project in 2015.” 

But what about the taste? 

Strømhylden Lunder said the expertise that Aker had developed in krill extraction was crucial to making a viable ingredient for human consumption. Krill as a raw material has many attractive properties, but good smell and taste are not among them. 

“We are able to keep all of those essential amino acids while purifying out all of the fractions we don’t want,” she said. 

The protein project, which is branded as Understory, is being housed at a mid-sized facility in Norway, she said. That choice was made to keep it close to the R&D team at the company’s headquarters. 

Strømhylden Lunder said the new ingredient is neutral in taste, has low viscosity and can be mixed into clear beverages as well as being used to fortify foods. 

Johansen said Aker was confident enough in the development of the protein ingredient to invest in a larger plant that can produce commercial quantities (albeit at smaller scale) rather than go through a small pilot plant phase first. 

 

About the Author(s)

Hank Schultz

Senior Editor, Informa

Hank Schultz has been the senior editor of Natural Products Insider since early 2023. He can be reached at [email protected]

Prior to joining the Informa team, he was an editor at NutraIngredients-USA, a William Reed Business Media publication.

His approach to industry journalism was formed via a long career in the daily newspaper field. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin with degrees in journalism and German, Hank was an editor at the Tempe Daily News in Arizona. He followed that with a long stint working at the Rocky Mountain News, a now defunct daily newspaper in Denver, where he rose to be one of the city editors. The newspaper won two Pulitzer Prizes during his time there.

The changing landscape of the newspaper industry led him to explore other career paths. He began his career in the natural products industry more than a decade ago at New Hope Natural Media, which was then part of Penton and now is an Informa brand. Hank formed friendships and partnerships within the industry that still inform his work to this day, which helps him to bring an insider’s perspective, tempered with an objective journalist’s sensibility, to his in-depth reporting.

Harkening back to his newspaper days, Hank considers the readers to be the primary stakeholders whose needs must be met. Report the news quickly, comprehensively and above all, fairly, and readership and sponsorships will follow.

In 2015, Hank was recognized by the American Herbal Products Association with a Special Award for Journalistic Excellence.

When he’s not reporting on the supplement industry, Hank enjoys many outside pursuits. Those include long distance bicycle touring, mountain climbing, sailing, kayaking and fishing. Less strenuous pastimes include travel, reading (novels and nonfiction), studying German, noodling on a harmonica, sketching and a daily dose of word puzzles in The New York Times.

Last but far from least, Hank is a lifelong fan and part owner of the Green Bay Packers.

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