Healthy and sustainable snacks with Spirulina

Published: 16-03-2016

Algae in a chocolate bar may seem an unusual combination, but it happens to be a delicious and healthy snack. The Algae Factory has developed a bar that contains raw chocolate and Spirulina, a micro-algae. The company is working with Antenna Foundation, a Swiss NGO, to encourage farmers in Africa to grow Spirulina. Its next food innovations will be made with Chlorella algae.

Spirulina is a blue-green microalgae rich in protein, vitamins and minerals. A kilo of algae protein takes considerably less water, land and fertilizer to produce than other types of protein (see Table 1). The Algae Factory, a startup founded by Stefania Abbona, Pierluigi Santoro and Nicola Abbona, sees great potential for algae as food ingredients.

“We share a same passion for food, healthy stuff, the environment and social ventures. We develop products with algae as they are rich in essential nutrients like proteins, vitamins, minerals, essential amino acids and omega-3 and 6. This superfood has been nominated by FAO ‘a powerful tool to fight malnutrition’ for its complete nutritional profile”, says The Algae Factory’s Business Development Manager Pierluigi Santoro.

Chocolate bar
The company’s first product, the chocolate bar with algae, is sold online and through organic food markets in the Netherlands. The Algae Factory is a social venture as the founders developed a model called Bite4Bite. Every time a consumer take a bite at The Algae Factory snacks, he/she will be actively participating in fighting malnutrition in Africa. The algae used by The Algae Factory are produced in Africa and 50% of the production bought is left at a NGO which uses it for its programs against malnutrition. The Algae Factory joined therefor forces with Antenna Foundation, which promotes the development of Spirulina farms in Africa

“We are working hard to develop new Spirulina-based products,” tells Pierluigi Santoro. “We recently signed an agreement with the Italian Well Done Burger chain to collaborate on a vegetarian burger. This burger won’t just contain algae, but also seaweed and other plant-based proteins. And soon, we’re going to launch a drink with added algae too.”

Collaboration is key for The Algae Factory. “We’ve made deals with several manufacturers to develop food products based on Spirulina and Chlorella. We’re looking to reach agreements with partners throughout the supply chain about sustainable and socially responsible production. To that end, we’ve contacted several NGOs. And we’re also talking to big organizations like Google, Startup Delta and Wageningen University. They’re interested in our concept and that might put us in touch with new investors,” Santoro concludes.

Table 1: Protein content and amount of water and land needed to produce Spirulina compared to soybeans, maize and beef. (Source: The Algae Factory, 2016)

Protein Water* Land**
Spirulina 65% 2,000 liters (brackish) 0.6 m2 (non fertile)
Soybeans 34% 9,000 liters (fresh) 16 m2
Corn 9% 12,500 liters (fresh) 22 m2
Beef (grain-fed feedlot) 20% 105,000 liters (fresh) 190 m2

* Amount of water needed to produce 1 kilo of protein
** Surface area of land needed to produce 1 kilo of protein

The Algea Factory