CEO Andrew Dahl spoke with NutraIngredients-USA about the shift, which he said came as something of a pleasant surprise. The company, which until recently was known as Health Enhancement Products, INC, or HEPI, has worked for almost a decade on developing a range of bioactive molecules from its algal platforms targeting cholesterol support, immune support, and an anti-inflammatory positioning. Dahl, who started with the company as a consultant and then was named CEO in 2012 with a brief to rationalize product development, said those remain targets, but as that work progressed, the company came to realize the value of the straight biomass itself.
Pivot toward protein
“What we’ve done is split things up a bit. The algae culture we’ve been working with, we’ve been looking at high value extractions. It turns out, though, the algae biomass itself has an excellent nutritional profile. It is more than 40% protein which is very digestible and has a great amino acid profile,” Dahl said.
“We were very pleasantly surprised to see how this competes very favorably with a lot of different protein concentrates. It is a non GMO, non animal source of high quality protein. We are right there with pea protein and some of the other plant proteins that are coming out,” he said.
Dahl said the beauty of the new path to market is that the ingredient is ready for prime time just as it out of the tank. All that’s required is spray drying. And as an added bonus, the dried biomass has a very mild, neutral flavor.
“We have our product specs locked down so that we can start offering food processors
a powdered, spray dried biomass that is tasteless. I don’t know how many algae ingredients can say that,” he said.
Dahl said test runs of the ingredient have placed it into green superfood type powdered supplements. The ingredient’s very mild flavor marries well with that matrix, and it packs a nutritional punch beyond just the protein.
“We think 42 grams of protein in a 14 ounce vegetable drink sounds pretty good as opposed to just putting a trace in for ingredients that are too strong tasting,” he said. Dahl said in 100 grams of the spray dried powder there are 43 grams of protein, 24 grams of dietary fiber, more Vitamin A than 3 ounces of beef liver and more Vitamin C than a medium orange.
Dahl said the next goal for the ingredient is to obtain FDA no objection GRAS status. Zivo has hired the Burdock Group as consultants for that regulatory filing. The company might also look at a water protein extraction down the road, though that would require a separate GRAS dossier, he said. He said he hopes to have all of the regulatory ducks in a row and be ready for full market entry in the spring of 2017.
Working with production partners
Dahl said Zivo has pursued a strategy of technology licensing, rather than trying to grow its algae itself. Trying to go the vertical integration route is a mistake that has tripped up many algae companies, in his opinion.
“Growing algae is just another kind of farming. People are trying to vertically integrate in algae production, and I think that is like building a entire factory to build 12 cars. You have got to cut as many production deals or off take agreements as you can. We are working with a facility in Vero Beach, FL, and another facility in Southern California. And we still have our demonstration facility at AzCATI (the Arizona Center for Algae Technology Innovation),” he said.
The pivot to protein is not the company’s first stab at trying to find other sources of revenue and side routes to market that can help support the nutraceutical ingredient development. In 2014 the company announced the acquisition of Wellmetris, a personalized health testing platform, and also announced plans to market algal ingredients for pet health.