Choosing the right protein was key for the new product launch, said said Thane Slagowski, vice president of product development at Twinlab.
“This was a pretty tricky one. In our CleanSeries line we were looking for vegetable based protein. The first thing we are looking at was we wanted it to be a complete protein,” Slagowski told NutraIngredients-USA.
"There was a whole set of choices to make out there: rice, pea, potato, hemp. The protein needed to be naturally free of contaminants. It needed to have a good taste profile,” he said.
Algae hits on all cylinders
Solazyme’s algal protein ingredient was something of a dark horse, Slagowski said. But after looking at it more carefully, it hit on a lot of cylinders: sustainable, clean, high quality, and, surprisingly, good tasting.
“We thought we needed a differentiator for the product. At the time that we were doing the development they were the only algal-based protein on the market. The algal protein was surprising. It was surprisingly bland in taste. You expect it to taste a little fishy and it didn’t at all,” Slagowski said.
Slagowski said the ingredient also offered some processing advantages over some of its vegetable protein competitors.
“One of the problems you have with rice protein is it very gritty,” Slagowski said. “When you look these vegetable proteins they all have some issues, whether it’s texture or taste. Surprisingly there weren’t that many formulation issues with the algal protein."
"You do worry about (algal ingredients) in regard to their rancidity,” Slagowski said.
Choosing right strain critical
Meeting the industry standard two year shelf life was a key part of the development process for the ingredient along with the other parameters such as protein quality, taste and the rest, said Ken Plasse, vice president of business development for Solazyme. But choosing the right strain of (in this case) chlorella and treating it the right way accomplishes all of these at the same time, he said.
“We’ve developed methods over the years of determining what strains will yield the best results,” Plasse said. “To find this particular strain we screened thousands of strains.”
The organism is versatile, Plasse said. Tweaking the growth and processing conditions can yield different nutrient profiles, skewing the eventual product toward more oil production or higher protein content, for example.
“These organisms are really incredible. Depending on how we drive that process you can get very different outcomes. There are so many levers you can pull,” he said.
“One of the beauties of this in a controlled fermentation condition is we can get a very consistent product, and very sustainable production,” Plasse said.
And Solazyme does very little processing of the algae beyond dehydrating it after harvest, so the cell walls remain intact making it a naturally robust ingredient.
“You get a product that is incredibly stable. We call it a whole food protein,” he said.
And the strain naturally met Twinlab’s goals for protein quality, Plasse said.
“It’s got a very strong amino acid score. It’s on the higher end of the plant universe. It’s high in arginine, glutamine, alanine and histidine. You’ve got some really strong amino acids there that are in demand,” he said.
Protein market dynamics
The successful entry into the protein market comes at a fortuitous time for Solazyme in the wake of the collapse of its joint venture with Roquette to commercialize a flour-type ingredient derived from the same strain of chlorella for bakery applications.
“You are increasingly seeing food manufacturers wanting to increase protein content of foods and supplements," Plasse said. “The protein market is really ripe; there are a lot of shortages and price increases.”
“The other parameter that was kind of important to us was the cost of the protein; it couldn’t be too crazy,” Slagowski said. “(Solazyme’s ingredient) was reasonable in cost when compared with other kinds of vegetable proteins.”
In sports nutrition, whey is always going to rule the roost, Slagowski said. But vegetable proteins play an ever larger role.
“I don’t like saying anything bad about milk and soy proteins because we sell a lot of them,” Slagowski said. “But there is always a category of people who are looking for protein who have allergy issues. And you are also going to tie into a market of people who are maybe lactose intolerant and that’s separate from a milk allergy.
“Whey protein dominates the market because of price and protein quality. As the vegetable proteins come close to whey in terms of price and quality you will see more of these products on the market. I think they will continue to do so as long as there is some market pressure on the whey protein market. There has been a supply and demand issue there,” Slagowski said.
But for now, on the vegetable side of the coin Twinlab has hitched its wagon to being first to market in a new category of protein. The new product will be sold in the natural channel and in online bodybuilding outlets.
“It’s the flagship of our CleanSeries line. It’s the product we are forecasting to sell the most of,” Slagowski said.