“At the heart of our approach at Algama is developing ingredients for the food industry using microalgae," co-founder and commercial director Gaetan Gohin told FoodNavigator at FoodUseTech in Dijon last week. "Half of our staff work in the R&D department. We want to democratise microalgae, taking it out of supplements and into food with products that are easy to consume and sustainable."
Given that the food industry can be a little slow in embracing new ingredients, however, Gohin said Algama decided to create its own consumer-facing brands to 'show manufacturers how it’s done'.
SpringWave is a naturally blue, spirulina-based functional drink launched in the US several years ago while ed The Good Spoon, a range of vegan mayos that swap egg yolks for chlorella, launched around 18 months ago, also in the US.
The company is now going back to its roots, however, and is aiming to pierce the European market with its plant-based mayonnaise alternatives.
It currently has retail listings with Carrefour in the greater Paris area and has sold around 150,000 pots in the past six months in France. It is in negotiations for a national roll-out while cracking the UK’s dynamic food market is the start-up’s “next priority”.
Algama, which was founded five years ago by three childhood friends, initially got off the ground with €100,000 raised on crowdfunding platforms. In the past five years, however, it has raised around €5 million through various investors, venture capitalists and business angels in France, the UK and US.
The Good Spoon's four-product range includes plain, curry-, chili-, and garlic-flavoured mayonnaises.
Chorella, which Gohin describes as “the close cousin of spirulina”, packs a nutritional punch in its powder form. It contains around 40% protein and 60 times more beta-carotene than carrots and 15 times more iron than spinach. When used in The Good Spoon’s mayonnaise, however, its main function is as an egg-replacement.
“The nutritional benefits are indirect,” said Gohin. “Our products have a much lower oil content than standard products – around 27% compared to 70 or 80% for most mayonnaises – and they are plant-based so suitable for vegans.”
The Good Spoon's vegan mayos currently fetch a premium price but this will come down as production scales up - all part of 'democratising' the microalgae, said Gohin.
“Chlorella is quite easy to work with as an ingredient. It’s normally green but we use a yellow one and in mayonnaise it has the same role as egg yolk. It’s
quite sensitive, however, so we can’t pasteurise it and that has been a problem.”
The next big challenge for the R&D-driven start-up is to increase the shelf-life of the product without adding any preservatives.
“Before our shelf-life was two to three months and now it’s six months from the moment it leaves our factory. But when you compare that to a standard mayonnaise, which lasts for almost two years, six isn’t enough. We want to take it to nine months.”
The mayonnaise are made with colza or rapeseed oil in France and non-GMO canola oil in the US, which slightly alters the taste.
“The taste, texture and colour in both are just like real mayonnaise but I would say the taste of the US mayonnaise is slightly less acidic – less French, you could say,” says Gohin.
The Good Spoon also has its sights set on expanding to other products, carving out a name for itself as an egg-free brand. “We can replace all egg and some fat with chlorella in cakes, muffins and brioche… any bakery product,” said Gohin.
The company also opts for local sourcing and manufacturing to be more sustainable, meaning the US products are made in the US and French products in France. “If we start selling in the UK, we’ll want to produce it there too to have a low carbon impact.”