Future foods: the seaweed revolution

ProVeg Incubator’s Louise Cullen dives into the marine world to explore how macroalgae can be turned into everything from burgers to jerky.

18 December 2019
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The way people think about food is changing. It’s predicted that 20 years from now, just 40% of the global population will consume conventional meat products. Meanwhile, plant-based food innovation is booming, and 2019 has been dubbed the ‘Year of the Vegan.’ Beyond Meat introduced an ‘even meatier’ version of their famous burger this year, Greggs released a vegan sausage roll, and Impossible Whoppers landed on Burger King menus.

But new products like these don’t appear overnight – a lot of work goes into developing and bringing them to market, and emerging companies need support along the way.

To this end, the Berlin-based ProVeg Incubator runs the world’s leading accelerator programme for pioneering plant-based and cultured food startups. The scheme helps entrepreneurs secure investment, grow their businesses, and quickly bring new products and services to market. The team is currently working with its third cohort of startups and one of the standouts is Alvego, short for ‘algae, vegan, to-go.'

Seaweed snacks and burger hacks 

Friedrich Schneider and Philipp Götz were inspired to set up Alvego in 2018, following a visit to a museum exhibition on food, which introduced them to the idea of seaweed-based meat. A year later, they produce algae snacks and fish alternatives made from a red-coloured seaweed known as dulse or Palmaria palmata.

Riff Raff, their inaugural product, is the world’s first jerky made from red algae. Alvego has also launched a range of plant-based fish salads based on traditional German styles, and, in 2020, they will introduce a new product to market: the seaweed burger.

“Seaweed has long been a traditional component of Asian cuisine,”' says Schneider. “It is also eaten in the coastal regions of Europe, and the possibilities for processing seaweed are almost as diverse as the plant itself. More than 400,000 algae varieties are estimated to be growing on Earth, of which around 500 are eaten by humans.”

Is this the food of our future?

Dulse is a macroalgae with a high protein content and contains all of the essential amino acids required by human beings.

“There is no plant on land that is as rich and diverse in vitamins, minerals, and trace elements as seaweed,” explains Schneider. “It is a natural source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are otherwise mainly found in fish, and contains vitamin B12 and iodine.”

Iodine is essential for pregnant women and people living with thyroid disorders. Thyroid conditions affect an estimated one in 20 people in the UK, according to the British Thyroid Foundation, and around 8m individuals in total in Germany.

 

5 seaweed facts

  • Seaweed is used in 70% of all processed foods and 75% of all medicines and cosmetics.
  • Seaweed grows in season, just like plants on land.
  • Algae farms covering only 2% of the ocean’s surface could feed 10bn people.
  • Algae can be blue, green, red, yellow or brown in colour.
  • When it is sunny, some shallow-water seaweeds secrete a substance which protects younger plants from UV rays.

 

Motivated and on a mission

Schneider and his business partner were motivated to launch Alvego after realising the current food system was “not sustainable.”

“Against the backdrop of the world's growing population and the looming threat of food shortages, it is imperative to find alternative foodstuffs that are also less resource-intensive to produce,” he says.

Billions of tonnes of seaweed grow in the world’s oceans, meaning they are not only a valuable food resource but also a vital tool in the fight against climate change. During the process of photosynthesis, these plants bind CO2 and release oxygen. In fact, there are so many of them doing it, that every second oxygen molecule in the atmosphere is produced by algae!

Seaweeds occupy first place in the marine food chain because they are ‘producers,’ transferring their accumulated solar energy to other ocean-dwelling creatures. Without algae, there would barely be any life in our seas.

 

Boosting plant-based innovation

Alvego is one of 10 startups currently participating in the ProVeg Incubator accelerator programme. Since its launch in November 2018, the Incubator has worked with over 30 emerging companies from 16 countries, helping them to raise more than €3m in total.

ProVeg Incubator is part of ProVeg International, a food awareness organisation on a mission to reduce the global consumption of animals by 50% by the year 2040.

“Supporting entrepreneurs who are passionate about redefining the food system is extremely exciting,” says Albrecht Wolfmeyer, head of ProVeg Incubator. “Even after startups complete the accelerator programme with us, we continue our working relationship with them, and we look forward to supporting Alvego in all of their future food ventures.”

*ProVeg Incubator is currently accepting applications from businesses looking to join its fourth cohort of startups. The programme kicks off in April 2020 and the deadline for applications is 31 January 2020.

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