Artwork for podcast The Vitafoods Insights Podcast
Exploring sustainable omega-3 solutions
21st September 2022 • The Vitafoods Insights Podcast • Informa Markets
00:00:00 00:23:44

Share Episode

Shownotes

While the health benefits of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids are increasingly recognised, the challenges posed by sourcing exclusively from fish are also on the radar, opening up opportunities for innovation.

In fact, these long-chain omega-3s come to the fish themselves via algae, which has prompted great interest over years in how algal production could be optimised to deliver these beneficial health ingredients in a more sustainable way. Over the past five years, Vaxa has worked to take advantage of power from the Hellisheidi Power Station in Iceland to power a unique, closed-loop, controlled aquaculture facility. The indoor growth platform uses machine learning technology for controlled, scaleable, fresh microalgae production. This summer, Vaxa launched a consumer products division—Örlo Nutrition; the name is derived from a unique combination of Icelandic words: Örlog meaning ‘fate’ (fortune, destiny) and Ör derived from ‘micro.’ In this podcast, Corrina Bellizzi shares more about Vaxa’s journey, the sustainability story, and the potential for growth in this market.

Tune in to hear more about: 

  • Why the global omega-3 market is ripe for change, and the potential positives on the climate.
  • How companies can assess their full lifecycle impact to determine their sustainability footprint.
  • Inspirational concepts around the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and opportunities for firms to align their business strategy for a net positive result.
  • Consumer engagement strategies and the broad appeal of omega-3s to all ages.

Guest: Corrina Bellizzi, head of sales & marketing, Örlo Nutrition

Click here to listen to our other Sustainability Series podcast episodes.

If you like the show, make sure to subscribe and follow the Vitafoods Insights podcast. Feel free to also recommend the show to a friend who you think would enjoy it.

Transcripts

Vitafoods Insights:

Welcome to the Vitafoods Insights Sustainability Series podcast. From responsible sourcing to supply chain logistics, this dedicated podcast addresses some of the industry's greatest challenges and champions the stories of sustainability success. Today's host is Heather Granato.

Heather:

Well, hello, and welcome to the Vitafoods Insights Sustainability Series Podcast. I'm pleased to be joined today by Corinna Bellizzi. She's a natural products industry leader, podcaster, and omega-3 expert. Through her career, she's championed new and innovative brands and movements, disrupting the omega-3 category again and again, and continuing to push for transparency and quality across the business. She's a sustainability champion and a powerhouse woman. So, thanks for joining me, Corinna.

Corinna:

Well, thank you so much for that introduction, Heather, it's my pleasure to be here.

Heather:

Now, you have a long history in the omega-3 category, most recently joining with Orlo Nutrition and their initiative to develop the world's first carbon negative omega-3 supplement from algae. But before we dive into this, I'd love to talk a little about producing omega-3s. Now, why are new methods needed to produce and deliver long chain omega-3s to consumers?

Corrina:

Most people understand fish oil as a primary source for the important fats, EPA and DHA. But what most don't understand is that the fish actually get their omega-3 EPA and DHA from the algae that they consume. And so, as our oceans are changing, as they become just a little bit warmer and more acidic, the algae species that are flourishing in our oceans actually shifts, which has impacted even the levels of EPA and DHA that are found in fish oil, causing companies to even change their standards with time. And so really what this reveals is an early marker of why it's so important that we find better and more consistent sources that don't necessarily have to impact our ocean ecosystems. So that's where I think we're headed in this space of omega-3s, new nutrition solutions that can go directly to the source—to algae.

Heather:

When we talk about this idea of production, certainly there's a lot of technology needed; Orlo Nutrition, there's some interesting background on kind of the tech the use of artificial intelligence or AI that played into this process, really accelerating go to market. Give me some background on that.

Corinna:

I do say to people that it seems a little bit like Star Trek when you really get into the science of it, because you look at what is called these photo bioreactors, where we can actually grow algae indoors, using artificial intelligence to optimize the growing conditions. So the algae can really flourish and develop the highest levels of omega-3s or other phytonutrients that we're working to really concentrate or access, right. And what we're able to do with this type of intelligence is say, okay, this is exactly what they need, this is the light they need. This is when they need it, these are the nutrients they need. This is when they need it, and ultimately just optimizing their entire growing conditions, so that they can double their weight each two days and essentially produce a system that can be continually harvested without having to have a grand expanse of space to grow the algae.

Heather:

Now, we're talking about this kind of algae production process. There's a lot of preconceptions, I guess, around that term of biotechnology and fermentation. But give me a little context there on how does that help us achieve sustainability goals?

Corinna:

Well, it's interesting because you mentioned fermentation, fermentation has been one of the most popular ways to grow algae because you can grow many strains of algae, just by feeding them sugars in vats that look like stainless steel, really what you would picture going into any herbal extraction manufacturer or something like that, there's not a lot of difference between what one facility might look like and another in that space of nutrition when you're growing a specific type of nutrient in that way. But what we're doing differently with Orlo is we're growing photosynthetically like you would grow if you're growing in open ponds. And so there's some algae producers that are growing in open ponds like Cyanotech out of Hawaii, they grow spirulina and different strains of algae, or even others that are looking to harness the power of macro algae, seaweeds, again growing in open pond or on ocean style resources using those resources. What we're doing differently is we're going indoors, but we're still using photosynthesis. So that means we don't have to feed the algae sugars, we're feeding them the nutrients they need, you know, the phosphorus, whatnot, nitrogen, also of course, CO2, which is part of how we get to that carbon negativity, and then we're only using the green energy produced by thermo nuclear plants that are in Iceland. So we're essentially taking even their waste stream bubbling that CO2 In this closed system that's in glass tubes through the algae. So, the algae can absorb it, they emit oxygen, they're actually sequestering that carbon. And I know that the intense environmentalists out there will say things like, well, there's no such thing as carbon negative, we should call it carbon positive, or something else, because we're sequestering the carbon, we're actually keeping it terrestrial as opposed to in the air. But ultimately, I think the consumer base understands carbon negativity. My point being that there are so many ways to do this. But going to a specific methodology that can be closed, so you don't have to use pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, things along these lines, so that you can optimize growing conditions, and that you can replicate it. So long as you're using green energy to grow just about anywhere, you can not necessarily impact those marine ecosystems or other biomasses. You can focus on the algae you want to grow without worrying about other algae strains infiltrating, because algae will even come in the rain. And there's all sorts of things that you just don't necessarily understand until you start to look at it as, okay, this is actually a method of farming. So, you could almost say what we're doing in this space with Vaxa Technologies, and also with Orlo Nutrition, is we're taking methods that come kind of from this concept of vertical farming, but doing it differently, and with a microalgae.

Heather:

Okay, now, what are some of the ingredients that orlo is producing using what you might call just this kind of closed loop process?

Corinna:

Well, primarily, we're really focused on our omega-3, we also grow a spirulina using the same technology. And what we're yielding is a spirulina that has much more bioactive component to it. And so what we're finding in some simple trials and pilot trials is that a lower dose is more effective of our product versus spirulina grown in an open pond for things like immune boosting ability, and just other inflammatory markers that you might want to kind of focus in on. And so while one arm of the business is already essentially providing algae to the aquaculture space for fish feed, the other arm is really focused on this human nutrition perspective, which is where I'm spending my time and work focused primarily on the omega-3, but then also looking at our spirulina for its immune boosting ability.

Heather:

There was some discussion around like some of these nutrients that are actually five times greater in these products from or low than kind of traditional growing is that in the omega-3s is that in the spirulina, is that both?

Corinna:

Interestingly, it's both. And so really, you know, one of the things that we can confidently say about our algae, when we're looking at the omega-3 products as a, for instance, they have glycolipids and phospholipids present in them, which essentially means that it is three times more absorbable than fish oil, and roughly two times more absorbable than krill oil. Now, you take that and you add to it, the fact that the algae is optimized, we have other phytonutrients that are in the product that aren't necessarily quantified on the label, there's 19 essential amino acids in the product itself. There's also a small amount of chlorophyll and other phytonutrients that support overall health. So, while we don't take the time to meticulously document all of them, even the small amount of trace minerals, or B vitamins that you might find within, they’re there, and it becomes kind of this whole food perspective to an omega product. So that's something we're pretty excited about. And long term, we're looking to also look to how we can take what is left when we run the extraction of the omegas, which is predominantly proteins, and turn that into a product that can then feed humanity in a new way. So again, that's kind of in scientific R&D research at the present time, but we see it on the horizon. It's another way that we can capture the power of this specific strain of algae, and also, ultimately, create a product that can be even more circular, where the waste streams from it are essentially becoming other products. We've already done that even with our packaging, which we print with algae inks, so it's a black and that's part of the reason we did this whole branding being a kind of monochromatic black and white brand was specifically because we knew we could get algae inks from Living Ink technologies and in black. So that's one of the methods right? We can feed the waste stream to this other avenue and producing from it instead of from petrochemicals.

Heather:

You're looking at every aspect of the supply chain. It's really important, I think, for companies whether that's producers or you know, the manufacturers or brand owners to look at their supply chain ingredient sourcing even through packaging materials. Why do you think companies are doing that more and do you think they are? Or is this like an incremental step to help them make change; you know, address their footprint?

Corinna:

Well, I wish I was a little bit more optimistic than I really am right now. I feel like many companies, they pay lip service to it with words like, oh, it's recyclable. And the reality in today's world is that so much of what we produce, even if it can bear that chasing arrow symbol isn't recyclable in your local municipality. So, it makes it more challenging then to be a mindful consumer. So, one of the things that I counsel people in my work kind of in the sustainability space, is to really think about everything that leaves your home, or your business. It's garbage. So, what are you doing with the garbage? How do you figure out how it can live its next life, and take more of this cradle to cradle perspective, instead of cradle to grave? Cradle to cradle is what developed that whole Living Ink Technologies platform, being able to look at: what else can algae do? Okay, we're already using algaes to make these nutritious products. But what about the waste stream that comes from that? What do we do with it? I guess we could just throw it away. But what if we could have another life? Right? And so now utilizing that ink, instead of utilizing a petrochemical, or even a soy-based ink or other ink, we're essentially saying, Okay, we're gonna take this whole picture full circle. The shirt I'm wearing right now. And if you share this visually, I don't know if you do. But this is even printed with algae ink, and we sell these on the Orlo Nutrition website, made of organic cotton that's cut, finished, stitched and printed here in the United States. These are the sorts of thinking that I believe responsible manufacturers really need to put into their mindset and make endemic in their programs. But the reality is, what we'll see instead is, you know, Nike comes out with a tennis shoe that is made of algae, or they come out with a product that is printed with an algae ink. It's never seen seems as a primary product replacement, where we make these small changes incrementally. But what this does is it actually opens up the field for innovators to come in for the small guy to come in, disrupt the entire space, and say, We can do this better. And ultimately, that provides space for a brand like Orlo to make a few waves, and maybe, maybe, just maybe the impact. So doing is push those larger manufacturers to consider changing their ways and address their sustainability and the methods they use. So, it's one part yes, we're in this as entrepreneurial effort. But it's another part saying, you know, ultimately, we are committed to building a regenerative brand, one that respects this need for circular economies of scale, one that tries to reduce waste outputs wherever possible. And one that also is working to showcase for people how freaking cool algae is.

Heather:

It's really, it's a lot of opportunity there. And I'd love that that, you know, challenging others challenging the industry pushing the edge there. And I think that that's something that I also saw from Orlo and Vaxa, about the sustainable development goals from the UN, Life Below Water and Zero Hunger and climate action. So why should companies look at the SDGs? Why is that something that's important to Orlo? And how would you take that challenge forward?

Corinna:

Well, I mean, the reality is, we now have a situation where climate change is going to affect everyone's lifecycle, their potential in the future. Fires have raged here in California. I personally was evacuated from my home for 10 days in 2020, as fires raged through Santa Cruz County that were caused by lightning strikes on incredibly dry forests. Our droughts are longer. All of these things impact us. And so if we don't take these sorts of measures seriously on a global scale, well guess what, I mean, we could create a future where this planet will survive us by leaps and bounds and where our grandchildren could not have a safe place to live, which is a really scary potential truth. So, I think it's critically important that we take this seriously. I was very happy to see that there was an act that just went through Congress that ultimately is going to support almost $400 billion, billion with a B and funding for, you know, really sustainable types of avenues that supports the United States getting to, you know, really what would be a 40% reduction by 2030 and our carbon emissions. The goal we've committed to with the Paris Agreement is actually a 50% reduction. But at the same time, this is still progress. And so we're heading forward. It's called the inflation Reduction Act, but this is buried in there. I think it's $359 billion or $360 roughly a billion dollars in funding for these sorts of technologies. So this is causing all sorts of companies and all sorts of industries to really take notice there is going to be more access to funds to grow in this arena. And ultimately, if we are leading the way and doing so responsibly, then I think we're doing really good work. I was also very encouraged by the fact that there's a seaweed company out of Hawaii, called Symbrosia led by this woman, Alexia Akbay, and she recently got $7 billion. What am I saying? $7 million. That would be incredible. She got $7 billion would to be nice, but $7 million in capital infusion from Danone to commercialize her seaweed, which she's feeding to cows to reduce their methane production. And so, all of these things, their key markers, I think, for where we are heading, and where innovations are coming from, as even big companies take notice of how they can reduce their emissions, overall. Methane, many people may not know is so much more problematic than carbon, because we can draw carbon down. But we cannot draw methane down from our atmosphere. So as a greenhouse gas, it's much more problematic. And if we can use something as simple as a seaweed feed for cattle to reduce their methane emissions, we're doing something really good.

Heather:

Unique steps in that unique approaches, really, and then that ties back into how are we saving the planet? What are we doing, you know, for the next generation and the generation after. So we look at these, these younger generations this demographic, and I would guess that you'd have a company like Orlo, the mission, the ingredients, the products that are coming to market, that's probably pretty appealing, I would think, to a younger demographic. What have you seen so far as you've been looking at the opportunity for Orlo in these types of ingredients and products?

Corinna:

That's what's a little surprising to me, we have a lot of engagement from younger people in social channels, which is somewhat expected, but the most activated customer base that we've reached, is in the 45, to even 85 realm. So, there are many, many people that I didn't expect to be a part of our immediate customer base of early adopters. They're coming in, and they're coming in because they liked the idea behind having a more sustainable omega-3, and they were likely already consuming one from fish oil. And so instead of being like a nice to have additive, that they may or may not notice an immediate benefit from, you know, these are individuals who are concerned with their long-term health, but also care about the planet they're leaving behind. And they've seemed to be a rapt audience for us. So we're leaning into that I started actually writing articles for a publication called ageist as a contributor just on areas of health that I'm interested in. Because, I mean, I've been in this industry a long time, and I can write about a lot of vitamins and nutrients that support healthy aging, I can feather in some key intel on omega-3s as well. And that's been really fun. So we're seeing an older audience than I had expected, really being early adopters. And even some early testimonials from people like in the eye health arena. I had a gentleman reach out from Arizona, and tell me how surprised he was to see that by day four, his dry eye complaints were gone. And he had tried fish oils before I was just like, wow, okay, this is likely one of the indications because it's in the polar lipid form. It's more absorbable, you realize the benefit more quickly. If you take in fish oil for a longer stretch, he may have noticed the same benefit. But what happens so often with consumers is that by the time they're at day four, or five, six, seven, they're not seeing a difference for which they're taking a product, they often drift away from it, they forget to take it, and then you've lost that customer. So, I love that I love the fact that people are so engaged with what we're doing. And it's just been an incredible journey thus far.

Heather:

Well, that experiential opportunity, it's really what people are looking for. They have an issue, they want something and they want to feel it works.

Corinna:

Right, exactly.

Heather:

Now, you mentioned a couple of times, you know, what's happening in the states and certainly that's been the market initially for Orlo. What are the plans for international growth?

Corinna:

Well, algae is grown in Iceland. And so, we're prepping to launch our website with another direct to consumer effort in Iceland soon. This can open up the European marketplace as a whole. I do have a few people that I've reached out from the UK that want to order but find the shipping onerous, which I can't blame them for. I mean, we're charging $20 to $30, for shipping to Canada and we have customers ordering from Canada. I've had people calling in from army bases all over the world that want to order the product and they're paying really high shipping. So you know when we can get to a space where we have more spots where we can deliver the product from that will be more easier to tackle. But at the present time we have a single distribution facility that’s centrally located in the United States, specifically in Texas. This was intentional. And it was intentional because I wanted to have a space from which we could ship via ground and get to almost every doorstep within three to five business days in the United States. It also ends up being a woman-owned and woman-operated—she's the CEO—company. And we've feathered some of that into our early production as well working with a design house out of San Francisco that was exclusively women on and featured only women designers. So came out with a product that was, I think, different in several ways than what you might typically see.

Heather:

Making a splash in the market in all kinds of aspects. Is there anything else that you'd like to share with our listening audience today?

Corinna:

Well, I would like them to know that I also host a couple of podcasts. One primary being nutrition without compromise, which is presented by Orlo. Essentially allows me to come on the air with experts and talk about key areas of nutrition, dive deep into subjects of nutrition as it relates to sustainability, and this intersection where we can actually commit to creating great nutrition solutions, without compromising your ethics or the health of planet Earth. I found that the show is growing very quickly. I'm a purist. I try to keep it as pure as possible, which means there isn't a lot of advertising, but it's presented by Orlo. And I really have enjoyed the conversations I've been able to host thus far. I've also used it as a space to speak out against some negative media. So, for instance, there was an article recently that tried to say that vitamin D was basically useless for bone fractures. And it got a lot of press in New York Times and, and is essentially an analysis of another study that was designed to ascertain whether omega-3s and vitamin D would have a benefit for heart health and for brain health, right? And other doing these ancillary studies, and people don't understand what that means. So, I use it as an opportunity to help people understand why you might see results like this, and what other nutrients you would need to develop healthy, strong, and flexible bones. Because guess what your bones need to bend if you don't want them to break as you age.

Heather:

That's exciting times. Absolutely. And sharing that information across to industry and consumers, I think only benefits all of us in the end.

Corinna:

Exactly. And honestly, I think we need more people speaking out against some of the negative press that hits the industry, because one of the things that I think we consistently see is that media loves to cover negative stories. So, putting a little more positivity in the world, or at least providing a frame of context for how people should think a little bit more critically about what they hear in media. I think we need more people doing that.

Heather:

And I'm so pleased that you're one of them. And thank you so much for joining me today to share a little conversation on the topic. Thank you so much. This has been my pleasure. I will take more dives into all things sustainability. Certainly, you can find Orlo Nutrition online at orlonutrition.com And join us again for ongoing sustainability podcast series from Vitafoods Insights.

Vitafoods Insights:

Thank you for tuning in. And don't forget to check the show notes that will allow you to link to the information discussed in today's podcast, as well as any sponsorship opportunities. The Vitafoods Insights Sustainability Series podcast happens monthly, so be sure to stay tuned, subscribe, and even suggest the series to a friend.

Links