Martek, which DSM acquired in February 2011, had been working with Japanese firm Seikagaku to develop a vegetarian alternative to animal cartilage-derived chondroitin by using microbial fermentation technology.
Martek, which pioneered the development of vegetarian DHA by growing microalgae in large fermentation vessels, had been planning to use a similar technique to produce chondroitin from bacteria.
The plan was to target vegetarians, vegans, people with allergies and eco-friendly consumers, said Martek, which was considering Amerifit - the branded supplements business it acquired in 2010 – as a possible route to market.
It was going to be too expensive
However, the work had “fallen by the wayside” following Martek’s acquisition by DSM early last year, marketing director Sarah Sullivan told NutraIngredients-USA at Expo West earlier this month.
“We were working on it up until the DSM acquisition but as Martek became part of the DSM Nutrition Lipids division, chondroitin didn’t fit in particularly well with the rest of the portfolio.”
But the main barrier was price, she said: “The main problem was that it was going to be too expensive.
“We did some research to find out whether the consumer would pay more for vegetarian chondroitin and found that most people were not even aware chondroitin came from shark cartilage or similar animal sources, so the amount of money we would have had to spend on educating the market about the benefits would have been substantial.
“Could we revisit it in future? Maybe.”
Fishless fish oil: Supplements are just the beginning…
However, another recent initiative – Martek/DSM’s new algal EPA/DHA blend dubbed the ‘fishless fish oil’ – was going from strength to strength and is likely to debut in its first food launch this year, said Sullivan.
The EPA/DHA blend, which offers food and drink manufacturers and supplement makers a vegetarian alternative to fish oil with heart, brain and eye benefits, has been gaining momentum with recent launches including Schiff’s MegaRed Plant-Omega supplements and Darigold Omega-3 2% milk.
“Supplements are just the start,” said Sullivan.
“We’ve only started scratching the surface on this and I think long term the real potential is in food and beverage for this product, but the lead times are a lot longer. Our food and beverage customers want to make a cardiovascular claim and this allows them to do that.
“We’re talking to some very big food companies about this now and hopefully this year the first food products using it will come out.”
DSM Nutritional Lipids is based in Columbia, Maryland, and headed up by former Martek chief operating officer Peter Nitze.