“Astaxanthin providers have every reason to believe the ingredient will be a sustainable success with continued growth and benefits,” Scott Steinford, founder of industry insights firm Trust Transparency Center, told NutraIngredients-USA.
“The science is strong and improving as studies are continuing to be presented. Educated consumers are driving success for ingredients, and the astaxanthin growth supports that thesis.”
Found in the algae species Haematococcus pluvialis and some other natural sources, astaxanthin has long been approved for use as a colorant in fish feed – think adding red pigment to the flesh of farmed salmon – but skyrocketed to fame as a dietary supplement following a high-profile mention on daytime television.
Fame drives farm expansions
In 2011, alternative medicine proponent Dr. Joseph Mercola appeared on The Dr. Oz show, presenting astaxanthin as “the No.1 supplement you’ve never heard of that you should be taking”. The long-running health and wellness talk show aired from 2009 to earlier this year when host Dr. Mehmet Oz shifted focus to his campaign for U.S. Senate.
Bolstered by what became known as “the Dr. Oz effect”, business boomed overnight, and first movers in the natural astaxanthin category responded by ramping up production capacity as global demand outstripped supply.
Tokyo-based Fuji Chemical Industry Co. doubled production capacity of its AstaReal branded ingredient at its indoor bioreactor in Sweden and broke ground on a new facility in Washington State shortly thereafter. Cyanotech Corporation followed suit, growing its open pond production system by 33% along the Hawaiian coastline to produce BioAstin soft gels and water dispensable powder, and Israeli manufacturer Algatech doubled closed tube production capacity for AstaPure bulk astaxanthin in the Arava desert.
Not slowing down
Flash forward a decade and Algae Health Science, a subsidiary of BGG World, is expanding its photobioreactor microalgae farm in China’s southwestern Yunnan Province for the second time in two years to ensure the supply of its flagship AstaZine natural astaxanthin.
“We are already bumping up against our capacity, so we just broke ground on an expansion of our astaxanthin production that will double our capacity, making us far and away the largest producer in the world,” Shaheen Majeed, CEO at BGG Americas and Algae Health Sciences, told Nutra Ingredients-USA.
MarketsandMarkets research valued the global astaxanthin market at an estimated $647 million in 2021 and projected a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8.3% to reach $965.8 million by 2026. In its public investor filings, category leader Cyanotech has reported steady growth of bulk sales, up from $900,000 in 2017 to nearly $2.3 million in 2021.
Majeed is even more optimistic, citing BGG data that logs double-digit market growth year-on-year since 2016 and predicts 20% to 25% CAGR over the next five years “as producers and brands continue to educate consumers about astaxanthin’s 10 clinically validated health benefits.”
The 10 clinically validated health benefits
When astaxanthin arrived to market, brands touted its anti-inflammatory, anti-aging and sports endurance properties with various applications across nutraceutical, cosmetics and food and beverage industries.
“The diverse health benefits of astaxanthin allow brands to focus on a specific marketing angle to differentiate, and they love this aspect of working with astaxanthin in formulas or as a standalone,” Majeed explained.
“In the USA, the marketing of astaxanthin by different brands has highlighted pretty much all of the 10 various clinically-validated health benefits.”
Last year, BGG World published a list of 1,200 studies demonstrating astaxanthin’s efficacy for eye and brain health, skin health, joint and tendon health, sports nutrition, immune system modulation, cardiovascular health, reproductive and hormonal health, antioxidant protection and healthy aging. Manufacturers often cite comparative studies that show astaxanthin’s antioxidant power to be exponentially stronger than Vitamin E and Vitamin C.
Protecting market share
The astaxanthin rush also attracted synthetic suppliers marketing petrochemical-derived astaxanthin as “nature-identical”. Dutch multinational Royal DSM, for example, introduced AstaSana made with patented beadlet technology to provide “a consistent global supply” and “more health benefits to more people.”
Soon after, Fuji Chemical, Cyanotech and Algatech banded together to form the Natural Algae Astaxanthin Association (NAXA) trade association to protect market share.
“NAXA was created in early 2014 with goals of providing education for the advancement of natural algae astaxanthin and identifying the term of what ‘nature identical’ really means because it was being thrown around very liberally,” Steinford said when he took over as president of NAXA in 2015. He explained that the natural form has demonstrated higher bioavailability and a much higher antioxidant capacity.
Majeed says that NAXA has been instrumental in educating trade and consumers about the clear superiority of algae-based astaxanthin and that it has succeeded in its mission.
“For example, synthetic astaxanthin was launched by a huge multinational producer back in 2012, yet after 10 years in the market, they have yet to get significant market share in any market around the world (despite having slightly better pricing),” he explained.
Other important international suppliers in the growing natural astaxanthin market include Atacama Bio Natural Products from Chile, Piveg in central Mexico and Algalif, which cultivates Haematococcus pluvialis in a closed facility in Iceland. Recently Israeli firm NextFerm has offering astaxanthin derived from Phaffia yeast.