The superfruit of blueberries has new competition – AlgaBerry and JadeBerry - which is essentially neutral-tasting algae specially grown in a tank. This together with the veggie caviar produced from these berries, are the new inventions of Dr. Fan Lu, a Chinese national living in the U.S. He is the CEO of the company Algaen, which uses the power of algae to create this new fruit type.
Dr. Fan Lu with a sample tank of AlgaBerry and JadeBerry.
"This algae, grown in fresh water, contains no sugar and salt. So, by itself, it has no taste, but it has very good nutritional value. It contains a lot of vitamin A, fiber, calcium, and protein. It has many health benefits because it can help us to reduce cholesterol and help our digestive system," explains Dr. Lu.
He attended the recent Asia Fruit Logistica 2023 exhibition in Hong Kong to introduce his newly developed and commercialized fruit type to the Chinese and Asian markets. According to Dr. Lu: "people in East Asia are familiar with and used to consuming algae-based food, unlike in the West where it is a novelty and consumers need a lot more convincing to try it."
"It is a new product that has just been commercialized in some local stores in California. We are also here in China trying to start commercial promotion for this product. The black AlgaBerry variety and green JadeBerry are two different varieties with different color pigments. It is aimed at restaurants for chefs to use in dishes. Or it can be used fresh, mixed with salad in yogurt, etc. It can also be used and processed, we add fish sauce and salt and make the veggie caviar. We also make berry jam, there are different applications," explains Dr. Lu.
He warns it's not as easy as taking your goldfish out of the water and growing the algae. As an algae expert, it took him 20 years to develop it to this commercial scale. He now lives in North Carolina in the U.S., where he received funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2003 to develop the algae berries to commercial scale.
"I did not invent the algae organism. We developed the method to cultivate this in commercial quantities to have it available all year round. We don't currently have large quantities, but we are in the pilot phase. We are reaching the market to expand and grow it. We have the technology to grow it in large quantities in greenhouses and open areas."
Dr. Lu further explains: "We grow the AlgaBerries in 150-liter fish tanks, but have the technology ready to expand, once the market with consumers is developed, to produce the new berries on a much larger commercial scale."
He thinks the market of potential consumers extends beyond the U.S. and China, with European consumers, which has a big health focus, would be interested in his algae berries. All he is waiting on now is the first take-off agreement to kick-start the full-scale commercialization. "What is limiting us is not technology, but it is buyers. We are waiting, and if we can get an order, we can start producing it. We price this at a similar level as blueberries," concludes Dr. Lu.