19 million Americans (~8% of the total population according to Fast Company) gobble fishy softgel supplements to acquire the health benefits associated with omega-3 fatty acids. The demand for the most commonly consumed supplement in the nation has transformed the fish oil market into a multi-billion dollar industry. America’s obsession with omega-3s reaches further than the softgels; there has been a major shift in interest toward eating more seafood, as it is viewed as a healthier protein-rich alternative to beef or chicken. And while this monstrous seafood industry thrives, the environment perishes.
Cue Qualitas, the Texas-based business dedicated to finding an alternative to fish-derived nutrients. They recognize that the current structure of the seafood industry is not sustainable enough to meet escalating consumer demands. Their solution? Algae.
Qualitas CEO Miguel Calatayud told Fast Company that his company is setting out to offer a plant-based alternative to the fish and krill supplements currently driving that growth and dominating the market. “While the seafood industry has a monopoly in the billion dollar omega-3 supplement industry, Qualitas … is aiming to prove that nutritional elements like protein and omega-3, which are associated mainly with seafood and livestock, can come from a source that’s entirely sustainable and vegan.” VP of Operations Rebecca White elucidated that people possess the (incorrect) notion that their omega-3s come from fish, but really, they are receiving the nutrients from algae. The company’s plant-powered vision is “to turn commercially grown algae into a viable and sustainable player in the health and wellness scene.”
Packed with protein, vitamin A, vitamin B12, iron, and of course omega-3s, this super-food is also a super-crop. FastCompany reports that “In the arid climates of Texas and New Mexico, where few crops grow and livestock is the dominant industry, Qualitas’s operations represent a radical reimagining of what the land can do.” What is truly distinctive about Qualitas’s “is its progress in growing algae photosynthetically—using the sun and carbon dioxide, like just another land-based crop, but doing so in a climate and region otherwise hostile to agriculture.”
To successfully grow algae in the desert, trenches are carved into the landscape to form ponds. The firm takes advantage of the region’s clay soils to form the bases of their algal ponds—a healthier and eco-friendly alternative to the traditional method of lining the bottom of the ponds with plastic. The facilities, while water-intensive, primarily use brackish water to harvest the aquatic plant. Rebecca White estimates that each acre of algal production requires approximately five gallons of fresh water and that this is mostly used for staff drinking water and labs. Thus, all of the water utilized to produce algae is essentially seawater.
“We’ve got to be way more creative with how we think about food and nutrition, and where that comes from,” Rebecca White has stated. This briny plant could be the key in preserving both ocean ecosystems and human health.
Read more about this sustainable and efficient business venture at FastCompany.