Ful Soda, a new brand of beverage from a Netherlands startup, uses spirulina to give their soda a nutritional punch as well as its distinctive color. The company wants to use the product to make algae a more popular ingredient to help shrink the carbon footprint of the food system, writes Fast Company reporter Adele Peters.
The founders, who met as students, spent months exploring ways to speed up the global shift to net zero emissions before settling on blue-green microalgae. “What I think particularly caught our imagination was how efficient it is at transforming CO₂ into nutrients and oxygen,” says Julia Streuli, one of Ful’s three co-founders.
“Very few people were focusing on the demand-gen side — how you make algae appealing to final consumers,” Ms. Streuli says. The flavor and smell can be unappetizing. It also doesn’t look great. “If you try to pasteurize it, which a lot of foods need for longer shelf life, the green color turns to very unappetizing brown,” she says.
Just before graduation, the founders won a business plan competition for their concept of a new spirulina-based brand. “It basically gave us enough money to justify turning down our corporate jobs,” Ms. Streuli says, and the team moved to the Netherlands to begin working with food scientists to deal with the challenges they saw holding the ingredient back. They developed a patented new way to process the algae to extract the best-tasting parts.
The extraction process makes it a particularly bright shade of turquoise, which comes from the chlorophyll in the algae. The company decided to embrace the odd color, rather than try to hide it. “If you’re describing that color to a friend in five years, I want you to say, ’Oh, that’s Ful colored,’ ” Ms. Streuli says.
The first limited runs of the new soda, in flavors like peach and lemon ginger, were made in a Dutch brewery. Because breweries also produce food-grade CO₂, the bioreactors growing the algae also could eventually capture that CO₂ to feed the algae. “Then you have this really wonderful closed-loop system that could be highly localized, but also scalable all over the world, using existing infrastructure,” she says.
The team is also working on details like packaging; the first production runs were sold in the glass bottles used by the brewery, but the company is switching to aluminum cans to lower its footprint even further.
For now, the soda is only available in Europe and the U.K., but the brand hopes to expand to the U.S. later this year.
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