Seaweed sector saw USD 375 million in deals since 2019

Crispy seaweed snack.

Three new reports for 2023 look at the current state of the global seaweed industry, its future potential, and the health risks of eating it.

In its State of the Industry 2023 report, seaweed industry tracker Phyconomy found more than USD 375 million (EUR 351 million) in disclosed equity investment has been placed in seaweed projects in the past three years. Phyconomy tracks the emerging seaweed economy using publicly available data.

The disclosed figures likely represent a fraction of the total invested in the sector, as detailed financial information is not available for many of the 1,200-plus companies listed in Phyconomy’s database. Not all investors or recipient companies disclose the amount of investment, and investments with debt or own means are not included.

Asia remains the dominant player in the seaweed business, accounting for more than 95 percent of the world’s farmed seaweed production. But more seaweed companies started up in Europe in 2022 than anywhere else in the world. In North America, larger funding rounds were raised by fewer start-ups and start-ups in Australia and New Zealand saw just a trickle of deals.

In total, 21 major investments were made in downstream processing projects, 13 in vertical integration, and seven in cultivation startups. Since 2020, 83 percent of the tracked investments have gone to biorefining, livestock methane reduction using Asparagopsis, food applications, and bioplastics projects.

The report also warned production in the top countries in Asia are in decline and in need of new markets, climate-resilient strains, and greater automation.

Global interest is fast growing in seaweed as a contributor to climate change mitigation, but this area remains controversial and is currently the subject of much research and debate, Phyconomy reported It identified bottlenecks to development in the form of overregulation, licensing, markets, start-up costs, strain-breeding, social license, processing, and finance, although some positive movement was noted in all areas. For example, the E.U. has introduced an initiative to promote cultivation of algae, innovations have been made in laboratory propagation of seaweed, and methods of automating seaweed seed-string deployment have been developed.

Profitability is far from guaranteed in seaweed farming, and markets are currently not advanced, the report found. Labor costs are higher in Europe and the U.S. than in Asia, which limits the potential outlets for seaweed from those continents to higher-value food, cosmetics, and nutraceuticals. Further issues arise over the type of seaweed required by markets, as Palmaria palmata, Undaria pinnatifida, Porphyra, and Ulva are in greatest demand by food companies, but the main species grown by seaweed farmers are Saccharina latissima, Laminaria digitata, and Alaria esculenta

Hatch Innovation Services (Hatch) recently launched its own Seaweed Insights, a practical guide to global seaweed farming, which aims to identify opportunities in the sector and provide clarity on investment potential.

The guide looks at how the main commercial seaweed species are farmed and presents insights from extensive in-field surveys, including interviews with more than 100 farmers, processors, suppliers and researchers in Asia.

“Good-quality sources of information on the global seaweed industry, which have been informed by painstaking on-the-ground research, are as rare as they are valuable,” Hatch Managing Partner Georg Baunach said in a release.“At a time when seaweed aquaculture is generating such a buzz, we think the guide will help to catalyze interest in the sector as well as remove some of the common misconceptions about it. We want to ensure that farmers are using optimal techniques and technologies, that investors are putting their money in the right place, and that policymakers are aware of the huge financial and environmental benefits that can be generated by seaweed aquaculture.”

Hatch has also been conducting a market analysis of novel seaweed products and applications, due for release at the end of Q1 2023. 

Separately, a report prepared for the Nordic Council of Ministers on risk management of the food safety aspects of eating seaweed has called for a ... 

Photo courtesy of Amarita/Shutterstock

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