A panel discussion hosted by feed ingredients producer Corbion at the North Atlantic Seafood Forum (NASF) earlier this month, put the entire supply chain in one room -- from feed producer to leading retailer -- in order to pinpoint how algae is making its way through the seafood supply chain.

"Any change to feed has a brutal effect on the farmer because it affects every single fish," said Leroy Project Leader Jorgen Skelde. "Feed is a bit more [of a] tricky commodity to invest in."

Norwegian salmon farmer Leroy implemented the use of algae omega-3 feed roughly four years ago, as an additive on top of the traditional fish oil and fishmeal, in order to heighten the nutritive value of its fish.

In February 2019, IntraFish reported that around 25 percent of the omega-3 content in Leroy's salmon feed came from microalgae, with feed produced by BioMar containing Corbion's algae. Leroy was followed by other Norwegian producers such as Lingalaks, which is using oil from Veramaris and feed from Skretting.

According to a study by Norwegian research institute Nofima, the particular strain of algae used by Corbion improves pigmentation and can increase size by nearly half a kilo more.

"We rarely see such positive effects," said Katerina Kousoulaki, senior researcher at Nofima. "We ran a very long trial and we saw a tremendous effect."

However, return on investment remains the biggest challenge to full market penetration, said BioMar Technical Director Vegard Denstadli, adding that it "boils down to cost of production."

"Around 10 years back, [price estimates] used to be quite horrible, so it was difficult to bring forward," said Denstadli.

Skelde affirmed that cost was still a concern, citing that it was "mega-expensive" for the salmon farmer to make the shift, calling it a "risk" that Leroy took in integrating algae into their brand DNA.

Demand from retailers

There has been growing demand from retailers for algae-fed fish. UK giant retailer Tesco is encouraging other industry players to choose omega-3 enriched algal oil over traditional fish oil.

The retailer said it would support key salmon suppliers in ramping up the use of omega-3 enriched algal oil, with new standards to be audited by third-party certifiers. An official date for the roll-out of the standards will be finalized following consultations with suppliers, Tesco told IntraFish.

At the panel discussion, Tesco Responsible Sourcing Manager Helena Nordmann said that it was particularly working with suppliers such as Leroy and Seachill, and that the company was receiving an increasing amount of inquiries from customers on the matter, which revealed that they were becoming "more informed."

"Norway is ahead of the curve, but we need to be able to bring more people into the picture," Nordmann said.

On the topic of cost, the manager said, "There's only so much cost we can accommodate in the supply chain," citing that although the retailer was aspiring for a shift to algae, it recognized the need to maintain affordable prices, particularly for its own customers.

IKEA Sustainability Director Cristoph Mathiesen said the retail giant would want algae-fed fish "as soon as it's available price-wise." IKEA sources its salmon from Leroy.

Mathiesen also said attaining certification from the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) was a "game-changer" for IKEA.

In October 2019, IntraFish reported that IKEA was aiming to source only fish and seafood that was either ASC- or MSC-certified, with full chain of custody certified to IKEA stores.