An increasing percentage of its revenues now comes from finished products produced by its Nutrex supplements arm, says Cyanotech, which posted a 46% hike in revenues in fiscal year 2012 to $24.63m and a 110% surge in net income to $3.6m.
And while it is seeing strong growth in both of its products, potent red antioxidant astaxanthin is the fastest-growing, accounting for 65% of group revenues in fiscal 2012 vs 35% for blue/green superfood spirulina.
Astaxanthin, which picked up significant momentum in the dietary supplements market following an appearance by Dr Mercola on the Dr Oz show in January 2011, is also being promoted as a functional food ingredient following several GRAS applications, although supplements remain the primary market, says VP sales and marketing Bob Capelli.
A potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, astaxanthin is claimed to have a wide range of benefits spanning joint health, UV protection for skin and eye health, to sports recovery and healthy immune function, anti-aging, increased energy, cognitive health and a healthy cardiovascular system, he says.
“It was initially launched as an antioxidant, but the focus is now on more specific claims. Unusually, astaxanthin can cross the blood, brain and retinal barriers, offering support to the brain, eyes and central nervous system."
Joints, skin, eyes, brain and heart...
This more targeted approach is not only consistent with the growing body of health-condition-specific science on astaxanthin, he says, but is more sensible from a marketing perspective given how overcrowded the antioxidant market is and increasing cynicism about products marketed on the basis of in-vitro ORAC scores.
“We’ve seen a lot on brain and cardiovascular health benefits of astaxanthin in the past five years or so", says Capelli, who has co-written a book 'Natural Astaxanthin' with Cysewski with the strapline, 'The world's best kept health secret'.
While the top-selling product is still straight BioAstin astaxanthin, Nutrex products now combine BioAstin with a range of other ingredients in formulations targeting joint health (with glucosamine and boswellia extract); cardiovascular health (with algal DHA, CoQ10 and acetyl L-carnitine); beauty-from-within (with lutein and green tea extract); and eye health (with lutein, zeaxanthin and bilberry).
Synthetic vs natural astaxanthin
While you can produce astaxanthin synthetically (synthetic versions are widely used in aquaculture to give farmed salmon a stronger pink color), says Cysewski, it is not the same stuff.
And this isn’t just some sentimental notion that natural is better or even that most of the research has been done on the natural variety, he observes.
“They have the same chemical formula but the molecule shape is different. The natural version we harvest is esterified - in its natural state astaxanthin is always paired with fatty acids attached to one or both ends of the molecule. The synthetic version isn’t. The antioxidant power and stability of natural astaxanthin is also far higher.”
Click here to see a summary of the research on natural astaxanthin.