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Business

Japan's Chitose heading abroad to ramp up spirulina capacity

TOKYO -- Japanese bioventure Chitose Laboratory is taking its spirulina business overseas, with plans to quintuple capacity for the edible blue-green algae by setting up American and Singaporean production bases.

     Spirulina is an excellent source of protein and rich in other nutrients. Tasteless and odorless, it is typically consumed with beverages and salads.

     Chitose was set up in 2002 to develop commercial applications for algae and other microorganisms. It is working with Japanese heavy machinery manufacturer IHI to mass-produce algae as a resource for biofuel.

     The company's business with spirulina as a dietary supplement is now a domestic concern, relatively small in scale compared with foreign plans. In Japan, Chitose operates a Shizuoka Prefecture factory that can make 60 tons of dietary spirulina a year. The company sells raw spirulina in 50-gram vacuum packages for 280 yen ($2.31) online and in places like coffee shops, moving some 5,000 to 10,000 packages a month domestically. It aims to quintuple Japanese sales to an annual 150 million yen by promoting the product on social media.

     For the advance abroad, the company plans to invest 1 billion yen to build two factories slated to be up and running in fiscal 2017 and lift total production capacity to 310 tons a year. The sites will be somewhere in Singapore and on the U.S. West Coast, where the weather is warm.

     In addition to domestic sales, Chitose intends to market the spirulina to health-conscious consumers in these regional markets, aiming to generate foreign sales of 1 billion yen a year.

     Spirulina is a promising source of protein for a world where food and water shortages are a concern. While 105 tons of water is needed to raise enough beef to provide a person with 1kg of protein, spirulina can provide that much protein at a water cost of just over 2 tons.

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