Awesome Kingston’s September grant was awarded to ‘Algi,’ a project devoted to developing a sustainable and delicious vegan protein. The $1,000 micro-grant supports local projects the Awesome Kingston trustees think will help keep Kingston awesome.
Algi was founded by two Queen’s University students who are frustrated by the current climate crisis and the lack of healthy and delicious plant-based proteins available on the market. Alessandra Amato and Devon Hawkins met at an innovation program hosted by Queen’s University in 2019.
“We bonded over our shared passion for food and sustainability and decided this was an area we wanted to work in for our summer project, not expecting it to grow into the company it is today,” Amato expressed.
Both founders had been struggling in their move to plant-based eating. Hawkins had made the switch to a vegan diet, and felt he was sacrificing either taste or nutrient content with his food choices; and Amato, who is anemic and allergic to soy, found very limited alternatives that she could eat, and was simply cutting out proteins altogether.
During the program, the pair came across a CNN article that talked about algae being the future of food. “Initially, we were a little hesitant, but as we read into it, were quickly convinced that algae-based foods could help both of our dietary needs,” Amato shared. “More for personal reasons than anything else, we started looking online to order some algae-based foods, but couldn’t find any products. This was our light bulb moment when we decided to pursue this for the duration of the summer program.”
But their drive pushed them to pursue this idea beyond simply a summer program. Their company, Algi, currently sells two flavours of their IMPACT protein bar on their website, and the pair hopes to introduce more flavours and expand from e-commerce to being in large grocery chains across Canada and the US.
“After testing our different product ideas at farmers’ markets and getting some very early validation from different food professionals and industry experts, we knew this was an idea we wanted to continue to pursue beyond the summer,” Amato said.
The company’s mission is to create an expansive line of food products centred around algae that makes it easy for consumers to eat sustainably. According to Amato, algae is an ideal protein for a variety of reasons.
“The agriculture industry contributes 26 per cent of global greenhouse gases, 70 per cent of freshwater withdrawals, and uses half of the world’s arable land,” she explained. “With the global population expected to reach 10 billion by 2050, we need a new way to feed people and fast. Algae is the answer. Spirulina algae is 70 per cent complete protein by weight (contains all essential amino acids), 1 tsp provides 8 per cent of the daily value of iron, and it’s high in omegas and tons of vitamins and minerals. It also grows in giant pools in the desert (on land that would otherwise be unusable), 95 per cent of water used is reused for more algae production, it can go from farm to table in 8 hours, and it is carbon negative.”
According to Amato, education will be key to getting algae-based products into the mass-consumer market. Algi will use the Awesome Kingston grant money to increase awareness through education and awareness campaigns.
“Because algae is such a novel food, consumers are often not aware of what it is or why they should be eating it from a nutrition and environmental standpoint, which is why education is so important,” Amato shared. “The [money will be spent on] educational campaigns to promote content online and run on-campus events at Queen’s University in partnership with Enactus Queen’s.”
While the pair were unable to find a kitchen in Kingston for their large-scale production needs, Amato said that Algi continues to access programs and talent pools at local post-secondary institutions.
“St. Lawrence has a great program with startups for students to learn valuable marketing and communication skills, which we have leveraged in the past,” Amato shared. “We also continue to work alongside Queen’s students and are still affiliated with Enactus Queen’s. Through this partnership, we sponsor activities and events on the campus, educate students on health and sustainable eating, and work to support the broader community, such as providing donations to Martha’s Table.”
“One of the things that makes Kingston awesome is its proximity to major centres of commerce while maintaining a small-town feel that allows the founding team to create a great work-life balance,” she stated.