[Startup Bharat] How Thrissur-based Zaara Biotech is solving malnutrition problems with microalgae-based food products

Thrissur-based startup Zaara Biotech is developing microalgae-based food products to solve malnutrition problems. It has Spirulina-based B-lite cookies, which is commercially available across India.
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Najeeb Bin Haneef, Founder and CEO of Zaara Biotech, found his calling in 2016 while pursuing his biotechnology engineering degree from Sahrdaya College of Engineering and Technology.

Speaking to YourStory, Najeeb explains that he began working on an academic project to research and develop food products using microalgae. The team collaborated with the Indian Council of Agriculture and Research's Central Institute of Fisheries Technology (ICAR CIFT) and began advanced research and development of the food products. He later incorporated this project as a separate business named Zaara Biotech in 2019.

Thrissur-based Zaara Biotech focusses on research in energy and food crises using microalgae such as Spirulina, Hematococcus, and other edible seaweeds. It has currently developed B-lite cookies using micro-algae, which is commercially available across India.

Image Credit: Zaara Biotech

Najeeb explains that the idea is to solve problems related to malnutrition and lack of proper diet among people.

“Cookies are something that people across age groups can eat. We designed Spirulina-based B-lite cookies, which includes healthy ingredients such as oats, quinoa, and organic whole millets, among others, which is not only filling but will also ensure one gets all the nutrients,” he adds.

Spirulina, a type of non-toxic blue-green algae, is a natural source of vegan protein and includes nutrients such as vitamin B, beta-carotene, and vitamin E. Spirulina is also reportedly considered a superfood and is used in health supplement products as well.

Illustration: YS Design

Healthy snacks

The biotech startup, fostered under the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development Centre (IEDC) scheme of Kerala Startup Mission (KSUM), is aimed at developing personalised algae-based food products to ensure people get proper nutrients.

It currently offers Spirulina-based cookies in various flavours such as masala, chocolate chips, nutmeg, and quinoa, among others, through both online and offline channels.

Najeeb explains that Zaara is aimed at developing food products that will be specific to regional tastes and needs, and will also cater to people across age groups and pregnant women so that they can get all the nutrients.

Zaara Biotech’s B-lite cookies were exhibited at the Global Goals Model United Nations (GGMUN) conference held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 2019. This year, in February, the cookies were exhibited at Gulfood, the world's largest annual food and beverage trade exhibition in Dubai.

The startup also received a strategic investment of $10 million from UAE-based TCN International Commerce earlier this year. As a part of this deal, Zaara Biotech is expanding its presence in the UAE and is looking to develop other food products such as noodles and cakes, among others.

“We have developed and designed photobioreactors to cultivate micro-algae. We are now using the micro-algae to not only develop food products, but are also working to develop cosmetics such as face packs, face creams, toothpaste, and also animal feed and fertilisers,” he adds.

Image Credit: Zaara Biotech

Business and more

Incubated at Sahrdaya Technology Business Incubator, Zaara’s B-lite Cookies are currently available on its official website and on Amazon. Apart from this, the startup also works with distributors for offline sales and is currently available in 10 stores across the country.

“We are currently clocking in about 3,000 to 6,000 online orders and about 10,000 orders from our offline channels per month. We are also providing R&D consultation services to other companies,” Najeeb says. He did not disclose the names of the clientele.

He says the startup is currently looking for investments and partnerships with Indian MNCs and companies for research and development services in food, cosmetics, feed, fertilisers, nutraceuticals, and pharmaceutical products, and also further strengthen its market in India.

According to the Allied Market Research report, the global spirulina market is expected to reach $897.61 million by 2027, growing at a CAGR of 10.5 percent from 2020 to 2027.

In India, health supplement startups such as Oziva and Kapiva Ayurveda also provide Spirulina-based supplements.

Najeeb explains that while Spirulina-based supplements in the shape of pills, powder, and medicine are already available in the market, Zaara Biotech is looking to blend them into food products, which can be consumed by all.

Speaking about future plans, the startup said it is looking to launch its short expiry cosmetics products made out of algae and seaweed by 2022.

“Apart from that, we are looking to export our food products like cookies, cakes, and noodles to 10 other countries, and we are working on the certifications for the same. All the products are being developed keeping in mind the taste preferences and health requirements of different geographies,” Najeeb adds.


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Edited by Megha Reddy

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