While the rest of the health industry searches for something new, Fredrika Gullfot is going back to the basics. Algae, the first plant (by definition), is at the forefront of what’s become a $31.4 billion industry: omega-3 pills. Known for reducing anxiety and depression, improving eyesight, trimming fat in the liver, alleviating menstrual pain, and more, it’s become a highly coveted necessity in the world of self-care. But more often than not, in a form you wouldn’t guess.
A majority of omega-3 supplement producers source their products from fish, relying on a process that’s less than sustainable. Gullfot is the founder and CEO of Simris Alg, a farm that’s located in southeastern Sweden that chooses to cut out the middleman and source the essential fatty acids directly from algae.
“The irony is that omega-3 does not come from fish or krill, but from algae that end up in them through their food,” she remarks. “I think it’s a no-brainer that we should obtain omega-3 directly from algae rather than from animals.” The benefits for humans are obvious: the farm is facilitating cleaner, more direct consumption; plus, cutting out fish means eliminating the other environmental toxins they consume. Sourcing omega-3 from animals isn’t just an unsustainable means of production; if we consider its impact on the environment as a whole, this method is nothing short of immoral.
“[It’s] a multibillion-dollar industry, and one of the driving forces behind the overfishing of our oceans and the devastation of marine habitats,” says Gullfot. “According to WWF Reports, more than half of the life in the oceans has disappeared since the 1970s,” she adds, illustrating the severity of the blow we’ve dealt our underwater neighbors. Even the use of krill, as an alternative to fish, is minimal in terms of environmental benefit. “Greenpeace issued a report this March, License to Krill, showing how the growing krill industry is putting the entire food web in the sensitive Antarctic region at risk.” There are a handful of other algae farms in the world, but they opt for using sugar to grow the plants rather than photosynthesis. “That’s not a bad thing, but whatever you can produce with the help of sunlight, rather than relying on substitutes, is simply more sustainable,” Gullfot notes.
For Gullfot, who is vegan herself, Simris’s cause hits close to home—home sometimes being Sweden’s capital of Stockholm, while at others, her farm down in Hammenhög, which was a plant-breeding facility for decades. The surrounding landscape is lush with boundless agriculture that goes on for miles uninterrupted. The fields are surrounded by sandy white beaches, a breathtaking rarity for Scandinavia, with patches of forest bordering the shores. “The climate here is particularly sunny and mild, so people even grow wine close by. The sun conditions are extra favorable for our algae of course, which is the main reason we’re located here.”
Having attained a Ph.D. in Biotechnology from the KTH Royal Institute to Technology in Stockholm, Gullfot is a true personification of Simris, which in turn, is the embodiment of today’s synergy between technology and science—particularly in the realm of health. “It can be said that technology is the application of science ‘in real life,’ on real problems,” she explains. She’s adamant that technology and science, or engineering and nature (depending on how you look at it) are not at odds, as is the general assumption, but are closely related. She goes on: “At the same time, the marketplace is so ridiculously crowded with more personalized products targeted to individual needs. This is just a new way for the industry to distract us from the fact that their products, in essence, are generic, based on virtually the same ingredients, even coming from the same producers, and just sold under different brands. For us, fashion, art, and design are essential vehicles to communicate innovation and push development beyond the ordinary, which is where we believe that our core target tribe comes from. Thus, we have put equal effort into our branding and design, as in our technology.
Simris’s main export has scientifically-backed health boosts, but there’s more to it than that. “I feel better, more beautiful, and more confident—more powerful—when I can get my most essential nutrients directly from sources in nature, like our omegas coming directly from the sun,” she says. “They are genuine in a way nothing else compares to.” For Gullfot, feeling healthy and beautiful doesn’t have to mean depleting the health and beauty of the environment; the hope is that her approach will set an example for others.