Precision fermentation: the farming of the future?

Precision fermentation: the farming of the future?

By
Louise Burfitt
March 2, 2021

🧪 Precision fermentation: what is it?

  • Kimchi, sauerkraut, beer and miso - fermentation is nothing new. The ancient practice is an entirely natural process: microorganisms like yeast and bacteria convert starches and sugars into alcohol or acids, producing beneficial bacteria in the process.

  • Now a raft of food tech companies are using microbes - a highly customised version of the same microbes that ferment traditional foods like cheese and yogurt - to produce alternative proteins and functional ingredients. These can then be used in plant-based products and as alternatives to egg and milk proteins. This process is known as precision fermentation.

🤔 Tell me more…

  • Precision fermentation uses these specialised microbes to grow massive quantities of specific proteins that are normally found in meat and other animal products - except this way, no animals are required.
Source: Good Food Institute

💡 How it started? 

  • Impossible Foods’ heme protein, the base ingredient in its plant-based Impossible Burger, is made using precision fermentation. The company was founded in 2011 and was the first to exploit precision fermentation to create a food ingredient. The plant-based heme works exactly like heme protein in conventional meat, and can be produced on a massive scale using microbial fermentation.
  • Precision fermentation is also already widely used to make insulin for diabetics and almost all vitamin C supplements. 
  • The cult-like success of the Impossible Burger has inspired a new glut of foodie entrepreneurs to utilise precision fermentation to develop new products and proteins. 
  • The past five years have seen a glut of new startups working on fermentation solutions, especially in the field of alternative proteins and plant-based products.

🔬 How it's shaping up?

  • Most precision fermentation companies are choosing the B2B route.
  • Thanks to the array of microbes on offer, precision fermentation startups are developing a broad range of different products including animal-free meat, animal-free egg and dairy, and even lab-grown palm oil

🤷‍♂️ Why

  • There’s a global soil crisis that threatens farming as we know it, while dwindling insect numbers forewarn of devastating pollination problems in the future. Scientists have long warned that traditional agriculture, set against a rapidly growing global population, will not be able to meet the world’s food needs as soon as 2050. Precision fermentation could be part of the solution
  • Much of the food we eat today - particularly meat and dairy - takes a whole lot of resources and animal cruelty. Again, precision fermentation could be one method to bring us closer to a kinder, less exploitative food system.
  • The cost of precision fermentation has decreased dramatically over the past half a decade, as the technology has also advanced - making the process more accessible to entrepreneurial startups.

Source: Brave Robot

👀 Who? (22 startups in this space)

  • Better Dairy (precision fermentation dairy, UK)
  • Bond Pet Foods (precision fermentation pet food, USA)
  • Brave Robot (animal-free dairy-based ice cream, USA) 
  • Change Foods (precision fermentation cheese, Australia & USA)
  • Circe (Fermentation of dairy triglycerides and synthetic polymers, USA)
  • Clara Foods (precision fermentation egg proteins, USA)
  • Cultivated (precision fermentation dairy protein alternatives, Switzerland)
  • C16 Biosciences (genetically modified microorganisms (yeast) to produce palmitic acid, USA)
  • Final Foods (precision fermentation whey protein for cheese, USA)
  • Fumi Ingredients (precision fermentation egg replacement, the Netherlands)
  • Fybraworks Foods (Mycelium as an expression platform for animal muscle proteins for meat alternatives, USA)
  • GELTOR Inc. (precision fermentation animal-free ingredients, USA)
  • Harmony (precision fermentation infant formula, USA)
  • Helaina (Infant formula using human milk proteins produced via yeast, USA)
  • Imagindairy Ltd. (precision fermentation milk proteins, Israel)
  • Impossible Foods (precision fermentation heme protein, USA)
  • LegenDairy Foods (precision fermentation milk proteins, Germany)
  • MeliBio Inc. (precision fermentation honey, USA)
  • Motif FoodWorks (Functional ingredients, ingredient systems, and whole formulations for plant-based foods, USA)
  • New Culture (Casein for cheese production - starting with mozzarella, USA)
  • Nourish Ingredients (fermentation-derived fats for meat, dairy, and fish alternatives, Australia) 
  • Perfect Day Foods (precision fermentation whey and casein proteins, USA)
  • Remilk (precision fermentation milk, USA)
  • Shiru (precision fermentation proteins, USA)

📈 The figures

  • It was only in 2015 that venture-capitalist funding for fermentation companies exceeded $10 million, but since then investment has really taken off. 
  • In 2020, fermentation-based protein firms received $435 million of the $1.5 billion invested in alternative proteins globally.
  • One of the biggest scoops was Perfect Day’s $300 million Series C round, which was the largest ever investment in the history of the field. It took total investment in the fermentation sector to $837.25 million.
Source: Good Food Institute

🍦 Case study: Perfect Day

  • Perfect Day Foods, based in California, was founded in 2014. 
  • It was the very first company of its kind to successfully produce milk proteins (casein and whey) for food products using microbes, not animals. 
  • It’s ‘real’ dairy, but it is produced with microorganisms rather than mammary glands.
  • In 2018, Perfect Day started producing their ingredients on a commercial scale by partnering with agri-food company ADM.
  • Last year Perfect Day launched its animal-free dairy ice cream in partnership with Smitten (a San-Francisco ice cream company), the first of its kind on the market. It has since debuted its own spin-off ice cream company, Brave Robot.
  • Perfect Day’s total investment now stands at over $360 million and imminent plans include expansion within the US and further afield in Germany. 
Source: Perfect Day

🧀  Case study: Change Foods

  • Change Foods, founded in Australia in 2019, makes animal-free cheese and other dairy products using precision fermentation. 
  • Unlike plant-based dairy alternatives, Change Foods’ products are made with the same proteins and fats as those found in conventional dairy.  
  • The company’s products come with plenty of benefits: though they’re made using the same proteins found in dairy, Change Foods’ products will not contain any lactose, cholesterol, antibiotics or hormones, because no animals are involved in the process.
  • Change Foods claims precision fermentation dairy is around 10 times more efficient than a cow in terms of converting feed into an end product.
  • Because Change’s cheese is made with genuine milk proteins, it has all the gooey, melting deliciousness of real cheese - just without involving cows! Cheddar and mozzarella are first on its agenda.
  • In late November Change Foods announced the closing of the pre-seed round, which came to an oversubscribed US$875K. They also recently secured a further US$350K to accelerate prototype development, now bringing our total fundraising to over US$1.3M in 9 months.

👍 The good

  • According to the think tank RethinkX, the cost of foods made using precision fermentation tech will be between 50-80% lower than the animal products they’re slated to replace.
  • As well as being easier on the wallet, these food replacements will also be healthier. Produced in a lab rather than on a farm, the ingredients will be simpler and the technology allows allergens, trans fats and other unhealthy ingredients to be removed during the production process. 
  • Precision fermentation meat and dairy will still technically be the real thing, but no animals will be harmed or killed in the process. In future, the tech could take over from traditional farming as a more sustainable, kinder way of making food. 
  • Producing alternative proteins via fermentation is much more efficient and less resource-heavy than current methods like factory farming.
  • Planet Earth is thought to be home to one trillion species of microorganisms. At the moment, human food is limited to a handful of animal species and several hundred plants - but the sheer number of microbes mean there’s scope for many as yet undiscovered ingredients to be used in food applications. 

👎 The bad

  • While it’s making waves, the precision fermentation industry is still in its infancy. The median founding year of most dedicated alternative protein companies is 2018, and the vast majority of companies are based in the USA at present (though the global industry is growing rapidly).
  • Major producers of animal products are at risk of a serious economic shock as precision fermentation tech becomes more widespread.
  • Producers making ‘cultivated’ versions of egg and dairy may - in the same way as cultivated meat - have to overcome some hurdles when it comes to acceptance by the general public, especially older consumers.

💡The bottom line

  • Plant-based meats, eggs, dairy protein, cheese, rennet, gelatine, seafood, fats, oils, pet food, infant formula and more - the possibilities of precision fermentation are almost endless, thanks to the sheer amount of microbes on Earth. 
  • And with the cost of precision fermentation continuing to drop - and predicted to go below $10/kg by 2025 - it’s likely we’ll all be hearing a lot more about this novel technology pretty soon.
FoodHack Database

Become a member

to get unlimited access

  • Weekly Trend Reports | Access 60+ Reports
  • Startups & Investors Database | Browse 500+
  • FoodHack+ Insiders Community | Coming soon

🧪 Precision fermentation: what is it?

  • Kimchi, sauerkraut, beer and miso - fermentation is nothing new. The ancient practice is an entirely natural process: microorganisms like yeast and bacteria convert starches and sugars into alcohol or acids, producing beneficial bacteria in the process.

  • Now a raft of food tech companies are using microbes - a highly customised version of the same microbes that ferment traditional foods like cheese and yogurt - to produce alternative proteins and functional ingredients. These can then be used in plant-based products and as alternatives to egg and milk proteins. This process is known as precision fermentation.

🤔 Tell me more…

  • Precision fermentation uses these specialised microbes to grow massive quantities of specific proteins that are normally found in meat and other animal products - except this way, no animals are required.
Source: Good Food Institute

💡 How it started? 

  • Impossible Foods’ heme protein, the base ingredient in its plant-based Impossible Burger, is made using precision fermentation. The company was founded in 2011 and was the first to exploit precision fermentation to create a food ingredient. The plant-based heme works exactly like heme protein in conventional meat, and can be produced on a massive scale using microbial fermentation.
  • Precision fermentation is also already widely used to make insulin for diabetics and almost all vitamin C supplements. 
  • The cult-like success of the Impossible Burger has inspired a new glut of foodie entrepreneurs to utilise precision fermentation to develop new products and proteins. 
  • The past five years have seen a glut of new startups working on fermentation solutions, especially in the field of alternative proteins and plant-based products.

🔬 How it's shaping up?

  • Most precision fermentation companies are choosing the B2B route.
  • Thanks to the array of microbes on offer, precision fermentation startups are developing a broad range of different products including animal-free meat, animal-free egg and dairy, and even lab-grown palm oil

🤷‍♂️ Why

  • There’s a global soil crisis that threatens farming as we know it, while dwindling insect numbers forewarn of devastating pollination problems in the future. Scientists have long warned that traditional agriculture, set against a rapidly growing global population, will not be able to meet the world’s food needs as soon as 2050. Precision fermentation could be part of the solution
  • Much of the food we eat today - particularly meat and dairy - takes a whole lot of resources and animal cruelty. Again, precision fermentation could be one method to bring us closer to a kinder, less exploitative food system.
  • The cost of precision fermentation has decreased dramatically over the past half a decade, as the technology has also advanced - making the process more accessible to entrepreneurial startups.

Source: Brave Robot

👀 Who? (22 startups in this space)

  • Better Dairy (precision fermentation dairy, UK)
  • Bond Pet Foods (precision fermentation pet food, USA)
  • Brave Robot (animal-free dairy-based ice cream, USA) 
  • Change Foods (precision fermentation cheese, Australia & USA)
  • Circe (Fermentation of dairy triglycerides and synthetic polymers, USA)
  • Clara Foods (precision fermentation egg proteins, USA)
  • Cultivated (precision fermentation dairy protein alternatives, Switzerland)
  • C16 Biosciences (genetically modified microorganisms (yeast) to produce palmitic acid, USA)
  • Final Foods (precision fermentation whey protein for cheese, USA)
  • Fumi Ingredients (precision fermentation egg replacement, the Netherlands)
  • Fybraworks Foods (Mycelium as an expression platform for animal muscle proteins for meat alternatives, USA)
  • GELTOR Inc. (precision fermentation animal-free ingredients, USA)
  • Harmony (precision fermentation infant formula, USA)
  • Helaina (Infant formula using human milk proteins produced via yeast, USA)
  • Imagindairy Ltd. (precision fermentation milk proteins, Israel)
  • Impossible Foods (precision fermentation heme protein, USA)
  • LegenDairy Foods (precision fermentation milk proteins, Germany)
  • MeliBio Inc. (precision fermentation honey, USA)
  • Motif FoodWorks (Functional ingredients, ingredient systems, and whole formulations for plant-based foods, USA)
  • New Culture (Casein for cheese production - starting with mozzarella, USA)
  • Nourish Ingredients (fermentation-derived fats for meat, dairy, and fish alternatives, Australia) 
  • Perfect Day Foods (precision fermentation whey and casein proteins, USA)
  • Remilk (precision fermentation milk, USA)
  • Shiru (precision fermentation proteins, USA)

📈 The figures

  • It was only in 2015 that venture-capitalist funding for fermentation companies exceeded $10 million, but since then investment has really taken off. 
  • In 2020, fermentation-based protein firms received $435 million of the $1.5 billion invested in alternative proteins globally.
  • One of the biggest scoops was Perfect Day’s $300 million Series C round, which was the largest ever investment in the history of the field. It took total investment in the fermentation sector to $837.25 million.
Source: Good Food Institute

🍦 Case study: Perfect Day

  • Perfect Day Foods, based in California, was founded in 2014. 
  • It was the very first company of its kind to successfully produce milk proteins (casein and whey) for food products using microbes, not animals. 
  • It’s ‘real’ dairy, but it is produced with microorganisms rather than mammary glands.
  • In 2018, Perfect Day started producing their ingredients on a commercial scale by partnering with agri-food company ADM.
  • Last year Perfect Day launched its animal-free dairy ice cream in partnership with Smitten (a San-Francisco ice cream company), the first of its kind on the market. It has since debuted its own spin-off ice cream company, Brave Robot.
  • Perfect Day’s total investment now stands at over $360 million and imminent plans include expansion within the US and further afield in Germany. 
Source: Perfect Day

🧀  Case study: Change Foods

  • Change Foods, founded in Australia in 2019, makes animal-free cheese and other dairy products using precision fermentation. 
  • Unlike plant-based dairy alternatives, Change Foods’ products are made with the same proteins and fats as those found in conventional dairy.  
  • The company’s products come with plenty of benefits: though they’re made using the same proteins found in dairy, Change Foods’ products will not contain any lactose, cholesterol, antibiotics or hormones, because no animals are involved in the process.
  • Change Foods claims precision fermentation dairy is around 10 times more efficient than a cow in terms of converting feed into an end product.
  • Because Change’s cheese is made with genuine milk proteins, it has all the gooey, melting deliciousness of real cheese - just without involving cows! Cheddar and mozzarella are first on its agenda.
  • In late November Change Foods announced the closing of the pre-seed round, which came to an oversubscribed US$875K. They also recently secured a further US$350K to accelerate prototype development, now bringing our total fundraising to over US$1.3M in 9 months.

👍 The good

  • According to the think tank RethinkX, the cost of foods made using precision fermentation tech will be between 50-80% lower than the animal products they’re slated to replace.
  • As well as being easier on the wallet, these food replacements will also be healthier. Produced in a lab rather than on a farm, the ingredients will be simpler and the technology allows allergens, trans fats and other unhealthy ingredients to be removed during the production process. 
  • Precision fermentation meat and dairy will still technically be the real thing, but no animals will be harmed or killed in the process. In future, the tech could take over from traditional farming as a more sustainable, kinder way of making food. 
  • Producing alternative proteins via fermentation is much more efficient and less resource-heavy than current methods like factory farming.
  • Planet Earth is thought to be home to one trillion species of microorganisms. At the moment, human food is limited to a handful of animal species and several hundred plants - but the sheer number of microbes mean there’s scope for many as yet undiscovered ingredients to be used in food applications. 

👎 The bad

  • While it’s making waves, the precision fermentation industry is still in its infancy. The median founding year of most dedicated alternative protein companies is 2018, and the vast majority of companies are based in the USA at present (though the global industry is growing rapidly).
  • Major producers of animal products are at risk of a serious economic shock as precision fermentation tech becomes more widespread.
  • Producers making ‘cultivated’ versions of egg and dairy may - in the same way as cultivated meat - have to overcome some hurdles when it comes to acceptance by the general public, especially older consumers.

💡The bottom line

  • Plant-based meats, eggs, dairy protein, cheese, rennet, gelatine, seafood, fats, oils, pet food, infant formula and more - the possibilities of precision fermentation are almost endless, thanks to the sheer amount of microbes on Earth. 
  • And with the cost of precision fermentation continuing to drop - and predicted to go below $10/kg by 2025 - it’s likely we’ll all be hearing a lot more about this novel technology pretty soon.

🧪 Precision fermentation: what is it?

  • Kimchi, sauerkraut, beer and miso - fermentation is nothing new. The ancient practice is an entirely natural process: microorganisms like yeast and bacteria convert starches and sugars into alcohol or acids, producing beneficial bacteria in the process.

  • Now a raft of food tech companies are using microbes - a highly customised version of the same microbes that ferment traditional foods like cheese and yogurt - to produce alternative proteins and functional ingredients. These can then be used in plant-based products and as alternatives to egg and milk proteins. This process is known as precision fermentation.

🤔 Tell me more…

  • Precision fermentation uses these specialised microbes to grow massive quantities of specific proteins that are normally found in meat and other animal products - except this way, no animals are required.
Source: Good Food Institute

💡 How it started? 

  • Impossible Foods’ heme protein, the base ingredient in its plant-based Impossible Burger, is made using precision fermentation. The company was founded in 2011 and was the first to exploit precision fermentation to create a food ingredient. The plant-based heme works exactly like heme protein in conventional meat, and can be produced on a massive scale using microbial fermentation.
  • Precision fermentation is also already widely used to make insulin for diabetics and almost all vitamin C supplements. 
  • The cult-like success of the Impossible Burger has inspired a new glut of foodie entrepreneurs to utilise precision fermentation to develop new products and proteins. 
  • The past five years have seen a glut of new startups working on fermentation solutions, especially in the field of alternative proteins and plant-based products.

🔬 How it's shaping up?

  • Most precision fermentation companies are choosing the B2B route.
  • Thanks to the array of microbes on offer, precision fermentation startups are developing a broad range of different products including animal-free meat, animal-free egg and dairy, and even lab-grown palm oil

🤷‍♂️ Why

  • There’s a global soil crisis that threatens farming as we know it, while dwindling insect numbers forewarn of devastating pollination problems in the future. Scientists have long warned that traditional agriculture, set against a rapidly growing global population, will not be able to meet the world’s food needs as soon as 2050. Precision fermentation could be part of the solution
  • Much of the food we eat today - particularly meat and dairy - takes a whole lot of resources and animal cruelty. Again, precision fermentation could be one method to bring us closer to a kinder, less exploitative food system.
  • The cost of precision fermentation has decreased dramatically over the past half a decade, as the technology has also advanced - making the process more accessible to entrepreneurial startups.

Source: Brave Robot

👀 Who? (22 startups in this space)

  • Better Dairy (precision fermentation dairy, UK)
  • Bond Pet Foods (precision fermentation pet food, USA)
  • Brave Robot (animal-free dairy-based ice cream, USA) 
  • Change Foods (precision fermentation cheese, Australia & USA)
  • Circe (Fermentation of dairy triglycerides and synthetic polymers, USA)
  • Clara Foods (precision fermentation egg proteins, USA)
  • Cultivated (precision fermentation dairy protein alternatives, Switzerland)
  • C16 Biosciences (genetically modified microorganisms (yeast) to produce palmitic acid, USA)
  • Final Foods (precision fermentation whey protein for cheese, USA)
  • Fumi Ingredients (precision fermentation egg replacement, the Netherlands)
  • Fybraworks Foods (Mycelium as an expression platform for animal muscle proteins for meat alternatives, USA)
  • GELTOR Inc. (precision fermentation animal-free ingredients, USA)
  • Harmony (precision fermentation infant formula, USA)
  • Helaina (Infant formula using human milk proteins produced via yeast, USA)
  • Imagindairy Ltd. (precision fermentation milk proteins, Israel)
  • Impossible Foods (precision fermentation heme protein, USA)
  • LegenDairy Foods (precision fermentation milk proteins, Germany)
  • MeliBio Inc. (precision fermentation honey, USA)
  • Motif FoodWorks (Functional ingredients, ingredient systems, and whole formulations for plant-based foods, USA)
  • New Culture (Casein for cheese production - starting with mozzarella, USA)
  • Nourish Ingredients (fermentation-derived fats for meat, dairy, and fish alternatives, Australia) 
  • Perfect Day Foods (precision fermentation whey and casein proteins, USA)
  • Remilk (precision fermentation milk, USA)
  • Shiru (precision fermentation proteins, USA)

📈 The figures

  • It was only in 2015 that venture-capitalist funding for fermentation companies exceeded $10 million, but since then investment has really taken off. 
  • In 2020, fermentation-based protein firms received $435 million of the $1.5 billion invested in alternative proteins globally.
  • One of the biggest scoops was Perfect Day’s $300 million Series C round, which was the largest ever investment in the history of the field. It took total investment in the fermentation sector to $837.25 million.
Source: Good Food Institute

🍦 Case study: Perfect Day

  • Perfect Day Foods, based in California, was founded in 2014. 
  • It was the very first company of its kind to successfully produce milk proteins (casein and whey) for food products using microbes, not animals. 
  • It’s ‘real’ dairy, but it is produced with microorganisms rather than mammary glands.
  • In 2018, Perfect Day started producing their ingredients on a commercial scale by partnering with agri-food company ADM.
  • Last year Perfect Day launched its animal-free dairy ice cream in partnership with Smitten (a San-Francisco ice cream company), the first of its kind on the market. It has since debuted its own spin-off ice cream company, Brave Robot.
  • Perfect Day’s total investment now stands at over $360 million and imminent plans include expansion within the US and further afield in Germany. 
Source: Perfect Day

🧀  Case study: Change Foods

  • Change Foods, founded in Australia in 2019, makes animal-free cheese and other dairy products using precision fermentation. 
  • Unlike plant-based dairy alternatives, Change Foods’ products are made with the same proteins and fats as those found in conventional dairy.  
  • The company’s products come with plenty of benefits: though they’re made using the same proteins found in dairy, Change Foods’ products will not contain any lactose, cholesterol, antibiotics or hormones, because no animals are involved in the process.
  • Change Foods claims precision fermentation dairy is around 10 times more efficient than a cow in terms of converting feed into an end product.
  • Because Change’s cheese is made with genuine milk proteins, it has all the gooey, melting deliciousness of real cheese - just without involving cows! Cheddar and mozzarella are first on its agenda.
  • In late November Change Foods announced the closing of the pre-seed round, which came to an oversubscribed US$875K. They also recently secured a further US$350K to accelerate prototype development, now bringing our total fundraising to over US$1.3M in 9 months.

👍 The good

  • According to the think tank RethinkX, the cost of foods made using precision fermentation tech will be between 50-80% lower than the animal products they’re slated to replace.
  • As well as being easier on the wallet, these food replacements will also be healthier. Produced in a lab rather than on a farm, the ingredients will be simpler and the technology allows allergens, trans fats and other unhealthy ingredients to be removed during the production process. 
  • Precision fermentation meat and dairy will still technically be the real thing, but no animals will be harmed or killed in the process. In future, the tech could take over from traditional farming as a more sustainable, kinder way of making food. 
  • Producing alternative proteins via fermentation is much more efficient and less resource-heavy than current methods like factory farming.
  • Planet Earth is thought to be home to one trillion species of microorganisms. At the moment, human food is limited to a handful of animal species and several hundred plants - but the sheer number of microbes mean there’s scope for many as yet undiscovered ingredients to be used in food applications. 

👎 The bad

  • While it’s making waves, the precision fermentation industry is still in its infancy. The median founding year of most dedicated alternative protein companies is 2018, and the vast majority of companies are based in the USA at present (though the global industry is growing rapidly).
  • Major producers of animal products are at risk of a serious economic shock as precision fermentation tech becomes more widespread.
  • Producers making ‘cultivated’ versions of egg and dairy may - in the same way as cultivated meat - have to overcome some hurdles when it comes to acceptance by the general public, especially older consumers.

💡The bottom line

  • Plant-based meats, eggs, dairy protein, cheese, rennet, gelatine, seafood, fats, oils, pet food, infant formula and more - the possibilities of precision fermentation are almost endless, thanks to the sheer amount of microbes on Earth. 
  • And with the cost of precision fermentation continuing to drop - and predicted to go below $10/kg by 2025 - it’s likely we’ll all be hearing a lot more about this novel technology pretty soon.

🧪 Precision fermentation: what is it?

  • Kimchi, sauerkraut, beer and miso - fermentation is nothing new. The ancient practice is an entirely natural process: microorganisms like yeast and bacteria convert starches and sugars into alcohol or acids, producing beneficial bacteria in the process.

  • Now a raft of food tech companies are using microbes - a highly customised version of the same microbes that ferment traditional foods like cheese and yogurt - to produce alternative proteins and functional ingredients. These can then be used in plant-based products and as alternatives to egg and milk proteins. This process is known as precision fermentation.

🤔 Tell me more…

  • Precision fermentation uses these specialised microbes to grow massive quantities of specific proteins that are normally found in meat and other animal products - except this way, no animals are required.
Source: Good Food Institute

💡 How it started? 

  • Impossible Foods’ heme protein, the base ingredient in its plant-based Impossible Burger, is made using precision fermentation. The company was founded in 2011 and was the first to exploit precision fermentation to create a food ingredient. The plant-based heme works exactly like heme protein in conventional meat, and can be produced on a massive scale using microbial fermentation.
  • Precision fermentation is also already widely used to make insulin for diabetics and almost all vitamin C supplements. 
  • The cult-like success of the Impossible Burger has inspired a new glut of foodie entrepreneurs to utilise precision fermentation to develop new products and proteins. 
  • The past five years have seen a glut of new startups working on fermentation solutions, especially in the field of alternative proteins and plant-based products.

🔬 How it's shaping up?

  • Most precision fermentation companies are choosing the B2B route.
  • Thanks to the array of microbes on offer, precision fermentation startups are developing a broad range of different products including animal-free meat, animal-free egg and dairy, and even lab-grown palm oil

🤷‍♂️ Why

  • There’s a global soil crisis that threatens farming as we know it, while dwindling insect numbers forewarn of devastating pollination problems in the future. Scientists have long warned that traditional agriculture, set against a rapidly growing global population, will not be able to meet the world’s food needs as soon as 2050. Precision fermentation could be part of the solution
  • Much of the food we eat today - particularly meat and dairy - takes a whole lot of resources and animal cruelty. Again, precision fermentation could be one method to bring us closer to a kinder, less exploitative food system.
  • The cost of precision fermentation has decreased dramatically over the past half a decade, as the technology has also advanced - making the process more accessible to entrepreneurial startups.

Source: Brave Robot

👀 Who? (22 startups in this space)

  • Better Dairy (precision fermentation dairy, UK)
  • Bond Pet Foods (precision fermentation pet food, USA)
  • Brave Robot (animal-free dairy-based ice cream, USA) 
  • Change Foods (precision fermentation cheese, Australia & USA)
  • Circe (Fermentation of dairy triglycerides and synthetic polymers, USA)
  • Clara Foods (precision fermentation egg proteins, USA)
  • Cultivated (precision fermentation dairy protein alternatives, Switzerland)
  • C16 Biosciences (genetically modified microorganisms (yeast) to produce palmitic acid, USA)
  • Final Foods (precision fermentation whey protein for cheese, USA)
  • Fumi Ingredients (precision fermentation egg replacement, the Netherlands)
  • Fybraworks Foods (Mycelium as an expression platform for animal muscle proteins for meat alternatives, USA)
  • GELTOR Inc. (precision fermentation animal-free ingredients, USA)
  • Harmony (precision fermentation infant formula, USA)
  • Helaina (Infant formula using human milk proteins produced via yeast, USA)
  • Imagindairy Ltd. (precision fermentation milk proteins, Israel)
  • Impossible Foods (precision fermentation heme protein, USA)
  • LegenDairy Foods (precision fermentation milk proteins, Germany)
  • MeliBio Inc. (precision fermentation honey, USA)
  • Motif FoodWorks (Functional ingredients, ingredient systems, and whole formulations for plant-based foods, USA)
  • New Culture (Casein for cheese production - starting with mozzarella, USA)
  • Nourish Ingredients (fermentation-derived fats for meat, dairy, and fish alternatives, Australia) 
  • Perfect Day Foods (precision fermentation whey and casein proteins, USA)
  • Remilk (precision fermentation milk, USA)
  • Shiru (precision fermentation proteins, USA)

📈 The figures

  • It was only in 2015 that venture-capitalist funding for fermentation companies exceeded $10 million, but since then investment has really taken off. 
  • In 2020, fermentation-based protein firms received $435 million of the $1.5 billion invested in alternative proteins globally.
  • One of the biggest scoops was Perfect Day’s $300 million Series C round, which was the largest ever investment in the history of the field. It took total investment in the fermentation sector to $837.25 million.
Source: Good Food Institute

🍦 Case study: Perfect Day

  • Perfect Day Foods, based in California, was founded in 2014. 
  • It was the very first company of its kind to successfully produce milk proteins (casein and whey) for food products using microbes, not animals. 
  • It’s ‘real’ dairy, but it is produced with microorganisms rather than mammary glands.
  • In 2018, Perfect Day started producing their ingredients on a commercial scale by partnering with agri-food company ADM.
  • Last year Perfect Day launched its animal-free dairy ice cream in partnership with Smitten (a San-Francisco ice cream company), the first of its kind on the market. It has since debuted its own spin-off ice cream company, Brave Robot.
  • Perfect Day’s total investment now stands at over $360 million and imminent plans include expansion within the US and further afield in Germany. 
Source: Perfect Day

🧀  Case study: Change Foods

  • Change Foods, founded in Australia in 2019, makes animal-free cheese and other dairy products using precision fermentation. 
  • Unlike plant-based dairy alternatives, Change Foods’ products are made with the same proteins and fats as those found in conventional dairy.  
  • The company’s products come with plenty of benefits: though they’re made using the same proteins found in dairy, Change Foods’ products will not contain any lactose, cholesterol, antibiotics or hormones, because no animals are involved in the process.
  • Change Foods claims precision fermentation dairy is around 10 times more efficient than a cow in terms of converting feed into an end product.
  • Because Change’s cheese is made with genuine milk proteins, it has all the gooey, melting deliciousness of real cheese - just without involving cows! Cheddar and mozzarella are first on its agenda.
  • In late November Change Foods announced the closing of the pre-seed round, which came to an oversubscribed US$875K. They also recently secured a further US$350K to accelerate prototype development, now bringing our total fundraising to over US$1.3M in 9 months.

👍 The good

  • According to the think tank RethinkX, the cost of foods made using precision fermentation tech will be between 50-80% lower than the animal products they’re slated to replace.
  • As well as being easier on the wallet, these food replacements will also be healthier. Produced in a lab rather than on a farm, the ingredients will be simpler and the technology allows allergens, trans fats and other unhealthy ingredients to be removed during the production process. 
  • Precision fermentation meat and dairy will still technically be the real thing, but no animals will be harmed or killed in the process. In future, the tech could take over from traditional farming as a more sustainable, kinder way of making food. 
  • Producing alternative proteins via fermentation is much more efficient and less resource-heavy than current methods like factory farming.
  • Planet Earth is thought to be home to one trillion species of microorganisms. At the moment, human food is limited to a handful of animal species and several hundred plants - but the sheer number of microbes mean there’s scope for many as yet undiscovered ingredients to be used in food applications. 

👎 The bad

  • While it’s making waves, the precision fermentation industry is still in its infancy. The median founding year of most dedicated alternative protein companies is 2018, and the vast majority of companies are based in the USA at present (though the global industry is growing rapidly).
  • Major producers of animal products are at risk of a serious economic shock as precision fermentation tech becomes more widespread.
  • Producers making ‘cultivated’ versions of egg and dairy may - in the same way as cultivated meat - have to overcome some hurdles when it comes to acceptance by the general public, especially older consumers.

💡The bottom line

  • Plant-based meats, eggs, dairy protein, cheese, rennet, gelatine, seafood, fats, oils, pet food, infant formula and more - the possibilities of precision fermentation are almost endless, thanks to the sheer amount of microbes on Earth. 
  • And with the cost of precision fermentation continuing to drop - and predicted to go below $10/kg by 2025 - it’s likely we’ll all be hearing a lot more about this novel technology pretty soon.
FoodTech News Digested ✉️
Every Monday (12pm CET) & Friday (1pm CET) in your inbox

Reports

New Energy: the 37 companies creating better-for-you energy drinks
Flour power: the rise of substitute alternatives to traditional wheat flour
Meet the lupini bean: the humble legume - and the next big superfood - you’ve never heard of
Animal Free Cheese: the 90+ brands on quest to make great tasting cheese, cow-free
New kids on the block: the 40+ brands making healthier choices for babies and children
Vegan beef jerky and cell-cultured seafood: Africa’s FoodTech scene is heating up
The fourth wave of craft coffee is coming: are you ready for a revamped cup of jo?
The 50+ companies driving the shift to plant-based chicken