The vegan food market was considered a $27 billion industry last year, and is expected to more than double within a decade. This hasn’t gone unnoticed by major food and beverage giants such as Nestlé, which launched a plant-based dairy line under the Wunda brand last year, while rival Unilever is doubling down on its vegan offerings.
But any company looking to develop successful plant-based food alternatives often faces challenges when trying to replicate certain products traditionally made from animal-based ingredients. Dairy, in particular, has its problems, because it’s not easy to recreate the “creaminess” without using real cream — and existing dairy-free solutions like coconut oil or palm oil aren’t all that sustainable from an environmental standpoint.
Swiss startup Cultivated Biosciences set out to solve this by using a GMO-free yeast fermentation process to create the equivalent of high-fat cream.
Founded in Zurich in 2021 by Thomas Turner and Dmitri Zog, Cultivated Biosciences is one of countless companies operating in the sustainable food space, spanning everything from chicken and seafood to sausages, working to reduce human dependence on animals for sustenance. Dairy is attracting significant attention from entrepreneurs and investors around the world, with companies like Brown Foods recently raising cash to develop cell-cultured “cowless” milk in the lab, while using precision fermentation techniques to help deliver better dairy and new culture. Other dairy-free alternatives lack essential milk proteins.
Cultivated Biosciences, for its part, is tackling the problem from a slightly different angle — one that focuses on “texture” to help vegan food producers create items that “feel” closer to the real McCoy.
“We’re working on the fat and the surrounding microstructure component that gives dairy its wonderful mouthfeel,” CEO Tomas Turner explained to Technology Flow. “We’ve developed a fat-rich ingredient that you can imagine as a 20% fat cream, with a mouthfeel and color that’s indistinguishable from dairy.”
As for how the company creates it, Turner says they use a one-step process, starting with oleaginous (oily) yeast that is fermented according to the needs of its vegan milk-brand clients and the specific products they’re making. – Be it yogurt, cheese, ice cream or anything else.
“We can concentrate, dilute or dry the cream in the same way you would process dairy,” added Turner.
To help take the product through the next steps toward commercialization, Cultivated Biosciences announced today that it has raised $1.5 million in pre-seed funding, money Turner said will be used to optimize its production process, conduct additional R&D and enter product development trials. With its first customers next year, with plans to launch its first products soon. The company also has to go through regulatory approval processes in its target markets, including Novel Food in the EU and GRAS (Generally Regarded as Safe) in the US.
“We will begin test launches in the US in 2024, expand in Europe in 2025 and continue to expand commercialization as we ramp up production,” Turner said.
Cultivated Biosciences’ pre-seed round was led by Switzerland-based Wingman Ventures, with participation from Big Idea Ventures, Blue Horizon, Proveg International, among other backers.