Partnership set to demonstrate “disruptive innovation” in plant-based cheese space
13 Apr 2023 --- Artificial intelligence (AI) and data science are being leveraged to create plant-based cheeses that are nutritious, affordable and indistinguishable from their dairy counterparts, with a low carbon footprint.
The Bel Group acquired an equity stake in biotech start-up Climax Foods Inc. and aims to use the AI platform to develop plant-based alternatives to Bel’s brands.
“By entering into this partnership, the Bel Group and the start-up Climax are demonstrating that disruptive innovation in the field of food can take a major step forward in the food transition,” Caroline Sorlin, chief venture officer of the Bel Group, tells FoodIngredientsFirst.
“Climax revolutionizes the product innovation process by using AI to identify the best plant combinations and optimal recipes in record times. Testing all possible combinations would take billions of years.”
Bel estimates that the first products from the partnership will be ready for the European and US market by the end of 2024.
“Our ambition is to have launched, within five years, a plant-based offer matching the dairy reference in terms of taste, texture and nutrition in each of our core brands (The Laughing Cow, Kiri, Babybel, Boursin, Nurishh),” Sorlin notes.
“Indistinguishable” from animal-based cheese
Sorlin explains that Climax Foods’ predictive analytics and AI enable a deep understanding of animal-based foods at the molecular level.
“Climax leverages this knowledge to replicate animal-based products with plant-based versions that match their texture, flavor, and nutrition density. Each feature – texture, flavor, nutrition density. – is mapped.”
She adds that the Climax team has already succeeded in creating various prototypes with all the characteristics of specialty cheeses, including blue, brie, feta, and goat varieties that are indistinguishable from animal-based references.
Dr. Oliver Zahn, CEO and founder of Climax Foods Inc., adds, “AI and data can be game changers in food in terms of delivering optimal taste and texture while at the same time making it affordable and sustainable.”
“Evolving recipes over time is what we’ve been doing for hundreds of years. In addition to changing consumer preferences, climate change requires us to accelerate the evolution of food. Together with Bel, we can make a significant positive impact so that people and the planet are better off.”
Recently, the Bel Group partnered with Standing Ovation to incorporate dairy-free casein protein in its alternative cheese offerings, which mimics the taste and texture of dairy-based cheeses.
The power of AI
Nature and plants offer incredible potential for sustainable food, highlights Sorlin.
“Until now, this potential had not been fully harnessed due to the difficulty of identifying which plants can be good ingredients and which combinations can result in the best recipes, i.e., accessible, nutritionally and sensorial qualitative, in addition to their low environmental impact.”
Sorlin adds that combining the complementary expertise and know-how of Bel and Climax Foods will make it possible to create, from plants and by combining AI, data and industrial engineering, the recipes of tomorrow: better for consumers and the planet.
“All feedback loops eventually predict which plants and processes will best replicate animal-based products with plant-based versions that match these features while keeping a naturally fermented cheese made with simple ingredients.”
Biotech specialist Nuritas uses an AI-powered platform to uncover bioactives and present environmentally sustainable solutions. With this platform, the company produced an ingredient from fava beans that outperformed milk protein in two clinical studies.
Food for the future
Both partners aim to continue to explore the possibilities offered by the plant world as they see it has an incredible potential to provide sustainable food and thus reduce the human impact on the environment.
Sorlin notes that 30% of the global carbon footprint comes from food and 70% of our carbon footprint comes from milk supply. “At Bel, we are convinced that, if we change the food system, food could be a key lever to fight climate change.”
“In addition to working with farmers on more sustainable practices and regenerative agriculture, rebalancing our portfolio between dairy and non-dairy products is part of our strategy to reduce our carbon footprint and align with the 1.5°C trajectory to which we have committed.”
“This collaboration with Climax is a game changer to achieve our goal of rebalancing our portfolio 50/50 between dairy products on the one hand and fruit and plant-based products on the other.”
She adds that currently, the balance is around 80% dairy and 20% fruit and plant-based.
The partnership is part of the Bel Group’s strategy to combine the best of both the plant and the animal worlds to contribute to a new food model that can feed 10 billion people by 2050 while limiting the environmental impact of its value chain.
Precision fermentation is also leveraged in dairy alternatives, meats and eggs, as it enables the creation of nature-identical animal proteins, fats, flavors, enzymes, vitamins and more, made entirely without using the animal.
By Jolanda van Hal
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