Cell-based milk innovation on the horizon as first cell-based dairy incubator program launches
28 May 2021 --- Spanish dairy specialist Pascual has launched what is tipped as the first global incubation program for cellular agriculture technologies in the dairy industry. The program, Mylkcubator, is run by the group’s new Corporate Venture unit, Pascual Innoventures, which has been set up to support start-ups disrupting the milk value chain.
Eatable Adventures, a prominent global food-tech accelerator, is lending support to Pascual in this program as a strategic partner. The goal is to enroll ten startups, entrepreneurs or scientific projects, with innovative dairy solutions within the following spaces: cell-based, fermentation based and applied technologies.
Pascual Innoventures aims to become an early stage investor for these start-ups, with the objective of incorporating them into its future business operations.
“The goal is to identify those startups that can create cell-based milk with at least the same nutritional value of traditional milk if not superior,” Sejal Ravji, director of Pascual Innoventures, tells FoodIngredientsFirst.
“Several components of milk are lost during the pasteurization process, these new processes could help recover these nutrients,” he explains.
“Milk is used as an ingredient in many food and pharmaceutical products. These biosynthetic processes will help create these ingredients in a more sustainable way.”
Disrupting conventional milk
Using mammalian cells to produce sustainable milk is deemed a viable route to curbing the agri-food sector’s ecological footprint. However, the costs involved with this novel production method are still deemed a significant barrier to commercial success.
“Right now the biggest challenge for the cell-based milk emerging technologies is the possibility to scale the production from laboratories to industrial volumes, from a batch production to a continued production,” says Ravji.
“The main issue is achieving economic viability due to the technological cost of bioreactors and novel growth media. The other challenge is associated with the go-to-market approach, finding applications for these ingredients that can enhance current production and create novel products.”
The emergent food-tech category has been gaining ground with new developments from players like TurtleTree, which cultivates naturally-occurring compounds found in breast milk for applications in infant, adult and specialized nutrition.
Also in this space, US-based start-up Biomilq specializes in mammary cell-cultured human breast milk, which can produce more than 2,500 components in human breast milk.
Only 3.3 percent of the milk bottle
Solid protein – casein and whey – accounts for just 3.3 percent of milk’s overall composition, the 87.75 percent is made up of water and the rest is sugar (mainly lactose), fats, vitamins and minerals.
In theory, Pascual highlights that cellular agriculture only needs to disrupt 3.3 percent of the milk bottle.
“Initial market traction for these products will come from specific market segments, like specialized nutrition, more than geographies,” details Ravji.
“The regulatory framework is being put into place and the industry will have to adhere to food safety, labeling, and production oversight as their counterpart commodity-based industries.”
Precision fermentation potential
According to the RethinkX report “Rethink Food and Agriculture 2020-2030,” almost 90 percent of US dairy protein demand will come from precision fermentation alternatives by 2030.
Pascual anticipates that “a path to market is already in the works.” Precision fermentation ingredients are already widely used across the food industry, like the chymosin enzyme that has been in use since the 1980s used as a coagulant in cheesemaking.
In other application areas, “copying” casein using precision fermentation has proven a viable method to produce any kind of cheese recreated as plant-based. Doing exactly this, Those Vegan Cowboys, a company founded by the former owners of The Vegetarian Butcher, is currently leveraging microbial fermentation methods for producing caseins, among relevant developments within this space.
Six months of scaling up
The first edition of Mylkcubator will last six months, from selection to the demo day.
“The selected start-ups shall expect a high-level global incubation methodology coupled with expert mentoring in all areas pertaining to market; distribution and go to market; pilot programs and potential collaborations with large food corporations as industrial design partners,” Ravji details.
“As part of the program the startups will be introduced to a global network of international funds and investors.”
Giving the best for the future of food
Gabriel Torres Pascual, director of Pascual Innova and third generation of the Pascual family is leading the new unit together with Sejal Ravji, director of Pascual Innoventures, a biochemical engineer from University College London (UCL) in the UK, with a PhD in Rheology.
"The entrepreneurial, innovative spirit is in our genes, it comes from the attitude that my grandfather instilled in us of being nonconformist, dreaming big and daring to take risks, not only with our heads but also with our hearts,” remarks Pascual.
“This is how Pascual Innoventures was born with a long-term vision and the purpose of giving the best for the future of food. We will work hand in hand with startups that allow us to move into the future.”
By Benjamin Ferrer
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