Noblegen, a Canadian ingredients startup, expects to launch a complete alternative protein this month sourced from algae, Food Navigator reported. Company Founder and CEO Adam Noble told the publication the microorganism, Euglena gracilis, can produce cost-effective vegan replacements for palm oil, beta-glucan and complete proteins offering the same nutrition and functionality as ones from an animal.
Noblegen uses a proprietary technique called "facilitated expression" that doesn’t involve genetic engineering and can be done with a single fermentation, Food Navigator said. Noble said no one else has been able to accomplish this without using genetic modification, and that the company has been "aggressively filing patents to lock down the core elements of our process down to the food applications."
The company said in a release it has raised $42.5 million to date, including a recent Series B funding round of $25 million. It plans to use the money to double its workforce, scale its production capabilities and bring its ingredients to market.
If Noblegen can deliver cost-effective, adaptable vegan proteins without using genetic engineering, the impact on the food and beverage industry could be significant. CEO Adam Noble told Food Navigator the company initially plans to target meat, egg and dairy replacements, which are some of today's most on-trend segments for consumers.
Zeroing in on these analogs could mean significant sales for Noblegen's protein ingredients. Investment firm UBS projects growth of plant-based protein and meat alternatives to increase from $4.6 billion in 2018 to $85 billion in 2030. U.S. sales of plant-based milk products grew by almost 6% in the past year, and the plant-based dairy market alone could hit $37.5 billion by 2025, UBS said.
With significant revenue up for grabs, other companies also are working on alternative protein ingredients. Motif FoodWorks recently raised $27.5 million to accelerate development of animal-free ingredients derived from more sustainable processes. However, the Boston-based startup uses Gingko Bioworks' bioengineering platform and expertise to recreate proteins from dairy, eggs and meat, so they might not have the same marketing appeal as non-GE, vegan ingredients sourced from algae.
Another startup, Sustainable Bioproducts, raised $33 million in Series A funding from the venture capital arms of Archer Daniels Midland, Danone and several other investors in February. The Chicago-based biotechnology startup is growing edible protein in the laboratory based on research into microbes that live in the volcanic springs of Yellowstone National Park.
These new companies can tout their sustainability credentials along with their animal-free product status, but it takes time to scale up and make enough of the resulting ingredients for manufacturers. It's possible other categories beyond just meat, egg and dairy could also be interested since producers of beverages, bars and baked goods might find complete plant-based vegan protein an appealing add-on to their ingredient lists.
As more products come to market such as Noblegen's protein, it will be important for ingredient companies to differentiate themselves from one another if they hope to last. That could be where Noblegen has an opportunity to stand out from the crowd as a producer of non-GE, vegan and plant-based complete proteins.