Arturo Elizondo was talking on video chat about the tasteless, odorless, nearly colorless, highly soluble and nutritious animal-free egg protein his company made through fermentation.
But the animated video on the slide stole the show. It was a pilsner of beer, complete with a foamy head. A protein powder dropped on top, and a long spoon stirred it.
Yes, he said with a laugh — that was a video of his company's new ClearEgg protein being added to a beer. And no, he said, it doesn't impact the experience of drinking beer.
"We've talked to a couple of alcoholic beverage companies, as well as companies who make green tea and different teas and different juices," Elizondo said. "So many of them are really struggling in terms of: 'How do we innovate on these products in some of these dying categories?' "
While most consumers don't think of grabbing a beer as a way to increase their protein intake, ClearEgg can make it possible, Elizondo said. It's one of a host of proteins traditionally produced by animals that his company, formerly known as Clara Foods and rebranded today as The Every Company, is working to bring to food.
Elizondo and David Anchel founded the company in 2014 to recreate the proteins in egg whites through fermentation, without involving animals. Its first ingredient, animal-free pepsin, debuted in March and is being distributed through the company's partnership with Ingredion. ClearEgg is the company's first ingredient that replicates something found in eggs.
Elizondo, CEO of The Every Company, said it has more animal-free egg proteins in development, but its scope is broadening to be seen more as a protein powerhouse. Clara Foods initially got its name from the Spanish word for egg white, while the new name of The Every Company is emblematic of the company's broader mission of democratizing protein, he said.
"'Every' speaks to, ultimately, the possibility of what food can be — that we no longer have to compromise around having it be sustainable and having it be tasty, or having it be healthy, but having it be vegan," Elizondo said. "Ultimately, I saw that there's an opportunity for us to showcase not just the mission of why we exist, but also the power of what it means to use deep tech to fundamentally reshape the food system. And what better way to bring that to life than having a protein that can go into every kind of application where protein today can't go?"
Using food tech to improve on animal-based options
More than 100 different proteins make up egg whites, Elizondo said. They are naturally present in different ratios and have unique qualities. Some are well suited for foaming, binding and gelling — reasons why eggs are a ubiqutious ingredient in a lot of cooking — while others are nutritional powerhouses.
The Every Company uses precision fermentation — modifying yeasts so they produce different proteins when fermented — to remake some of these egg proteins. Elizondo decided to start with a protein called s-albumen, which is in ClearEgg. This protein has no eggy smell or taste, but a lot of bioavailable protein, he said. It's nearly undetectable when mixed into liquid, giving water a slight off-hue the color of an egg white. It's also soluble and remains dissolved once mixed in. Its sole effect is increasing a food or beverage's protein profile, he said.
Elizondo wanted to start with protein because although it in such high demand among consumers, existing ingredients tend to negatively impact the taste and mouthfeel of products. And the more protein that a manufacturer adds, the worse they often taste, he said. It's also nearly impossible to find a high-protein product that doesn't need a strong flavor of something like chocolate or peanut butter to mask the off-flavors.
Elizondo said this ingredient is perfect for beverage applications that had traditionally been lacking protein. These includes drinks like beer that aren't typically high in the nutrient, and those like plant-based milk that need more protein to compete in their category.
"Now you can actually have plant-based milks that have more protein than cow milk without having to add all the corresponding sugar to mask that flavor, or all these gums to keep it soluble, because plant proteins are just notoriously insoluble," he said.
But there's another important reason The Every Company is starting with this protein, Elizondo said: It's not something that anyone could actually make out of chicken eggs. S-albumen is one of the less plentiful proteins in egg whites. Elizondo said it would take thousands of eggs to make one kilogram of this protein, making it cost-prohibitive for egg ingredient companies to develop. The only cost-effective way to do it is through fermentation, he said.
There is a lot of talk in the alternative protein space now of getting to the "next generation" of products: items that use technology to do something that their animal-derived counterparts cannot. ClearEgg puts this idea into a product.
"We have technology now that we can do better," Elizondo said. "Why settle for just replacing what's already out there when we can go beyond mimicking, and create products that fundamentally are not only better for the planet and better for the animals, but also better for people?"
ClearEgg is stable at different temperatures and would also work well in other applications, including bakery items and pasta, Elizondo said. The company is starting by targeting beverage companies because the ingredient meets that segment's specific needs in protein: high solubility, high protein and no taste or texture changes.
ClearEgg is now available to manufacturers. Elizondo said that about 40 companies — makers of products ranging from carbonated drinks to protein shakes to juice — have samples of the ingredient to evaluate. The Every Company is in advanced stages of talking with some of them, and Elizondo said products containing ClearEgg are likely to make it to consumers in coming months.
The Every Company currently has a strong manufacturing pipeline to make ClearEgg, Elizondo said. It partnered with AB InBev's venture and innovation arm ZX Ventures earlier this year to develop a way to ferment these types of proteins at greater scale. Elizondo said they just ramped up their scale, and can produce tens of thousands of metric tons every couple of months.
Because ClearEgg offers an alternative to a protein that is scarce in chicken eggs, it is naturally less expensive than its animal-derived counterpart. Elizondo said that in general, The Every Company's products will tend to be more costly than animal-derived options at the beginning. It is a long-range goal to produce egg white proteins at comparable costs to those from chickens, but that will take some time, he said. For the first couple years, The Every Company plans to keep its launches at a more limited level. But the company does have aggressive plans to expand capacity in the next six months, he said.
"'Every' speaks to, ultimately, the possibility of what food can be — that we no longer have to compromise around having it be sustainable and having it be tasty, or having it be healthy, but having it be vegan. Ultimately, I saw that there's an opportunity for us to showcase not just the mission of why we exist, but also the power of what it means to use deep tech to fundamentally reshape the food system. "
Co-founder and CEO, The Every Company
"We know that capacity is the bottleneck," Elizondo said. "...We're not going to have a hard time selling the product. It's really can we produce enough to satiate the needs of the market?"
A more conventional egg white protein product that demonstrates the functional attributes of chicken eggs is still on deck from The Every Company, Elizondo said. It is likely to launch in the next quarter.
Because The Every Company is an ingredient provider rather than a CPG company, Elizondo said it plans to have an on-package symbol that indicates to consumers the product was made with animal-free eggs. ClearEgg will be described on products' ingredients label as "non-animal egg white protein," he said.
Elizondo is excited about how this product launch and the rebrand are driving the company and the food system forward. Now could be the time when people start looking at access to high-protein food differently, he said.
"We're committed to make product as affordable and accessible and ubiquitous as possible," he said. "And that's why we're a B2B company: to enable everyone, not just one or two brands, but truly brands across the world that cater to specific audiences."