Friday, March 22, 2024

Future Food Tech: Three Takeaways for Dairy Processors to Innovate Smartly


From a galaxy far, far away comes TruMoo Blue Milk. Actually, it’s made in the U.S. by Dairy Farmers of America and will be hitting retail dairy departments in mid-April. It’s described as “1% low-fat milk and features natural vanilla flavor and blue color for a truly galactic delicious experience your family will enjoy.”

Consumers have and will continue to crave new foods and beverages. Unfortunately, about 90% of new product innovations fail, according to Hartman Group. 

“So, while brands and manufacturers are under significant pressure to adapt quickly, innovation can’t just be fast,” says Shelley Balanko, senior vice president at Hartman Group. “It has to be smart.” 

That was a lot of the discussion this week in San Francisco at the Future Food Tech conference. This was a terrific conference to attend after Natural Products Expo West last week. The first observation here is the same as from Expo West; however, it translates differently. 

Observation #1: Just because you can make it, does not mean you should. 

With all due respect to innovators in food tech, many of the prototypes at Future Food Tech were not worth the calories for me to finish the tasting. But they could be. In my opinion, companies are overthinking technology at this stage in the game. 

The reality is we need technology. It’s safe to say we need high-tech technology in order to feed the growing population. Current food systems don’t cut it. But, stop over thinking it. That brings me to…
Observation #2: Food tech companies focusing on non-protein ingredient systems are making impressive progress, namely through the use of precision fermentation.

To get a better understanding on this technology, please link HERE to an article I wrote for Food Business News.

In a nutshell, precision fermentation technology has been around for more than 30 years, but it is only now being recognized for its potential to produce food and food ingredients in a sustainable way. It’s already used in the production of several food ingredients, including natural flavors, rennet, vitamins and stevia. Natural colors is one of my favorite examples of how valuable precision technology can be.

Imagine how red beets are grown for the sole purpose of extracting their color in order to make strawberry yogurt look more delicious. Now imagine if that field could instead be used to grow red beets, or other fruits and vegetables, for consumption in their whole food format. The natural color would now be made using baker’s yeast that has been modified to produce pigment.

It would be amazing if the color in TruMoo Blue Milk was produced this way and part of its story. The future of precision fermentation is now.  

Did you know that Foremost Farms USA has teamed up with Ginkgo Bioworks to use advances in biotechnology to enable domestic, sustainable biomanufacturing of materials from dairy co-products to benefit the environment, family farms and the dairy industry as a whole? Through this partnership, Foremost Farms will leverage Ginkgo’s bioproduction services to develop and commercialize a new technology that could help upcycle billions of pounds of dairy co-products each year. Foremost Farms has selected Ginkgo as its partner of choice to develop a new upcycling technology because of Ginkgo’s leading metabolic engineering and analytical capabilities, which allow it to optimize strains for challenging environmental conditions while avoiding common toxicity issues. It’s all about precision fermentation.  

Observation #3: Plant-based is getting better through the help of AI. 

I finally had a great-tasting plant-based cheese. I swear, you would never know it was made from more than four ingredients (milk, cultures, enzymes and salt). It was at the S2G Ventures event the evening prior to Future Food Tech. The cheese was from Climax Foods. 

It took two years for Climax to develop and commercialize its first “zero-compromise” plant-based products. From a galaxy far, far away comes  Climax’s “moonshot products,” which are cultured and aged Blue, Brie, Feta and Chèvre cheeses. They are made using sustainably grown plant ingredients and match the taste, nutrition and price of dairy cheeses. 

“We started from a profound appreciation for the complex flavors and textures of dairy products,” explains Oliver Zahn, founder and CEO. “Cows have made our milk for thousands of years. It is human nature to rethink ancient practices, so we came up with a smarter way. By using data science to accelerate plant-based ingredient and process discoveries, we are saving thousands of years of tinkering to create products that are just as tasty as the cow-based predecessors.”

(Photo: Climax Foods' Blue)

After years of studying the intricacies of space and time, Zahn’s desire to drive positive global change called him to become a data science and thought leader at Google, SpaceX and Impossible Foods before starting Climax in 2020. Armed with the largest-ever seed raise for a food-tech startup, Climax converted an old chocolate factory in Berkeley, California, into cutting-edge laboratories. The company’s 40 scientists have since combined molecular-level learnings about animal products with proprietary plant ingredient functionality databases to converge on optimal “digital recipes” from ingredients selected from thousands of edible plants. 

“Our technology and ingredient discoveries will soon power the replacements of bigger categories with successors that will be equally delicious and nutritious but more sustainable and--because our products are not heavily processed--substantially more economical and environmentally friendly,” he said. 

Climax products rely on non-allergenic ingredients, such as seeds, legumes and plant oils. They are free of nuts, cholesterol and GMO ingredients. 

The future of food is high-tech technology. The opportunities are infinite. But never forget, “just because you can make it, does not mean you should.” Use technology wisely to develop nutritious and delicious foods to feed the growing population.  

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