UK – Unilever, the world’s biggest ice cream manufacturer, sees the use of precision fermentation as a “significant trend” for the future and has decided to invest in “cow-free dairy” as part of efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of its ice cream.
The British multinational consumer goods company said it is working with start-ups in Europe on the technology and could launch a product next year.
According to The Good Food Institute, which is an NGO advocating for alternative sources of protein, precision fermentation “uses microbial hosts as ‘cell factories’ for producing specific functional ingredients that typically require greater purity than the primary protein ingredients, and are incorporated at lower levels.”
The start-ups in the space are using the technology to mimic cow-derived protein used in many dairy products making.
Reports say Unilever invests around 1% of its turnover on ice cream R&D, with no sufficient information on how much of that is being funneled into precision fermentation.
Unilever’s chief R&D officer for ice cream, Andrew Sztehlo said the biggest challenges for products made using precision fermentation lie in the development of the proteins, associated innovation costs, and getting the taste right.
The investment is one of three methods the company is using to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from its ice cream business. The others are using plant-based protein and something Unilever dubs “better dairy” – managing the quality of feed given to cows to reduce the number of greenhouse gases emitted.
In September, Nestlé announced plans to develop animal-free dairy products in conjunction with US-based Perfect Day, a company that makes animal-free protein.
Nestlé will pilot a product through its newly-established US R&D Accelerator, bringing it to the US market later this year as a “test-and-learn.”
Elsewhere, Israeli food tech company Wilk developed the world’s first yogurt made with cultured milk fat, validating its technological capabilities.
The product, made with both traditional dairy products and dairy created by cultivated cells, was validated by external laboratories as meeting chemical and biological requirements to be yogurt, the company said.
Wilk, formerly known as BioMilk, grows mammary cells from cows and humans, and when the cells have matured, Wilk has a patented process to get those cultivated cells to produce milk, then the milk is separated from the cells.
Although, not a typical precision fermentation used by Perfect Day and other companies to create dairy proteins by fermenting yeast with modified DNA, milk produced by cultured cells has also a wider array of nutrients.