The vegan food market was pegged as a $27 billion industry last year, a figure that's expected to more than double within a decade. This hasn't gone unnoticed by the major food and beverage incumbents such as Nestlé, which launched a plant-based dairy line under the Wunda brand last year, while rival Unilever has been doubling down on its vegan offerings.
But any company looking to develop successful plant-based food alternatives often faces challenges when trying to replicate certain goods traditionally made from animal-based ingredients. Dairy, in particular, has its problems, as recreating the "creaminess" without using real cream isn't easy -- and existing dairy-free solutions such as coconut oil or palm oil aren't all that sustainable from an environmental standpoint.
Founded out of Zurich in 2021 by Tomas Turner and Dimitri Zogg, Cultivated Biosciences is one of countless companies in a sustainable food space that's working to reduce humans' dependency on animals for sustenance, spanning everything from chicken and seafood to sausages. Dairy is also garnering significant attention from entrepreneurs and investors the world over, with the likes of Brown Foods recently raising cash to develop cell-cultured "cowless" milk in a lab, while Better Dairy and New Culture are using precision fermentation techniques to help provide the necessary milk proteins lacking in other dairy-free alternatives.
Cultivated Biosciences, for its part, is tackling the problem from a slightly different angle -- it's focusing squarely on the "texture" to help vegan food producers create goods that "feel" closer to the real McCoy.
"We are working on the fat and surrounding microstructure component that give dairy its amazing mouthfeel," CEO Tomas Turner explained to TechCrunch. "We have developed a fat-rich ingredient that you can imagine as a 20% fat cream, with a mouthfeel and colour indistinguishable from dairy."
In terms of how the company creates this, Turner said that they use a one-step process starting with oleaginous (oily) yeast, which it then ferments depending on the needs of its vegan dairy-brand clients and the specific products they're making -- whether that's yogurt, cheese, ice cream or anything else.
"We can concentrate, dilute or dry the cream, in a very similar way to how you process dairy," Turner added.
To help take the product through the next steps toward commercialization, Cultivated Biosciences today announced that it has raised $1.5 million in pre-seed funding, money Turner said will be used to optimize its production process, carry out additional R&D, and enter product development trials with its first customers next year, and it plans to launch its first products shortly after. The company will also need to go through regulatory approval processes in its target markets, including Novel Food in the EU and GRAS (Generally Regarded as Safe) in the U.S.
"We will start doing test launches in 2024 in the U.S., expand in Europe in 2025, and continuously expand commercialization as we scale up production," Turner said.
Cultivated Biosciences' pre-seed round was led by Switzerland's Wingman Ventures, with participation from Big Idea Ventures, Blue Horizon, Proveg International and FoodHack-affiliated angel investors.