The 16th of May, an interesting focus debate was held at the Knowledge For Growth conference by in Antwerp about the unexplored potential of precision fermentation for agrifood. The ProteInn Club gladly accepted the assignment to lead the debate on how to accelerate innovation and production of these fermentation based proteins. We share some insights here.

Prof. Kevin Verstrepen, director of the VIB-KULeuven Center for Microbiology started by introducing the technology and applications of precision fermentation. It is a form of biomanufacturing in which bacteria, yeasts or fungi produce a well-defined protein. Beside enzymes, vitamins and colorants, it’s a highly sustainable technique to produce casein, myoglobin, or other animal-free ingredients. Also, it is a base for developing biocontrols for crop protection as an alternative to chemicals. It is foreseen that microbial protein production will form a substantial part of the food and feed system.

However, hurdles exist that slow down the full exploration of this technology. Let’s listen to testimonials from the industry.

  1. Production capacity. Wim Soetaert, CEO of the Bio Base Europe Pilot Plant (BBEPP) brought up a first challenge. After scaling an innovation to industrial production scale, the next step is commercial production. A precision fermentation contract manufacturer organization (CMO) is a logical track. However, availability of production capacity is a nuanced story. There are numerous CMO’s, and they all differ in technical capabilities and mode of cooperation. But, finding a good match is rare. Luckily, BBEPP can assist in CMO identification.
  2. Techno-economic feasibility. Miguel Roncoroni, research manager at Puratos, clarified how and why Puratos explores the innovations of start-up/scale-ups that develop alternative ingredients. Puratos has extensive experience in precision fermentation already for decades, e.g. for production of enzymes. Now, for consumers that are seeking for animal-free, highly sustainable, or health-supporting foods, start-ups are developing a new range of ingredients. A thorough study of the techno-eonomic feasablility of these innovations is important, including estimations of cost, demand, regulatory readiness, etc. In agrifood, novel market introductions need to compete with the already existing (cheap) products on the market, without compromising in quality, availability, price. In pharma, companies can claim a high price based on the uniqueness of their product. A big difference is that in agrifood, that is not the case.
  3. Consumer acceptance. Hille van der Kaa, CEO of Those Vegan Cowboys, shared their story about the stainless steel cow Margeret, producing casein without actually involving any animal. Those Vegan Cowboys has a strong marketing strategy. Their story gives a very tangible answer to consumers looking for animal-free alternatives. But, to what extent it is needed to communicate in-depth to the consumer is still unclear. The first idea was that consumers needed to be convinced. But, that seems not to be the case. And maybe, consumers don’t need that much information. If they are interested in animal-free alternatives, most of all, they want it to be tasty and attractive, at a reasonable price.
  4. Regulatory hurdles. Carlo Boutton, Chief Scientific Officer of Biotalys, explained that after a long period of intensive knowledge building, the company is more than ready for market entry. Getting to know the host organism inside and out, was an important phase, enabling them to prepare a whole pipeline of products. For the product to be launched, EVOCA, commercial production has already started. They found a good partner in Novonesis. Regulatory approval is expected soon, but, the trajectory of regulatory authorization is perceived as very long and very comprehensive. Panelists – as well as attendees sharing their reaction – stated that in Europe màjor steps of improvement are possible in this aspect.

Special thanks to for organizing, prof. Verstrepen for explaining the technique, and all panelist for sharing their insights and experiences.