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Cow-Free Cheese Startup’s ‘Holy Grail’ Quest Wins Big Backers

(Bloomberg) —

A U.S. food-tech startup in the growing field of “animal-free” dairy is getting a boost from some big names in its aim to create a superior cheese. 

Upfield Group, a closely held producer of plant-based spreads that’s owned by KKR & Co.-controlled funds, and Sigma, a global food producer and distributor owned by Mexican conglomerate Alfa SAB, are both teaming up with Change Foods in a bid to shake up the dairy industry. 

While everything from faux breakfast sausages to burgers are disrupting the meat industry, vegan cheeses aren’t considered anywhere near the taste and texture of the real thing. Startup hopefuls like Change Foods say the answer is skipping the plants on which most current products are based and turning to precision fermentation, which replicates cheese without using animals at all. 

“We don’t have to wait the two to three years it takes to grow a cow,” said 40-year-old David Bucca, an engineer by training who spent more than a decade at Boeing Co. in Australia before founding Change Foods. 

As Change Foods aims to debut its animal-free cheese in the U.S. late next year, the broader race to make sustainable foods mainstream is on. Beef and dairy cattle account for about two-thirds of greenhouse-gas emissions from livestock, according to the United Nations. And as protein demand surges amid improving incomes worldwide, human population is expected to swell more than 20% to nearly 10 billion by 2050.

READ MORE: Startups Try New Fermentation Process for Cheese Without Cows

“The holy grail of alternative proteins is cheese,” Bucca said. “It’s the last thing that people give up when they go plant based for a very good reason, in fact some people can never give up cheese because what is currently out there just doesn’t cut it. There’s something very unique about dairy proteins that you can’t sufficiently replicate from the plant-based kingdom.”

Precision fermentation will not only enable a re-creation of the taste and “meltability” of cheeses, but also allow for easy customization, Bucca said. 

Along with the collaboration agreements with Upfield and Sigma, Change Foods said it raised $12 million in a new round of seed funding, bringing total investments in the firm to more than $15.3 million. 

The over-subscribed round was led by Route 66 Ventures and included Upfield and Sigma at undisclosed amounts. Other investors are Jeff Dean, head of Google artificial intelligence division, Change Foods said in a news release. 

(Corrects headline of online article to note the cheese is made without cows.)

–With assistance from Áine Quinn.

© 2022 Bloomberg L.P.


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