‘Milk without the bad’: Start-up taps faba protein and algae to ‘ease next-gen switch’ to dairy alternatives

By Flora Southey

- Last updated on GMT

Image source: Update Foods
Image source: Update Foods

Related tags Dairy alternatives start-up Milk Algae

Frustrated at the range of dairy alternatives currently on-shelf, a French start-up has developed a plant-based milk made from faba protein and algae. “Its advantages in comparison to conventional dairy are almost outrageous,” Update Foods CEO Clémence Landeau tells FoodNavigator.

The dairy alternative market has grown significantly in recent years, with analysts expecting this trajectory to continue.

Valued at $1.3bn in 2018, the global market is estimated to reach $3.5bn by 2026, according to Allied Market Research. Within the dairy alternatives category, the beverages segment has taken the largest market share to date.

Yet according to a group of entrepreneurs in France, ‘the perfect vegan milk’ – i.e. a plant-based milk alternative that is nutritious and accessible, with the taste, texture and appearance of dairy milk – has yet to hit the market.

These same entrepreneurs have teamed up to fill that gap with a plant-based beverage they’ve called M!lk Update. “It’s the updated version of what, according to us, plant-based milk ​has to be nowadays,” ​CEO of start-up Update Foods Clémence Landeau told FoodNavigator.

“And that is a tasty, never from concentrate, no sugar-added and nutritious beverage that tastes, smells and looks so similar to cow’s milk that it will convince the next generation to make a plant-based switch without any regrets.”

From lockdown beginnings

The Paris-based start-up came to life amid France’s first nationwide coronavirus lockdown, when the Update Foods founders were introduced via mutual friends and colleagues.

“We noticed a common frustration regarding the current range of plant-based milks on offer. We share the same desire to shake this up by introducing a refreshing, one-of-a-kind product to retail shelves. A delicious, nutritious and healthy milk that…happens to be plant-based.”

The start-up itself was founded later in the summer by CEO Landeau, Chairwoman and Head of Marketing Céline Bouvier, and Head of Sales Franck Manifacier.

Landeau herself has followed a plant-based diet for the past six years, and wants to help future generations help make the switch. “What could be a better strategy than combining the taste and nutritional profile of cow’s milk with the power of plants to create an update version of the dairy products they love? To create milk without the bad?”

Faba protein x algae

Update Foods’ first product is M!lk Update, a plant-based milk ‘powered by plants and algae’.

“It is the perfect result of a match between water, plant-based protein (faba protein), algae oil extract, natural flavouring, a pinch of emulsifier and texturiser,” ​explained Landeau.

This makes it a ‘perfect fit’ for Update Foods’ target demographics, be it ‘health conscious citizens’, ‘green warriors’, or ‘long-term vegans’. The product is a source of fibre, naturally low in saturated fat, sugar-free, low in sodium, and rich in both proteins and the essential mineral molybdenum.

Compared to cow’s milk, M!lk Update Original contains 30% fewer calories and 90% less saturated fat. At the same time, it contains the same ratio of proteins (3/100g), 24% more magnesium and 3000% more iron.

For Landeau, its benefits compared to conventional dairy are ‘almost outrageous’. “To name just a few, M!lk Update blows away all digestive issues you may have endured before, it’s allergen-free and has a long shelf-life.”

From a taste perspective, the CEO suggested M!lk Update was the closest thing to cow’s milk she had tasted in all her time as a vegan. Indeed, upon tasting the finished product, Landeau described the sensation as ‘destabilising’.

“I had not drunk cow’s milk for years and yet recollections of its flavour unexpectedly returned. I had been told the similarity between the products may be shocking, however I did not imagine a vegan dairy alternative could actually perform the way that M!lk Update does. It brings back together the benefits of plant-based dairy alternatives with the taste of cow’s milk.

faba bong hyunjung
Update Foods' first product is made from faba protein and algae oil / Pic: GettyImages/bong hyunjung

“M!lk Update is a plant-based drink that feels and tastes like dairy, yet happens to be vegan. A plant-based unexpected wonder.”

Standing out in the French market

Update Foods plans to first launch its milk alternative into the French market – one that is currently ‘quite segmented’ with numerous organic and non-organic brands, the CEO told this publication.

All plant-based brands in the dairy alternative category claim to have a ‘competitive advantage’, she continued, whether it be its unique ingredient or a ‘supposedly unmet taste’. Popular brands include Sojasun, Bjorg, Bonneterre, Alpro, and Provamel.

However, none of them offer a ‘desirable brand image’, we were told, “as if they were too shy, kind of hiding their existence to the world”. ​The one exception, Landeau conceded, is the ‘vegan milk superstar’ Oatly.

According to the Update Foods CEO, the plant-based market in France is ‘moving too slow’ for the next generation of consumers – a generation that is ‘mastering Instagram and TikTok’ while brands such as Alpro and Sojasun are ‘still creating quiche recipes’ for their respective social media feeds.

“Today, flexitarians are thirsty for transparency, sincerity, integrity. They are looking for vibrant brands.

“I am of this generation and I won’t let it down. It’s because I am coming from this sometimes hopeful, often disillusioned generation that I am giving myself two duties. Firstly, to design products that my generation will feel close to, and secondly, to lay the foundations for an updated, non-chatty, accountable (and hopefully inspiring) brand which will ‘save its words’ to convey key messages only.”

Update Foods is also envisaging a roll-out beyond France’s borders. Planning to first launch in France in Q1 2021, the start-up hopes to expand its presence to the UK, Germany, and into Northern Europe. The Asian market is also on the cards, we were told, ‘in the near future’.

ProVeg Incubator boost

While the start-up seeks investment to roll-out its offering, initially via a D2C model, it has been accepted into the ProVeg Incubator’s fifth cohort.

The incubator is open to a select number of plant-based and cultured food start-ups, with an objective to support companies developing innovative alternatives to animal-based products and related technologies.

Selection alone has awarded Update Foods a grant of €20,000, and the start-up now has the possibility of securing up to an additional €180,000 following the completion of the three-month programme.

“ProVeg Incubator has already mentored more than 10 dairy alternatives start-ups. All of them did great things,” ​said Landeau.

“As CEO of Update Foods, I am convinced that all workshops, feedback from mentors, and one-to-one meetings will pave our way to a red letter demo day (planned for January 2021) and a consecutive first boosting fundraising round.”

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