Well-known for its cheese brands including Babybel, The Laughing Cow and Boursin, French dairy maker Bel Group says it is pursuing a ‘strategy of innovation for the future of food’. The company believes diversification of ‘quality protein sources’ is essential to feed a growing global population, projected to reach 10 billion people by 2050. Stressing that it remains ‘firmly committed’ to offering ‘healthier and more responsible food for all’, Bel Group has turned to innovation to develop what it describes as ‘proteins for the future’.
Alongside its existing offering of dairy, fruit and plant-based products, Bel is exploring emerging food technologies through strategic tie-ups with innovators in the field. The latest partnership, announced today, sees Bel join forces with precision fermentation innovator Standing Ovation.
“I am delighted with this exclusive partnership which perfectly illustrates how our Group is committed to food tech for the future of food,” explained Caroline Sorlin, Bel Group Chief Venture Officer.
Bel Group acquired an equity stake in Standing Ovation as part of the Paris-based company's successful €12m series A funding round, led by Astanor Ventures in September. This latest agreement signals the potential Bel sees in the start-up's technology to disrupt the dairy space. According to Sorlin, working with a large manufacturer like Bel also provides Standing Ovation with an important opportunity to scale its impact. “[The partnership] demonstrates the confidence that innovative start-ups like Standing Ovation have in us to transform the food model. Combining the knowledge and skills of such a start-up and a Group like ours guarantees that we will be able to offer products that will meet consumers’ expectations tomorrow,” she suggested.
Securing ‘wide distribution’ for non-animal caseins
Standing Ovation co-founders Frédéric Pâques and Romain Chayot, President and Scientific Director respectively, agree that working alongside a large multinational business offers the opportunity to rapidly ramp up the businesses market reach. “We have developed a unique process to produce non-animal caseins. Our ambition today is to see the first products arrive on the market quickly, with a very wide distribution.”
Standing Ovation says 'all' of the ingredients for cheese can be found 'outside of conventional dairy' - with the exception of caseins. These are the proteins that give cheese its unique taste, texture and aroma. The company has therefore developed a biotech process to manufacture animal-free caseins through a precision fermentation.
The process starts with the generation of protein-producing microbes that are fed plant-based sugars in the company's fermenters. The cheese proteins are then recovered and purified to be mixed with plant-based or mineral ingredients like lipids and sugars. Standing Ovation then follows the traditional process of cheesemaking: curdling, draining, molding, salting and ripening.
According to Standing Ovation, its casein proteins are ‘identical’ to those naturally present in milk, and provide all the nutritional qualities and functionality of dairy-based caseins.
The company claims this process offers benefits compared to conventional dairy production across metrics like greenhouse gas emissions, water use and land use.
Combining expertise to unlock new applications
Through the exclusive partnership for cheese applications, Bel and Standing Ovation’s scientific teams will work ‘hand in hand’ at Bel’s R&D centre in Vendôme, France, and at Standing Ovation’s facility in Paris.
The collaboration will focus on the application of Standing Ovation’s technology to selected Bel products. “We are proud to partner with Bel Group to accelerate the deployment of these alternative proteins, whose market is growing exponentially, and where we want to play a key role. We look forward to working with a group with proven cheese expertise, iconic brands and a collaboration model that is ideal for start-ups,” Pâques and Chayot said.
The partnership aims to leverage the strengths of each respective company to introduce new proteins to market. As part of the collaboration, Standing Ovation will bring its ability to produce casein by fermentation and Bel will bring its cheese-making expertise and ability to integrate innovation into its products and processes, the companies explained.
For Anne Pitkowski, Bel Group Research and Application Director, working with Standing Ovation’s caseins offers the potential to create new products that deliver the same qualities as cheese while using fewer dairy ingredients.
“Caseins are essential to the quality of cheeses – they are nutritious and provide firmness, texture, and the capacity to melt,” the research chief explained. “Standing Ovation’s technology combined with our knowledge of the links between structure and function will enable all these features – and more – to be developed. Our unique cheese-making expertise will put these advances into practice. This partnership opens many possibilities for imagining tomorrow’s cheese recipes and products, combining nutritional quality, accessibility, and responsibility.”