Why precision fermentation competitors Formo and Those Vegan Cowboys are joining forces

By Flora Southey

- Last updated on GMT

The duo is working to overcome challenges in the precision fermentation dairy sector. Image credit: Formo
The duo is working to overcome challenges in the precision fermentation dairy sector. Image credit: Formo

Related tags Precision fermentation Formo Casein

Two producers of precision fermentation-derived dairy – developing products within the same category – have decided to work together, rather than in strict competition with each other.

German precision fermentation player Formo is teaming up with Belgium-headquartered Those Vegan Cowboys in what they say is a ‘first-of-its-kind’ collaboration.

At first glance, the two start-ups appear to be creating much the same thing: cheese made from precision fermentation-derived protein. And the similarities don’t end there. They’re also developing the same kind of protein – casein – and both have eyes on the European market.

One would be forgiven for finding it unusual that the two companies, who appear to be in competition with each other, want to unite their R&D efforts. But that’s exactly what they’ve signed up for via a strategic alliance aimed at bringing precision fermentation cheese to the masses.

How does precision fermentation work?

Precision fermentation enables the programming of microorganisms, such as yeast, to produce complex organic molecules, such as dairy protein.

A specific molecular sequence is inserted into the microorganism to give instructions to produce the desired molecule when fermented. These molecular sequences are derived from digitised databases rather than taken directly from the relevant animals or plants.

At the end of the fermentation process, the resulting compounds are filtered out, separating them from the microorganisms that produced them.

Working to overcome challenges in precision fermentation

Formo and Those Vegan Cowboys will work on ingredient production together, but not final product formulation. Image credit: Formo

The joint R&D partnership will focus on speeding and scaling up the industrialisation of animal-free, bioidentical casein, explained Formo founder and CEO Raffael Wohlgensinger. Both companies will remain fully independent, and in so doing, develop their individual cheese products. When the time is right, they’ll take their products to market, separately.

What they are​ doing together is working to overcome major challenges in the precision fermentation sector. This includes scaling and efficiency challenges that could result in ‘significantly’ improved cost structure and a shorter path to net profitability, Wohlgensinger told FoodNavigator.

Another challenge the partners are seeking to overcome lies in regulation. Although precision fermentation-derived dairy is on the market in other geographies (in the US, Perfect Day received FDA approval back in 2020), it has not received novel foods approval in the EU, where both Formo and Those Vegan Cowboys reside.

The new partnership will therefore aim to speed up the regulatory pathway in the EU, since the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has indicated it welcomes joint dossiers for precision fermentation products.

“We have this amazing technology with the potential to solve multiple acute problems in our food system at once. But with current legislation timelines, we see companies submit their applications in the USA and Asia – we need more speed and efficiency when it comes to European dossiers,” said Those Vegan Cowboys CEO Hille van der Kaa.

That is not to say that the collaboration is centred around EU market entry only. “Any relevant market may become part of the scope of the collaboration, which is of a global nature,” Formo’s Wohlgensinger confirmed.

The animal-free dairy market is big enough for all

Although Formo and Those Vegan Cowboys are similar in some respects, they firmly believe there is enough room in the market for both to exist. The market, after all, has the potential to be enormous.

The importance of casein

While all dairy products contain casein, it is the primary component of cheese. In conventional cheesemaking, casein is responsible for a cheese’s taste, texture, and structure. For this same reason, casein is an integral component of precision fermentation-derived cheese. 

“We firmly believe in stronger, faster, together,” stressed Wohlgensinger. “We are disrupting a trillion-dollar market that will never be captured by one single company. We have a mountain to climb as global societies that cannot be solved by an individual start-up, but only through visionary ways of collaboration to bring about systemic change.”

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The companies firmly believe there is enough room in the market for them both to exist. Image credit: Formo

It is important to note that Formo and Those Vegan Cowboys are working on ingredient production together, and not final product formulation.

“While we work together on our ingredient technology platforms and scaling up of casein, our product development of the actual consumer products remains separate, which means separate cheese products will be on the shelves and the consumer decides.”

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