‘This technology represents a paradigm shift for the animal-free dairy market’: Another food-tech start-up promises to scale precision fermentation-derived cheeses

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

Image: Standing Ovation
Image: Standing Ovation

Related tags Cheese Dairy Casein Dairy alternatives

France’s Standing Ovation is hoping to accelerate the development of its animal-free casein and cheese substitute production process after closing a €12 million Series A financing round.

The Paris-based company is creating caseins with precision fermentation in order to produce cheeses that are virtually indistinguishable from the real thing, without the environmental and animal welfare problems.

A financing round of €12 million led by Astanor Ventures, with the participation of PeakBridge, Seventure Partners, Big Idea Ventures and Good Startup will be used to finance the next phase in the company’s development and scale its technology to meet industrial demand.

The round, completed less than two years after its creation, will also be used to perfect its processed products and initiate the regulatory process. Frederic Paques, CEO of Standing Ovation, told FoodNavigator the company is developing a B2B model for a ‘quick deployment of commercialization, addressing food companies all over the world, to leverage existing distribution and sales channels’. “We position ourselves as product providers, not technology providers,”​ he explained. “The first products in our pipeline are caseins, and we are targeting commercialization in 2024, on a B2B, ingredient branding, model. On a longer term, we plan to diversify our offer, and to move down the value chain, by manufacturing our own processed products.”

The company wants to explore caseins, we were told, to obtain true replicas of cheese products, with a focus on fresh and soft cheeses. Standing Ovation said it has developed a protein production process that allows the development of 100% non-animal and lactose-free substitutes for cheese and dairy products. 

Describing the ‘simple but innovative process’, the company explained it is able to produce caseins by microbial fermentation in fermenters, in the absence of any animal product. “Caseins are not only the main proteins in milk, more than 80%, but also the ones that allow to curdle it into cheese, to give it its melting characteristics, or to produce threads,” ​Paques said. “These caseins can then be used, with other products of vegetable or mineral origin, to obtain true replicas of traditional cheeses. This method makes it possible to give the finished products a composition, notably protein, as close as possible to that of conventional products… We have focused first on fresh and soft cheese, but we want to target all types of cheeses. We are also already working on other dairy substitutes, such as yogurt.”

The process is IP protected, both for its upstream (casein production) and downstream (cheese substitute production) parts. "Standing Ovation's technology has a tremendous potential. However, bringing the products rapidly to the market requires significant resources, and substantial funding had become necessary,”​ Paques said.

Romain Chayot, Scientific Director of Standing Ovation, added: "In only two years, we have developed a unique and highly technological process. We are now in a strong position to build on this momentum and transition towards more logistically intensive stages, especially scaling up."

The quickly growing precision fermentation sector

The quest for more environmentally sustainable production methods is a big draw of the precision fermentation sector. But little is known into the potential environmental/energy impact of industrial scale precision fermentation production.

“Our technology is designed to minimize water use, land use and carbon footprint, and our initial estimates indicate significant gains, similar to what has been observed for other proteins produced by precision fermentation,”​ said Paques. “We are currently refining the figures.”

A growing number of companies, meanwhile, are using precision fermentation to make cheese and milk alternatives. Paques told us the company is confident of being able to produce caseins at scale thanks to its proprietary process.

“Today, our casein production is at the industrial pilot stage (kg scale) with our first ‘cheeses’ produced. We will be upgrading to the ton scale very soon in 2023,”​ he revealed.

“Several companies actually focus on beta-lactoglobulin, a whey protein. Caseins are proteins that are difficult to produce, and we are one of the few companies in the world focused solely on caseins. And thanks to our proprietary method, we are certainly one of the very few ones producing caseins at this scale.

"And cheese is made from the curdling of caseins. By definition, whey proteins are into whey, the part of milk that does not curd. Thus, but for a few exceptions, such as Ricotta, if you want to make cheese, you need to produce caseins.”

Precision fermentation start-ups acknowledge that achieving scale is a hurdle to commercialisation. What’s more, the European Commission is yet to approve its first product made this way.

“Our products fall under the Novel Food regulation in Europe. In the United States, it is the GRAS status that we will have to obtain from the FDA,”​ Paques explained. “We expect to file the applications next year, for approval in 2024 in the US, and in 2025 in Europe, where the procedure is longer.

“Caseins are the milk proteins of cows and other domestic animals, consumed by humans for thousands of years. The way is thus well marked out to obtain the green light from the regulatory authorities.”

Astanor Ventures, meanwhile, has invested in over 40 agrifood tech companies worldwide including French insect farming unicorn Ynsect, US food waste unicorn Apeel, German vertical farmer Infarm US advanced biomaterials company Modern Meadow and Australian plant-based protein firm v2food.

Eric Archambeau, co-founder of Astanor Ventures said: “Standing Ovation’s technology represents a paradigm shift for the animal-free dairy market. Casein is the holy grail for the production of alternative options that match conventional products in nutrition, taste and texture yet it has remained notoriously difficult to create. The founders’ experience in biotechnology enabled them to find the key to casein development, a step ahead of many companies. We are greatly impressed by the team’s advancements over the past year both in product and process development and are excited to support them in this next step of their journey.”

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