Africa’s first cultivated dairy product is in the works as De Novo Dairy secures UM6P Ventures funding

By Teodora Lyubomirova

- Last updated on GMT

GettyImages/Yuji Sakai
GettyImages/Yuji Sakai

Related tags cultivated protein animal-free dairy precision fermentation Dairy Nutrition

De Novo Dairy, Africa’s only precision fermentation specialist, is edging closer to releasing its debut product, which will feature cultivated dairy proteins.

The start-up, which is based in Cape Town, South Africa, has recently secured seed-stage investment from UM6P Ventures that will enable it to further accelerate the release of its first ever product. The food tech company has also received backing from the likes of Big Idea Ventures, Kale United, Food Ventures and CULT Cult Science Corp, among others.

De Novo Dairy is working on a personalized nutrition product containing cultivated dairy proteins expressed through the company’s uniquely-designed yeast strain. While there is no set launch date yet, the company is hoping to release it some time in 2023.

“There are many ways to skin the cat in terms of precision fermentation,”​ De Novo Dairy’s co-founder and CEO Jean Louwrens told DairyReporter. “The way we are producing the protein is very novel. We are also one of the very few companies in the world who are working on these specific proteins. A lot of [competitor companies] are working on whey and casein, which are more cost-effective proteins, but ours are more bioactive and a bit more expensive.”

“When it comes to the actual ingredients, it’s a pretty simple process,” ​he added, “but most of our IP and patents are focused on the actual biotechnology and the modification of the hosts.”

De Novo Dairy’s main focus is currently lactoferrin – an immunity-boosting, iron-binding multifunctional glycoprotein - “but we are in the process of creating a platform from which we can continue to produce other proteins in the future that relate to dairy,”​ Louwrens explained.

The company’s first product will launch next year in the still-emerging African market, where De Novo Dairy is hoping to position itself as a key player. According to Louwrens, while there are other nutrition and gut health companies operating in Africa, there are no major players to compete with, making it a suitable launch pad for the start-up. The lower cost of doing R&D in South Africa – said to be up to six times cheaper compared to the US and Europe - brings further benefits from a cost perspective.

Despite their current focus on their home market however, De Novo Dairy has ‘very global aspirations’ and is hoping to expand to the US – with UM6P Ventures set to assist in the launch of a subsidiary.

But first, the food tech firm’s debut offering needs to impress manufacturers. “The main use case of the capital we have raised will be to launch our first product, continue doing R&D, and then also grow the team in order for us to really focus on our core competencies and grow the company in that manner,”​ said Louwrens. “We do have quite a bit of experience working with manufacturers and package producers from a previous venture we ran, so we have quite a good network when it comes to working with our strategic partners in the area.”

Speaking on the product concept that’s being worked on, Louwrens concluded: “It is a product that is focused on boosting gut health and the immune system of those who consume it. Through our website, we will be able to create a customized and personalized product for people, [tailoring that to their lifestyles], in order to ensure that they have the nutrients they require.”

The global personalized nutrition market is becoming increasingly lucrative as more health-conscious consumers seek targeted nutrition advice and services to help them achieve a lasting dietary change. The sector is forecast to more than double its value over the course of this decade, with its valuation of more than US$9bn in 2021 set to rise to over US$20bn by 2029 according to Data Bridge Market Research.

Both emerging and well-established food industry players, including Nestlé and Royal DSM, vie for a share of the market.

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