Fonterra and dsm-firmenich-backed Vivici cooks up fermentation-derived BLG

By Teodora Lyubomirova

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags precision fermentation animal-free dairy animal-free Dairy alternatives Protein Dairy

The two nutrition majors are founding investors in the precision fermentation outfit, which is edging closer to releasing its first animal-free dairy protein.

The Netherlands-based Vivici is headquartered at the Biotech Campus Delft - the largest open innovation campus in Europe focused on biotechnology - and has a dairy protein application lab in the country's Food Valley, where a host of research institutes and food multinationals are located.

But it’s the company’s ability to leverage the experience in bioprocess development and dairy ingredients know-how from founding investors dsm-firmenich and Fonterra that gives it a competitive advantage.

Vivici was conceived as a joint venture between dsm-firmenich (formerly Rotal DSM N.V.) and Fonterra Cooperative Group with the aim to develop, produce and market fermentation-derived dairy proteins. The two multi-nationals had been working together since 2019 and forming a new start-up was seen as the ideal way to accelerate product development while also focusing on further R&D. The European Commission approved the formation of the JV in December 2022, and around eight months later, Vivici has closed its seed funding round, the size of which has not been disclosed.

“dsm-firmenich and Fonterra have been working together on precision fermentation of dairy proteins for several years now, and the company Vivici is the result of that collaboration,” explained Vivici CEO Stephan van Sint Fiet. “Going forward, Vivici will operate as an independent company, but we benefit from the developed and shared know-how.”

The backing of the two nutrition majors gives Vivici confidence that commercialization – a significant hurdle for many precision fermentation start-ups – is achievable. In fact, the company is already working on its first product, beta-lactoglobulin (BLG), a whey protein.

Speaking to DairyReporter, Van Sint Fiet said: “It’s fairly straightforward to start a precision fermentation company and engineer interesting strains. The hard part is getting to economically-viable titers [protein expression levels, ed.], scaling the process to industrial scale, getting regulatory approval, and then running a successful ingredients business. The team at Vivici has extensive experience in all these areas. I consider the deep application know-how of the Vivici team a key strength.”

The CEO told us that Vivici is scaling up its process right now and expects to be on market with its first ingredient in 2024. “BLG is a very versatile ingredient. It’s nutritionally superior to most proteins, has great gelling, foaming and emulsification properties, and can be applied in a wide range of food and beverage applications. Vivici is working on a broad range of applications and is ready to support customers in their formulation needs,” he added.

The company will collaborate with partners in the Netherlands and internationally, where appropriate supported by public funding. The application of the product is yet to be decided, with Vivici looking at several sectors in order to gauge where the best value lies.

“Vivici will look broadly at the food and beverage as well as the health and wellness markets,” said Van Sint Fiet. “We will focus on applications where our sustainably-produced, animal-free, highly-nutritious and versatile protein adds the most value.”

Driven by an increased demand for protein worldwide, the precision fermentation industry is set to expand at a CAGR of 48.1% to 2030, according to Markets And Markets. While there's plenty of investment going in the direction of precision fermentation start-ups, cost of production remains an obstacle as commodity products, from ice cream to milk and spreads, remain expensive to manufacture and market compared to traditional dairy. Some start-ups are therefore focusing on ingredients provision and relying on industry partnerships for the development of dairy analogs from fermentation-derived proteins. Recently, US-based Perfect Day announced it was considering the sale of its consumer products arm and focusing solely on B2B ingredients. Israeli precision fermentation dairy firm Remilk has also focused on growth ahead of investing in a large-scale production facility in Denmark. Meanwhile, General Mills' abrupt decision to shut-down precision fermentation dairy brand Bold Cultr in February 2023 - just weeks after the firm was meant to launch an e-commerce portal and sell its products US-wide - was a reminder how delicate the market is at present.

Speaking to DairyReporter in May 2023, Rabobank dairy analyst Richard Scheper insisted there was more potential for large-scale developments compared to the cell-based sector. "I am more interested in precision fermentation - if that does evolve, then you also have something that's identical in taste and nutritional value [to dairy, ed.]...I am noticing that more money is going towards precision fermentation, specifically proteins...I think it's all still early stages, but we do see a lot of companies investing in that direction," he concluded.

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