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The stem of a soybean plant with young pods. Photo credit: iStock

Danone partners with Brightseed to discover precise health properties of plant-based ingredients, starting with soy

June 10, 2020

Editor’s note: Brightseed is an AgFunder portfolio company. Find out more about our portfolio here.

Leading dairy and plant-based food products provider Danone North America has partnered with foodtech startup Brightseed to research the health properties of some of its key plant-based ingredients, starting with soy.

Brightseed is a biosciences and precision nutrition company that’s mapping plant nutrients to human health using artificial intelligence. The startup’s AI-powered discovery platform is trawling the plant kingdom for phytonutrients, the small molecules produced by plants that can positively impact the optimal functioning of the human body.

Less than 1% of the plant kingdom’s phytonutrients have been identified or studied, despite their prevalence in our diets. Brightseed wants to change that and help companies like Danone to ensure those that are beneficial are available in their food products.

Starting with soy, Brightseed’s insights will highlight the precise health benefits that may exist in one of the world’s most popular plants and enable Danone North America to improve and optimize the taste, texture, and nutritional aspects of its products. Danone soy-based products including milk and yogurt alternatives.

“Danone’s mission for One Planet, One Health is all about how we can change the food system and provide healthier foods to as many as people as possible in more sustainable ways, but we recognize that we need external partnerships to achieve that mission. As individuals we can make a dent but really only via collaborations like this can we make a difference,” Takoua Debeche, SVP Research & Innovation at Danone North America told AFN.

The first stage of the partnership, which started in January, is to map the nutrients in soy to certain health benefits. The next phase will be to validate those findings with clinical trials. After that, it will focus on how to apply those phytonutrients to existing products and drive innovation for new products, added Debeche.

“In the short term, Brightseed will be able to guide us on identifying the most nutrient-dense varieties of soy enabling us to quickly switch our sourcing and supply chain to those varieties. Over the long term, if we unlock new health benefits, we can unlock new innovations in new categories or drive further innovation in existing categories.”

While focusing on soy varieties will be a key component of the research, Brightseed’s technology also takes into account how farming conditions — such as climate and soil type — and practices — such as use of fertilizers and pesticides — impact the availability of phytonutrients in crops. Since Danone works closely with its growers across the globe, preferring to use local materials in each of its markets, Debeche said the company is “flexible enough to adjust its practices and work with growers as needed.”

“We can work directly with farmers to grow more a nutrient-dense variety of soy as well as on adapting growing or harvesting conditions – based on knowledge from Brightseed; this adaptability is a unique competitive advantage we have,” she added. 

The Brightseed collaboration adds to internal research Danone is already doing on phytonutrients and how to ensure its plant-based product portfolio is delivering the most amount of nutrition as possible. Another area the company has conducted research in is in how processing impacts the nutritional profile of plant ingredients. The company prefers to use minimal processing and, for example, uses whole soybeans instead of soybean powders to produce its soy beverages to “preserve the intrinsic value” of the plant, based on that research.

“At Brightseed we believe that we’re at the tipping point of significantly activating food for health and wellness. We analyze plants at the molecular level in order to understand the specific roles that nutrients play in the proper functioning of our bodies,” said Sofia Elizondo, Cofounder and COO of Brightseed. “We’re thrilled to be working with Danone North America as they are equally committed to bringing health through food. Danone North America also believes in the important role that high quality, nutrient-rich diets play in supporting human health, while delivering across brands and products that consumers trust and love.”

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