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New Culture pizza with animal-free mozzarella
New Culture's initial target market is foodservice. Image credit: New Culture

New Culture targets cost parity for animal-free mozzarella in three years: ‘We’ve achieved technical metrics unheard of for animal-free casein’

August 15, 2023

New Culture​—one of a flurry of startups making casein proteins via precision fermentation—says it is on track to produce ‘animal-free’ mozzarella at cost parity with its conventional counterpart within three years.

San Leandro-based New Culture currently makes fermentation batches with an external partner that produce enough casein to make mozzarella that “melts, stretches, and bubbles like conventional dairy cheese” for 25,000 pizzas, but plans to scale up to make enough for 14 million pizzas a year within three years.

Is it commercially viable to produce casein using precision fermentation?

While some commentators have questioned the viability of precision fermentation for some ‘commodity’ dairy and egg proteins, New Culture cofounder and CEO Matt Gibson told AgFunderNews he was “very confident in our path to high volume, low cost production of our animal-free casein using precision fermentation thanks to groundbreaking developments across our entire technology pipeline.

“We have been able to achieve technical metrics unheard of for animal-free casein and have demonstrated a robust, reproducible and de-risked bioprocess at scale. This puts us at the forefront of our industry and enables us to focus on further scale-up and manufacturing optimization.”

He added: “Within the next three to four years we’ll reach millions of liters of fermentation capacity and millions of pounds of animal-free cheese produced at cost parity with animal-derived cheese.

New Culture's animal-free mozzarella cheese
Image credit: New Culture

“Our focus for 2023 includes going through the self-GRAS [Generally Recognized as Safe] phase of the regulatory process and scaling up our manufacturing capabilities in order to have commercial volume for our first group of launch partners in 2024.

“We can’t wait to bring the world’s first animal-free, dairy mozzarella to Nancy Silverton’s Pizzeria Mozza, one of the most celebrated pizzerias in America, before expanding to other pizzerias nationwide.”

Scaling up

New Culture, which raised $25 million in a series A round in 2021 from backers including ADM Ventures and Evolv Ventures (the corporate venture arm of Kraft Heinz), secured a multi-million dollar investment from Korean food and biotech giant CJ CheilJedang​ in 2022. A leading manufacturer of food ingredients from lysine to on-trend sweetener allulose, CJ CheilJedang also owns US frozen food giant Schwan’s, which makes Red Baron pizza.

Gibson told us: “CJ CheilJedang’s investment provided important validation of our animal-free, dairy cheese and scale-up process from one of the world’s leaders in fermentation and consumer products.”

Asked whether New Culture is tapping into fermentation capacity from one of its investors to scale up its manufacturing, director of marketing Priya Kumar said scaling up would require: “multiple production pathways. This includes partnering with external manufacturing organizations in addition to operating our own facilities to have the impact and reach that match our ambitions.”

The New Culture team
The New Culture team. Image credit: New Culture

Animal-free dairy ​

There is no formal definition of ‘animal-free’ dairy, but it typically refers to products made with whey, casein, or dairy fats that are produced without cows, either via genetically engineered microbes such as yeast or fungi that feed on sugars in fermentation tanks; or via genetically engineered crops such as soybeans, corn or peas.

The final proteins are already familiar to the food industry (Perfect Day’s whey protein, which is expressed by a genetically engineered strain of filamentous fungus​​​​, for example, is “identical to commercially available bovine-produced β-lactoglobulin”​​​​​ according to its GRAS determination).

Using precision fermentation to make ‘real’ dairy ingredients without cows, argue evangelists, offers the best of both worlds: the nutrition and functionality of dairy ingredients without the ethical and environmental drawbacks of industrialized animal agriculture.

Further reading:

Exclusive: Perfect Day to sell consumer brands so it can focus on b2b operations

Dairy farmers urge FDA to crack down on animal-free dairy milk labels: ‘It is preposterous and absurd to call this milk’

Exclusive: Animal-free dairy startup Remilk hits pause on plan for world’s largest precision fermentation facility

Danone invests in animal-free dairy startup Imagindairy via corporate ventures arm, plans ‘strategic collaboration’

Animal-free’ dairy may not be the best way to describe whey made by microbes, not cows, says Perfect Day

Perfect Day animal-free dairy patent in US challenged

 

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