[Disclosure: AFN’s parent company, AgFunder, is an investor in Alpha Foods.]
According to The EVERY Co, “In alt meat applications, EVERY EggWhite brings next-level binding and gelation qualities that allow foods to more closely resemble their natural analogs, without the use of synthetics or overly processed binding agents. Most importantly, EVERY EggWhite’s high marks on functionality translate to meatier textures that are often missing for consumers.”
Asked whether ‘animal-free’ egg could replace ingredients such as methylcellulose in such applications, Nick Toriello VP, head of partnerships at EVERY, told AFN “It is early in the process to identify specific products, lines or introductions.”
Plant-based meat… featuring animal proteins (made without animals)?
But why would brands making meat alternatives compromise their ‘plant-based’ billing by adding egg proteins (albeit made without animals) to their products?
According to Toriello, the ‘hybrid’ trend is likely to gain traction as more ingredients traditionally produced by animals (collagen, whey, casein, myoglobin) are produced via microbial fermentation in a process advocates claim is more ethical and sustainable than industrial animal agriculture. Many of these, he predicted, will be used in products that are “otherwise plant-based.”
He added: “We appreciate there is precedent in the alternative protein space for the use of ingredients made by fermentation in products that are otherwise plant-based. We envision this hybrid trend continuing, as our nature-equivalent non-animal proteins afford a unique opportunity to overcome structural challenges presented by plant-based ingredients.”’
Alpha Foods: ‘Retailers are seeking solutions to reinvigorate their plant-based offerings’
Alpha Foods cofounder Cole Orobetz did not say how the introduction of egg proteins would be communicated to consumers in products historically labeled as ‘plant-based’ and vegan*, but said Alpha’s brand DNA was all about “challenging the norms and delivering the best possible products that meet evolving consumer needs, including taste, texture, crave-ability and convenience.”
He added: “We’re drawn to EVERY’s animal-free proteins given they’re designed to help bridge the gap between plant-based products and the real thing, broadening the category to attract new consumers.”
After achieving success with prepared foods such as tamales and burritos, Alpha Foods has since expanded into meal components, offering nuggets, crumbles, strips, and patties made from non-GMO soy and vital wheat gluten. Founded by Orobetz and Loren Wallis in late 2015, it has raised around $40 million and now has products in 73,000 retail locations in the US, Canada, and Asia.
“Over the past 12 months, we’ve been listening closely to consumers and retailers alike to identify areas of growth and opportunity,” Orobetz told AFN. “Retailers have voiced to us that they are actively seeking solutions to reinvigorate their plant-based offerings and are looking to Alpha for category leadership here.”
Mining the egg proteome
The EVERY Company, which mines the egg proteome for “novel, hyper-functional proteins” it can express in yeast or other organisms—was founded by Arturo Elizondo and David Anchel in late 2014. Backed by investors including Anne Hathaway, Bloom8, McWin Food Systems Fund, Temasek, TO Ventures, Grosvenor, and ZX Ventures, it has raised more than $230 million.
To date, it has commercialized three ingredients:
- EVERY Protein: (Formerly EVERY ClearEgg) a highly soluble, ‘nearly invisible’ protein bio-identical to a glycoprotein found in egg white enabling “new-to-the-world, protein-boosted beverages and food products with a neutral sensory profile and optical clarity.”
- EVERY EggWhite: A 1-to-1 egg white replacer that is Vegan Society Certified. The company has not revealed its exact composition, but says it contains a combination of egg proteins including ovalbumin (the most prevalent protein in egg white) which deliver key functional properties (aeration, whipping, gelling, binding, foam stability) formulators are looking for.
- EVERY Pepsin: Animal-free pepsin (an enzyme traditionally sourced from pig stomachs) “offering greater quality, purity and secure, and consistent sourcing.”
‘We have the technology, teams and strategies to achieve cost parity with conventional eggs’
“Commercially, we’ve seen terrific traction with EVERY Protein in BUILD by Pulp Culture (the “world’s first protein-boosted hard juice”), and EVERY EggWhite continues to drive tremendous interest in a variety of spheres, from egg replacement across recipes to baking and alt meat,” The EVERY Co cofounder and CEO Arturo Elizondo told AFN.
Asked about the unit economics of precision fermentation, which some commentators claim is challenging for ‘commodity’ dairy and egg proteins, Elizondo said: “Precision fermentation has been scaled for over 40 years, and is used to make both high-value as well as many commoditized, mass-market proteins, enzymes and vitamins.”
However, industrial-scale microbial fermentation to make milk and egg proteins is still new territory, he acknowledged. Hence The EVERY Co’s decision to team up with AB InBev’s global investment and innovation group BioBrew to develop an industrial-scale fermentation platform for its proteins.
“Choosing the right products with the right tech feasibility and commercial applications is critical,” added Elizondo.
“We continue to unlock key scaling milestones at EVERY and have the technology, teams and strategies to achieve cost parity with conventional eggs. It won’t be overnight, but we don’t see fundamental biological barriers to unlock the mass market besides having large-scale facilities to enable the benefits of economies of scale.”
*There is some debate as to whether egg and dairy proteins made via microbes (rather than chickens and cows) are vegan, a term that is not legally defined in the US for food labeling purposes. Given that no animals are involved in their production, some commentators argue they are suitable for vegans, while others worry that some consumers see ‘vegan’ as a proxy for plant-based and may not realize that ‘animal-free’ egg white and whey contain egg and milk allergens. The EVERY Co’s EVERY EggWhite product is Vegan Society Certified.