Enriched beverages come in many shapes and colours. Dairy and plant-based drinks, sports beverages and fruit juices are only a few of the varieties that are enriched with various nutrients. And when it comes to those nutrients, biomass and especially precision fermentation open up for new ways to meet consumers craving for tasty products that, ideally, can be produced with a lower environmental impact than many “traditional” products.
Read on to learn more about the potential of fermentation-derived ingredients in enriched beverages.
The world population is growing. The UN estimates it will reach almost 10 billion by 20501. Needless to say, this means the global food system is under severe pressure. To feed the people, the world simply needs to find new ways to produce food2.
“This is a matter of human survival. There will not be meat or grains to sustain everybody, so alternative proteins are one of the main things we need to develop. Sooner or later all producers will use it.”
Arthur de Azevedo
Perhaps the above sounds a tad dystopian? Actually, it is quite the opposite. Biomass and precision fermentation offer opportunities for beverage producers, both as an alternative to existing proteins and for product innovation.
“Precision fermentation is a refined form of brewing, a means of multiplying microbes to create specific products. It has been used for many years to produce drugs and food additives. But now, in several labs and a few factories, scientists are developing what could be a new generation of staple foods.”
George Monbiot, The Guardian3
“In terms of nutrition, there is a lot of potential to explore. For instance, consumer perception may be that plant-based drinks lack protein when compared to dairy. Also, wellbeing and immunity trends are boosted after the pandemic. Consumers are looking for functional and nutritional products, so these ingredients bring a myriad of options.”
But what about the challenges? One of the main obstacles is connected to scalability. Demand may exceed supply when the needs of large producers collide with production capabilities of innovators. When you are producing beverages on a commercial scale, you need large quantities of every ingredient. And for a startup, it may be a long journey from the first successful samples in the lab to full-scale operations.
“There is a lot to learn. How can you move to industrial scale? And while you take those steps, how can you keep your company alive and continue to grow? Is the yield high enough to make your product economically viable? And yes, maybe it will take longer than the most optimistic estimates, but these products are coming – there is no discussion about that.”
Regulatory issues on food safety differ from country to country. A potential solution? To team up with experienced processing experts.
“Food safety is a continuous concern and that is why the right technology, network and food expertise is so important to deliver reliable information. By doing this we will be able to meet authorities demands for new regulation approvals with our commitment to deliver food safe and available, everywhere.”
Arthur de Azevedo
Some consumers are reluctant to buy products that are perceived as artificial or “lab-grown”. This poses challenges for producers of fermentation-derived ingredients. It is crucial to understand your local market and to think about your messaging. For example, let the fact that these ingredients are the results of highly controlled and hygienic processes work to your advantage.
“If you have a brewery, it is all about fermentation. So, while people may have doubts about these processes, they have in fact been used for many years. I think a part of the journey ahead is to show that this is controlled and safe. It is not some sort of a hoax. It is a biological process.”
“There is going to be a big demand for consumer education around these new products. How are they similar, yet different? Consumers will be looking for that visibility, and producers will need to earn their trust.”
As for every innovation, building awareness takes time. But while the concept of fermentation-derived ingredients still is fairly unknown to the general public, many consumers are happy to try new things and actively look for products with additional benefits. Typical examples are beverages that are perceived as healthy or meet particular dietary requirements. This is a trend that is pushing various product categories forward.
“We’re going to see more and more expectations for enriched beverages being highly functional and able to deliver everything for the fast-moving consumer. All very much with a wellness halo to it, and a better-for-you-better-for-the-planet type of direction.”
There is an increasing demand for enriched beverages. This is fuelled by rising trends, such as consumers looking for drinks with health benefits. However, certain value-adding, innovative ingredients are rare and expensive, and producers also experience an increasing pressure on margins. Could precision fermentation play a part in turning these challenges to opportunities? Yes, in the long term, the potential is there.
“As production of precision fermentation-derived ingredients develops, it will present new horizons of growth for food and beverage producers. It will enable them to provide a wider and more innovative offer of enriched food and beverages, by making previously rare or expensive ingredients more mainstream and available.”
The package is what first meets the consumer’s eye. Apart from keeping the beverage it contains safe, it should also convey what the product and its ingredients are all about. In other words, the package is also a method of communication.
“Imagine that you choose a product with a fermentation-derived protein because it has a smaller impact on the environment. It does not contain milk, or eggs or anything else from the animal world – it is an alternative product. To buy that in a plastic bottle doesn't make sense at all. It needs to follow the same idea; a package with a low environmental impact, with material made from sugar cane, for example.”
Arthur de Azevedo
On that note, there is an increasing consumer demand for recyclable packages and traceability. The package is of course the perfect place to provide information about the origin of the beverage it contains. Because consumers will want to understand that the product they are buying not has travelled around the world before it gets into their hands 4.
With new technologies, every venture is – at least to some extent – unique. When it comes to optimizing large-scale production, it is a process. One way to start is with an ideation session, where you and your partner can discuss ideas, inspire each other and dive into the technological details. Furthermore, there is the issue of networks. It is one thing scaling up production volumes of your fermentation-derived ingredients, and another finding customers. With a partner that is well-established in the food industry, the right doors may be opened quicker.
This is a new industry unfolding. A collaborative approach, where you can listen and learn from each other, is key. It tends to make sense to never underestimate the value of experience. If your partner brings proven food and beverage expertise – plus facilities where you can test your ideas – to the table, you can leverage on it.
“Every venture into this field presents unique challenges and opportunities, regardless of whether it is initiated by a startup or an established player. As partners, it is essential that we engage openly and identify the areas where we can collaborate, because it is collaboration that will lead to mutual growth and the development of this field overall.”
1: Source: https://sdg.iisd.org/news/world-population-to-reach-9-9-billion-by-2050/
2: Source: https://gfi.org/blog/regenerative-agriculture-and-alternative-proteins/
3: Source: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/nov/24/green-technology-precision-fermentation-farming
4: Source: Tetra Pak Index 2021, https://www.tetrapak.com/content/dam/tetrapak/publicweb/gb/en/insights/documents/tetrapak-index-report-2021.pdf