Clara Foods’ egg proteins - produced via a fermentation process with a modified yeast - are greener and kinder than those produced from factory farming, claimed founder Arturo Elizondo, but they also represent a consistent new source of 100% vegan protein delivering the unique functionality and nutrition of animal protein, so formulators do not have to compromise.
“It’s almost impossible to replace eggs. There are some great plant-based products out there, but they don’t have the same nutrition and functionality [as the real thing]," Elizondo told FoodNavigator-USA.
Put more bluntly, you don't have to care about saving chickens or the planet to buy into what Clara Foods is doing (even though that is a key motivation for Elizondo), because they deliver on performance.
How are the proteins manufactured?
Founded by Elizondo and David Anchel in late 2014, Clara Foods takes a strain of yeast and adds DNA sequences (which can be 3D printed using synthetic biology techniques) which effectively instruct the yeast to produce the proteins found in eggs during a fermentation process requiring a source of sugars as the feedstock.
Right now the feedstock is corn sugar, but in future this could be spent grains or other ‘upcycled’ sources, he said.
The proteins are secreted into the broth in the tank and removed via a simple filtration process. The genetically modified yeast is not present in the final proteins, which would not be classified as ‘bioengineered’ under the new federal GMO labeling legislation (although they would probably not qualify for the Non GMO Project Verified seal).
You can make very high protein products that taste better than whey, soy or pea proteins
While New Zealand-based biotech firm Bioscienz claims it has a “path towards a commercial process” for production of ovalbumin (the most prevalent protein egg white) via fermentation with fungi “within five years,” Clara Foods will be the first to produce egg proteins on an industrial scale via fermentation, claimed Elizondo.
“Egg white alone has anywhere from 50-100 proteins, all with unique amino acid profiles and functional properties that right now it’s way too expensive to extract from eggs and manufacture individually, so no company in their right mind would consider using them. We’re unshackling these proteins from the egg and tapping into their unique functionality.”
The first products will come online as early as next year
Elizondo added: “I can’t disclose the names of the first products we’re going to manufacture at scale, but there’s one that has incredible foaming properties that allow us to make next generation egg replacers in baked good applications in particular.
“The other has an incredible taste profile that means you can put it in a beverage or drink without that sulfur taste you can get from eggs. It is so clean tasting, you can make very high protein beverages that taste better than products made with whey, soy or pea proteins.
“The first products will come online as early as next year."
Ingredion to jointly develop, market and globally distribute Clara Foods’ proteins
Clara Foods - which now employs more than 30 people - is not disclosing the size of the Series B, but for context, Elizondo noted that it had raised $15m in its Series A in 2016.
The latest round - which is led by Ingredion and supported by B37 Ventures (a strategic partner of bakery giant Grupo Bimbo), Hemisphere Ventures, a “global food and beverage manufacturer who wishes to remain private,” and SOSV, among others - will fast-track commercialization of the chicken-less egg white proteins, expand R&D capabilities, and broaden Clara’s product roadmap into “many other animal proteins,” said Elizondo.
Higher levels of protein, unique characteristics, and lower costs
Under a global partnership agreement announced today, Ingredion will also work with Clara Foods to jointly develop, market and globally distribute what the latter described as “novel, highly functional protein ingredient products that enable food and beverage companies to produce products with higher levels of protein, unique characteristics, and lower costs without the inclusion of animal-derived inputs.”
The agreement brings Clara Foods substantially closer to introducing a new category of ingredients to the food industry, while the participation by an industry heavyweight such as Ingredion lends credibility to the enterprise, said Elizondo, who has opted to keep a low media profile until Clara had some substantial news to announce.
“Ingredion [which has invested heavily in plant-based proteins from peas, lentils and beans recently] has customers in 120 countries and a growing protein portfolio, so we want to be included in that so they can offer an expanded set of solutions to all of their customers. They have a massive customer base we can tap into.”
Asked about the manufacturing set up, he said that in the short term Clara Foods was working with a toll manufacturer and would have commercial quantities of product available next year.
“We’re excited to be working with Clara Foods as they have pioneered groundbreaking technology that allows a more sustainable and cost-effective production of proteins traditionally found in animal-derived products. We see tremendous need and increasing demand for highly functional animal-free proteins in multiple applications including foods, beverages and supplements.”
Tony DeLio, SVP, corporate strategy and chief innovation officer, Ingredion
The GMO factor: Over 90% of cheese made in the US is made from rennet using fermentation from a genetically engineered bacterium
Asked about the ‘GMO factor,’ Elizondo said that while printing out DNA sequences that instruct yeast to express proteins identical to those in eggs in big fermentation tanks might not make sense to Grandma, we should consider how natural, sustainable, or ethical it is to continue to produce eggs on an industrial scale the way we do currently.
“90% of eggs are produced by factory chickens that will never see the sun or walk on grass and have been essentially engineered to produce hundreds of eggs a year instead of the one or two dozen they originally made.”
As for the production method, he said, microbial fermentation is not new in the food industry: “We all eat cheese made with rennet from an enzyme that’s been produced for years via fermentation using a genetically engineered bacterium [prior to this, rennet was made from the stomachs of newborn cows].
“Our product is as GMO as cheese is. And we all eat it. Over 90% of cheese made in the US is made from rennet using fermentation and I think people think this is probably preferable to killing baby cows.”
IP and the competitive set: ‘We have several patent applications in process’
Other firms looking to produce animal proteins via fermentation such as Perfect Day and Triton Algae Innovations are focused on proteins found in cow’s milk or human breast milk, while other players such as Geltor have focused on collagen and gelatin. Motif Ingredients says it can engineer dozens of proteins derived from dairy, egg, meat, and plants, but is not saying at this stage which ones it will commercialize first.
“We have several patent applications in process,” said Elizondo.
“We filed them as early as 2014, and our strategy is to continue filing, particularly on all the novel ways we can use these proteins to make food 2.0 with better properties such as lighter and fluffier meringues as well as cleaner and better tasting protein drinks.”
Anyone that ate an egg this morning has already eaten all of our proteins
Clara Foods is putting together GRAS (generally recognized as safe) determinations for all of its products, said Elizondo, who noted that all of the proteins Clara will produce are already found in eggs, so do not present novel safety issues for regulators.
“The proteins are exactly the same. Anyone that ate an egg this morning has already eaten all of our proteins. People have been consuming these proteins for millennia.”
As to how the proteins would be labeled, this is an ongoing conversation with the FDA, he said.
How has the egg industry responded?
Asked how the egg industry had responded, he said: "People from major egg companies want to participate as an investor or as a commercial partner. They know the market better than anyone else.
"The food industry has fundamentally shifted and it's not going back."