‘Taking the animals out of the equation is a great bonus on top of keeping a solid supply chain’: Molecular farmer doubles down its unique ‘potato-to-protein’ plans

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

Image: Getty/HandmadePictures
Image: Getty/HandmadePictures

Related tags molecular farming Potato egg powder

Molecular farming start-up PoLoPo’s fundraise backs its belief that there is significant demand for ‘animal-free’ egg protein from industry and end consumers, FoodNavigator hears.

The Israeli company has closed a $1.75 (€1.61) million funding round. It will use the money to continue developing its proprietary technology platform to grow proteins from potatoes​.

Its first product will be ovalbumin, the major protein component of egg white. It is targeting an egg protein market that it estimates is worth $26.6 billion, as well as what it identifies as the growing demand for egg white protein alternatives from the industry.

PoLoPo claims its ovalbumin will be identical to ‘real’ egg ovalbumin in terms of functionality, nutritional value, and protein sequence. 

A solution to strengthen supply chains?

The company’s initial focus is on suppling egg protein powder. It eventually wants to produce other proteins that can be used as functional ingredients in the food industry. Thanks to the funding it will expand its core team of scientists and accelerate its R&D efforts in order to offer prototypes in the coming year and a half.

The idea is to produce ‘real’ animal proteins without using any animals. This obviously serves the needs of those end consumers who don’t consume animal-based products for reasons of ethics, health and sustainability. PoLoPo adds it offers a scalable, cost-effective solution to meet the food industry’s protein demands and feed the world’s growing population.

PoLoPo’s innovation also comes as several factors, including food shortages, rising energy costs and bird flu, are contributing to an ongoing egg shortage and exposing the fragility of supply chains. Its plans to disrupt the egg protein market are therefore timely.

“The egg protein market is huge and keeps growing each year,”​ PoLoPo’s Co-founder Dr Maya Sapir-Mir told FoodNavigator. “We aim to meet the growing need and, if possible, to replace some of the animal derived egg protein. All the reasons you’ve mentioned led us to choose egg protein as our first candidate. Our solution is not supposed to replace eggs, but to replace egg protein powder, the ingredient used in numerous numbers of products. We definitely consider our innovation as a solution for the egg protein shortage but not to egg shortage. As our product is plant derived, it will not carry any animal pathogens which could compromise the supply chain. Taking the animals out of the equation is a great bonus on top of keeping a solid supply chain.”     

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PoLoPo Founders Dr. Maya Sapir-Mir (left) and Dr. Raya Liberman-Aloni. Image:Amit Alfonta/PoLoPo

PoLoPo’s is a solution that can find mainstream appeal, she insisted. “PoLoPo’s product – protein derived from potatoes or even better, potato rich in protein (like protein chips), what could be more appealing than that?” ​we were told. “Moreover, PoLoPo’s proteins are identical to the source – same protein, same functionality, same appearance.​”

PoLoPo’s solution is practical and easy to scale-up, the company claims. Produced in over 100 countries worldwide and the third most important food crop in the world, potatoes are an abundant, resilient, cheap, and versatile yet underused food source. PoloPo says its potato-to-protein pathway boasts commercial scalability since plants require relatively low investment to grow and are amenable to upscaling by common agricultural practice.

“Scale-up is possible by using larger potato fields and extensive use of existing starch processing facilities,” ​added Dr Sapir-Mir. ​Though the company cannot yet be sure on the initial capacity, it told us it is able to make 1kg of egg protein from around 10 potatoes, “while 232 eggs are used to get the same 1kg of egg protein.”

She elaborated on the other areas in the food industry where PoLoPo’s technology might be a solution. “Egg protein is just our first target protein and product. PoLoPo technology is a platform for the production of various functional proteins according to the industry’s need. At the moment we also see a need in functional proteins used for meaty texture or flavour, and this might be our next target.

“PoLoPo is an ingredient company, working B2B with food industry manufacturers, and producing egg protein powder to be used in commercial food products. However, we might decide in the future to license the technology, maybe with a different functional protein.”

The ‘disruptive potential’ of turning potatoes into egg protein

The Pre-seed round was led by FoodLabs, further investors include CPT Capital, Siddhi Capital, Plug and Play Ventures, Milk & Honey Ventures and HackCapital. “We want to produce better food for the world,” added​ PoLoPo’s second founder Dr Raya Liberman-Aloni. “Molecular farming technology, being harnessed for the production of high-quality proteins, presents a huge opportunity to do so, alongside with taking the animals out of the equation and reducing the carbon footprint of the production process.”

“We’ve been very impressed by the disruptive potential of their platform technology and, most importantly, by the deep plant science expertise of PoLoPo's founders and their bold vision for the company,”​ said Christian Guba, Managing Partner at FoodLabs. “We believe they are set to complement the incumbents in Precision Fermentation by pioneering a simpler approach to develop proteins.”

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