Babybel Maker Backs AI-Powered Climax Foods To Make Develop Game-Changing Plant-Based Cheese
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French cheese giant the Bel Groups is investing in and partnering with Californian biotech startup Climax Foods to develop AI-powered plant-based, sustainable and nutritious cheese products.
French global food plater the Bel Group, known for its popular branded cheese products, has announced a unique partnership with biotech Climax Foods with the aim to develop a new generation of plant-based cheese products to help address the challenges facing the dairy industry amidst a worsening climate cirsis. Their goal is to create plant-based versions of Laughing Cow®, Kiri®, Boursin®, Babybel®, and Nurishh® brand foods with a focus on making low-carbon footprint products nutritious, affordable and are indistinguishable from their dairy counterparts. To achieve this, the two companies will leverage data science and artificial intelligence (AI) along with their complementary capabilities and expertise. Bel has acquired an equity stake in Climax Foods Inc. to support the development of their innovative solution.
“Food is a key lever to address climate change, and we, at Bel, have a strong determination to explore new territories and develop innovative solutions that will define the future of food, for all,” said Cécile Béliot, CEO of the Bel Group in a press statement. “The products we will develop in partnership with Climax have the potential to make a big difference: they can meet the three-fold challenge of sustainable, nutritious, and accessible. This collaboration epitomizes our co-innovation strategy by combining their distinctive technological data science and AI platforms and expertise with Bel’s pioneering and historical knowledge.”
Using predictive analytics and AI, Climax Foods has developed a comprehensive understanding of the molecular structure of animal-based foods. This knowledge allows them to create plant-based versions with identical texture, flavor, and nutrition density. By leveraging their AI technology, Climax Foods says it can expedite the product development process and harness the vast potential of the plant kingdom to create innovative plant-based recipes in a fraction of the time that it would take to do this manually.
Climax Foods CEO Dr. Oliver Zahn said: “AI and data can be game changers in food in terms of delivering optimal taste and texture while at the same time making it affordable and sustainable. Evolving recipes over time is what we’ve been doing for hundreds of years. In addition to changing consumer preferences, climate change requires us to accelerate the evolution of food. Together with Bel, we can make a significant positive impact so that people and the planet are better off.”
California-based Climax raised $7.5 million back in 2020. Zahn, a former data scientist at Google, SpaceX and plant-based food tech giant Impossible Foods, attracted backing from GoogleX co-founder Tom Chi, Manta Ray Ventures and S2G Ventures. Earlier this year, the company said it was working with Caroline Di Giusto, a global expert in conventional cheesemaking, and building a pilot and production hub in Petaluma to develop its “Deep Plant Intelligence”, which it describes as “a combination of molecular-level data about animal products and its proprietary plant-based ingredients database”
Climax Foods’ team of food scientists has already developed multiple prototypes of specialty cheeses, such as blue, brie, feta, and goat varieties that closely mimic their dairy counterparts. Bel plans to introduce these new plant-based products in the U.S. and Europe before the end of 2024, which will help towards achieving the company’s goal of achieving a balanced portfolio of 50% dairy products and 50% plant-based/fruit products. Bel is looking to be part of a transition towards a new food system model that can feed 10 billion people by 2050 while limiting environmental impact.
Caroline Sorlin, Chief Venture Officer of Bel, said: “Our group has always distinguished itself in its ability to dare and change the game with its innovative products. The challenge of the food transition is so big that collaborative innovation and the merging of skills is imperative. This partnership is definitely a source of pride, but above all, it is excellent news for the plant-based cheese market.”
Bel, which has already debuted a plant-based version of Babybel and has its own plant-based cheese brand Nurishh, announced last year it was partnering with U.S.-based Superbrewed Food to develop dairy-free cheese via biomass fermentation and with French precision fermentation dairy company Standing Ovation to create microbe-based casein proteins to use in Bel’s suite of cheese products.