Nestlé Debuts Orgain Better Whey, Its First Animal-Free Protein Powder


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Swiss multinational Nestlé SA has debuted its first precision fermentation dairy protein powder, an animal-free and lactose-free whey isolate product dubbed Better Whey under the Orgain brand, which it acquired a majority stake in back in early 2022 to strengthen its foothold in the functional nutrition space.

14 February 2024 Update: This article has been updated to include additional details from Nestlé about the product availability, the company’s position on lowering emissions and the goal of the Better Whey product launch.

The limited edition product was announced in a social media post by the company’s Research & Development team: “Developed in our R&D Center for Nestlé Health Science in partnership with Orgain the product includes a precision fermented whey ingredient that is bio-identical to whey protein, it is lactose-free and easier to digest.”

Customers can order Orgain’s Better Whey on the company’s website and a Nestlé spokesperson told Green Queen there will be a small in-store regional test in the US though the company has no further details to share at this stage. It is priced at $29.99 for a 13.3-ounce tub, around $2.3 per ounce. The brand’s plant-based whey, which has the same amount of protein per serving, costs approximately $1.2 per ounce, close to half of the fermented whey version. Its grass-fed & pasture-raised whey protein powder, whose ingredients are almost identical to the Better Whey product and which also contains 21 grams of protein per serving, costs $1.4 per ounce.

The whey comes in a Creamy Chocolate Fudge flavour. Other ingredients include alkalized cocoa, organic guar gum, and Orgain’s organic creamer base made from acacia, sunflower lecithin and sunflower oil.

According to Statista, the global whey protein market was valued at approx. $19.6 billion as of 2022 and pundits expect the sector to continue to grow as health-forward consumers in geographies like Asia Pacific drive demand for personal nutrition products. Most whey protein products contain lactose, a sugar found in cow’s milk that around 68% of the global population is intolerant to. There is a growing demand for lactose-free whey isolate powders such as Orgain’s Better Whey.

So far, Nestlé has not released any further details on how limited Better Whey’s launch will be and whether it has plans to expand it. We have reached out to the company for comment and will update this story when we hear back.

Nestle’s dairy decarbonization goals

Back in September 2022, Nestlé shared its plans to “explore emerging technologies for animal-free dairy proteins” via its newly launched US R&D Accelerator, promising that it would bring it to “the U.S. market later this year as a test-and-learn”. The new product was to be developed by its R&D teams in Switzerland and use Perfect Day’s whey protein. In December of that year, the company debuted two flavours of Cowabunga Animal-Free Dairy Beverages in select Safeway grocery stores. It’s unclear whether these products are still available today – they no longer appear on the supermarket chain’s website.

Joanna Yarbrough, head of Nestlé’s R+D Accelerator said at the time the company wanted to serve a more climate-conscious consumer: “While this category is still very young, we know consumers are looking for products that have a reduced environmental footprint, and we are evaluating this avenue as a future growth opportunity for our business.”

The announcement post for the new Orgain Better Whey made direct reference to the company’s commitment to reducing the carbon footprint of its dairy products, stating: “Through investing in initiatives to reduce the carbon footprint of dairy, launching more plant-based dairy alternatives, and exploring emerging technologies for animal-free dairy proteins, Nestlé will be able to transform its portfolio as a part of its broader commitment to provide food that’s good for people and the planet.”

Mandatory reporting of Scope 3 emissions under the EU Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) Scope 3 emissions regulation will no doubt have played a role in the company’s foray into food tech innovations that can help lower the emissions footprint of mainstream food products. Conventional dairy products are one of the worst offenders in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. Multiple LCA reports have shown that precision fermentation dairy products, which involve using microbes to produce bio-identical dairy proteins without the need for animals, have a vastly lower impact.

The Nestlé spokesperson told Green Queen that “lowering emissions of our food products is at the core of achieving our net zero goals. Adding more plant-based brands as well as plant-based options to our existing brands is an important element of this work”.

On the Orgain website, the product description touts the Better Whey Protein Powder as containing “21 grams of sustainable protein per serving”, adding that it is “easier to digest compared to traditional whey protein” and is “10 times more sustainable” than traditional whey protein made from cows”. The page features fairly detailed additional information about the product’s environmental impact claims including that the product has 10x less blue water, 10x fewer greenhouse gas emissions and requires 1.5 less energy consumption. The company does not specify if it partnered with a third party, such as Perfect Day, on the animal-free whey itself.

We asked Nestlé a range of follow-up questions including whether there were any plans to extend the launch and whether they had worked with a precision fermentation startup on the whey. Here’s what they said: “The primary goal of the test is to get feedback from consumers on communication and product attributes. Do the concept, the value proposition & communication around nutrition & sustainability resonate well with consumers?” The spokesperson added that Orgain is “not providing any further information on the product aside from what is on their website” at this stage.

A ‘BIG deal” for the precision fermentation category

Irina Gerry, Chief Marketing Officer for US-Australian precision fermentation company Change Foods and Vice Chair of the Board of Directors at industry association Precision Fermentation Alliance, called the announcement a “BIG deal.”

She told Green Queen that “seeing a major brand like Orgain launch whey made via precision fermentation signals category transition into mainstream distribution.”

She said she was “particularly excited to see the dual benefit communication around nutrition and sustainability”, adding “We know consumers are seeing products that are both good for them and for the planet, and this product delivers on both with ease and simplicity.”

Christian Poppe, director of Global Public Affairs & Sustainability at German precision fermentation leader Formo and Founder & Policy Lead at industry alliance Food Fermentation Europe, told Green Queen it was brilliant to see Nestlé “join the mission all FFE members are on”, namely, to “developing bio-identical proteins that are better for the planet and humans alike.”

In addition, Poppe underlined that the significant environmental challenges facing global food systems could not be solved by startups alone. “Decarbonizing the food sector requires all hands on deck. We salute our colleagues at Nestlé and invite them to work with us on creating a European policy shift that helps accelerate the transition to an equitable and healthier food system.”

Precision fermentation dairy startups find limited commercial success to date

The precision fermentation dairy sector, which comprises a few dozen companies worldwide, most of which are still at pilot stage, has had minimal mainstream commercial success with a handful of limited edition trials but few long-term breakouts.

In November 2021, General Mills announced it was the first major food brand to debut a PF dairy product with Bold Cultr, a cream cheese spread made with Perfect Day’s animal-free whey protein and developed by its corporate venture studio G-Works. The product was discontinued in February 2023, with the company stating it had made “the difficult decision” to “de-prioritizing funding” for the project.

French dairy giant Bel Groupe invested in PF startup Standing Ovation in late 2022 and promised to work closely with the latter to bring precision fermentation into its catalogue of products including popular brands Laughing Cow, Boursin and Babybel but as of now, no product launches have been confirmed. Bel Brands USA collaborated with Perfect Day on a line of animal-free whey cream cheeses under the brand Nurishh in late 2022 but they appear to be no longer available. Similarly, in mid-2022 Mars said it was partnering with Perfect Day on CO2COA, a vegan chocolate bar targeted at millennials and Gen-Zs but as of today, the site still says coming soon.

While this marks Nestlé’s first fermentation-derived whey product, Californian precision fermentation pioneer Perfect Day had previously launched a line of fermentation whey protein powders under the brand California Performance Co, though the company has since ceased operations. Perfect Day’s whey protein also appears in MyProtein’s animal-free, lactose-free Whey Forward range, which is still available on the latter’s website and features in Unico Nutrition’s hybrid protein powder Apollo II.

Steve Molino, Principal at Clear Current Capital, a food tech venture capital fund that invested in Change Foods, told Green Queen that Nestlé’s new Orgain Better Whey was an “exciting development for the sustainable food space.” At the same time, he warned: “It’s a bit of a sobering wake-up call for the startup community, as it’s one thing for a large corporation to be doing R&D around a new technology and another to launch a product in the market. It shows that large incumbents won’t necessarily only innovate through acquisitions.”

Author

  • Sonalie Figueiras

    Serial social entrepreneur Sonalie Figueiras is the founder & editor-in-chief of Green Queen, an award-winning impact media platform advocating for social & environmental change in Hong Kong with a mission to shift consumer behaviour through inspiring & empowering original content. She is also the founder & CEO of SourceGreenPackaging,com, the global wholesale eCom marketplace for sustainable packaging products, Ekowarehouse, the global sourcing platform for certified organic products, with a mission to make safe, quality food accessible & affordable for the whole planet. With over a decade of experience in publishing, digital marketing, organic trade and health & sustainability, she is an eco wellness industry veteran with a keen eye for market trends and a sought-after international speaker and moderator, sharing her expertise on stages across Asia and beyond, including TEDx and Harvard Business School.


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