Patent Pending: Paleo Eyes Booming Animal-Free Pet Food Market with Precision-Fermented Myoglobin

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Belgian precision fermentation startup Paleo is venturing into the pet food market, having filed what it claims is the world’s first patent application for the use of animal-free, yeast-based myoglobin in these products.

After showcasing “promising results” for the application of its yeast-derived myoglobin in plant-based meat and seafood for humans, Paleo is moving into the pet food sector with its precision-fermented ingredient.

The company has filed a patent for the use of animal-free myoglobin in pet food, a move “poised to fill an important market gap in the segment of palatants” (or flavour enhancers), which help increase palatability and acceptability among our furry friends. “We believe that Paleo’s ingredients have the potential to address this taste gap and exponentially help drive palatability,” said Paleo CEO Hermes Sanctorum.

The role of myoglobin in plant-based meat

Myoglobin is a heme protein found in mammalian muscle cells, which facilitates oxygen storage and diffusion in humans and dogs and is an essential source of taurine for cats. It’s also the protein thought to be responsible for the colour and iron content of meat and fish.

“We believe this heme protein is responsible for some of the key functionalities of meat, such as the typical heme flavour, the aroma, the iron it holds, or the red (when raw) and brown (when cooked) colour,” Sanctorum tells Green Queen. “Adding our precision-fermentation product onto meat alternatives means adding the taste, aroma, look and nutrition of actual animal meat.”

paleo myoglobin
Courtesy: Paleo

Founded in 2020, the startup’s proprietary precision fermentation process produces myoglobin that’s bioidentical to the one found in beef, chicken, pork, lamb, tuna and even mammoths. The tech can yield GMO-free, highly tailored heme while being much more environmentally friendly. According to an independent life-cycle assessment by Planet A, proteins made from Paleo’s myoglobin (which will make up between 0.1 to 1% of the total product) emit 78% fewer GHG emissions than beef (from beef herd) and use up over 99 times less land, based on a median figure from multiple scenarios.

The company says its move into pet food will provide a solution with the potential to replicate the natural flavour profile of animal protein sources that pets are familiar with, facilitating their transition towards a plant-forward diet. Having conducted human-based tests that found having minimal inclusions of yeast-based myoglobin can increase the palatability of plant-based food, Paleo now wants to explore pet food applications.

“We are now reaching out to pet food manufacturers who are interested in possible inclusion of our myoglobins and in working together to develop pet food applications,” notes Sanctorum.

Consumer acceptance and launch plans

As a precision fermentation company, Paleo will need to go through the regulatory ladder in order to sell its products. Santorum has previously indicated that Europe is unlikely to be the company’s first market, since “regulatory procedures tend to take much more time” there. The EU takes a more cautious approach towards novel food ingredients and is particularly strict on issues like genetically modified organisms (GMOs). US alt-meat giant Impossible Foods, which also has a heme ingredient derived from precision fermentation, has not been able to expand into Europe because its heme is genetically modified (unlike Paleo’s).

Paleo remains flexible about which country it will launch in first, emphasising that it would be dictated by “wherever regulatory approval will be more swift”, as Sanctorum explains. “We plan to advance on regulatory approval for all major markets in the coming months and years – think of the EU, North America and Southeast Asia.”

But while alternative pet food has been growing of late – with Noochies, Omni and The Pack all launching new products in recent months, among others – will consumers be receptive to precision-fermented foods for their pets, which is an untapped area? (Colarado-based Bond Pet Foods is the only other company of note working on precision-fermented pet food.)

paleo precision fermentation
Courtesy: Paleo

“When you analyse today’s trends with pet food shoppers, you see interesting things like sustainability becoming an increasingly important factor,” explains Sanctorum. “In general, pet owners tend to devote more and more attention to the food they give to their pets nowadays. These kinds of trends have led to several (big) brands launching plant-based/vegan product lines.

“This segment of the market currently doesn’t have access to a wide variety of palatants to increase the acceptance of their products amongst pets. We believe our product can make a real difference there. We [estimate] the potential to be big, because at the end of the day, a pet owner can wish to buy a sustainable or plant-based product for their pet, but that’s not a guarantee [that] the pet [will] like it. [Like] many humans, pets like the flavours they are used to. Our product brings the genuine flavour of meat, and we think taste is a big decisive factor in consumer acceptance, both for humans [and] for pets.”

In October, Paleo – which raised €12M in Series A funding earlier this year (after a €2M seed round in 2021) – announced it had opened a new office in Singapore to accelerate its progress. “If we wanted to expand anywhere as a growing food tech startup, it had to be here first. Our promising, cutting-edge technology can simply not be lacking over here,” Sanctorum said at the time.

Its move into pet food will add a new dimension to a category that has received more eyeballs this year, thanks to major studies on the health and environmental impacts of vegan pet food. One survey found that cats on a plant-based diet could be healthier than those fed meat, following research published last year that suggested vegan diets are the healthiest and least hazardous choice for dogs.

Plus, it has been estimated that if all the world’s cats and dogs went vegan, it would help feed nearly 520 million people, conserve land as expansive as multiple countries combined, and save billions of animals from slaughter – currently pet food emits the carbon equivalent of driving 13 million cars for a year.


  • Anay Mridul

    Anay is Green Queen's resident news reporter. Originally from India, he worked as a vegan food writer and editor in London, and is now travelling and reporting from across Asia. He's passionate about coffee, plant-based milk, cooking, eating, veganism, food tech, writing about all that, profiling people, and the Oxford comma.

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