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Bon Vivant toasts taking $15.9M to brew up versatile animal-free dairy proteins

Lyon, France-based precision fermentation startup Bon Vivant, which is utilizing biotech strategies to reprogram yeast microorganisms to supply animal-free milk proteins with a considerably decrease environmental footprint than conventional dairy, credit readability of technique and execution for conserving its traders enthused at a time when elevating stays a problem for a lot of tech founders.

All of the traders in its April 2022 pre-seed (€4M) adopted on for the oversubscribed €15M (~$15.9M) seed it’s asserting at the moment, in line with CEO and co-founder, Stéphane MacMillan. The spherical is co-led by Sofinnova Companions and Sparkfood, with Captech Santé additionally taking part. Different traders in Bon Vivant embody Alliance for Affect, Excessive Flyers Capital, Kima Ventures, Founders Future and Picus Capital.

MacMillan factors to a choice he and his co-founder, Hélène Briand, made to focus solely on a b2b enterprise mannequin — which means the novel protein startup is aiming to be a provider for, not competitor to, the meals business — as one thing traders have particularly appreciated.

“Because the starting we’re targeted — b2b oriented. And in Europe, specifically, nearly all [competitors] are nonetheless b2c, b2b2c; [or have an] unclear technique. That’s an enormous differentiator,” he tells TechCrunch. “I feel that explains why, in solely 19 months, we’ve attracted traders — as a result of for the reason that starting now we have a method that’s clear and that we’re executing on which helps so much, clearly. As a result of there’s readability. Then the group is structured this fashion. The processes are put in place… In order that’s, I feel, one of many key selections why additionally we attracted Sofinnova, which is the most important VC in biotech in Europe.”

“My view is when you’re a startup you could perceive, fairly intently on the worth chain, the place are you good — and truly higher than anybody else to do it?” he provides. “I contemplate that constructing the tech, constructing the method of fermentation, doing purification. All of that we will deliver so much… However in terms of advertising and marketing, distribution and producing tonnes of ultimate product, I don’t suppose I’m going to be higher than any Danone or Nestlé.

“Actually, I don’t need to compete with them… I might like to associate with them after which truly additionally should you’re critical concerning the [environmental] influence that you simply need to drive and… you’re actually critical about your mission then the one strategy to have the larger influence is to assist the fellows which might be doing tonnes of dairy merchandise each single day. And so that you don’t need to battle them on advertising and marketing, distribution and new product however assist them with an ingredient that permits them to cut back their footprint.”

The dairy business and different purchasers Bon Vivant is focusing on to promote its yeast-grown milk proteins are keen on its elements to reply all kinds of “performance wants”, per MacMillan — whether or not it’s making a gelling impact, foaming, texturizing and many others — and he says there’s no approach to do this with just one kind of milk protein popping out of the fermenting vats. Therefore why it’s creating microbial yeast strains that may produce whey and casein to make sure broad versatility for the multinational “meals industrials” it needs to promote to.

“Because the starting, now we have two workstreams: One is on whey; one other one is on caseins. As a result of that’s simply a part of the technique; we need to reply — and to be the one-stop-shop b2b chief for — dairy and meals industrials,” he says.

Bon Vivant co-founders: Hélène Briand and Stéphane MacMillan (Picture credit: Bon Vivant)

MacMillan suggests this additionally offers Bon Vivant an edge vs rivals which have targeted extra narrowly, at the least initially — saying he doesn’t suppose anybody else within the cow-free milk area is (at present) engaged on each milk proteins. However he concedes the sector is transferring rapidly and says he expects rivals will converge on the identical technique (so he’s anticipating extra pivots to b2b). Bon Vivant’s 19-month head-start on this highway means it has a very good probability to determine a lead, although, he believes.

Alt protein startups have confronted some challenges in latest instances — particularly these cooking up merchandise that intention to disrupt the normal meat business. However in terms of producing non-animal primarily based dairy the sector is much less crowded. Although there are some large names too, comparable to US-based Excellent Day.

Setting apart plant-based alternate options to take advantage of, that are ten-a-penny as of late (however don’t supply the identical dietary qualities, properties or style as cow’s milk), MacMillan says there are far fewer alt protein startups going after dairy. But with so many potential merchandise that might make use of cow-free milk proteins as an ingredient — from drinks like milkshakes, to yogurts and cheese spreads (or certainly laborious cheese, although that’s clearly a much bigger R&D problem), confectionary and baked items, to ice-cream, and many extra moreover — he’s not sweating concerning the competitors proper now. Certainly, the potential pie (cheesecake?) appears sufficiently big for a lot of gamers to seize a slice.

The group’s focus is relatively on executing its plan to scale manufacturing and acquire the required regulatory clearances so its precision fermented proteins can discover their approach into all kinds of meals merchandise supposed for human consumption.

Bon Vivant’s milk proteins are indistinguishable from cow’s milk proteins so may — technically — be used to supply ‘vegan’ cow’s milk merchandise since no cows have been harmed within the manufacturing course of. (The cow’s DNA that’s mixed with the yeast comes from a cell financial institution.) However as a b2b provider Bon Vivant isn’t going to be a producer of vegan milk — or every other particular foodstuff. Its ambitions are broader: It needs to produce the meals business’s big want for extra sustainable dairy proteins.

“The market all of us should serve is big. It’s simply huge,” he says. “And while you take a look at it, what number of startups are we engaged on it proper now, I feel we’re perhaps like 30 one thing, 35 perhaps… and that’s actually a small quantity. In comparison with, take for instance cell-based meat — which is a model new expertise, superb one, and I imply it’s nonetheless an actual moonshot — [where] you could have perhaps 300 startups? Nicely-financed on this planet. It’s loopy. So, I don’t suppose there may be a lot, to be sincere, competitors between all of us [non-animal dairy startups]. We actually have all to be targeted on the large meals industrials which might be ready on us to supply 1,000s of tonnes. That’s the focus.”

Bon Vivant is anticipating the US market might be the place it obtained its first regulatory clearance — and it’s hoping to have the ability to commercialize its milk proteins there as quickly as 2025.

MacMillan tells us he expects the method of acquiring regulatory clearance within the European Union to take longer (he suggests two to a few years), on account of the bloc’s extra stringent meals security guidelines.

The brand new funding is being poured into scaling its manufacturing capability in the direction of, down the road, the business scale manufacturing wanted to be a provider to meals giants. However there are nonetheless a lot of phases on the highway to get there. And MacMillan confirms it will likely be persevering with to make use of third events to assist with manufacturing for the foreseeable future (he suggests this is a bonus of having the ability to leverage an current approach, i.e. precision fermentation, to make a novel meals product — whereas lab-grown meat startups should sort out organising novel manufacturing strategies too).

Bon Vivant will use the seed funding to open a brand new lab in Lyon so it may produce extra samples for its goal purchasers within the meals business (“companions” is the way it refers to them at present; however, it hopes, purchasers sooner or later if/when it secures contracts). The lab will have the ability to produce 40 litres of product so nonetheless approach beneath business scale. It should additionally allow the startup to dial up testing and product growth, per MacMillan.

“We’re constructing our personal lab. It’s nonetheless solely pre-production. We’re going to have the ability to produce solely samples — however they’ll permit us to speed up assessments and trials, innovation, IP manufacturing, all that,” he notes, including that the seed may even be spent on working in the direction of regulatory clearances — paving the way in which for commercializing its novel milk proteins in a couple of years’ time if all goes to plan.

Whereas meals startups which might be cooking up alternate options to meat — whether or not lab-grown or plant-based — proceed to face assaults from the normal meat business, comparable to recommendations their merchandise are unhealthily ultraprocessed or unnatural ‘frankenmeat’ (and even makes an attempt to stitch doubt they’ve a decrease carbon footprint than meat from farming animals), MacMillan sees a much more collaborative relationship blossoming between alt dairy producers and the normal dairy business.

Certainly, he doesn’t just like the time period “different” being utilized to Bon Vivant’s milk proteins as he argues its merchandise might be “complementary” to conventional dairy, relatively than an entire substitute for animal-based milk — at the least definitely not for the foreseeable future. The belief is modifications to how established meals techniques function gained’t occur in a single day. So being a complement, relatively than attempting to supplant, is the perfect technique.

He argues precision fermented milk proteins could possibly be a boon to the supply-constrained dairy business by serving to it sort out the problem of rising demand for milk-based merchandise whereas concurrently offering a approach for it to cut back its carbon footprint and align itself with a urgent, international sustainability agenda.

He even suggests we may even see dairy merchandise showing on grocery store cabinets sooner or later that include a blent of each forms of proteins: precision fermented and people squeezed immediately from a cow’s udder.

“We’re actually originally of all this — we you solely begin to perceive precisely the facility of biotechnology and precision fermentation. So I feel that on the finish of the day, I might say the thought is to not exchange the milk in any respect. It’s extra complimentary,” he suggests. “So if already we may cut back — by 30% — greenhouse emissions of dairy merchandise, so make a hybrid product, you’d use milk and a few of the proteins that we’re producing, for instance, you would scale back the usage of [cows] that will work already — as a result of that’s the entire level, proper?

“So, to me, I actually see it as a complementary expertise, relatively than changing [traditional dairy] — as a result of we gained’t exchange all milk. I imply, that’s not the target. So yeah, so assume sooner or later right here, quickly sufficient, it is possible for you to to have animal proteins, previous dairy merchandise. I don’t see why not.”

“You additionally should be life like right here and see what we’re speaking about,” he continues. “It’s an enormous business. [Big reductions in traditional dairy production] is not going to occur in a single day. No approach truly… Demand [for dairy] is rising, like so much. On the similar time, milk manufacturing is reducing. So there may be already a niche that we have to fill with our expertise.

“The one strategy to actually obtain what we need to obtain — which is cut back the carbon footprint, cut back the water consumption and all that; everybody needs to do this — we have to work all collectively on that to make it occur sooner relatively than later. In any case, I imply, it’s not going to occur in a single day. We’re not within the digital world the place you possibly can simply [blitz-scale a new product]. It’s the actual world.”

On the environmental credentials aspect, Bon Vivant just lately printed an early LCA (aka, Lifecycle Evaluation Report), which was undertaken by a 3rd celebration — evaluating manufacturing of 2,160 tonnes/12 months of its fermented, animal-free whey protein towards the same amount of cow’s milk. The examine additionally factored within the manufacturing of the extra carbohydrates, lipids, minerals and many others required to mix with its whey proteins to make an equal product to cow’s milk.

Outcomes from this early LCA look very promising — suggesting Bon Vivant’s precision fermentation course of may cut back greenhouse fuel emissions by 97%; ingesting water consumption by 99%; and vitality utilization by 50% in comparison with acquiring the identical quantity of milk from cows. 

“Despite the fact that these figures, likely, will transfer — as a result of the method will change; and we must do a brand new model of the LCA in all probability annually — nonetheless when you’re at these kind of figures — and if it’s not 99%, it’s going to be, what, 95? 92%? — it’s nonetheless huge. And that’s why it’s actually essential,” he provides. “It nonetheless means that you’ve got an incredible influence. That’s why it’s actually, actually cool.”

Beginning a enterprise that might have an effect was one of many fastened standards MacMillan set himself when, in the direction of the tip of 2020, he was casting round to give you his subsequent large startup thought. (One in every of two prior startups he co-founded was the e-scooter agency Circ, which was acquired by Chicken in 2020; the opposite was a meals supply agency). Additionally on his wish-list was a enterprise he could possibly be constructing over the long run — for “the following ten years”. With precision fermented milk proteins he appears to have discovered the candy spot.

Commenting on Bon Vivant’s seed increase in an announcement, Michael Krel, associate at Sofinnova Companions, added: “Bon Vivant’s pioneering work in animal-free dairy proteins by way of precision fermentation aligns completely with Sofinnova’s mission to advertise sustainable options for a more healthy planet. We’re delighted to assist Stéphane, [co-founder] Hélène and the group as they proceed to rework the dairy sector and contribute to a extra sustainable agri-food period”.

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