We caught up with Nourish Ingredients CEO Dr James Petrie, who shared what the recent $45.6m raise means for the company and how its products will fit into the alternative protein space.
R&D is in Nourish’s DNA
Petrie and Nourish Ingredients co-founder Ben Leita earned their stripes working together at Australia’s government research agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). In collaboration with agritech business, Nufarm, and the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), the CSIRO team used microalgae genes to develop a “fish oil canola crop” and create a “sustainable (plant-based) source of animal type oil”.
Leita and Petrie’s experience in developing an alternative source of “animal type” oil set them on course to establish Nourish Ingredients, with the aim of developing animal and dairy fats using yeast fermentation.
Much like precision fermented dairy proteins, Nourish uses yeast proteins as the starting point for its fat and oil products. Rather than producing alcohol during fermentation, yeast proteins are fed nutrients and genetically modified to produce “animal type fats and oils”. The fats and oils can then be “squeezed out” of the yeast cells and applied to plant-based protein products.
In Future Alternative‘s recent podcast interview with Petrie, he gave us some insights into the nature of research in the precision fermented fat space and said that Nourish “cast(s) the net pretty far and wide”, pointing to ongoing collaboration with CSIRO as well as research projects it is undertaking with Flinders University, University of Queensland, Queensland University of Technology and other international educational institutions.
The purpose of the collaborative projects is to develop knowledge in areas that “we recognise the need for, but don’t have the skill for internally,” said Petrie, who added that it is “really beneficial for Nourish to have these research institutes to partner with… because they have the muscle, and we have the flexibility and agility”.
The products and the potential
Nourish aims to release its first product next year, competing with the ingredient list on plant-based products.
While Petrie said the current fat sources for plant-based products, such as vegetable, coconut or palm oils can have “some attributes that are pretty good”, and can be “quite good functionally”, they are “distinctly un-animal like” and lack the flavour, mouthfeel and general experience of a “really well cooked piece of meat.”
Petrie expressed his optimism around cellular agriculture, in particular the possibility of “culturing meat types that we haven’t yet started to domesticate or eat”, saying that “there are probably some amazing flavours out there”.
In the meantime, Nourish’s first product, expected to hit the market next year, will be a “meat fat that adds in (the) animal-like taste and aroma” to plant-based products and provides “the authentic and rich flavours and cooking experience” that meat can provide consumers with.
The product will also enable “individual food producers” to take the flavour profiles of their products “in their own direction”.
The future of fermented fats
The possibility of developing “hybrid” alternative protein products that utilise elements of cellular agriculture combined with the “low cost base of plant-based products” was also flagged by Petrie. It will be “an exciting phase of the industry” that could offer consumers increased product quality using “the best of both worlds” he said.
“Never say never” was Petrie’s response when asked about the possibility of a Nourish retail range. But while the prospect of increasing brand recognition through a flagship direct-to-consumer product has been discussed internally, the company will maintain its B2B focus for the foreseeable future.
The funds from the recent $45.6 million Series A raise will be focussed on not only scaling Nourish’s production capability, but refining the product to the point that customers will be “ready to buy.” Bringing the timelines of these two priorities together would be the key challenge for Nourish moving forward, Petrie said.
And while the funds would be a “good start” for Nourish, Petrie explained that building the necessary production capability over the long term would cost in “the order of hundreds of millions of dollars”, and that for now the company’s attention is focused on building strategic partnerships that enable it to “get the product right”, first and foremost.
Listen to the full conversation with James Petrie below.