FoodTech: Israel will create an R&D center specializing in fermentation

Israel will build an R&D center specializing in the fermentation of microorganisms, such as yeast or fungi, and the production of alternative proteins to animal proteins on a large scale, in order to maintain Israel’s competitive advantage in this area.

The Israel Innovation Authority (IAA) has, in fact, launched a tender for the creation of R&D infrastructures exploring precision fermentation technologies aimed at producing alternatives to animal proteins.

This contest has a total budget of 50 million shekels.

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Fermentation, long used to produce beer, is also used to explore the chemical properties of microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi.

Precision fermentation uses microbes as “cell factories” to produce proteins, enzymes, flavors, vitamins, pigments and fats. Everything can be produced this way, from alternative meats and seafood, to milk, ice cream, butter, cheese and even products like gelatin.

“We hope that this laboratory for the precision fermentation of microorganisms for food purposes will make it possible to sustain the advancement of the Israeli ecosystem and facilitate the development of startups and companies involved in mass production in this field,” said Dror Bin, CEO of the Israel Innovation Authority .

The IIA hopes that these new infrastructures will make it possible to increase production and validate “the economic feasibility tests of this technique, for the first time in Israel”.

Increased production will allow startups to conduct consumer trials and obtain the necessary regulatory certifications for nutrients produced using fermentation technologies.

The process should pave the way for the establishment of factories in Israel, adds the IIA.

More specifically, the IAA tender concerns the construction of an R&D infrastructure specialized in fermentation, with volumes of nutrients produced in the order of 10 to 20,000 litres. This infrastructure, which will include equipment and qualified personnel, will be made available to Israeli FoodTech startups and university research labs.

The Alternative Protein segment involves meat, dairy and egg substitutes, cultured dairy, cell-based meat and seafood, and various fermentation processes and products. Of all the alternative protein categories, The IIA selected fermented proteins, which have the greatest potential for growth and allow efficient sharing of infrastructure across multiple companies.

What is real meat? (Spoiler: it’s on the left.). A zoomed-in image of real meat and plant-based alternative from Redefine Meat, Tel Aviv, July 27, 2021. (Sue Surkes/Times of Israel)

Israeli companies lead international investment in the plant-based alternative protein sector, second only to the United States in terms of resources invested in the alternative protein industry as a whole, according to the Good Food Institute (GFI) Israel, a non-profit organization specializing in promoting FoodTech research and innovation.

The global market for alternative proteins attracted US$1.75 billion in the first half of 2022, with US$320 million invested in Israeli startups and companies, or 18% of the total.

In the fermented proteins sector, Israel ranks second behind the United States, with 38% of investments (US$152 million in investments) and the second highest number of startups, with 12 companies.

However, Israel lacks supporting infrastructure, whether multidisciplinary research centers, technology transfer programs (from university laboratories to industry), research and training grants or specific innovation centers for fermentation technology startups.

Thus, the Israeli start-up Remilk, which develops fermented milk and dairy products, announced in April 2022 its plan to open in Denmark the “largest facility in the world” dedicated to the production of cow-free milk.

Founded in 2019, the startup produces milk proteins through a yeast-based fermentation process that makes them “chemically identical” to those found in milk and derivatives produced by cows.

“Israel has made FoodTech, which can generate 55,000 high-paying jobs by 2030, an R&D priority,” Bin said.

Over the past decade, The IIA has allocated NIS 230 million in grants to FoodTech, including over NIS 140 million for alternative proteins.

Bin adds that nearly “90% of these grants have been allocated since 2020, another sign of the strong growth of this ecosystem in Israel.”

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