Bel Group invests in Climax Foods to develop ‘new generation’ of plant-based cheese using AI
Multinational cheese producer Bel Group is partnering with biotech start-up Climax Foods to create a ‘new generation’ of plant-based cheeses powered by artificial intelligence (AI).
The two companies will work together to develop new dairy-free versions of the Laughing Cow, Kiri, Boursin, and Babybel, and make improvements to its plant-based Nurrish brand products.
Founded in 2019, Climax Foods developed a technology which uses machine learning frameworks to analyse animal-based products at the molecular level and pinpoint the qualities that make them so popular with consumers. The company says its ‘deep plant intelligence platform’ can then select a range of plant-based ingredient combinations that can create a product that matches animal-based cheeses in taste, texture, and nutritional qualities.
Bel Group also acquired an equity stake in the start-up to support the development of its innovative technology.
“Food is a key lever to address climate change, and we, at Bel, have a strong determination to explore new territories and develop innovative solutions that will define the future of food for all” Cécile Béliot, CEO of the Bel Group said in a statement. “The products we will develop in partnership with Climax have the potential to make a big difference: they can meet the three-fold challenge of sustainable, nutritious, and accessible. This collaboration epitomises our co-innovation strategy by combining their distinctive technological data science, AI platforms and expertise with Bel’s pioneering and historical knowledge.”
Another benefit of the technology, according to Climax, is that it significantly shortens the time needed to create the plant-based recipes, which would otherwise take ‘billions of years’ using traditional product development processes.
Dr. Oliver Zahn, CEO and founder of Climax Foods, added: “AI and data can be game changers in food in terms of delivering optimal taste and texture while at the same time making it affordable and sustainable. Evolving recipes over time is what we’ve been doing for hundreds of years. In addition to changing consumer preferences, climate change requires us to accelerate the evolution of food. Together with Bel, we can make a significant positive impact so that people and the planet are better off.”
The start-up has so far created a range of gourmet dairy-free cheeses, which it says are just as protein-rich as their dairy counterparts, as well as being free of gums, flavour enhancers and emulsifiers. The products include plant-based brie, blue, feta and chèvre cheeses, which are launching at the end of the month in several upmarket restaurants in the US.
Bel also plans to launch these plant-based cheeses through its own brands in the US and Europe by the end of 2024, to help it reach its goal of having a global portfolio of 50% dairy and 50% plant-based/fruits products by 2030.
Caroline Sorlin, Chief Venture Officer of Bel, said: “The challenge of the food transition is so big that collaborative innovation and the merging of skills is imperative. This partnership is definitely a source of pride, but above all, it is excellent news for the plant-based cheese market.”
Bel’s investment into plant-based cheese development has grown significantly over the past year. In 2022, the company teamed up with US-based cultured protein start-up Superbrewed Foods to test out its Postbiotic Cultured Protein in some of its products. That same year it also announced its plans to work with Parisian company Standing Ovation to incorporate animal-free casein milk protein into its cheeses.