ADM partners with New Culture to manufacture and develop animal-free cheese

Dive Brief:

  • Archer Daniels Midland announced a strategic development and commercialization partnership with animal-free cheese company New Culture. ADM’s fermentation and dairy processing operations will help manufacture New Culture’s cheese as the company grows its commercial footprint.
  • Through this partnership, ADM and New Culture will also jointly develop products, working toward accelerating the startup’s plans to introduce animal-free mozzarella cheese — first to pizzerias in 2023 and then to the wider consumer market. 
  • ADM, which is a global leader in fermentation, entered into a similar agreement with precision fermentation dairy protein maker Perfect Day in 2018. ADM Ventures, the company’s venture arm, participated in New Culture’s $25 million funding round late last year.

Dive Insight:

New Culture Co-founder and CEO Matt Gibson said in a June interview he is confident that the company will have the first mozzarella cheese made with animal-free casein — the dairy protein that makes melted cheese stretch.

The company has made small amounts of its cheese, which has been proclaimed “virtually indistinguishable from real dairy” on pizza by a San Francisco Chronicle food writer, and Gibson said it is ready to launch as a CPG brand next year.

“When we do launch, we really want to take the market and get ourselves into every pizzeria across the United States,” he said.

This partnership with ADM could make that goal a reality. While New Culture had been focused on building its own scale, working with ADM — which has the capacity, expertise and connections — put the kind of big launch Gibson has been envisioning within reach.

“After tasting New Culture’s delicious animal-free mozzarella, we recognized that the company had the potential to play a central role in bringing great-tasting, break-through products to the dairy aisle, and we’re excited to bring our global precision fermentation and manufacturing expertise, and our extensive consumer product application capabilities to this effort,” ADM Senior Vice President for Strategy and Innovation Ian Pinner said in a statement.

This kind of partnership can quickly provide New Culture with what it needs to get its animal-free cheese out to consumers. ADM’s precision fermentation capacity and knowhow have helped Perfect Day scale up its animal-free whey proteins enough that they have been included in CPG products ranging from Coolhaus ice cream to General Mills cream cheese to a Mars chocolate bar. 

While New Culture has a similar kind of venture in animal-free dairy, it’s not a direct competitor to Perfect Day. Perfect Day is an ingredient company, so it partners with a variety of CPG makers and foodservice companies on products that use its animal-free whey protein ingredient. New Culture is a CPG company, using precision fermentation to create casein, then developing that ingredient into branded cheeses.

In June, Gibson said that the company’s mozzarella cheese is actually all plant-based ingredients, except for the animal-free casein. And while the plant-based cheese market has existed for some time, functionality, taste and texture challenges have stood in the way of its growth. ADM, which also has significant dairy processing expertise, will be able to collaborate with New Culture to develop and manufacture this next generation of plant-based cheese.

“This really shows you the power of casein being a hero ingredient, because casein itself is enough to generate all of these beautiful properties you’re seeing: to generate the melt, the stretch the mouthfeel, the texture, the functionality of the cheese,” Gibson said.

New Culture has been working toward developing animal-free cheese for years, and has caught the eye of several Big Food players in addition to ADM. Kraft Heinz’s venture arm Evolv Ventures led the company’s 2019 seed round, and was a participant in last year’s $25 million round. Be8 Ventures, which is affiliated with German ingredients and frozen pizza company Dr. Oetker, also participated in New Culture’s funding round last year. Dr. Oetker has a strong presence in Europe and has been recently expanding more into the North American market.