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Q3 major food players roundup: From animal-free dairy to carbon-free beer

The food giants aim their focus on precision fermentation, regenerative agriculture and carbon neutral manufacturing.

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Founders of Perfect Day Ryan Pandya and Perumal Gandhi. Perfect Day is working with Mars on an animal-free candy bar. Image courtesy of Perfect Day.

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Earlier this year, I saw some encouraging movement on topics such as food waste and social justice — programs that don’t tend to dominate corporate press releases. But now, we’re back to this year’s darling: regenerative agriculture. 

ADM announced a 7.5-year partnership with PepsiCo to slash emissions on 2 million acres of farmland. It also plans to integrate the Farmers Business Network’s Gradable platform into its regenerative offerings for 55,000 American producers. The McDonald’s Canada branch and McCain Foods invested $1 million in regeneratively grown potatoes and Syngenta unveiled a high-resolution soil health mapping service. 

Beyond these big announcements that have gotten their fair share of coverage, here are two topics that also made meaningful contributions this summer without as much press coverage: green manufacturing and animal-free dairy. 

Precision fermentation is climbing the business ladder

Real milk, but without the cow, is what companies want. Food businesses from across the globe invested in and partnered with startups using precision fermentation technology to manufacture dairy from microflora. Rapidly reproducing microscopic fungi with incorporated whey or casein genes produce a protein genetically identical to that milked from cows. 

The deals included ADM’s partnership with California-based New Culture, a startup developing animal-free mozzarella cheese. The two companies aim to partner on product development and commercialization services to approach a commercial mozzarella launch in 2023.

Perfect Day is another big player in this field. After bringing an animal-free chocolate bar to market with Mars in June, Nestlé jumped on the bandwagon. The Consumer Packaged Goods giant works toward launching chocolate and plain milk alternatives in the coming months that draw on Perfect Day’s dairy from precision fermentation. With this move, Nestlé works toward meeting growing consumer demand for alternative dairy products. 

Lastly, New Zealand’s Fonterra, the world’s sixth-largest dairy company supplying 30 percent of global dairy, has decided to heat up the playing field. It launched its own precision fermentation dairy startup in collaboration with the Dutch bioscience company DSM, aiming to get its share of the market and stay on top of leading innovation and science. 

In June, PepsiCo announced the construction of its largest and most sustainable manufacturing plant in the U.S.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how quickly this new technology has made its way from scrappy R&D benches to major manufacturing plants. To me, it’s an excellent proving point for continued climate tech innovation and investment with an eye on approaches that are cost-effective, easy to integrate into existing manufacturing processes and don’t require big culture or behavior changes on the consumer end. 

Your favorite drinks, manufactured carbon-neutral 

Talking about green manufacturing — let’s indulge in some more good news. Food and beverage companies prioritize carbon, waste and water reductions in their new facilities. 

In June, PepsiCo announced the construction of its largest and most sustainable manufacturing plant in the U.S. At the end of September, crews broke ground in Denver on the facility that will be the professional home for 250 workers. "Best-in-class" sustainability strategies will include running on 100 percent renewable electricity, implementing water efficiency measures and reducing virgin plastic use. 

If PepsiCo wants to ensure that its ingredients stem from similarly green production, it should take an eye on upstream supplier Cargill. The ag giant is investing $50 million in a new corn syrup refinery in Iowa. Cargill says the facility will cut the syrup production’s carbon emissions in half compared to typical methods. These carbon savings will result from energy-efficient technologies and processing methods running on a primarily renewable electrical grid. 

Diageo made similar news over in Ireland, where it released plans to build a $205 million carbon-neutral brewery. Once finished, it will be the country’s second-largest brewery, and run entirely on renewable energy. According to Diageo, the plant will also "harness the latest process technology to minimize overall energy and water consumption."

While manufacturing makes up a relatively small proportion of the food system’s total carbon emissions, they still matter. But what I’m not seeing included in the announcements are investments in low-carbon building and manufacturing materials. Why aren’t Pepsico, Cargill, Diageo and others using their purchasing power to accelerate the decarbonization of carbon-intensive materials such as cement and steel used across these new plants? Hopefully, announcements along those lines will make one of next year’s quarterly roundups.

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