Chaseman Spotlights

Nourish

Flavour enablers transforming alternative proteins

As part of an ongoing series, Chaseman Global shines a Spotlight on the agricultural innovators who are making a positive impact on the future of our planet.

In this edition, we tuck into Nourish, the biotechnology innovators cultivating fats and oils to enhance the next generation of plant-based proteins.

James Petrie

Nourish’s job is to help these sorts of (plant-based) products to become more animal-like in terms of flavour, taste and aroma, the whole experience, without actually using an animal in the process.

James Petrie

Nourish’s Co-founder and CEO

About Nourish

Established in Canberra, Australia, in 2019, Nourish is a new and exciting biotechnology start-up creating animal-free fats and oils to make alternative meat and dairy products taste like the real thing - all without the need to exploit animals or the environment.   

Nourish was founded by James Petrie and Ben Leita, two former scientists of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). James specialised in crop development and pioneered the creation of omega-3 canola, the world's first plant-based and sustainable source of omega-3. Ben's past experience as a manager and chemical engineer contributed to the creation of bio-based PET Coke bottles.

The pair met in 2013 whilst working at the (CSIRO) and would soon agree that the alternative protein market needed a sustainable animal-free fat solution. Amid a plant-based industry boom, James and Ben would apply their technological expertise to combine science with the processes of fermentation and lipid engineering to reproduce the taste and consistency of meat and dairy products, incorporating this into new and existing plant-based alternatives. 

Speaking on why he decided to pursue the journey to start up Nourish, James said: "I think a lot of technology start-up people are in a similar boat where they could have a pretty nice career in the sciences. It's a pretty good place to be if you're successful at it. But I would have always regretted not having a go, and I think it's the same for a lot of others who end up going out and doing it."

So, join us as we chew the fat and explore the story of Nourish.

Getting to the meat of the problem

Breaking the stigma

When it comes to the current plant-based food products, there are limited options on the market that truly stack up or compare to the real thing. Although these products may satisfy vegetarian and vegan plant-based diets, they are easily distinguishable as being meat or dairy-free. So, winning over the most devout carnivores and breaking the stigma around alternative protein sources is a real challenge. 

James echoed the fact that getting the carnivores to make the shift to meat-free products is no easy feat. “We can do a lot of stuff around making flavours better, but we’ve got some really sophisticated equipment in our mouth and nose and we know when something is ‘real’ or not."

The 2050 food crisis

Within the next 40 years, the global population will reach nearly 10 billion people, and the demand for food has the potential to be 60-100% greater than it is today. Essentially, if we carry on living the way we are, cultivating and consuming the way we do, by 2050, there will not be enough food resources to feed the planet.

"We look at this through a big picture lens. We see a future where there's 10 billion people on this planet in the not too distant future where the majority of those have every right to expect to eat a high-quality diet which is rich in not only calories but also nutrients and flavour. And there's no way that the majority of those 10 billion are going to be eating a western diet based on animal agriculture like we are today." - James Petrie, Co-founder and CEO, Nourish

"The goal for Nourish is to make these ingredients, make these new types of food experiences, these new types of tastes and flavour experiences that people associate directly with existing meats and dairy products. (...) it's something that's coming that's new and exciting."

- James Petrie, Co-founder and CEO, Nourish

Nourish’s tasty solution

With the alternative protein space booming, having gained a whopping $11 million investment in 2019 and an even bigger second helping, $1.3 billion, in 2020, it’s clear there is a demand for meatless alternatives. 

As we mentioned, humans continue to embrace plant-based products as a great source of protein for our diets, with hundreds of alternative animal products on the market. However, very little, if any of these options truly match up to the real thing. So what’s the missing ingredient? Well, Nourish has discovered that it simply comes down to fats and oils. 

Essentially, when you feast your eyes on a juicy piece of grilled chicken on a BBQ or indulge in a cool and refreshing bowl of ice cream on a hot summer's day, what you smell, taste, and see is the fats and oil molecules. These elements give the animal proteins their distinct flavour and aroma. 

Nourish's innovative solution uses precision fermentation, a process similar to how beer is produced, and proprietary yeast strains to brew and tune fats and oils. Their creative production process allows Nourish to recreate the molecular structure of animal fats, ultimately allowing them to create any flavour profile possible. What's more, no animals are involved in the process - it's all formulated in a controlled and sustainable environment using synthetic biology. 

James would expand on this by saying:

"One really interesting thing from our perspective is the ability to go beyond the existing boundaries. If you think about a cow or beef, it's very common in our diet, and a lot of us eat it. That's because of a lot of factors, which include the fact that cows are easy to domesticate. There are a whole lot of other animals out there. 

There's a whole flavour spectrum, a whole taste spectrum that we can move into without having to domesticate all of these types of animals. Because we can create these sorts of fats and oil flavour components which are usually beyond our reach in terms of Agriculture, and start to bring them into the food chain. It's really exciting being able to create new experiences and to really push the boundary of the taste and experience solutions space that we're working in beyond what it is today."

Nourish believes foods that are incorporated with their fats are more than an alternative; they're a straight-up improvement. So let's ‘meat’ the methods behind the formation of these fats and oils and how they are paired with existing plant-based products. 

Fermentation: ‘They brew it, you chew it’

 

“If you really want to capture that original flavour, you have to put that original molecule in.” - James Petrie, Co-founder and CEO, Nourish

 

Creating these fats and oils is produced using a scientific method dating back centuries. 

Nourish sprinkles some magic into this process, tailoring the DNA of proprietary strains of the yeasts and cultivating them in calibrated environments. This methodology allows Nourish to customise the flavours and textures to best suit the specific products, be it beef, pork, cheese, yoghurt - anything, completely animal-free.

The lipid engineers at Nourish, experts in fats and fatty acid chains, utilise synthetic biology to tweak the biochemical formulas of their yeasts. By essentially remapping the metabolic pathways of the yeast organism, they can ultimately tell the yeasts what types of fats and oils they want to be produced.

James would explain how Nourish came to the conclusion that fermentation was the way forward.

"When you look at a problem like this, the first thing we looked at is what organisms on this planet are capable of making a lot of oil or a lot of fat. (...) at that point we said (yeast) fermentation is the real winner here because we can do it really fast, we can make products pretty quickly for the market, and we can get to a point where people can actually taste this stuff and see how it's working in a matter of weeks or months rather than a decade."

Effectively the production pipeline works like so. Yeast and sugar are combined in a  fermenter reactor. Here the yeasts eat the sugars, and the product of fermentation results in the fats and oils. These tailored fats and oils can then be incorporated into existing plant-based products. 

But how are Nourish getting its products to market?

 

A recipe for success

It's important to remember that Nourish is not creating the final product that the customer will consume. Instead, they produce fats and oils to enhance the existing plant-based products already on the market. So essentially, they're adding an extra ingredient to new and existing meatless product recipes. 

Nourish is partnering with innovative brands and leading alternative protein companies across the globe, providing them with a solution to make their meatless and dairyless products taste like the real thing. 

To begin with, Nourish approached a near 100 plant protein and ingredient companies, ranging from the biggest in the market to the smaller niche start-ups. James and Ben started out by trying to explain to these companies that they had a problem surrounding the types of fats and oils they were using and that their recipes lacked the authenticity of the real thing. 

Quickly, the pair discovered that these companies were already aware of these issues and required a solution that Nourish could provide. 

However, these companies had already spent thousands of hours in the lab, coming up with specific and complex recipes for their meat-free and dairy-free products. Therefore, Nourish has the task of persuading these companies to adjust and make room for their new fats and oils solution - without disrupting the company's current processes.

Nourish is now at a point where they are sharing samples of their products with these companies, forming partnerships to bring their solutions to market. 

James Petrie

Having to rapidly move to a point where we're sharing samples, where we're explaining how we're solving the problem, and where we're being able to help them understand how we can solve this problem together has been a fascinating journey. 

Because a lot of the companies that we are talking to and that we are working with have really good expertise in terms of how they build their own product, and being able to plug into that is really exciting because it helps us speed up a lot.

James Petrie

Co-founder and CEO, Nourish

A mouth-watering $11 million investment

To assist with the scale-up of production and expansion of their team and facilities, Nourish received an $11 million investment from Horizons Ventures, a venture capital firm based in Hong Kong and backed by Sir Li Ka-shing who focuses on supporting tech-focussed start-ups.

Horizons Ventures had heard about the sector's issues from their portfolio of companies. As a result, they understood these challenges needed to be solved and were open to Nourish's solution. 

James would explain how the investment came to be: "We ran the concept past them, knowing they were familiar with the plant-protein space, and the response was very encouraging. (...) They were very happy to back a team they believed could solve the problem."

"They've been very helpful investors in the sense that they understand this space really well, and they've been able to guide us in terms of, not how to do the actual R&D, but how to target it in terms of what problems are we trying to solve for this sector as a whole and what is it that these companies need to be able to offer their customers in order to make this whole space take off."

The investment, which came to fruition in 2020,  got the ball rolling for Nourish. Since then, the company has seen aggressive growth, expanding its team to a headcount of 32.

"If you do not get the people and culture component of your company right, it will fail."

- James Petrie, Co-founder and CEO, Nourish

A hungry bunch of talent

It's clear the work Nourish is bringing to the table is truly helping to transform the landscape of Agriculture and Food Technology. However, none of this would be possible without the passionate people behind the scenes. James was eager to emphasise the importance of the Nourish team and how they look for people motivated to make a difference and who are not just here for a paycheck. 

James said: "In terms of talent acquisition, that's something that never stops. (...) But getting that right is critically important because if you have a team that wants to solve the problem and wants to come on a journey with you, they give 110%, 200%. Whereas if you've got people who are in it for the paycheck, that is an important element, but it is not enough."

Diversity and inclusion are essential aspects any business in any industry must consider. As James would say, with Nourish, they have and continue to build a highly diverse team with a mix of genders, backgrounds, and nationalities. 

"We've ended up in a place where we actually have many more women than men in our company and especially in our leadership group. We weren't trying to hit a metric. We just happened to get there because we were trying to find the best people who would make things work, and in our case, they happened to be women. It has really paid off because we have a lot of nationalities, a lot of cultural backgrounds, a lot of genders in the mix, and they're all able to give a different viewpoint."

 

James Petrie

We're at the beginning. We'll put our version one out, but there's going to be a version two, three, four and five, and that will continue. (...) it's something people have not experienced, and it's absolutely mindblowing in terms of what it tastes like - it's going to be an exciting future.

James Petrie

Co-founder and CEO

What does the future hold for Nourish?

Nourish is passionate about what lies ahead within the animal-free fats space of Agriculture and Food Technology. They've established and will continue to grow a talented team of people with 360-degree expertise within the niche sector of Agriculture. 

From lipid engineering science, global regulatory affairs to consumer relationships and everything in between, Nourish has the knowledge and capability to create products that will change the way we look, taste and smell alternative meat and dairy products.

People can hope to see the first Nourish products hit the market within the year. But as this happens, the team will be working away at future solutions to make their already tasty solutions even tastier. 

We at Chaseman Global would like to thank Nourish for speaking to us, and we look forward to seeing their innovative solutions take off in the coming years.

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