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    Cooperation for developing alternative foods

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    “Sustainable and affordable beverages, food and essentials for everyone and everywhere” – That is one of the goals specified in Krones’ vision. And the cooperation agreement recently signed by Steinecker and Food Brewer brings precisely this mission to life. The Steinecker bioreactor, which uses cell cultures as the basis for producing foods by fermentation, is at the core of this collaboration.

    The Krones magazine talked to employees from Food Brewer, Steinecker and Krones who illuminate the market potential of alternative foods. They explain why the Steinecker bioreactor is ideally suited for industrial-scale production and how they intend to convince start-ups, food corporations and contract development and manufacturing organisations (CDMOs) of the technology’s salient advantages.


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    Food Brewer: Does the name say it all? Or let me put it another way: What exactly does Food Brewer do?

    In a nutshell – Yes, the name says it all. We are food brewers because just like the brewing process our production is also based on fermentation, however with one difference: Instead of yeast, we propagate other cells which are extracted from coffee or microalgae, for example. And instead of brewing vessels, we use bioreactors. The biomass generated is then harvested and either directly made into food or used for extracting certain constituents that serve as ingredients in the food industry.

    What motivated you to set up Food Brewer?

    Farming as we know it is facing more and more challenges: The area of arable land is limited, climate change entails many imponderables, soils are contaminated, and plagues like plant pests cause increasingly frequent crop losses. So we think the world will in future need new methods for producing food and certain food ingredients in order to ensure global food security.

    And we firmly believe that with Food Brewer we can contribute towards tapping such potential. Therefore, we make sure our production is sustainable and our foods are very similar in taste, appearance and feel to the agricultural goods consumers are familiar with, so the new foods constitute an equal alternative for them.


    In your view, what do today’s consumers think about new food, meaning beverages and foods that are produced using alternative processes?

    People have developed a heightened awareness of the fact that conventional methods of food production are responsible for about one third of global greenhouse gas emissions and therefore significantly contribute to climate change. So more and more consumers are wondering what they can do to counteract that by altering their shopping habits.

    When you look at today’s products and demand patterns, you will notice that there has already been so much change. While there used to be only one type of milk you could buy, you can now choose from a huge array of alternatives. The same applies for meat and the wide variety of substitutes offered. And we’ve most certainly not seen the last of that.

    Speaking of change: Yes, we’ve seen quite a lot of it and will see even more. But I think we won’t be seeing that many really pathbreaking innovations on the supermarket shelves in the next two to three years because both R&D and approval processes take time. I believe instead that it’s more about the quantum leaps made in the lab. In my opinion, though, the timing aspect fits in rather well with the target groups addressed because people’s awareness of a healthy diet and the foods’ origins is growing steadily, as is their interest in and receptiveness to new types of food. That means: The future will smooth out the market – on the consumer side, too.

    Do a product’s taste and appearance play a crucial role in how fast and effectively consumers can be persuaded to use this new food category?

    Yes, definitely. Consumers will eat and appreciate only something if it looks and tastes good. When they hear or read “alternative food”, most consumers will probably first think of soy- or pea-based schnitzel and hamburger, for which a plant-based substitute is used to emulate an animal product. But another alternative material that can meanwhile also be found in the form of burgers or steaks is biomanufactured fungal mycelia.

    And there are those products that are based on the same cells as the original but grown in a different way. It is much more difficult to taste the difference in foods made of these cultivated cells because they are in fact the same thing. Take chocolate, for example: When I try ten different brands, I will find ten different taste profiles. And if one of them was made with cocoa cells generated in a bioreactor, its flavour will also be similar to the conventionally manufactured chocolates, and I won’t be able to identify it by taste.

    I think it’s important to realise that both categories have their place in our food spectrum but you cannot compare them one to one. We at Krones focus on cultivating or fermenting cells in a bioreactor, the second variant of alternative food processing.

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    The Steinecker bioreactor was premiered at the BrauBeviale 2023. It is used for alternative food processing based on precision fermentation.

    Technology is key. It’s the centrepiece of this collaboration. But how did Food Brewer and the Krones Group come into contact in the first place?

    We got to know each other at a customer conference in Switzerland. And when Food Brewer followed that up by sending us an inquiry through our website, I went on my first visit to Horgen shortly afterwards. That was almost exactly one year ago. During that visit, we only explored the options available for scaling up the lab reactor, so it will be suitable for industrial-level biomass generation. For Food Brewer, the main points in Steinecker’s favour were the wider view we were taking and our background. You see, the technology that has been incorporated in bioreactors is familiar from the pharmaceutical industry. But we look at all the processes involved from a machine manufacturer’s perspective with expertise in brewing technology. Consequently, we know exactly how to make high-tech food at a price that people can afford to pay.

    The ability of both Steinecker and Krones to think outside the box was what really won us over. You see, originally we were looking for a reactor with an agitator, which is the industry standard. It’s also what we use in our small lab systems. Poseidon’s circulation system now enables us to achieve the same quality as with the agitator in the quantities we need for industrial-scale production.


    Customer turned into partner – How did this cooperation between Food Brewer and Steinecker come about?

    There were two salient reasons for me: Firstly, you in the Krones team are innovative. Anyone can see that because you don’t just turn steel and iron into machines but you devise systems and lines that help optimise the cost-efficiency and sustainability of production processes, and then you translate them into hands-on reality. Take your concept of an energy self-sufficient brewery, for example, or also your module for obtaining valuable byproducts from the brewing process. This forward-looking mindset is something we very much appreciate.

    The second plus is that you’re thoroughly familiar with all the processes in a brewery. And there are many similarities between beer-brewing and alternative food processing. The Krones Group is one of the world’s leading companies in precisely the field that is of vital importance for us and our future success: in machinery and plant manufacture with in-depth expertise in handling liquids and liquid nutrients. So it will be very interesting for us to watch how you approach the new-food category from an entirely different angle and how you’re harnessing your field-proven technologies for efficient use in this market.

    I believe that Krones, Steinecker and Food Brewer complement each other perfectly. We’ve made a name for ourselves in the food and beverage industries and offer fit-for-purpose technological solutions. But often we look at a project through a technical lens, and that may result in setting priorities that are different from those of our future customers from the new-food segment. Seen in this light, the background provided by Food Brewer is very helpful because their team contribute the relevant expertise from the biotech, chemical and pharmaceutical industries, not to forget they are well connected in the sector. By joining forces, we benefit from the overlaps among the various parameters. So in the end we can combine engineering and technology for a perfect result, which will sooner or later help feed the world’s population.

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    Food Brewer and Steinecker at the BrauBeviale 2023 Image credits:

    Food Brewer

    Although the cooperation agreement was only signed recently, the Steinecker bioreactor has already been available for over a year. So when did someone hit upon the idea of using the Poseidon technology in sectors other than beer-brewing?

    When Krones started to consider embarking on the path towards alternative food processing and precision fermentation, I knew one thing for sure: Nothing could be better suited for these production processes than the technology we’d developed for Poseidon, which is already firmly established in the brewing sector. That is because basically we also work with cells here, but for beer it’s yeasts.

    Still the idea as such is not enough on its own. You need open-minded, forward-thinking customers, too, who are prepared to invest in such a technology and to accompany you along that road. And if you find one, then you can create something really big together.

    Well, Steinecker was lucky enough to find that open-minded, forward-thinking customer – Food Brewer – and the bioreactor was recently installed at the pilot plant in Horgen. So what’s next?

    We at Krones and Steinecker hope that this cooperation will enable us to put Poseidon through its paces in regard to alternative food processing and thus validate it. To make sure the test results obtained are as broadly based as possible, the cooperation agreement includes a clause to the effect that Food Brewer can also use the bioreactor as a pilot system for experiments carried out for other customers.

    We at Food Brewer are thoroughly convinced of the salient advantages offered by your technology with the circulation system – and our vision is to also win over all other new-food producers.

    I think that is precisely the big obstacle we’ve got to overcome, quite simply because working with an agitator is the current state of the art on the market – even though the advantages of our Poseidon technology with its circulation system clearly outweigh those offered by an agitator, particularly for industrial-scale applications. That is a mammoth task, and it will no doubt be much easier to accomplish if we all pull together.

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    Take a look inside: The Steinecker bioreactor works on the basis of the Poseidon technology with a circulation system.

    Which crucial arguments will you use in order to successfully launch the Steinecker bioreactor on the market for alternative foods?

    I think costs and flexibility will play a major role in the end. And here, the bioreactor offers great potential: Our technology enables us to pursue a disruptive biotech-based approach that takes into account the most important parameters like ventilation, cleanability and homogenization, and is also scalable for both small- and industrial-level applications.

    It is important to keep an eye on the big picture. Sure, there will always be problems or obstacles in everyday development or manufacturing processes that directly affect your own product. And these will doubtless always come first for any producer. But there are also overarching strategic issues we will have to deal with on a long-term basis. And that quite clearly includes the generation of alternative foods for the population at large, which is exactly where industrial-scale production turns into a huge problem. The solution we can definitely implement is the Steinecker bioreactor – that means cooperation with Krones. And the bottom line is: The system not only offers us scale-up potential but also price savings into the bargain.

    Here at Food Brewer, we’ve taken the first step in the right direction. But we would now like to help others to jump on the bandwagon and focus on tomorrow’s food market. Because only by joining forces can we make a big difference.

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