Global cheese leader The Bel Group and biotech startup Climax Foods announce a partnership to introduce a new generation of “zero compromise” plant-based cheese. By leveraging Climax’s data science and artificial intelligence, the two companies will co-create plant-based versions of Bel Group’s Laughing Cow®, Kiri®, Boursin®, Babybel® and Nurishh® brand cheeses. Bel also reveals it has acquired an equity stake in Climax Foods for an undisclosed amount.
“It is excellent news for the plant-based cheese market”
Described as “best in class”, the new cheeses aim to be indistinguishable from their dairy counterparts while being nutritious, affordable and carrying a lower carbon footprint. The upcoming products appear to be different from the dairy-free BabyBel and Boursin that Bel Group has released in the US and Canada in recent years.
The partnership will utilize Climax’s powerful predictive analytics and AI, which enable a deeper understanding of animal-based foods at the molecular level. The startup uses this knowledge to replicate animal-based products, including cheese, with plant-based versions that offer matching texture, flavor, and nutrition density.
According to Climax, its AI-driven product development significantly reduces the time required to create plant-based recipes from the vast plant kingdom. By comparison, the company states, it would take billions of years to create the same recipes using traditional product development methods.
“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,” said Cécile Béliot, CEO of the Bel Group. “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 epitomizes our co-innovation strategy by combining their distinctive technological data science and AI platforms and expertise with Bel’s pioneering and historical knowledge.”
“Significant positive impact”
“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,” said Dr. Oliver Zahn, CEO and founder of Climax Foods. “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.”
Climax’s food scientists have already succeeded in creating various prototypes of specialty cheeses, including blue, brie, feta, and goat varieties. This month, the company plans to begin rolling out its blue cheese, known as Climax Blue, to food service operators across the US.
Launching in 2024
The partnership with Bel Group will help meet the challenge of scaling up quickly and effectively, the startup says. Bel states it brings deep cheese expertise and innovation capabilities, as well as a strong “road to market” that will make these dairy-free cheeses more widely accessible through its iconic brands.
Bel aims to launch the products in the US and Europe by the end of 2024. The company notes this will contribute to its goal of achieving a portfolio balance of 50 percent dairy products and 50 percent plant-based/fruit products.
“Our group has always distinguished itself in its ability to dare and change the game with its innovative products,” said Caroline Sorlin, Chief Venture Officer of Bel. “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.”