Multinational consumer goods company Unilever is partnering with San Diego-based biotech Geno to commercialize plant-based alternatives to palm oil and fossil fuels. Jointly investing $120 million in the new venture, Geno will use its proprietary fermentation process to create alternatives to the unsustainable feedstocks in the home care and beauty sectors.
“We will be marrying science and nature”
As the largest soap producer in the world, Unilever is making its biggest investment in biotechnology to date in alternatives to palm oil. Unsustainable palm oil and fossil fuels are frequently used to make cleansers for home care, beauty, and personal care products. However, Geno’s fermentation process uses sugar to convert microorganisms into ingredients needed to make key cleaning agents called surfactants, which are integral to all cleansing products.
The companies claim that Geno is already scaling up the process for its biotechnology to produce the ingredient which will be exclusive to Unilever products. They also claim initial estimates show a 50% carbon footprint reduction with the new processes. Palm oil will remain a key feedstock to Unilever across its portfolio, including its various food companies, although it has committed to ensuring a deforestation-free supply chain for palm oil by 2023, according to a statement from the company.
Unilever in alt protein
As Unilever looks to diversify its supply chains and decrease supply volatility, further strategic investors are expected to join the Geno strategic venture soon. Unilever has participated in a range of alt protein investments and partnerships recently, including a partnership with foodtech ENOUGH to bring new alt meat products to market through its brand The Vegetarian Butcher. A new scientific review by Unilever also recommended plant-based foods as a way of improving consumer health and benefiting the environment.
“We will be marrying science and nature to make sure there is no trade-off for our consumers between the efficacy and sustainability of their products. We are building this innovative new venture to have the scale to drive real impact and change in our industry, helping to reinvent the chemistry of home and personal care products for the 21st century,” stated Peter ter Kulve, President of Unilever Home Care.