NextFerm is a company that includes a number of ingredient product experts that came out of lipids manufacturer Enzymotec. After that company was acquired by Frutarom in 2017 the team embarked on its new venture based on fermentation with proprietary strains of different yeasts.
The entrepreneurial track record of the management suite—which includes CEO Boaz Noy who headed up Enzymotec’s food ingredients division, and Yossi Peled, chairman of NextFerm’s board, who served in a similar position with Enzymotec—attracted $9.2 million in an initial public offering on the Tel Aviv stock exchange that was concluded in late January 2021. The IPO reportedly pegged the company’s value at $31.2 million at that time.
NextFerm also reportedly raised an additional $918,000 from a set of existing investors that includes Cider Holdings, Orgad Agricultural Cooperative, Ortal, Gadot, Arancia International, and Merage venture capital.
Astaxanthin was first offering
The company’s primary early product was an astaxanthin ingredient derived from Phaffia yeast (Phaffia rhodozyma) that was branded as AstaFerm. The yeast was first isolated by Hermann Pfaff of the University of California Davis in the 1960s. NextFerm’s vice president of global marketing, Elzaphan Hotam, said he believes his startup company is the first to bring the ingredient to market from this source for human consumption. The astaxanthin produced in this way in the past has been devoted to the aquaculture feed markets, where is acts primarily as a colorant for the flesh of farmed salmon and trout.
“NextFerm marries a cutting edge technology with a wonderful group of individuals in relevant fields,” Hotam told NutraIngredients-USA. “We took a small company (Enzymotec) up to an IPO, and we wanted to do that again.”
“You can add in to that ambition our expertise in fermentation, and a suite of non GMO techniques for yeast enhancement,” he said.
Unlike traditional plant breeding cycles, which might take years to bring a new cultivation to fruition, NextFerm can use the unicellular organisms’ short life cycles to best advantage.
This amounts to a carefully calibrated program of subjecting the organisms to stressful conditions and selecting the best performing individuals from successive generations. NextFerm is now using that approach to tailor a protein ingredient from Saccharomyces cerevisiae, or brewers yeast.
Protein ingredient next to debut
The new ingredient, branded as ProteVin, will have some significant advantages in the plant-based, vegan protein realm, Hotam said.
“Plant proteins are abundant but they come with some significant disadvantages,” Hotam told NutraIngredients-USA.
“Flavor can be a problem. And nutritionally, they can be deficient,” he said.
ProteVin, on the other hand, offers a complete suite of amino acids and scores a perfect 1 on PDCAAS (protein digestibility corrected amino acid score) which puts it a on par with egg and other animal-based proteins, Hotam said.
“We believe we have come in and solved that missing piece,” Hotam said. “You have all the advantages of a vegan, non-GMO protein with a high protein score. And our ingredient has a neutral taste.”
Hotam said protein from yeast is not necessarily a new idea. The trick to create a consistent ingredient that can be produced economically at commercial scale.
“With yeast cells you end up with three constituents: the cell walls, the yeast extract and then there is the protein. The trick here is find the right process to efficiently separate out the protein from the other components,” he said.
Hotam said the ingredient production process has already been validated at bench scale in Israel and runs at a pilot plant have already been done so there is a small amount of product available for formulators to work with. The next step is to build a full scale production plant at an as yet undisclosed location in North America.
“The official plan is to achieve this in early 2022 and we are doing everything in our power to make this happen as quickly as possible,” he said.
Capitalizing on the fermentation boom
Hotam acknowledged that all of this innovation comes at a price. ProteVin won’t appeal to manufacturers looking for the lowest cost alternative. But he said the new ingredient ticks other boxes as the general interest in fermented foods ramps up.
“We are having a new conversation with our potential customers, and there is a level of communication and education to be done around the idea that this ingredient is fermented. The concept of fermented ingredients seems to gathering more interest and positivity form consumers,” he said.