Our diets are filled with a growing list of questionable ingredients, with a 2019 study concluding that ultra-processed foods account for 47% of the average Canadian’s caloric intake. 71% of North Americans are concerned about the long-term health impacts of artificial ingredients, and are beginning to demand natural, minimally-processed foods from sustainable sources.
With retailers and food processors scrambling to find more sustainable raw ingredients, Peterborough, ON-based biotech company Noblegen is stepping up with a potential solution built around the ancient single-celled microorganism Euglena.
Noblegen co-founder Adam Noble first discovered the versatility of Euglena while working on an award-winning high school science project. The company was founded in 2013, and now employs over 65 people in the Peterborough region. Noblegen is looking to push that number to 100 by the end of 2019.
Using a proprietary fermentation technology known as “facilitated expression,” Noblegen is able to naturally design a suite of proteins, carbohydrates and oils from a single batch of Euglena. Critically, this process does not involve any genetic engineering. Compared to current mainstream processes, this low-cost, versatile approach is able to produce ingredients at lower land and water usage rates. It also results in a reduced waste stream and lower carbon footprint throughout the manufacturing process.
While the technology platform has the potential to grow bioproducts for a range of industries such as cosmetics and water purification processes, Noblegen is focused on the food and beverage market for now. With the potential to mass-produce ingredients that can easily replace existing products like palm oil in everything from protein shakes to granola bars, the company is looking to transform the global ingredients market for a new generation of consumers.
The company has successfully raised $42.5 million in capital thus far, including various investments and government support through BDC’s Cleantech practice and FedDev Ontario. It closed $25 million (CAD) in Series B fundraising at the end of May 2019, which will allow the company to scale up production. It is planning to launch its ingredients in the competitive U.S. market later this year.
Noblegen is growing so fast that they’ve temporarily expanded into a third location in Peterborough. Its future headquarters will be at the Cleantech Commons green technology research park, a joint project between Trent University and the City of Peterborough to boost commercialization of sustainability-related research.
With companies like Noblegen working to combine agricultural, scientific, research and sustainability expertise in Ontario, it looks like the future of food might be closer to home than you think.