Behind FrieslandCampina’s foray into lab made lactoferrin

FrieslandCampina Ingredients is a big-name in bovine lactoferrin, an ingredient that not only helps babies absorb iron, but also acts as an antimicrobial and antiviral agent. As such, it is commonly used in premium infant formula products.

In cow’s milk, lactoferrin is only available in small quantities – as little as 0.1mg/ml. In human milk on the other hand, lactoferrin content stands at around 1.4mg/ml.

Precision fermentation technology has the potential to significantly increase lactoferrin supply, and the Dutch dairy ingredients supplier is more than a little interested. This week, the farmer-owned cooperative announced a ‘breakthrough’ in collaboration with US biotech company Triplebar.

The duo says its cost-effective approach to scaling up will help bring the precision fermentation-derived ingredient to market.

The lactoferrin market potential

As an ingredient, lactoferrin can be prohibitively expensive – ranging from $300-$3,000 per kg. But demand remains high, with estimates the market could reach more than $1bn by the end of the decade.

Increased supply with a lower environmental footprint

The partnership is not FrieslandCampina Ingredients’ first step into precision fermentation. The supplier has been using the technology to produce human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) with tech developer Glycosyn since 2016.

But it does mark FrieslandCampina Ingredients’ foray into precision fermentation-derived specialty proteins, and more specifically, lactoferrin.

It is hoped that in using precision fermentation, lactoferrin will become available in quantities previously unattainable through traditional methods. In so doing, production can also be deemed more environmentally sustainable. Unconstrained by the low amounts of lactoferrin in cow’s milk, precision fermentation can produce these proteins in larger quantities with less impact on the milk supply, water supply, and land use.

“This is big news in the alternative protein space as we begin to create bioactive proteins that support and enhance human health and nutrition,” said Triplebar CEO Maria Cho. “Our partnership with FrieslandCampina Ingredients…will enable us to bring more of this incredibly valuable protein to market than ever.”

What will Triplebar and FrieslandCampina Ingredients bring to the partnership?

Precision fermentation enables the programming of microorganisms to produce complex organic molecules, such as lactoferrin.

California-headquartered Triplebar has developed a proprietary platform capable of analysing animal and microbial cell lines 10,000 times faster than conventional screening methods. The firm uses this to discover and develop products with the most suitable characteristics for a particular application – in this case, lactoferrin.

According to FrieslandCampina Ingredients, its role in the partnership is to leverage its experience in protein, processing and technology to co-create alternative protein solutions for specialised nutrition.

“Moreover, we will also commercialise this ingredient by providing it with a route to market,” Anne Peter Lindeboom, managing director of innovation, told FoodNavigator.

Precision fermentation is an ‘important’ part of the ingredient supplier’s strategy, and the company employs a team of precision fermentation experts to work in production and commercialisation.

“By combining Triplebar’s biotechnology expertise with our protein expertise, we’re creating a very strong and collaborative partnership.”

Are parents open to feeding their babies precision fermentation-derived dairy?

The infant formula market is amongst the most highly regulated. This is because formula is often babies’ sole source of nutrition during a critical period of growth and development.

FrieslandCampina is confident that although a novel ingredient, parents and carers will be open to feeding their babies precision fermentation-derived dairy. Proprietary research suggests consumers, including future Gen Z parents, are becoming increasingly aware of the environmental impact of their food choices.

“This increased eco-consciousness is expected to increase the popularity of plant-based and alternative infant milk formulas,” Lindeboom told this publication.

Further, a recent consumer insight study conducted by FrieslandCampina Ingredients revealed that one-third of respondents would buy products containing ingredients produced through precision fermentation and 70% would consider these products.

On a broader level, the supplier’s research on global consumer perceptions found that 70% of UK and 76% of US respondents would be willing to buy products containing precision fermentation-derived proteins.