Protein ‘made from air’ enters snacks category

In 2022, Solar Foods’ novel microbial protein Solein – made from CO2, air, and electricity – received regulatory approval from the Singapore Food Agency (SFA)​.

Less than a year later the ingredient officially entered the market within the confectionery category (the Solein Chocolate Gelato​), and now Solar Foods is extending its reach into snacks via a tie-up with Finnish FMCG company Fazer.

The limited-edition ‘Fazer Taste the Future, powered by Solein’ bar is available at selected The Cocoa Trees confectionery stores in Singapore.

Solar Foods is leveraging the collaboration to obtain ‘valuable customer feedback’ on the ingredient’s viability in a new product category, explained CEO Pasi Vainikka, while more broadly also getting a sense of consumer acceptance of the novel ingredient.

What is ‘protein made from air’?

Solar Foods was founded in 2017 as a spinout from Finnish research centre VTT. The company claims to make the world’s most sustainable protein, which is

The limited-edition ‘Fazer Taste the Future, powered by Solein’ bar is being sold in selected The Cocoa Trees stores in Singapore. Image credit: Fazer

completely decoupled from photosynthesis and agriculture production.

Solein is often described as being ‘made from air’. Digging deeper into its production reveals at least three ingredients are used to make the novel protein: CO2, air, and electricity. More specifically, the protein is produced using a bioprocess whereby microbes are fed with gases (carbon dioxide, hydrogen and oxygen), and small amounts of nutrients.

Vainikka has previously likened the bioprocess to that used by winemakers​, but with carbon dioxide and hydrogen replacing sugar as the source of carbon and energy, respectively.

Looking to its nutrition credentials, Solein is considered a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids. The ingredient is made up of 65-70% protein, 5-8% fat, 10-15% dietary fibres and 3-5% mineral nutrients. The macronutrient composition of Solein cells is very similar to that of dried soy or algae, with micronutrients including iron and B vitamins.

Solar Foods claims Solein can be used to replace existing proteins in beverages, noodles and pasta, breads and spreads, and alternative dairy. This latter category was tested via a partnership between Solar Foods and The Lo & Behold Group-owned Fico​, an Italian seaside restaurant in Singapore, which saw the development of Solein Chocolate Gelato in 2023. Solein, together with vegetable oils, replaced dairy in the ice cream product.

What is a ‘Taste the Future’ bar?

And as is the focus of the Solar Foods and Fazer tie-up, Solein can also be used to boost protein content in the snacking category.

The 44g Taste the Future bars were handmade in Vantaa, Finland, and exported to Singapore. Each bar is made with 2% Solein protein, alongside a minimum of 70% dark chocolate solids, dried strawberries, hazelnut and Nordic oat puffs. Although containing just 15g Solein per 100g doesn’t officially make the chocolate snack bar ‘high protein’, it does make it high in iron – a micronutrient often lacking in plant-based foods.

Being neutral in taste, Solein does not negatively impact the bar’s snack profile, meaning there is no need to mask its flavour. In fact, according to Fazer, the presence of Solein enhances the bar’s flavour. The same goes for the bar’s texture, explained Heli Anttila, VP, new product development at Fazer Confectionery.

“Solein does not impact the texture of the snack bar. Solein is in powder format, and the snack bar contains [just] 2% Solein.”

Collecting consumer feedback for wider launches

Solar Foods is not the only party seeking customer feedback from the limited-edition launch. Fazer, too, aims to collect consumer feedback in Singapore to develop the product further, Anttila revealed. In Singapore the snack bar is not for sale, but available as a part of ‘open tastings’ as well as part of a bundle offer – meaning that if consumers buy two Fazer Chocolate boxes, they will receive a Taste the Future bar for free.

Fazer is also interested in marketing the snack bar in other geographies, for example in the EU. But before this can happen the ingredient requires novel food approval from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). This process is ongoing, we were told. “We are waiting for this to happen at the end of 2025.”

In the meantime, Solar Foods continues to work on its first commercial production facility, Factory 01 in Vantaa, Finland, which will take Solein to commercial scale. Factory 01 will begin operations in H1 2024 and scale the company’s annual production volume up to 160 tonnes. Assuming a single meal would use 20g of Solein, this translates to eight million Solein-powered meals.

Indeed, Solar Foods also confirmed it is seeking pre-market authorisations in other geographies around the world, with an EFSA novel food nod expected by the end of next year. “Our shared aim extends beyond this pivotal moment, targeting a wider scale European launch in 2025-2026 with a whole range of product,” said Solar Foods’ Vainikka.