A €50 million facility dedicated to developing new vegan cheese, butter, and other dairy-free products is opening in Wageningen, the Netherlands. The city has been dubbed the “Silicon Valley” of food.
The Upfield Group, parent company to Greek vegan cheese brand Violife and plant-based margarine brand Flora, announced the Upfield Food Science Centre last month. It hopes to open the facility before the end of 2021.
John Verbakel, Chief Research and Development Officer said in a statement that the new center will give Upfield access to state of the art equipment and technology. It will also give them access to a strong creative network. Wageningen is also home to The Wageningen University & Research (WUR), a hub for food industry research.
Verbakel added that this will allow Upfield to “really push the boundaries of what we can achieve in natural, plant-based foods innovation.”
The Silicon Valley of Food
The Good Food Institute, a nonprofit working to accelerate the development of plant-based food, ranked WUR as one of the world’s leading universities for vegan meat research. The university’s ongoing “Plant Meat Matters” project, aims to develop methods for making the texture of vegan meat more realistic. The center has also worked with small brands, such as The Vegetarian Butcher and large companies including Unilever, major flavor manufacturer Givaudan, and ingredients producer Ingredion.
Upfield isn’t the only major company that’s taking root in Wageningen. Unilever announced an €85 million innovation center called the “Hive” late last year. The facility will be used to “accelerate technology and innovation” of plant-based alternatives.
The innovative use of ingredients isn’t exclusive to large parent companies. Smaller brands are also developing new methods of creating plant-based products, sometimes with unexpected ingredients.
Brooklyn-based startup Fora Foods makes vegan butter from aquafaba, the viscous brine found in canned chickpeas. In late 2018, it attracted a $1.4 million investment from vegan venture capital funds, Stray Dog Capital and Blue Horizon. The latter is one of the leading investors in the plant-based food space.
Blue Horizon’s investments include companies situated along the entire value chain of plant-based food production. These include Algama, a France-based company that aims to create plant-based food using microalgae and San Francisco-based Clara Foods, which formulates animal-free animal proteins. Blue Horizon is also an investor in The LIVEKINDLY Collective, which owns LIVEKINDLY and plant-based meat brands such as Sweden’s Oumph!, South Africa’s Fry’s Family Foods, and Germany’s LikeMeat.