Nine precision fermentation companies have united to form the Precision Fermentation Alliance (PFA). A new trade group to champion the process as a reliable and sustainable food system. The founding companies (Change Foods, The EVERY Co, Helaina, Imagindairy, Motif FoodWorks, New Culture, Onego Bio, Perfect Day, and Remilk) say it will be an industry voice and global association for the sector.
Irina Gerry is Chief Marketing Officer at Change Foods and is Vice Chair of the PFA. She told Plant Based World Pulse that setting up an alliance was an obvious and necessary step: “We decided we need to join forces because we’re all commercialising similar applications of this technology. We have a lot of work to do presenting it to consumers, retailers, manufacturers, and regulators. We feel this is very much needed.”
The idea of a joined-up approach is not new. The main precision fermentation companies have been discussing the need for a common nomenclature, description, and approach to regulation for several years. Irina Gerry explains: “We knew we needed to join forces. The only question was how quickly could we organise something. We have start-ups in different parts of the world with different worldviews, but ultimately, we are one industry and category. As sector leaders, we are engaged in a revolutionary development, and we need to be upfront and lead the conversation.”
Precision fermentation offers a brand new consumer benefit – the experience and nutrition of animal products made without animals. The PFA recognises the need to communicate overtly, explain how it works, and answer questions. They also need to communicate to consumers with allergies, such as milk or egg proteins, about the potential for allergic reactions, given that the proteins made via precision fermentation are molecularly identical to those from animals.
The PFA is envisaged as an accelerator that can help reduce barriers to market category entry. Irina Gerry explains: “A lot of developments are happening. Many companies, whether start-ups, large companies, or ingredient manufacturers, want to commercialise this technology, but we need regulatory pathways, investment, and a common language. Failing to sort those could slow down progress to market and consumer adoption. The PFA can prepare the road and give companies a smoother path, so they don’t have to tackle everything independently.”
The PFA has identified three key pillars with work streams for these key priority areas. The first of these is marketing and communications. Irina Gerry says: “We need the basics: What do you call it? How do we label it? We need to be clear and upfront with consumers about what it is and isn’t. Retailers need to know where it goes in the store. Manufacturers need to know what to tell consumers. It is a massive undertaking, starting with the basics of what we call it and how we position the category to the industry and consumers.”
The second pillar is regulatory. Irina Gerry continues: “Food is regulated, so we must follow the requirements within each market. We want to ensure that companies commercialising these ingredients follow the regulations and that the regulators understand the technology. So we need to engage with regulators in different territories and ensure that we are as cohesive as possible.”
The third pillar is advocacy and policy – engaging with policymakers and government institutions to reinforce the technology’s environmental benefits. Irina Gerry adds: “When you think about the huge transformation we need in our food system, many governments see it as a major contributor to climate change. One of the ways to address the problem is to scale this technology which is much more sustainable. But we’re competing with animal agriculture, that’s very well developed. There’s almost no infrastructure for precision fermentation. It hasn’t been used at the scale that we need it to be. So there is a tremendous role for government institutions in building infrastructure and for us in promoting policies. Individual companies can only do so much. The PFA can be a unified voice to help bring this forward with policymakers.”
The PFA is actively recruiting new members. They are finalising their membership structure with tiers for different types of organisations, including companies and NGOs. Irina Gerry concludes: “We absolutely want to collaborate with companies across the food ecosystem, including plant-based brands. Some might end up using ingredients made via precision fermentation to boost nutritional value or functionality. Impossible Burger is a perfect example of such fusion. It is a predominantly plant-based product that uses heme made via precision fermentation to give it a meaty flavour and colour. Today, I would not characterize products made with precision fermentation proteins as plant-based, given the allergen considerations and consumer understanding of what plant-based means. They’re not the same as plant-based because they contain molecularly identical animal proteins or fats. But they’re made without animals. So it’s a new category.”