UK-based foodtech startup Clean Food Group leaps forward to launch palm oil alternative

Chris Chuck – Yeast alternative to palm oil Research with Impact 2022 Client: Chris Melvin - Comms © University of Bath

Foodtech startup Clean Food Group is on a mission to develop a more sustainable alternative to palm oil. The UK-based team has now ended its seed round, acquired the required intellectual property, and embarked on new partnerships to scale up the development of its pioneering product. 

Palm oil is a massive market. It’s hidden in the ingredients list in many (if not most) of the foods consumed on a daily basis around the world. However, palm oil is responsible for majorly devastating environmental and societal impacts. 

The global palm oil market is expected to reach about €65 billion by 2027, but it’s driving deforestation in some of the world’s most diverse habitats, it’s emitting millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases, and, the exploitation of workers and child labour has been a significant concern. Knowledge about the harmful impacts of palm oil production is widespread, but, alternatives have been few and far between, and so the problem has continued. Until now.

Clean Food Group is developing an alternative – aiming to be part of the solution to the palm oil crisis. 

Clean Food Group

Based in the UK, Clean Food Group (CFG) are developing a viable yeast-based alternative to palm oil. The startup reports that their lab-grown cellular-based alternative could help reduce the detrimental impact of a range of palm-based ingredients – reportedly found in 50% of all packaged products on supermarket shelves. 

The startup began this year by acquiring the relevant intellectual property from the University of Bath where the technology has been developed over the last eight years by Professor Chris Chuck and his team. Prior to the acquisition, in excess of €5 million had been spent developing the technology to the stage where it is ready for scale-up and commercialisation.

The foodtech startup also just completed its seed round of €1.96 million – led by Agronomics – and, signed a two-year collaboration agreement with the University of Bath to scale the tech and bring the palm oil alternative to the market. 

Funding and Partnerships to Grow

Taking on the palm oil industry is no small feat. To do it, CFG is relying on a combination of cutting-edge tech, strategic partnerships and securing impact investment. 

Now with the intellectual property rights to the tech from the University of Bath, the startup has initiated a two-year collaboration agreement with the university. Further, Professor Chris Chuck, the lead developer of the product, has joined the team as a technical advisor and leads a team of scientists at a dedicated Clean Food Group laboratory and Pilot Plant at the University of Bath.

Chris Chuck said: “Our dependence on palm oil comes at a great environmental cost. We’ve worked over many years to create robust palm oil alternatives that give us a real chance to cut the impact of a range of products that until now have only been possible to produce with palm oil and the deforestation, pollution and emissions that come with it.”

This is in addition to the funding secured from Agronomics, a leading company in the field of cellular agriculture. The company has led Clean Food Group’s financing rounds to date including their recently completed seed round. Agronomics holds a 35% interest in the company and  Jim Mellon has joined the Board. 

Other early investors joining Agronomics include AIM listed SEED Innovations Limited, a leading global food and beverage company, as well as venture capital investors.

Alex Neves, co-founder and CEO of Clean Food Group:  “We are delighted to work with Professor Chris Chuck and his growing Clean Food Group team at the University of Bath to bring a commercially viable and sustainable alternative to palm oil to market. We have seen such significant demand for our seed financing round and are particularly excited to be working with Agronomics, widely recognised as a pioneer of the cellular agriculture investment community, as our cornerstone investor.”

Making Impact

The palm oil industry is threatening the world’s most important habitats and impacting critically endangered species like the orangutan, pygmy elephant and Sumatran rhino. This process combined with the conversion of carbon-rich peat soils is a major contributor to the climate crisis. The environmental impacts are catastrophic. And so are the societal – more and more reports are exposing worker exploitation and child labour to fuel the palm oil market. A lack of control and oversight over this spiralling sector means that the exploitation of people and environments can only be predicted to worsen.

Now, Clean Food Group is further investing in the development of a large-scale pilot plant and securing regulatory approval for new products. Altogether, it brings the company one step closer to launching a palm oil alternative that is sustainable and can be mass-produced. 

Alex Neves added: “With this funding round now successfully completed, we are not only well capitalised to complete the next stage of our corporate development, but are also well placed to take the next step on the path to bringing our palm oil alternative, an ingredient with the potential to solve substantial environmental, food security, health and working environment challenges within the incumbent palm oil supply chain, to market.”