EQUII, formerly Cella Farms, is bringing alternative protein development and use to the carbohydrate segment, specifically bread.
For years, the food industry has welcomed many global brands engaging in fermentation to produce alternative proteins. Yet, these brands have often focused on the meat-mimicking and dairy replacement scene. Now, it is the turn of bread.
Tradition meets technology
Launched by two scientists, Dr Monica Bhatia and Dr Baljit Ghotra, and a chef, Sebastien Cannone, in 2021, the trio engaged in years of research and development (R&D) to devise a fermentation process to produce bread. The startup, created by the three long-standing food industry specialists, landed on using synthetic biology to convert grain starch to protein and enhance bread’s nutritional profile.
Recognising grains’ inherent sustainable nature, EQUII began exploring how it could continue to include grains in the process of making bread, but do so in a way that elevates the nutritional profile of the end product.
EQUII’s proprietary approach uses microbial protein sources high in nutrition to ferment grains and develop grain flours high in protein to manufacture bread. The technology works by adding microbes, in this instance yeast, to grains such as wheat. The microbes then break down the starch, causing some of the grain’s carbohydrates to release sugar. The process converts these grains into protein.
The fermentation tank contains wet biomass formed from microbial biomass and plant biomass. This wet biomass undergoes further processing to ensure the proteins are refined and function as required to create a product that is rich in proteins. The end baked product is labelled as wheat flour and yeast protein to demonstrate the collaboration of traditional and alternative protein ingredients.
Using its technology and approach, fermenting the wheat grain ensures the native protein remains unchanged and does not fall under the category of a novel protein, it says.
Nutritional value leads
EQUII’s bread, which comes in classic wheat, multi-grain and variety pack options, contains 10 g per slice. The startup’s chef, Sebastien Cannone, creates recipes with its bread to add 10 to 2 0g more protein to consumers’ meals to demonstrate how to maximise the nutritional profile of food cooked at home.
Its product includes more than twice the protein, fewer than 30% carbohydrates and less than 50% sugar, compared to other leading brands, EQUII shares on its website. The startup’s bread also contains all nine essential amino acids.
Re-envisioning the cupboard staple
Rabobank’s food and agricultural discovery hub, FoodBytes!, chose EQUII as one of 45 companies to participate in its annual programme. The startup was selected for its leadership and development of diversified ingredients, contributing to the programme’s central theme of meeting new consumer demand. The programme champions brands that have developed solutions based on how the consumer of 2030 and beyond will shop for, eat and assess the food they buy and consume.
EQUII raised $6 million (€5.5 million) in seed funding in September 2022 to expand its first commercial offering of sliced bread to restaurants, cafes and online audiences. During the round, Khosla Ventures, a financial investor in Impossible Foods, an early adopter and prominent name in plant-based meat substitutes, backed EQUII. A further rollout to retail stores and direct-to-consumer (DTC) is expected to occur later in 2023.
To date, EQUII has raised $8 million (€7.3 million) from various investors from the agricultural technology, food technology, artificial intelligence (AI), precision fermentation and synthetic biology sectors.
The startup plans to grow its product offering to include rolls, bagels and buns. Moving beyond the food service sector, the startup is also looking to supply grain flour to grain-based manufacturers to provide an alternative to traditional bread.