Ferments of the Future: the future of healthy and sustainable food

Fermentation comes with many advantages that can assist the transition to a healthier and more sustainable diet. The French National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food, and Environment (INRAE) and National Association of Food Industries (ANIA) have therefore launched a research-innovation program in conjunction with some thirty partners, including Lesaffre, aiming to develop the “Ferments of the Future” Grand Challenge.

The fermentation process is thousands of years old but is more popular now than ever. Consumers increasingly swear by the authenticity of sourdough bread, farmhouse cheeses and craft beers. They are rediscovering the benefits of tofu, sauerkraut and kimchi, and some even produce their own kombuchas and kefirs. Fermented products are known for their health benefits and are taking over the grocery store shelves. And the trend shows no signs of abating. Fermentation still holds great potential for innovation, as Mickaël Boyer, Head of Discovery & Front End Innovation explains.


You believe that fermentation will be central in our future diet. Why?


Mickaël Boyer: Fermentation adds flavor and preserves food well, with no need for additives. The resulting products are reputed to be good for our health. Ferments provide non-animal proteins so they are ideal in diets featuring less meat. In addition, the cultivation of ferments can be part of a circular economy: at Lesaffre, for example, most yeasts are grown on molasses, a co-product of beet sugar, and the by-products of their fermentation are used as fertilizers in farming. All of this explains the high hopes placed in this age-old method of food preparation: it is a way of accelerating the transition to healthier, safer and more sustainable food.


In December 2022, INRAE and ANIA launched the “Ferments of the Future” Grand Challenge, of which Lesaffre is a partner. What is the aim of this initiative?


M.B: This research and innovation program was launched as part of France 2030, the state investment strategy aimed at strengthening the competitiveness of the most strategic French industrial sectors. It brings together around thirty public and private partners, including Lesaffre, who are determined to remove the scientific and technological barriers that slow down innovation in the field of food ferments. We are pooling our expertise and infrastructures to forge a better understanding of the fermentation mechanisms and then develop new fermented products, based on cereals, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. This should help to “green” our food and improve its sustainability, while reducing the use of additives.


What do you expect at Lesaffre?


M.B: Our group has always been a specialist in fermentation and is already involved in the food transition. Some of our recent innovations testify to this: yeasts developed by Fermentis for the production of alcohol-free beers or beers made from stale bread; Gnosis nutritional yeasts, which are all the more popular with vegetarians as they can be crunchy or vitamin-enriched; Springer’s Proteissimo 101 yeast proteins, which contribute to the formulation of meat and cheese substitutes; or Ennolys’ Ennallin mixes, which add enough flavor to industrial preparations that the sugar, fat or salt content of these dishes or cakes can be reduced. Taking part in the “Ferments of the Future” program gives us access to infrastructures that complement our own, as well as a network of experts, to work on fermented solutions that could speed up our industrial customers’ response to consumer expectations.


For example?


M.B: We largely work on complex fermentations, associated not with one or two microorganism(s) such as in bread or yoghurt, but with several. Kombuchas and kefirs, for example, are produced by complex microbiota, composed of several dozen different yeasts and bacteria. This makes it difficult to control the final result. Our challenge is to understand how this flora works, how it evolves with its substrate, and how it could be reconstituted and stabilized for large-scale industrial production. The challenge is to give as many people as possible access to this type of product, with the same taste quality as if it were produced by an artisan.

"Our goal is to work on applications that will help our industrial customers meet new consumer expectations."
Mickaël Boyer
Head of Discovery & Front End Innovation

The “Ferments of the Future” Grand Challenge:

– Coordinated by INRAE and ANIA

– A strategic steering committee to manage the program and contribute to its operational and financial functioning

– Some thirty stakeholders: 6 higher education and research institutions, including 7 research units specializing in microbiology, food processing and data science; 21 businesses including 8 start-ups, 7 micro-companies/SMEs/mid-caps, 6 large corporations and 7 associate members (unions, inter-professional organizations, technical institutes, competitiveness clusters),

– €48.3m in funding from France 2030,

– An innovation platform for more mature projects to be set up at the Saclay campus from the end of 2023.  Research projects within the framework of calls for projects, with an annual budget of €1.5 million, the first of which will be launched in early 2023 to select five to seven pre-competitive projects targeting strategic priorities. Initial results are expected by the end of 2024.