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9th August 2022  Content supplied by: Shiru

Exclusive Interview: Discovering Shiru's Ground Breaking Alternative Proteins

Shiru uses the power of molecular design and machine learning to identify protein structures that are more functional than existing alternatives.  Discover the potential of this approach in this exclusive interview with Julian Lewis, VP of Business Development at Shiru, who is helping redesign the food system from the molecule up!

Q: Alt protein has seen an explosion in novel products recently; what key challenges remain to NPD teams in this sector?

Julian: The main challenge is that food innovators lack the toolkit to reliably find and incorporate delicious, functional ingredients into their products. Let’s say you’re looking to make more sustainable, animal-free cheese—do you want it to be stringy? melty? shreddable? crumbly? Food makers don’t have the tools to connect these functional food qualities to the universe of naturally-occurring proteins available to us. At Shiru, we help overcome this challenge by giving food innovators greater access to nature-based ingredients that achieve the desired performance - without sacrificing nutrition or taste. Our Flourish™ discovery uncovers proteins with unique functional profiles from our database of hundreds of millions of naturally-occurring proteins, giving product developers greater confidence that these ingredients will perform equally, if not better, than existing ingredients.

Another challenge is finding ways to sustainably and reliably scale development. Global shocks and climate change threaten our food supply, and we must become less reliant on unsustainable ingredient sources. Precision fermentation is far less resource-intensive than conventional agriculture methods that allow food ingredients to be reliably produced anywhere in the world with very limited inputs.

Q; What are the advantages of using the Flourish platform, and how do the costs compare to other options?

Julian: Flourish is able to efficiently sort through millions of naturally-occurring proteins to identify and produce replacement ingredients that match specific functions, tastes, or textures of animal-derived products. Shiru is also able to accelerate the ingredient discovery time—paving the way for faster production of sustainable ingredients for many categories, including meat, cheese, and baked goods, and even into additional industries like cosmetics, fragrance, and packaging. Without this technology, the process of discovering replacement ingredients is incredibly time-consuming and based primarily on trial-and-error. Flourish’s efficiency in discovering ingredient candidates that will exactly match desired functions is one of the ways our approach is more cost-effective.

Q: How does the Flourish platform work, and how can it help?

Julian: Flourish is Shiru’s patent-pending discovery platform and combines computational biology, strain engineering, precision fermentation, and high-throughput screening to discover new applications for nature-based proteins as ingredients. Using Flourish, we can support food companies by making not only more sustainable food products but also ones that are also great-tasting - whether it's to replace an unwanted ingredient such as methylcellulose in plant-based burgers or find ingredients that can replace eggs in baked goods.

Flourish is unique when compared to other discovery processes, as it enables Shiru to identify ingredients for any sector, whether that be dairy, meat, or baked goods, or any function, such as gelation and binding - the various possibilities Flourish brings are unmatched. Flourish is able to quickly identify new nature-based ingredients by searching through hundreds of millions of naturally-occurring proteins in order to identify promising candidates that match the specific desired food function with machine learning and bioinformatics.

Q: Where will the next generation of plant-based proteins come from?

Julian: There are estimated to be roughly 30,000 edible species of plants on earth, yet about 60% of all calories consumed come from just four crops: rice, wheat, corn, and soy. We believe the molecular building blocks of more sustainable, high-performing functional ingredients are hidden and waiting to be discovered in nature’s bounty of plants, fungi, and even the bark of trees.

Q: Can you share a user experience/development project of how the Flourish platform has delivered new options?

Julian: Food ingredient companies are highly interested in finding a sustainable replacement for methylcellulose, a chemical compound that's often used as a thickener in foods like plant-based burgers or ice cream. In order to meet this need for potential customers, Shiru used its discovery platform Flourish to target gelation-functioning proteins, which eventually led to Shiru’s first partnership with leading nature-based ingredient company CP Kelco, in which they will scale the ingredients identified by Flourish together. This process validates Shiru’s role as a matchmaker for food ingredients, having the ability to match scientists and companies with sustainable and delicious ingredients that equal - or exceed - the performance of traditional animal-based ingredients from sources that otherwise may never have been considered.

About the Interviewee:
Julian Lewis
Julian Lewis joined Shiru as the Vice President of Business Development in 2021. Prior to joining Shiru, Julian previously served as the VP & General Manager at Puratos and Head of Foodservice Sales at Cadbury and has extensive expertise in leading cross-functional business operations and multiple sales channels within global organizations and scaling in fast-paced startup environments. Julian holds a Bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering from Birmingham University and brings a strong passion for plant-based foods to Shiru.


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Date Published: 9th August 2022

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