FOODTECH

Stockeld Dreamery on producing the world’s most ambitious cheese — without using animal milk

”The food system causes 25 % of all greenhouse gas emissions, and production of animal-based foods is a large chunk of that,” Daniel Skavén Ruben from the Stockholm-based foodtech startup tells, also sharing his latest insights from the market of plant-based food.
By JOHAN MAGNUSSON
November 30, 2021

”I’m into all things foodtech.” 

Skavén Ruben has worked for The Rockefeller Foundation and the World Bank Group on issues ranging from food and agriculture to innovation and entrepreneurship. He’s now a mentor to accelerators, expert to VC firms, advisor and board member to startups, curator of a newsletter, and co-host of a podcast. And, he’s Head of Strategy & Special Projects at VC-backed foodtech startup Stockeld Dreamery.

— We’re founded in 2019 by entrepreneur Sorosh Tavakoli and food scientist Anja Leissner with a vision to produce the world’s most ambitious cheese — without using animal milk, he tells. People all over the world love cheese — so do we — but producing cheese is incredibly taxing on the environment. Cheese is about as resource-intensive as beef, in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, land use, freshwater use, and so on. Eating just a few slices of cheese a few times per week each year generates hundreds of kilos of greenhouse gas emissions, takes 47,000 liters of water, and requires huge swaths of land to produce.

— So it’s unsustainable. We want to enable people to continue to enjoy the foods they love, but produce these foods in a way that is kinder to the environment, and to animals. Our first launch, last spring, was the Stockeld Chunk. It’s a product that can be used as feta cheese, in salads, wraps, TikTok pasta, or whatever you crave, and is currently sold at some of our favourite restaurants in Stockholm as well as at an awarded cheese deli. We have very high ambitions with our products and don’t want to compromise with taste and nutrition. To achieve our goals, we’re investing heavily in R&D. We have a fantastic team of scientists and non-scientists that have moved here from places like Argentina, Portugal, France, Italy, Slovakia, Iran, India, and more, to help us realize our vision. We will have one of the largest research teams for plant-based cheese in the world.

It’s often heard that creating a plant-based cheese is extra difficult compared to other kinds of food. What’s your experience?

— It’s similar to producing a conventional cheese — a natural process that requires a bit of help from a fromager, a cheesemaker. You have your raw ingredient, which is then prepared, acified, curdled, cut, processed, shaped, and aged. The process may look a bit different depending on your ingredients and the type of cheese you’re aiming to produce. So making plant-based cheese isn’t extra difficult, but nailing it in terms of taste and nutrition is rocket science hard. There are some magic proteins in animal milk like casein and whey that enable fantastic product characteristics in terms of taste, texture, nutrition, and other functionalities. Just think of stringy melting cheese for pizza! Skavén Ruben shares. He continues:

— Most of the existing plant-based cheeses on the market haven’t met consumer expectations when it comes to taste, nutrition, and price, and consequently, they haven’t captured any meaningful market share. We’ve seen exciting brands emerge and grow popular in recent years, producing plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy. I think it’s likely we’ll see the same for cheese, fish, egg, and other segments. 

Yes, speaking of that; from your perspective, can you share your predictions on the future for plant-based food and ingredients?

— We’re very optimistic regarding the growth prospects for the plant-based foods and ingredients category. There are some megatrends working in our favour. The food system causes 25 % of all greenhouse gas emissions, and the production of animal-based foods is a large chunk of that. So shifting towards plant-forward diets is a great way of helping to decarbonize the food system. There are also negative health issues linked to consumption of certain animal-based foods, such as processed red meat. And the way we raise billions of animals for food is very problematic too; it leads to massive deforestation as we need to grow more animal feed; it leads to increased antibiotic resistance, and, as the current COVID situation shows, it leads to increased risks of triggering massive pandemics due to close and frequent human-animal interactions.

— Consumers increasingly understand how all of these issues are interlinked, and they’re voting with their feet, or rather their wallets. For example, plant-based milk already accounts for 15 % of all dollar sales for retail milk in the U.S. This shows that many consumers are loyal to the taste, price, and convenience of animal-sourced products, but not necessarily the fact that the products come from animals. So a key challenge, but also an opportunity, is to truly meet consumer expectations in terms of price, taste, and convenience — and ideally not compromise on nutrition. When you succeed, consumers are ready to make the switch.

Stockeld Chunk

Tech and innovation are also major parts of this shift, according to Skavén Ruben.

— Plant-based products are becoming increasingly sophisticated in terms of taste and texture. We’re starting to see 3D-printed and other structured products emerge. Technologies such as precision fermentation — already in use to produce rennet for cheese, vanillin, and insulin — are now used to create gelatin, casein, whey, egg white/albumin, and, for instance, real animal fat; all of these ingredients can be used to create more convincing, realistic alternative products to animal-sourced foods. There’s also an increasing focus to optimize for nutrition and not just taste, he tells, continuing,

— In recent years, we’ve seen huge investments into the cultivated, ”lab-grown” meat space, although this field still faces significant technological, regulatory, and consumer acceptance challenges. In short, there’s a lot to be hopeful about. We can build a food system that is sustainable, nutritious, resilient, and equitable. Technology and innovation is never the entire answer, but it’s usually part of the solution.

— We’re facing massive problems as humanity right now. But these problems are solvable. It’ll take bold legislation, breakthrough science and research, and a private sector that dares to think differently. Too many entrepreneurs are spending their time building meaningless things that don’t make a difference, and don’t matter — and too many investors choose to invest in them. We don’t need more online betting sites. So build what matters. Invest in what matters. And buy what matters. Everyone gets to make three choices every day on what world we want to live in, just by deciding what food to eat. Make these choices count.

For Stockeld Dreamery, several new products, such as melting cheese for pizza and spreadable cream cheese, are in the pipeline.

— We expect to launch at least one of these during 2022, when we’ll also open a pilot plant and move into our new headquarters, both in Stockholm. The team will also grow. As of now, we’re around 25 team members, and we’ll double the team to 50 colleagues by the end of next year. And, we hope to expand to the U.S. during 2022.

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