The company – which takes orders from foodservice and B2B customers for deliveries from late 2021 and early 2022 – hosted a tasting this week for 100 members of the climate tech, food tech and investor communities in the San Francisco Bay Area. at an event hosted at Cell Valley Labs, an incubator and networking space in Berkeley.
“The product is made in the United States and most of the ingredients are of volumetric origin in the country.“said CEO Darko Mandich, a Serbian entrepreneur and honey lover who partnered with molecular biologist Dr Aaron Schaller to create MeliBio early last year.
“The first version of our product is completely herbal, inspired by clear clover honey and has a patent pending.” he told FoodNavigator-USA. “In addition, we are also working on the development of a proprietary precision synbio and fermentation technology that will allow us to reduce production costs and build a platform that will allow us to produce multiple varieties of honey. “
He added: “We have B2B customers around the world who are enthusiastic about incorporating herbal ingredients into their formulations. Now that MeliBio is able to produce plant-based honey on a large scale, they are excited to be among the first to incorporate it into their products and use it as a functional sweetener. We will be announcing exciting partnerships in the food and cosmetics industry later this year. “
Can you call it honey on a food label?
So how does he make his honey… and can you call it “honey” on a food label?
MeliBio does not (yet) go into the details of its proprietary process, but only says that “plant science, synthetic biology and precision fermentation” are involved.
The company – which has filed a provisional patent around its technology – said MeliBio efficiently biosynthesizes honey by mimicking the multistep process used by bees to convert nectar (a sweet liquid produced by flowering plants) into food. (digestion, regurgitation, enzymatic activity, and evaporation).
The honey that Mandich and Dr Schaller produce contains all of the key components of the real thing (which contains a complex blend of sugars and small amounts of protein, minerals, amino acids, enzymes, and micronutrients), including including components of nutritional interest as well as sugars, he told us in a recent interview.
“Not only that, we offer the amazing taste and texture of honey, but also the micronutrients that make it amazing.”
Labeling and regulatory issues
Mandich and Schaller discuss regulatory issues with legal experts, but don’t anticipate major challenges given that all of the components they produce are identical to those in honey, which has been consumed safely for thousands of years.
“Our first product is entirely vegetable, made from ingredients that are already FAT,” Mandich said. “We are not bringing anything new or unknown to the market.”
As for labeling, this is a trickier question, as there is no US federal identity standard for honey, although the FDA says in advicePublished in 2018 that “Reference documents in the public domain define honey as “a thick, sweet, syrupy substance that bees make for foodfrom plant nectar or secretions from living parts of plants and stored in honeycombs. ‘ The FDA has concluded that this definition accurately reflects common usage of the term “honey.”
According to Mandich: “We are proud to communicate that our honey is made without bees, so the labeling reflects this, with few additional options where qualifiers such as vegan or animal free could be used before the word honey.”
“We proudly say that our product is honey, but not produced by bees”
The fact that animal products made without animals are already on the market is also helping pave the way for companies like MeliBio, he added (Perfect Day’s milk protein (made using genetically modified microbe), for example, are listed on ingredient declarations as’non-animal whey protein ‘).
MeliBio has not disclosed the microorganisms it works with. However, a group of students from Technion – Israel Institute of Technology – won a priceIn 2019 for their work on a bee-free honey using the bacteria Bacillus subtilis.
“We are not free to disclose our proprietary technology at this time“said Mandich,”although MeliBio has been aware of the Technion team’s project using the B. subtilis system since it was made public. We congratulate them for this impressive work. “
The business case for vegan honey
But why make honey without bees in the first place?
While the ethical and environmental rationale for finding alternatives to industrial-scale egg and dairy production is perhaps easier to understand, there are also compelling arguments for researching alternatives to producing honey on a commercial scale, Mandich said.
The first argument concerns the simple economy, he said. The consumption of honey in the United States, he points out, is showing significant growth, mainly due to the use of honey as a sweetener in packaged food products, from snacks to drinks, while the global honey market is is expected to reach $ 14 billion by 2025, up from $ 8.4 billion in 2018.
But at the same time, honey is getting more and more expensive, while honey bee populationsare declining due to viruses, parasites, bacterial and fungal pathogens and climate change, so it is possible to intervene with an accessible and affordable product that can be biosynthesized.
Commercial honey production
The second argument – which MeliBio sets out in more detail in a bee report– covers ethics, biodiversity and sustainability, and notes that although there are 20,000 species of bees that can pollinate many different plants, there are only a handful of varieties of Managed honey bees, which are bred to increase productivity and pollinate only a select number of plants.
This reduced the gene pool and increased susceptibility to disease and massive mortalities,Says Mandich, who says the presence of managed bees has a negative effect on native pollinators, crowding them out and exposing them to disease.
Meanwhile, all bees, but especially native bees, are negatively affected by the cumulative effects of climate change, habitat loss and pesticide attacks, said Mandich, who also believes there are issues. ethical with large-scale honey production.
“In winter, when food is scarce”, he told us last year, “The bees feed on the honey they created to spend the winter. However, many beekeepers raise their bees to harvest all of their honey and may choose to kill entire colonies to save the time and effort required to have a colony survive the colder months.
“Those who guard their colonies often choose to replace honey with sugar syrup in the winter. This syrup lacks essential immune-boosting compounds normally found in honey, such as pinocembrin and p-coumaric acid, leaving them colonies more susceptible to pathogens. “
He added: “We take their food from them, we smoke them, we expose them to disease.
“Big Idea Ventures supports MeliBio’s mission to remove bees from the honey supply chain, ensuring that wild pollinators and native bees essential to our ecosystem can thrive. MeliBio will be the first to market real bee-free honey in the United States and Asia-Pacific, used wherever bee-derived honey is used today.
Andrew D. Ive, Managing Partner, Big Idea Ventures