Published 1 year ago.
About a 5 minute read.
Image: George Desipris/Pexels
Singapore-based Karana and Montreal-based Opalia both have the potential to lead the growing markets for lower-impact, cruelty-free food options.
The alternative food space — whether plant-based, animal-byproduct-based or
— seems to be growing by the day, with new players pushing the boundaries in the
hopes of getting ahead of the next consumable trend, while making use of
The Karana Bao, coming soon to retail | Image credit: Karana
Take Singapore-based Karana, for example. The
company started in 2018 with a mission of transforming jackfruit (already a
favorite among plant-based eaters) into a turnkey product for restaurants and
other foodservice outlets — to create a market for this largely overlooked or
“The jackfruit supply chain is still young and fragmented,” co-founder Dan
Riegler told Sustainable Brands™.
He notes that 60-70 percent of jackfruit traditionally goes to waste, as it’s
long been considered less of a profitable crop compared to more popular fruits
and vegetables in commodity agriculture. Additionally, jackfruit doesn’t
require much irrigation and is
generally resistant to pests, along with having a naturally higher protein
content compared to other fruits. Karana is sourcing most of its jackfruit from
Sri Lanka, where it is one of the country’s dominant crops.
Karana takes raw jackfruit and turns it into a meat-like product that has a
seemingly unlimited range of applications — from pizza topping to dumpling
filler — and is already in more than 50 restaurants across Hong Kong and
Singapore. While its higher protein content isn’t quite enough to put jackfruit
in the alternative protein
its versatility is sure to delight flexitarian chefs and diners.
The company launched in the US last week, in a handful of San Francisco
restaurants (along with a second office in San Mateo); and Riegler says they
have plans to expand to Los Angeles later this year.
“Starting on the west coast made sense as (these markets) are amazing food and
cultural markets and align with our company,” he says.
He adds that Karana’s jackfruit offering is a “blank product” that can deliver a
great culinary experience, whether in its “raw” state for use in kitchens or as
a prepared product — such as the gyoza that they’ll launch in Singapore soon.
Meanwhile, the company is also experimenting with other plants to see where else
it can replicate meat-type consistencies in an effort to broaden its overall
Image credit: Opalia
Meanwhile, Opalia CEO & co-founder Jennifer
Côté does a great job of explaining her company’s offering, which feels a bit
like science fiction.
“We’re making milk using cells from inside the cow’s udder,” she told SB. “It’s
milk without the cow.”
While it’s not as simple as that, the Montréal-based company is
experimenting with growing and feeding those cells in a bioreactor, where it can
control Ph levels and temperature. The company feeds the cells with amino acids,
vitamins and sugars; and uses the same hormone (prolactin) that’s naturally in
cow’s milk to create a product with the same fats and oils as the traditional
The result is technically “animal-free” dairy, made kinder and lower-impact
through technology — and adds Opalia to the growing list of innovators including
that are working to remove cows from our diets without removing the foods we
love. According to Côté, early tests show Opalia’s product can be used in a
range of applications in the same way as traditional cow’s milk. Early content
analysis shows the product has all of the same functional components as milk —
casein protein, whey protein, fats, sugars, etc — without any of the cruelty
associated with conventional milk production.
As Côté recently
“The reason we got into this business is for the whole sustainability and animal
welfare aspect. This is what is driving us forward and pushing us to be
aggressive on reducing our production costs early to target these lower margin
products that are part of a bigger market.”
Opalia recently announced it had successfully eliminated fetal bovine serum
(FBS) — a commonly used component of synthetic cell growth extracted from the
placenta of pregnant cows — from its manufacturing process.
“By successfully replacing FBS with a cheaper, non-animal growth substrate that
performs even better than FBS in our cell culture, we have reduced the cost and
risk of manufacturing cell-based milk — bringing Opalia one step closer to
introducing consumers to no–compromises, animal-free dairy,” Côté told Food in Canada.
Côté explained to Food Navigator that, once the cells are grown to the desired
numbers, Opalia removes the FBS alternative and adds in the components that
induce lactation. Those components are a key part of their IP, as they allow
increased lactation and cost reduction — a key factor for scalability.
Opalia’s work is fairly nascent, with the eventual goal of using this
animal-free milk for ice cream or other dairy product production, rather than as
a standalone product. Côté sees this as the fastest way to market and scale,
especially with a projected 5- to 7-year timeline to develop the technology and
product to the point that it can be competitive in those spaces.
Opalia has also started measuring the potential environmental impact of its
Côté says it’s too soon to share any meaningful findings. However, it is worth
noting that the company only needed a couple of utter cells to get the initial
product going and now can replicate the product in perpetuity using the original
sample collection. It signals a potentially huge win when it comes to the
physical resource requirement to scale up.
“These cells have a high yield. They can duplicate forever,” she says.
Published Mar 31, 2022 2pm EDT / 11am PDT / 7pm BST / 8pm CEST
Geoff is a freelance journalist and copywriter focused on making the world a better place through compelling copy. He covers everything from apparel to travel while helping brands worldwide craft their messaging. In addition to Sustainable Brands, he's currently a contributor at Penta, AskMen.com, Field Mag and many others. You can check out more of his work at geoffnudelman.com.