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Michroma wants to make food coloring and flavoring more fun

Food colors like Red 40 and Yellow 5 often contain synthetic products, petroleum products, or animal-derived products, but in recent years the $2.6 billion food coloring market has shifted toward using natural ingredients as more consumers turned to cleaner ones Want labels for the food they eat.

Startups have come into play with their approaches to healthier food colors, ingredients and flavors. For example, Vanilla Vida, Spero Renewables and Pigmentum are working on vanilla. Motif FoodWorks is developing a flavor replacement for beef, while Brightseed and Equinom are making compounds and proteins to create ingredients for healthier foods.

Similarly, Michroma is developing its novel food coloring and flavoring technology that uses precision fermentation to scale fungal food coloring.

The ingredients biotechnology startup was founded in 2019 by Ricky Cassini and Mauricio Braia, both from Argentina, who met on an accelerator program and relocated to San Francisco to start developing the technology for Michroma.

Braia’s background is in developing technologies for the food industry, focused on the production of enzymes using filamentous fungi. However, instead of sticking with enzymes, he wanted to do something different.

Braia, the company’s Chief Scientific Officer, began cultivating fungal strains in soil media and saw that they produced a red colouration. He used this information for a new technology to create fungal “biofactories” to produce small molecules like dyes more efficiently.

“I thought this could be a great opportunity to produce natural dyes with technology that allows for high efficiency and low cost,” he added. “We turned that idea into a project that grew into Michroma.”

Michroma founders Ricky Cassini and Mauricio Braia Photo credit: Michroma

The company started with a red dye substitute for Red 40. CEO Cassini said other methods of making this color, like beetroot or insects, don’t perform well in tests of temperature and pH stability of foods.

Its first product is called Red+, which is temperature resistant and stable across the entire food pH spectrum, Cassini said. This means the colors can maintain their viability through the pasteurization, cooking and extrusion processes, which he explained were among the most intense processes for natural colorants. In addition to traditional food uses, Red+ can be used to add color to cultured meat, he added.

The plan is to produce other colors starting on the warm side, like orange and yellow, and will progress to blue and white.

The company has developed a prototype of Red+ with some major food companies and is currently in negotiations with suppliers for distribution and will be filing its petition with both the US Food and Drug Administration and the European Food Safety Authority. Additionally, Michroma will embark on the development of botanical flavors that will be sold in combination with the colorants, Cassini added.

To kickstart all of this, the company secured $6.4 million in seed funding led by Supply Change Capital, a food tech VC backed by 301 INC, the corporate venture – Capital arm of General Mills. This gives the company a total of $7.4 million in venture capital.

Supply Change will be joined by existing investors, SOSV’s IndieBio and GRIDX, as well as a group of new investors including Be8 Ventures, CJ CheilJedang, Fen Ventures, Boro Capital, The Mills Fabrica, Portfolia’s Food & AgTech Fund, New Luna Ventures and Siddhi Capital , Groundswell Ventures and Hack Capital. There is also a group of angel investors including Allen Miner, Jun Ueki and Steve Zurcher from Keiretsu Japan Forum; Guillermo Rosenthal; Franco Goytia; Pablo Pla; and Matt Travizano.

The new funds will go towards expanding R&D capacity and expanding the Michroma team from 15 to 35 people over the next two years.

Cassini expects the regulatory process to take at least two years and is evaluating some ways to generate revenue before then. For example, Singapore has already approved the use of cultured meat.

“Red+ is our MVP for the entire platform, but we want to offer complete solutions for companies that don’t just want red,” added Cassini.

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