More and more people are discussing how food is made and the process from seed to table. We’re also seeing companies and individuals with great ideas to improve the quality of ingredients sustainably.
Equinom is leading the charge. We talked with the CEO, Gil Shalev, to learn more about how Equinom uses technology to improve the quality of seeds to create a sustainable plant-based future.
Equinom is an end-to-end ingredient company. Our ingredients are seeds, plants, and things grown in the soil. We breed better seeds, mainly focusing on plant protein, to improve the ingredient itself.
This means we can increase the nutritional value and taste. We can also reduce the cost of processing and food application products, as well as our carbon footprint.
The industry is making a huge move towards plant-based solutions. If people are set to consume more plants as protein in 10 or 20 years from now, we have to deal with the source – the seeds. That’s what Equinom has been doing for eight years, and we are pioneers in this space.
We actually start at the end and work backward. So somebody from the food industry requests a specific product, a plant-based “chicken” nugget, for instance. We translate that request to ingredient specs. These specs are translated into chemical molecules. Then, we translate the chemistry to genes.
Next, I go back to the field with my own variation, which are genetic seed varieties collected and bred for many years, and try to align the variety and end product.
In terms of knowledge, we look back 100 to 200 years to old varieties of seeds. These aren’t used in modern farming cultivation areas because their yield and performance aren’t suitable – but the quality is there. You won’t find this level of quality in modern elite varieties because the breeding industry pushes very aggressively for agricultural traits and yield, and this mindset compromises quality.
We use computers and AI to take these old varieties and accelerate their evolution. We decide which desired characteristics to prioritize and then use classic cross-breeding to get the ideal seed, instead of gene manipulation and gene editing.
We allocate genetic regions of interest where the quality traits are located – while also considering agronomic performance (yield, disease resistance, etc. for farming) –- and design a very accurate and efficient breeding process. In this way, we can provide a product after three to four years.
While gene-editing and genetic modification are amazing technologies, we don’t use them because of one major problem: quality traits are controlled by multiple genes and sometimes hundreds or thousands of them, with complex interactions.
For example, if someone wants to improve the protein level of a product through gene modification, nobody knows where those specific genes are located. As of today, there’s no evidence that even one GMO product improves the quality of a product. There are maybe only two or three products whose quality has been improved by gene-editing, mostly because they dealt with a single gene.
The breeding community is very small and we’re all working together towards the same goals. I believe everyone’s input is valuable. I think the challenge for multinational breeding companies is that they need to change their business models – from breeding seeds to feed animals to breeding seeds to feed people.
This is because farmers don’t have the resources and money to pay for the added value we bring to the ingredient. I’m not blaming them, they just can’t afford to pay for the value, which is often evaluated by the tonnage of grains harvested.
If you want to add value and improve ingredients, you’ll no longer be a seed company by the standards of our industry – you’re something else. That’s exactly what Equinom is doing today: providing technology and added value within the genetics, and selling our enhanced ingredients.
We’re 100% confident in our technology. Our product is already in the market, and this year we’re going to commercialize our first yellow pea product. It’ll be a game-changer in the industry because it’ll save two to three times the cost of pea protein compared to what’s available today.
We’re changing the way breeding has been implemented in the industry, from the supply chain up. We’re a small company with hard-working people who deal with seed and grain production, grain quality, ingredient processing, and maintaining the capital to support all these activities. Even the “big guys” like Cargill and ADM don’t do it. It’s a big challenge.
The way we’re solving it is through partnerships. We could go in other directions, like buying other facilities and companies and raising billions in cash. But it wouldn’t be sustainable and there’d be no way to scale up. Among the business industry changes and technologies of today, everybody’s thinking about partnerships.
Equinom will provide the technology, but there are plenty of other stakeholders within the supply chain that can deal with the rest.
Our dream is to lead the entire plant protein industry from the source. I believe we’re going to be successful in that because we’ve already got the products. Now it’s just a matter of scaling up.