Anheuser-Busch InBev Wants to Turn Its Spent Grains into Plant-Based Protein (and Profits)
As the world's largest brewer, beer will always be Anheuser-Busch InBev's primary business, but during an investor seminar last week, the Belgium-based behemoth dedicated a surprising amount of time to touting its latest biotech innovations, even suggesting that they could soon see significant revenue producing alternative protein sources.
During his opening remarks, CEO Michel Doukeris stated, "I see an opportunity to combine our brewing infrastructure and expertise with biotech advancements to help address increasing global food and sustainability challenges," according to transcripts published on the AB InBev website. Later, he added that he believes the company can "leverage some of our core brewing and fermentation capabilities in new and exciting ways."
Bernardo Novick, the global head of the AB InBev incubator ZX Ventures, later clarified the two specific spaces the brewer is currently working in. First, in the past, the spent grains leftover from the brewing process would be sold off at "very low" prices or even given away; but now, after three years working with the startup EverGrain (which is backed by AB InBev) they've "developed the technology to extract proteins and fibers from our saved grains, and create nutritionally rich ingredients," according to Novick.
EverGrain-produced ingredients are already used in things like protein shakes and bars, breads, and barley milks, and with a new factory slated to open in St. Louis in March, AB InBev says they expect EverGrain to haul in $20 million next year.
Second, ZX Ventures is also incubating BioBrew, a company hoping to leverage AB InBev's fermentation knowledge to scale up production of alternative proteins. "No one in the world possesses as much scaled fermentation knowledge as ABI," Novick stated. "The application of biotechnology to food and beverage is expected to be a massive opportunity in the next 10 to 20 years. And the market for alternative fermented protein alone is estimated to reach $22 billion by 2035."
Later, when asked to clarify exactly the kinds of products BioBrew could produce, Novick said it's "still in exploratory spaces." However, he added, "You can ferment any type of protein. So we started more milk-related products, but, you know, the opportunities are huge." (As a further example not mentioned by AB InBev, Impossible Foods uses fermentation to produce the heme used in their plant-based meats.)
As the Wall Street Journal pointed out, $20 million in revenue is a drop in the keg compared to AB InBev's $57 billion in expected sales for 2022. Still, over the course of the whole presentation, the company used the term "biotech" more than the term "hard seltzer" which would seem to indicate where AB InBev's head is currently at.