More than 90 percent of collagen and gelatin on the market comes from pigs and cattle, a by-product of slaughterhouses. The purpose of Gelthor’s theoretical experiments was not just to create hype, but to convince potential customers that they can produce products that the current supply chain is not capable of. “What if you weren’t limited by what animal is available to get your collagen?” Dr. Lorestani asked. He then suggested one specific mammal, and that’s how Geltor settled on his first creation: HumaColl21, which the company calls “a virtually colorless, odorless solution.”
In 2019, the Korean company AHC launched an eye cream containing HumaColl21. Aurora skin science, based in Canada, and creams and serums in 2021. Over the past two years, Geltor has released biosimilar marine collagen and human elastin (as the name suggests, a particularly elastic protein) for skin care, as well as a poultry product. as collagen intended for use in nutritional supplements. Microbes growing in giant fermenters express each of these collagens, which are filtered and processed into pure protein. “The protein is the same as in the original source,” says the doctor. Lorestani said. (Third side IGEN Certification Program confirmed the absence of detectable genetic material in the final product.)
BUT Investment round for $91.3 million in 2020 enabled Geltor to increase production from 35,000 liters in 2019 to 2.2 million liters in 2021, still a relatively small volume. Tiny bottles of luxury eye creams require very little HumaColl21; large bottles of shampoo and jars of collagen powder require more. Enough gelatin to power Midwestern dinners with vegan Jell-O salads would require exponential growth.
These restrictions determined the commercial path of the company. “The volumes of product required for cosmetics and personal care consumers are different from those required for food and health product consumers,” says Dr. Lorestani said.
Despite all these investments, there are skeptics. Julie Gutman, a UC Santa Cruz geographer who studies Silicon Valley’s forays into agriculture and food, questions the “magic breakthrough” behind the promises of the alternative protein industry.
“There is an idea that if you make protein from cells or ferment in a lab, it somehow removes us from land-based meat production,” she said; these companies still require energy, metal, and food for the microbes themselves. And, she noted, there is little transparency in their environmental claims because their proprietary processes are closely guarded secrets.