Vegan Milk, Move Aside: This Food-tech Firm Is Going for Honey Without Bees

Jenya Volinsky
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Bees drinking water.
Bees drinking water.Credit: Nagy Lehel / Shutterstock.com
Jenya Volinsky

Another Israeli food-tech company is headed toward the stock exchange: Stock-exchange shell company Whitestone is slated to merge with the startup Bee-io, which seeks to make honey without the bees.

Bee-io’s founders include Adi Zim, the controlling shareholder of the non-bank credit company S.R. Accord. Bee-io has raised 8 million shekels($2.4 million) to date based on a valuation of 30 million shekels ($9.2 million) before the money.

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Bee-io is working on developing cultured honey via an artificial bee stomach that imitates the enzymes and conditions inside actual honeybees. The company is also working on methods of natural nectar extraction in order to increase honey production capacity.

The company has submitted two patent applications in the United States to protect its development process.

The merger is expected to take place within the next month in keeping with several conditions that need to be met, including due-diligence checks, as the companies reported to the stock exchange.

There are many potential advantages to cultured honey. Aside from being vegan – no actual honeybees are involved – cultured honey could be produced on demand and would not be dependent on seasons, plants or the number of honeybees in the world. It would also be clean of pesticides and other poisons, which sometimes make their way into regular honey due to spraying of the fields where bees collect pollen.

Honey is in high demand around the world, and actually exceeds supply, according to Bee-io. The world honey market was valued at $9 billion as of 2019, the company stated. With annual growth forecasts of 8%, it is slated to reach $14.4 billion by 2025.

Global honey prices have doubled in the past decade, notes Bee-io. “We want to disconnect human nutrition from animals, and we can’t go on exploiting animals. We’re seeing this happen with milk and meat, and also with honey,” states CEO Ofir Dvash, whose last name happens to mean honey in Hebrew.

Honey substitutes are already available but they’re made synthetically and aren’t technically honey, he says. “You can’t take sugar and turn it into honey,” he says. “Honey needs to be made from a natural source, pollen, and it needs to pass through a honeybee’s stomach, because it contains enzymes that break down the sugars form the pollen in a certain way. Via genetic engineering and biological processes we can try to imitate what goes on in the bee’s stomach.”

Bee-io’s technology is still in early stages, and has not yet proven the feasibility of manufacturing honey this way. In a presentation released last week, the company said it expected to prove feasibility by the end of the year.

Several food-tech companies have launched on Tel Aviv’s stock exchange recently. They include Millennium Food-Tech, which is developing the technology to manufacture vegetable-based meat substitutes based on cellulose. Another publicly-traded company is MeaTech, which is working on manufacturing a 3D printer that can print a meat substitute. Kibbutz Gan Shmuel is also looking to launch a subsidiary that manufactures meat substitutes, Vgarden, based on a 350 million shekel valuation.

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