Wonder Veggies to Debut World’s First Probiotic Fresh Produce

In a groundbreaking move set to reshape the fresh produce aisle, Israeli agrifoodtech startup Wonder Veggies is preparing to launch what it claims to be the “world’s first probiotic fresh produce” next year. This innovative venture, in partnership with leading growers, leverages cutting-edge technology to embed probiotic bacteria into plant tissue, allowing these beneficial microbes to thrive as endophytes within the plants.

Probiotics, often referred to as ‘good bacteria,’ are live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, offer health benefits to their host, including improved gut health and enhanced immune function. Traditionally, the fragility of most probiotic strains has confined their use to dietary supplements or refrigerated dairy products. However, Wonder Veggies is poised to disrupt this paradigm by introducing probiotics into the realm of fresh produce, a category that is both versatile and accessible to a broader audience.

“Dairy products are not suitable for lactose intolerant or vegan consumers; fermented foods like kimchi are pretty niche; and food supplements are costly and hard to swallow for some consumers,” says Wonder Veggies cofounder and CEO Danny Weiss. “By taking probiotics into the fresh produce aisle, we are creating a completely new category that is easy to integrate into consumers’ daily routines.”

Wonder Veggies’ technology, developed in collaboration with Prof. Oded Shoseyov and Prof. Betty Schwartz at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Dr. Lilach Iasur Kruh at Braude Academic College, involves a liquid formulation that combines probiotic bacteria with undisclosed food-grade ingredients. This formulation can be sprayed onto fresh produce either pre-harvest in the field or post-harvest at packing facilities. The probiotic bacteria penetrate the plant tissue, becoming endophytes that can survive throughout the produce’s shelf life.

“All the ingredients in our formulation are GRAS or self-GRAS and authorized for use in organics, and they have no impact on the organoleptic properties of the final products,” explains Weiss. This ensures that the taste, texture, and appearance of the produce remain unchanged, a crucial factor for consumer acceptance.

The implementation process is designed to be straightforward. For instance, in a bagged salad facility, the probiotic formulation is applied after the standard rinsing process using existing equipment. The ratio of concentrate to water is typically around 1:100, depending on the type of produce.

Wonder Veggies has already tested its technology on a variety of fresh produce, including leafy greens, baby carrots, berries, cherry tomatoes, and baby cucumbers, using multiple strains of probiotic bacteria. This versatility positions the company to tap into the growing interest in probiotics and the broader ‘food as medicine’ trend.

When asked about the practicality of the product, Weiss is confident. “You can get the probiotics you need with a small personal salad, and the premium will be 20% or less, which is enough for all the players in the value chain to get a return.” This makes the product accessible and economically viable for both consumers and producers.

The startup’s go-to-market strategy involves partnering with growers and potentially co-branding with them on packaging. “We have already executed a few MOUs [memorandums of understanding] with leading growers globally and have had several discussions with leading retailers in the US,” says Weiss. These retailers are keen to introduce the product to their shelves, recognizing the consumer demand for gut health solutions.

Wonder Veggies’ approach also addresses concerns about the viability of probiotics through the gastrointestinal tract. Using an artificial stomach system at the Technion, the company has tested its probiotic lentil sprouts against market-leading probiotic products and found promising results.

As Wonder Veggies gears up for its official launch, it stands on the brink of revolutionizing how consumers access probiotics, making it easier than ever to incorporate these beneficial microbes into everyday diets through fresh, wholesome produce.

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