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Breaking into a growing niche market isn’t easy, yet alternative-protein companies around the globe working to scale from R&D and pilot-plant operations to full-scale production have found a knowledgeable and industry-savvy partner in Haskell.
With decades of experience in the dairy, pharmaceutical and biopharma industries, Haskell is replete with subject matter expertise in the very process engineering and unique equipment required for the manufacture of alternative protein.
Meet Subject Matter Expert No. 1: Candice Kofsky, a Senior Process Design Specialist who helps set Haskell apart in space with her biochemical engineering background and nearly a decade working in alt-protein manufacturing.
Kofsky joined Haskell in 2018 as a Senior Process Design Specialist. Her responsibilities are extensive, ranging from planning capital projects and developing value-engineering solutions to nurturing client relationships. Her duties reflect all the knowledge she has acquired in her 15 years in the field.
“I started my career working for a startup in the pharma industry,” Kofsky said. “After six years of developing new processes around molecules and yeast extractions, I went back to grad school.”
Returning to Missouri University of Science and Technology led to not one but two master’s degrees, in Biochemical Engineering and Engineering Management, plus a certificate in Project Management. She spent the next four years designing a single-use reactor at a bioreactor original equipment manufacturing (OEM) supplier before moving on to Impossible Foods, a leading plant-based meat producer. It was during Kofsky’s time with Impossible Foods that she was introduced to Haskell.
“This was the start of my journey in the plant-based food industry,” she said. “I was taking bench-scale information and processes that the scientists were generating and helping them find operations that were scalable, first to a pilot facility and then to commercial production.”
Plant-based protein products currently make up the largest share of the overall alternative protein market, which exploits three main sources: plants such as soy and pea, micro-organisms such as fungi and yeast, and animal cells.
Kofsky’s extensive experience has been invaluable as Haskell has developed a significant presence in the alt-protein industry, which in recent years has – pardon the pun – mushroomed. While the non-meat alternatives products may not yet exactly match animal protein in taste, texture and price, they are quickly closing the gap. Estimates say they will make up at least 11% of the overall protein market by 2035.
Haskell is established in alternative drinks market thanks to its vast experience in the dairy industry; processing cow’s milk is largely similar to processing soy, oat and almond milk. Now, the company is making inroads in the fermentation side of the industry, which is where Kofksy’s specialist knowledge comes in. She’s helping Haskell talk to other clients about alternative meats and other proteins.
“Candice really understands the processes, the terms, and what it takes to make these products,” said Jeff Pearse, Haskell Engineering Director and Lead Food Process Engineer. “She understands a lot of the nuances of what these companies are trying to do.”
Many alternative-protein companies are startups formed by scientists looking to build their first commercial platform. Unlike dairy producers, they don’t have an established plant that can be converted.
“A lot of the people we're talking to are still at the test-kitchen stage,” Pearse said. “They’re trying to scale up production to make their product viable for sale to the public.”
Producing alternative protein products is more complicated than typical food-processing operations, so Kofsky’s first-hand experience is a godsend to startups. She appreciates the challenges, understands the biochemical process and knows all of the equipment, some of which is unique to the industry.
“I’ve been on the client side,” she said, “so I know what a protein requires, how a membrane might behave, and if the pH or temperature might be an issue. I can be exact in the requirements when specifying a piece of equipment, and I know when a process can be controlled and cleaned.”
Cleaning is an essential aspect of any food processing operation, and the alt protein market is no exception. Therefore, thorough knowledge of clean-in-place (CIP) and steam-in-place (SIP) is crucial to Haskell’s clients. Producing food in a test kitchen is one thing. Producing food in a factory and protecting it from contamination is entirely different.
“We understand 3-A sanitary standards, we understand cleanability, and we understand all the rules that have been in the dairy industry for decades,” said Pearse, who has been in the industry since 1991. “And since we’ve joined Haskell, we’ve also become experts in pharma and fermentation. Now we’re taking all that knowledge to the alt-protein industry.”
Understanding how to make equipment, such as vessels, fillers, mixers and heat exchangers cleanable and how to make the entire food-production process repeatable is a Haskell core strength, which is why it operates exclusively in the consumables industry.
“We're not going to go out and design a process for a nuclear plant or an oil refinery,” Pearse said. “We know the food industry and its rules and regulations, we know the inspectors and what they're looking for, and we know the lingo.”
Haskell’s focus on the food industry allows it to offer clients two closely linked engineering services: process design and automation. Most of its competitors do one or the other but not both. This differentiator is key in the alt-protein market, especially for new producers looking to scale up.
“Bench scientists will come up with a process that works great in the lab,” Kofsky said. “But when you try to put that into a pilot plant to get to a larger scale, it’s not always practical. Suddenly, they're not getting the yield they're expecting, which affects all of the downstream steps.”
If conditions in the lab can’t be duplicated exactly in the plant, there’s no commercially viable product. So, the aim is always the same: design a robust process that delivers the same yield and quality on a repeatable basis and meets all food-safety standards.
However, there’s no formula for identifying equipment that is scalable for food production. It’s an art form – and Kofsky is Haskell’s artist in residence. She excels at designing the equipment that makes processes possible on a commercial scale. She also speaks the scientists’ language.
“Most scientists talk at a level that engineers don’t understand,” Pearse said. “But Candice really understands their terminology. She can interpret PhD-level conversations and make it so everybody else can understand and then get on with their job.”
That’s Kofsky’s true magic – her ability to act as an interpreter between engineering and R&D, mesh the two and arrive at a feasible design that can make a commercially viable product. Her communication and business development skills combined with her scientific knowledge and practical experience enable her to ask the right questions and get the right answers.
“When an alt-protein startup asks us if we have an engineer that speaks their lingo,” Pearse said, “we can say, ‘Sure.’ And there aren’t many companies that can say that.”
Contact us to leverage the deep expertise of Candice Kofsky and all of industry-leading professionals on Haskell’s Manufacturing Solutions team in scaling your startup’s dazzling bench science to a profitable production setting.
Haskell delivers more than $1.5 billion annually in Architecture, Engineering, Construction (AEC) and Consulting solutions to assure certainty of outcome for complex capital projects worldwide. Haskell is a global, fully integrated, single-source design-build and EPC firm with over 2,000 highly specialized, in-house design, construction and administrative professionals across industrial and commercial markets. With 20+ office locations around the globe, Haskell is a trusted partner for global and emerging clients.
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