Back in 2016, the growing interest in low and non-alcoholic beer made Chr. Hansen invest in the research and development of this area by hiring Philipp Grünert as Process Development Scientist in Nienburg, Germany. A year after Philipp joined Chr. Hansen, the NEER® yeast strain was launched into production and has since proven to be an important addition to Chr. Hansen’s extensive portfolio. We have talked to Philipp about the NEER® project and his role in it.
What is NEER®?
NEER® is short for Non-alcoholic bEER, and the project is part of our Wine and Fermented Beverages department that among other things sells cultures for production of wine, beer, juice and fermented tea. There are several ways to produce non-alcoholic beer, but most processes make it difficult to maintain the nice aromas that make beer taste so great. The aim of the NEER® project was to find the right way of producing non-alcoholic beer without compromising on flavor. This was achieved through a special yeast strain with low ethanol production and the ability to create nice aromas. And not only that – it is also a fast producing strain, suitable for larger productions.
Can you describe your first months in Chr. Hansen working on the NEER® project?
Close and cooperative spirit
I spent my first six months at the production site in Pohlheim, Germany where Chr. Hansen produces all its in-house manufactured yeasts. Here I got to know the teams within the Process Management Group, Quality Control, Quality Assurance, Operation and many more. I think it was a great way to build a close working relationship right from the start, and it made ground for a real cooperative spirit.
Free and encouraging atmosphere
After my time in Pohlheim, I started working in the Process Development Group in Nienburg, which has a strong focus on enzyme production for our dairy business and cultures for plant health. The working atmosphere here is really encouraging and characterized by freedom, responsibility and a passion for driving innovation through science. I can rely on every single one of my bright colleagues here, and I do my best so they can rely on me. I honestly could not be happier with another team.
Which results and important learnings did you achieve from working on the project?
Challenging work and successful results
When I first started, I had the chance to optimize the preliminary working process . I tested up to 70 different process scenarios and almost all samples have been evaluated in application. This is a lot of work, and lots of resources were necessary in the Wine and Fermented Beverages application team. However, the work paid off. Among other results, the process led to a considerable increase of biomass yield and an increase in survival rate, together resulting in an attractive productivity increase. I am really proud of these results and the hard work by everyone involved.
Impact and the future
We also made some core scientific and technical observations resulting in a robust platform for more yeast to come in the future and thereby expand our business. We showed we could considerably cut down the development time and proved transferability of the learned principles to various different yeast species.
And finally, why are alcohol-free beer and other beverages so important for Chr. Hansen?
Consumers around the world are increasingly focusing on a healthy lifestyle with less alcohol, and this makes alcohol-free alternatives high in demand. Another relevant trend is the demand for more natural products. Non-alcoholic beer is a good fit for this, as the ingredients and production processes are as natural as they get. Both tendencies go well with what Chr. Hansen stands for – caring for people’s health in a natural way.