Nestle set for coffee bean breakthrough

Nestle, the international food giant, could soon be selling genetically engineered Nescafe The company looks set to link up with ForBio, an Australian plant biotechnology group which can grow caffeine-free coffee beans. UK investors could get a slice of the action when ForBio floats in the UK next year.

Nestle, the Swiss food giant, is expected to sign a joint venture with a plant biotechnology company, soon to float in the UK, to produce the world's first caffeine-free coffee beans. According to sources at Nestle, the company is planning a link-up with ForBio, an Australian company specialising in plant genetics.

The deal will allow Nestle to sell caffeine-free coffee more cheaply and with improved flavour and aroma, increasing Nestle's stranglehold on the US $20bn-a-year world coffee market. Nestle makes Nescafe, the world's number-one selling instant coffee. The fast growing soluble coffee market is worth a third of the total.

ForBio, which was planning to list on the London main stock market this year valued at around pounds 60m, has apparently delayed its flotation plans until early next year in order to conclude the deal with Nestle. Both Nestle and ForBio yesterday refused to comment on whether they were in discussions.

ForBio, based near Brisbane and listed on the Australian Stock Exchange, believes it can solve two of the coffee producers' biggest headaches. At present producing caffeine-free coffee requires expensive chemical washing of the processed beans, which also impairs their flavour and smell. Removing caffeine this way costs producers $1bn a year in the US alone.

ForBio with its US partner Integrated Coffee Technologies Inc (ICTI), in which it has a 17 per cent stake, have discovered how to genetically alter coffee plant seeds to yield caffeine-free beans.

Speaking from ForBio's offices in Woolloongabba, Queensland, Bob Mullins, head of ForBio's international operations, said large scale propagation of caffeine-free plants would be possible in two years time. Meanwhile ForBio, founded and owned by Scottish-born millionaire Bill Henderson, is collecting a breed of elite coffee plants which can ripen uniformly.

Coffee beans are found at the centre of the coffee plant's bright red, cherry-like fruit, the pulp of which must be removed before the coffee bean is processed. Any pulp left with the bean spoils the flavour when the bean is processed. Getting a batch of coffee plants to ripen uniformly increases the chances of removing all the pulp. ForBio's Rapid marker technology identifies plants most likely to produce superior flavoured beans, and selects plants with the same maturation rates.

Though Mr Mullins would not comment on any commercial aspects of their technology, in any deal with Nestle, ForBio is likely to get a share of sales plus licence fees for its technology. Its partner ICTI, because it owns the caffeine-free genetic technology, would probably take a royalty on the sale of each plant. Once mass propagation is feasible, Nestle is likely to strike an exclusive purchasing agreement with coffee producers licensed to grow the genetically altered plants.

ForBio, which unusually for a biotech is already profitable, is not stopping at coffee. Genetically elite tea plants are in view. Meanwhile, in an audacious about turn, ForBio has just shipped half a million genetically improved teak plant seedlings grown by robot in Somerset to Malaysia. The elite teak plants flower less often than normal ones and so produce trees with more bark. ForBio is also exporting genetically altered date palms grown in England to the Middle East.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
sportSo, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Arts and Entertainment
Dennis speaks to his French teacher
tvThe Boy in the Dress, TV review
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Life and Style
Mark's crab tarts are just the right size
food + drinkMark Hix cooks up some snacks that pack a punch
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Selby Jennings: Quantitative Research | Equity | New York

Not specified: Selby Jennings: Quantitative Research | Global Equity | New Yor...

Selby Jennings: SVP Model Validation

Not specified: Selby Jennings: SVP Model Validation This top tiered investment...

Selby Jennings: Oil Operations

Highly Competitive: Selby Jennings: Our client, a leading European Oil trading...

The Jenrick Group: Night Shift Operations Manager

£43500 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Night Shift Operatio...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect