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Today — April 22nd 2021Your RSS feeds

Will Budweiser brew eggs and will Post cereal make meat?

By Jonathan Shieber

Corporations are quickly waking up to the market potential of alternative proteins with the nation’s biggest consumer brands continuing to make investments and create partnerships with startup companies helping consumers transition to healthier and more environmentally sustainable diets.

As Earth Week draws to a close (thankfully) new partnerships announced over the past week show the potential for new technologies to transform old businesses.

Yesterday the New York-based ZX Ventures, the investment and innovation arm of AB InBev, said that it would be partnering with Clara Foods, a developer of protein production technologies including (but not limited to), brewing egg substitutes. That’s right, the makers of Budweiser are hatching a scheme to make other kinds of liquids that are less potable and more poachable.

In that case, the yolk would definitely be on you, future consumer.

“Since day one, Clara has been on a mission to accelerate the world’s transition to animal-free protein, starting with the egg. More than one trillion eggs are consumed globally every year and corporate commitments for cage-free aren’t enough,” said Arturo Elizondo, the chief executive and co-founder of Clara Foods. “We’re thrilled to be partnering with the world’s largest fermentation company to work together to enable a kinder, greener, and more delicious future. This partnership is a major step towards realizing our vision.”

Graph showing the increasing size of investments into alternative proteins in 2020. From 2019 to 2020 investments in alternative proteins soared from just over $1 billion to $3 billion led by investments in plant protein products. Image Credit: Good Food Institute

There are market-driven reasons for the partnership. Demand for high quality proteins is expected to jump up to 98% by 2050, according to research cited by the two companies.

“Meeting the increased demand for food requires breakthrough solutions built on collaboration and innovation that spans several industry domains – both old and new. The ancient and natural process of fermentation can be further harnessed to help meet future demands in our global food system,” said Patrick O’Riordan, founder & CEO at BioBrew, ZX Ventures’ new business line trying to apply large-scale fermentation and downstream processing expertise beyond beer. “We look forward to exploring the development of highly-functional, animal-free egg proteins with Clara Foods in a scalable, sustainable and economically viable manner.”

Meanwhile, there’s a meeting of the minds happening in St. Louis where cereal giant Post is investing in Hungry Planet, a startup making meat a range of meat replacements.

Formed from the same Seventh Day Adventist focus on plant-based diet and health as a core of spirituality that launched the Kellogg’s cereal empire, Post has long been a rival to the corn flake king with its grape nuts cereal and other grain-based breakfast offerings.

Now the company has led a $25 million investment in Hungry Planet, which aims to provide meat-based replacements for crab cakes, lamb burgers, chicken, pork, and beef. Additional investors included the Singapore-based environmentally sustainable holding company, Trirec.

Alternative proteins are a big business. Last year, companies developing technologies and businesses to commercialize alternative sources of protein raised over $3 billion, according to the industry tracker, the Good Food Institute.

“Over the past year, the alternative protein industry has demonstrated not only resilience but acceleration, raising significantly more investment capital in 2020 than in prior years,” said GFI director of corporate engagement Caroline Bushnell, in a statement. “These capital infusions and the funding still to come will facilitate much-needed R&D and capacity building to enable these companies to scale and reach more consumers with delicious, affordable, and accessible alternative protein products.”

It’s all part of a push to provide more plant-based alternatives to animal proteins in a bid to halt planetary deforestation and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with animal husbandry.

“Humanity needs solutions that match the scale and urgency of our problems,” said Elizondo. “

Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

I can’t believe it’s not meat! Mycelium meat replacement company aims for summer launch of first products

By Jonathan Shieber

Meati, a company turning mycelium (the structural fibers of fungi) into healthier meat replacements for consumers, is prepping for a big summer rollout.

Co-founder Tyler Huggins expects to have the first samples of its whole-cut steak and chicken products in select restaurants around the country — along with their first commercial product, a jerky strip.

For Huggins, the product launch is another step on a long road toward broad commercial adoption of functional fungi foods as a better-for-you alternative to traditional meats.

“Use this as a conversation starter. About 2 ounces of this gives you 50% of your protein; 50% of your fiber; and half of your daily zinc. There really is nothing that can compare to this product in terms of nutritionals,” Huggins said. 

And moving from meat to mushrooms is a better option for the planet.

Meati expects to turn on its pilot plant this summer and is joining a movement among mushroom fans that includes milk replacements, from Perfect Day, more meat replacements from Atlast, and leather substitutes from Ecovative and MycoWorks.

“We’re definitely all in this together,” said Huggins of the other mob of mycelium-based tech companies bringing products to market.

However, not all mycelium is created equally, Huggins said. Meati has what Huggins said was a unique way of growing its funguses (not a real word) that “keep it in its most happy state.” That means peak nutritional content and peak growth efficiency, according to the company.

For Huggins, whose parents own a bison ranch and who grew up in cattle country, the goal is not to replace a T-bone or a rib-eye, but the cuts of meat and chicken that find their ways into a burrito supreme or other quick-serve meat cuts.

Rendering of Meati mushroom meats in a Banh Mi. Image Credits: Meati

“Head to head with that kind of cut, we win,” Huggins said. “I’d rather pick a fight there now and buy ourselves some time. I don’t think we’re going to go super high end to start.”

That said, the company’s cap table of investors already includes some pretty heady culinary company. Acre Venture Partners (which counts Sam Kass — President Barack Obama’s senior policy advisor for nutrition policy, executive director for First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign, and an assistant chef in the White House — among its partnership) is an investor. So is Chicago’s fine dining temple, Alinea.

But Huggins wants Meati to be an everyday type of meat replacement product. “I want to make sure that people think this is an everyday protein,” Huggins said.

Meati thinks its future meat replacements will be cost competitive with conventional beef and chicken, but to whet consumers’ appetites, the company is starting with jerky.

“Meati’s delicious jerky,” said Huggins. “It provides this blank canvas. We’ll start with these beef-jerky-like flavors. But I want to come out of the gate and say that we’re mycelium jerky.”

The company currently has 30 people on staff led by Huggins and co-founder Justin Whiteley. The two men initially started working on Meati as a battery replacement. Based on their research (Huggins with mycelium and Whiteley with advanced batteries) the two men received a grant for a mycelium-based electrode for lithium-ion batteries.

“We were trying to tweak the chemical composition of the mycelium to make a better battery. What we found was that we were making something nutritious and edible,” said Huggins.

Also … the battery companies didn’t want it.

Now, backed by $28 million from Acre, Prelude Ventures, Congruent Ventures and Tao Capital, Meati is ready to go to market. The company also has access to debt capital to build out its vast network of mycelium growing facilities. It’s just raised a $18 million debt round from Trinity and Silicon Valley Bank.

“Two years ago … most companies in this space … there wasn’t this ability to take on debt to put steel in the ground,” said Huggins. “It’s an exciting time to be in food tech given that you can raise VC funding and there’s this ready available market for debt financing. You’ll start seeing faster and more rapid development because of it.”

Meati co-founders Tyler Huggins and Justin Whiteley. Image Credits: Meati

Beyond Meat opens its first production plant in China

By Rita Liao

About a year after Beyond Meat debuted in China on Starbucks’s menu, the Californian plant-based protein company opened a production facility near Shanghai to tap the country’s supply chain resources and potentially reduce the carbon footprint of its products.

Situated in Jiaxing, a city 85 km from Shanghai, the plant is Beyond Meat’s first end-to-end manufacturing facility outside the U.S., the Nasdaq-listed company said in an announcement on Wednesday.

Over the past year, competition became steep in China’s alternative protein space with the foray of foreign players like Beyond Meat and Eat Just, as well as a slew of capital injections for domestic startups including Hey Maet and Starfield.

Beyond Meat seems undeterred by the rivalry. When asked by TechCrunch to comment on a story about China’s alternative protein scene, a representative of the company said “there are none that Beyond Meat considers their competitors.”

China not only has an enormous, unsaturated market for meat replacements; it’s also a major supplier of plant-based protein. Chinese meat substitute startups enjoy a cost advantage from the outset and don’t lack interest from investors who race to back consumer products that are more reflective of the tastes of the rising middle class.

Having some kind of manufacturing capacity in China is thus almost a prerequisite for any serious foreign player. Tesla has done it before to build Gigafactory in Shanghai to deliver cheaper electric vehicles. Localized production also helps companies advance their sustainability goals as it shortens the supply chain.

In Beyond Meat’s own words, the Jiaxing facility is “expected to significantly increase the speed and scale in which the company can produce and distribute its products within the region while also improving Beyond Meat’s cost structure and sustainability of operations.”

The American food-tech giant works hard on localization, selling in China both its flagship burger patties and an imitation minced pork product made specifically for the world’s largest consumer of pork. The soy- and rice-based minced pork could be used in a wide range of Chinese cuisines and is the result of a collaboration between the firm’s Shanghai and Los Angeles teams.

Besides production, the Jiaxing plant will also take on R&D responsibilities to invent new products for the region. Beyond Meat will also be unveiling its first owned manufacturing facility in Europe this year.

“We are committed to investing in China as a region for long-term growth,” said Ethan Brown, CEO and founder of Beyond Meat. “We believe this new manufacturing facility will be instrumental in advancing our pricing and sustainability metrics as we seek to provide Chinese consumers with delicious plant-based proteins that are good for both people and planet.”

Beyond Meat products can now be found in Starbucks, KFC, Alibaba’s Hema supermarket and other retail channels across major Chinese cities.

LIVEKINDLY screams its way to the top of new plant brands with the close of a $335 million round

By Jonathan Shieber

LIVEKINDLY Collective, the shouty parent company behind a family of plant-based food brands, has snagged cash from the global impact investing arm of $103 billion investment firm TPG to close its latest round of funding at $335 million.

The company’s fundraising shows that investors still have high hopes for plant-based food brands and that despite the money that’s flowed to companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods — and the resurgence of older brands in the category like Quorn or Kelloggs’ Morningstar Farms — there’s still a healthy appetite among investors for more brands.

LIVEKINDLY was founded by some heavy hitters from the food industry, including Kees Kruythoff, the former president of Unilever North America; Roger Lienhard, the founder of Blue Horizon; and Jodi Monelle, the chief executive and founder of LIVEKINDLY Media. Food industry veterans like Mick Van Ettinger, a former Unilever employee, and Aldo Uva, a former Nestlé employee, round out the team.

Founded as a rollup for a number of different vegetarian and alternative protein food brands, the LIVEKINDLY Collective is now one of the largest plant-based food companies, by funding.

The company said it would use the money to expand into the U.S. and China and to power additional acquisitions, partnerships and investments in plant-based foods.

The company raised money previously from S2G Ventures and Rabo Corporate Investments, the investment arm of the giant Dutch financial services firm, Rabobank.

Fundamentally, the founding investors behind LIVEKINDLY believe that the technology has a long way to go before it matures. And it’s likely that this latest round will be LIVEKINDLY’s last before an initial public offering of its own. 

“We are building a global pureplay in plant-based alternatives — which we believe is the future of food,” said Roger Lienhard, founder and executive chairman of Blue Horizon and founder of LIVEKINDLY Collective. “In just one year, we have raised a significant amount of capital, which testifies to the urgency of our mission and the enormous investment opportunity it represents. We believe the momentum behind plant-based living will continue to grow in both the private and public markets.”

As a result of its investment, Steve Ellis, co-managing partner of The Rise Fund, has joined the LIVEKINDLY Collective board of directors, effective March 1, 2021.

“We are excited to work with LIVEKINDLY Collective and its ecosystem of innovative companies and world-class leaders to meet the growing global demand for healthy, plant-based, clean-label options,” said Ellis. “The company’s unique, mission-driven model operates across the entire value chain, from seed to fork, to drive worldwide adoption of plant-based alternatives and create a healthier planet for all.”

Bluu Biosciences raises cash to become Europe’s first purveyor of lab-grown salmon, trout and carp

By Jonathan Shieber

A startup from Europe is joining the race to become the first big provider of lab grown fish.

Bluu Biosciences has raised €7 million in a round of financing from investors including Manta Ray Ventures, Norrsken VC, Be8, CPT Capital and Lever VC to compete with a host of startups like BluNalu, Wild Type, and Shiok Meats in a bid to market with a lab-grown fish replacement.

The market for sustainable fish is huge and growing. Already, concerns over the effects of overfishing and industrial fish farming are mounting as demand for fish increases. It’s the same problem that other animal-based sources of protein face. The amount of demand for high quality sources of protein from the Earth’s several billion people cannot sustainably keep up with the available supply.

That’s why a number of cellular meat companies are focusing on fish instead of other meats like beef, pork, or chicken.

There is a lot of talent in Europe and very little companies built in this space. If you compare it t0 the mammalian space there are a lot fewer companies,” said Simon Fabich, co-founder and managing director of Bluu.  

At Berlin-based Bluu, the focus is on salmon, trout, and carp (the most popular fish in China). Other companies are tackling tuna, salmon, and shrimp, but Bluu sees carp as an especially attractive target, given its popularity in one of the world’s most populous companies.

One advantage for Bluu, its founders argue, is the deep experience that co-founder Sebastian Rakers has in the wild world of cultivated fish cells.

A marine and cell biologist who was working for several years at the Munich-based Fraunhofer Institute, one of Europe’s most celebrated research institutes, Rakers led a task force that looked at potential commercial viability of cell-based meat, after conducting research on the viability of using fish cells as a component for viral production for the pharmaceutical industry.

Bluu Biotechnologies co-founder Sebastian Rakers. Image Credit: Bluu Biosciences

During his research Rakers cultivated 80 different cell cultures for more than 20 different species of fish. What’s more, he was able to make these cell lines immortal.

Before envisioning an endless, ever-producing mass of fish cells that could overwhelm the world, it might be worth explaining what immortal cell lines mean… Actually… the endless, ever-producing mass of self-reproducing fish cells comes pretty close.

Most cell lines tend to die off after reprodcuing a certain number of times, which means that to manufacture meat at scale can require several biopsies of the same animal to cultivate multiple cell lines at a time. Rakers said that Bluu could avoid that step, thanks to the work that had already been done to develop these “immortal” salmon, trout, and carp cell cultivars.

“It’s such a strong competitive advantage,” said Fabich. “If you have normal cells that are not immortalized you can only proliferate 20 to 25 times and then you need to start again from another biopsy. With immortalized cells you can grow up to 100,000 times and we can double it every day.” 

With this technology in hand, Rakers said he was thinking about what could come next in his own career and met up with Gary Lin, an impact investor and the founder of Purple Orange Ventures.

Lin connected Rakers with Fabich and the two men set off to commercialize Rakers’ research as Bluu. And even though there are several companies that have a head start in the market (and in funding), Rakers said that there are certain advantages to coming in late.

Five years ago there was hardly any company looking into media development, hardly any companies focused on bioreactor technologies at a very large scale and there was no company looking for scaffolding alternatives for cell-based meat,” he said. Now there are. 

The company is picking up speed quickly thanks to those other technology providers that are coming to market and will look to have a prototype product out by the end of 2022.

The company is also pushing for regulation, which both Fabich and Rakers said were one of the last remaining obstacles to commercialization. Ultimately, the company has its eye firmly on the Asian market. “That’s the one that moves the needle,” in terms of sustainability, Fabich said. “We can have the biggest impact if we change production behavior there.”

Bluu Biosciences co-founders Sebastian Rakers and Simon Fabich. Image Credit: Bluu Biosciences

 

While other startups develop alt-proteins for meat replacement, Nourish Ingredients focuses on fat

By Jonathan Shieber

Plant-based meat replacements have commanded a huge amount of investor and consumer attention in the decade or more since new entrants like Beyond Meat first burst onto the scene.

These companies have raised billions of dollars and the industry is now worth at least $20 billion as companies try to bring all the meaty taste of… um… meat… without all of the nasty environmental damage… to supermarket aisles and restaurants around the world.

Switching to a plant-based diet is probably the single most meaningful contribution a person can make to reducing their personal greenhouse gas emissions (without buying an electric vehicle or throwing solar panels on their roof).

The problem that continues to bedevil the industry is that there remains a pretty big chasm between the taste of these meat replacements and actual meat, no matter how many advancements startups notch in making better proteins or new additives like Impossible Foods’ heme. Today, meat replacement companies depend on palm oil and coconut oil for their fats — both inputs that come with their own set of environmental issues.

Enter Nourish Ingredients, which is focusing not on the proteins, but the fats that make tasty meats tasty. Consumers can’t have delicious, delicious bacon without fat, and they can’t have a marvelously marbled steak replacements without it either.

The Canberra, Australia-based company has raised $11 million from Horizons Ventures, the firm backed by Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing (also a backer of Impossible Foods), and Main Sequence Ventures, an investment firm founded by Australia’s national science agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.

That organization is actually where the company’s two co-founders James Petrie and Ben Leita met back in 2013 while working as scientists. Petrie, a specialist in crop development, was spearheading the development of omega-3 canola oil, while Leita had a background in chemistry and bioplastics.  

The two had previously worked on a company that was trying to increase oil production in plants, something that the CSRO had been particularly interested in circa 2017. As the market for alternative meats really began to take off, the two entrepreneurs turned their attention to trying to make corollaries for animal fats.

When we were talking to people we realized that these alternative food space was going to need these animal fat like plants,” said Leita. “We could use that skillset for fish oil and out of canola oil.”

Nourish’s innovation was in moving from plants to bacteria. “With the iteration speeds, it feels kind of like we’re cheating,” said Petrie. “You can get the cost of goods pretty damn low.”

Nourish Ingredients uses bacteria or organisms that make significant amounts of triglycerides and lipids. “Examples include Yarrowia. There are examples of that being used for production of tailored oils,” said Petrie. “We can tune these oleaginous organisms to make these animal fats that give us that great taste and experience.”

As both men noted, fats are really important for flavor. They’re a key differentiator in what makes different meats taste different, they said.

“The cow makes cow fat because that’s what the cow does, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best fat for a plant protein,” said Petrie. “We start out with a mimetic. No reason for us to be locked by the original organism. We’re trying to create new experiences. There are new experiences out there to be had.”

The company already counts several customers in both the plant and recombinant protein production space. Now, with 18 employees, the company is producing both genetically modified and non-CRISPR cultivated optimized fats. 

Other startups and established businesses also have technologies that could allow them to enter this new market. Those would be businesses like Geltor, which is currently focused on collagen, or Solazyme, which makes a range of bio-based specialty oils and chemicals.

As active investors in the alternative protein space, we realize that animal-free fats that replicate the taste of traditional meat, poultry and seafood products are the next breakthrough in the industry,” said Phil Morle, partner at Main Sequence Ventures. “Nourish have discovered how to do just that in a way that’s sustainable and incredibly tasty, and we couldn’t be happier to join them at this early stage.” 

This Y Combinator startup is taking lab-grown meat upscale with elk, lamb and Wagyu beef cell lines

By Jonathan Shieber

Last week a select group of 20 employees and guests gathered at an event space on the San Francisco Bay, and, while looking out at the Bay Bridge dined on a selection of choice elk sausages, wagyu meatloaf, and lamb burgers — all of which were grown from a petrie dish.

The dinner was a coming out party for Orbillion Bio, a new startup pitching today in Y Combinator’s latest demo day, that’s looking to take lab-grown meats from the supermarket to high end, bespoke butcher shops.

Instead of focusing on pork, chicken and beef, Orbillion is going after so-called heritage meats — the aforementioned elk, lamb and Wagyu beef to start.

By focusing on more expensive end products, Orbillion doesn’t have as much pressure to slash costs as dramatically as other companies in the cellular meat market, the thinking goes.

But there’s more to the technology than its bourgie beef, elite elk, and luscious lamb meat.

“Orbillion uses a unique accelerated development process producing thousands of tiny tissue samples, constantly iterating to find the best tissue and media combinations,” according to Holly Jacobus, whose firm, Joyance Partners, is an early investor in Orbillion. “This is much less expensive and more efficient than traditional methods and will enable them to respond quickly to the impressive demand they’re already experiencing.”

The company runs its multiple cell lines through a system of small bioreactors. Orbillion couples that with a high throughput screening and machine learning software system to build out a database of optimized tissue and media combinations. “The key to making lab grown meat work scalably is choosing the right cells cultured in the most efficient way possible,” Jacobus wrote.

Co-founded by a deeply technical and highly experienced team of executives that’s led by Patricia Bubner, a former researcher at the German pharmaceutical giant Boehringer Ingelheim. Joining Bubner is Gabriel Levesque-Tremblay, a former director of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, who was a post-doc at Berkeley with Bubner and serves as the company’s chief technology officer. Rounding out the senior leadership is Samet Yildirim, the chief operating officer at Orbillion and a veteran executive of Boehringer Ingelheim (he actually served as Bubner’s boss).

Orbillion Bio co-founders Gabriel Levesque-Tremblay, CTO, Patricia Bubner, CEO, and Samet Yildirim, COO. Image Credit: Orbillion Bio

For Bubner, the focus on heritage meats is as much a function of her background growing up in rural Austria as it is about economics. A longtime, self-described foodie and a nerd, Bubner went into chemistry because she ultimately wanted to apply science to the food business. And she wants Orbillion to make not just meat, but the most delicious meats.

It’s an aim that fits with how many other companies have approached the market when they’re looking to commercialize a novel technology. Higher end products, or products with unique flavor profiles that are unique to the production technologies available are more likely to be commercially viable sooner than those competing with commodity products. Why focus on angus beef when you focus on a much more delicious breed of animal?

For Bubner, it’s not just about making a pork replacement, it’s about making the tastiest pork replacement.

“I’m just fascinated and can see the future in us being able to further change the way we produce food to be more efficient,” she said. “We’re at this inflection point. I’m a nerd, i’m a foodie and I really wanted to use my skills to make a change. I wanted to be part of that group of people that can really have an impact on the way we eat. For me there’s no doubt that a large percentage of our food will be from alternative proteins — plant based, fermentation, and lab-grown meat.”

Joining Boehringer Ingelheim was a way for Bubner to become grounded in the world of big bioprocessing. It was preparation for her foray into lab grown meat, she said.

“We are a product company. Our goal is to make the most flavorful steaks. Our first product will not be whole cuts of steak. The first product is going to be a Wagyu beef product that we plan on putting out in 2023,” Bubner said. “It’s a product that’s going to be based on more of a minced product. Think Wagyu sashimi.”

To get to market, Bubner sees the need not just for a new approach to cultivating choice meats, but a new way of growing other inputs as well, from the tissue scaffolding needed to make larger cuts that resemble traditional cuts of meat, or the fats that will need to be combined with the meat cells to give flavor.

That means there are still opportunities for companies like Future Fields, Matrix Meats, and Turtle Tree Scientific to provide inputs that are integrated into the final, branded product.

Bubner’s also thinking about the supply chain beyond her immediate potential partners in the manufacturing process. “Part of my family were farmers and construction workers and the others were civil engineers and architects. I hold farmers in high respect… and think the people who grow the food and breed the animals don’t get recognition for the work that they do.”

She envisions working in concert with farmers and breeders in a kind of licensing arrangement, potentially, where the owners of the animals that produce the cell lines can share in the rewards of their popularization and wider commercial production.

That also helps in the mission of curbing the emissions associated with big agribusiness and breeding and raising livestock on a massive scale. If you only need a few animals to make the meat, you don’t have the same environmental footprint for the farms.

“We need to make sure that we don’t make the mistakes that we did in the past that we only breed animals for yield and not for flavor,” said Bubner. 

Even though the company is still in its earliest days, it already has one letter of intent, with one of San Francisco’s most famous butchers. Guy Crims, also known as “Guy the Butcher” has signed a letter of intent to stock Orbillion Bio’s lab grown Wagyu in his butcher shop, Bubner said. “He’s very much a proponent of lab-grown meat.”

Now that the company has its initial technology proven, Orbillion is looking to scale rapidly. It will take roughly $3.5 million for the company to get a pilot plant up and running by the end of 2022 and that’s in addition to the small $1.4 million seed round the company has raised from Joyant and firms like VentureSoukh.

“The way i see an integrated model working later on is to have the farmers be the breeders of animals for cultivated meat. That can reduce the number of cows on the planet to a couple of hundred thousand,” Bubner said of her ultimate goal. “There’s a lot of talking about if you do lab grown meat you want to put me out of business. It’s not like we’re going to abolish animal agriculture tomorrow.”

Image Credit: Getty Images

Eat Just (the alt-protein company formerly known as Hampton Creek) has raised another $200 million

By Jonathan Shieber

Eat Just, the purveyor of eggless eggs and mayonnaise and the first government-approved vendor of lab-grown chicken, has raised $200 million in a new round of funding, the company said.

The funding was led by the Qatar Investment Authority, the sovereign wealth fund of the state of Qatar, with additional participation from Charlesbank Capital Partners and Vulcan Capital, the investment arm of the estate of Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen.

Since its launch in 2011 as Hampton Creek, the company has raised more than $650 million all to build out capacity for its egg replacement products and its new line of lab-grown meat.

“We are very excited to work with our investors to build a healthier, safer and more sustainable food system. Their knowledge and experience partnering with companies that are transforming numerous industries were fundamental in our decision to partner with them,” said Josh Tetrick, co-founder and CEO of Eat Just, in a statement.

Eat Just’s evolution hasn’t been without controversy. In 2017, the company and its chief executive withstood a failed coup, which forced the firing of several executives. The company also saw its entire board resign in the aftermath of those firings, only to replace them with a new slate of directors months later.

In the aftermath, Hampton Creek rebranded and refocused. These days the company’s products fall into two somewhat related categories. There’re the plant-based egg replacement products and eggless mayonnaise and the lab grown chicken products that are meant to replace poultry farmed chicken meat.

Since the egg side of Eat Just’s chicken and egg business definitely came first, it’s worth noting that the company’s products are sold in more than 20,000 retail outlets and 1,000 foodservice locations. since it began selling the product, the company has moved more than 100 million eggs to roughly one million U.S. households.

The company’s eggs are also on offer in Dicos, a fast food chain in China, and it’s got a deal to put out a sous vide egg replacement product with Cuisine Solutions. The eggs are also available in Peet’s Coffee locations around the country and Eat Just has expanded its eggless distribution platform into Canada.

Then there’s the company’s GOOD Meat product. That was available for a short time in Singapore. The company expects to slash production costs and expand its commercial operations while working on other kinds of meats as well, according to a statement.

It’s a long way from where the Eat Just started, when it raised its first millions from Khosla Ventures and Founders Fund.

Bill Gates wants Western countries to eat “synthetic meat”; Meatable has raised $47 million to make it

By Jonathan Shieber

In a recent interview discussing Bill Gates’ recent book “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster“, the Microsoft and Breakthrough Energy founder (and the world’s third wealthiest man) advocated for citizens of the richest countries in the world to switch to diets consisting entirely of what he called synthetic meat in an effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Gates’ call is being met by startups and public companies hailing from everywhere from Amsterdam to Tel Aviv, London to Los Angeles, and Berkeley to… um… Chicago.

Indeed, two of the best funded companies in the lab-grown meat market hail from The Netherlands, where Mosa Meat is being challenged by a newer upstart, Meatable, which just announced $47 million in new financing.

The company aims to have its first product approved by European regulators by 2023 and notching commercial sales by 2025.

Meatable has a long road ahead of it, because, as Gates acknowledged in his interview with MIT Technology Review (ed. note: I’m available for a call, too, Bill), “the people like Memphis Meats who do it at a cellular level—I don’t know that that will ever be economical.”

Beyond the economics, there’s also the open question of whether consumers will be willing to make the switch to lab grown meat. Some companies, like the San Francisco-based Just Foods and Tel Aviv’s Supermeat are already selling chicken patties and nuggets made from cultured cells at select restaurants.

These products don’t get at the full potential for cellular technology according to Daan Luining, Meatable’s chief technology officer. “We have seen the nugget and the chicken burger, but we’re working on whole muscle tissue,” Luining said.

The sheer number of entrants in the category — and the capital they’ve raised — points to the opportunity for several winners if companies can walk the tightrope balancing cost at scale and quality replacements for free range food.

“The mission of the company is to be a global leader in providing proteins for the planet. Pork and beef and regularly eaten cuts have on environmental and land management,” Luining said. “The technology that we are using allows us to go into different species. First we’re focused on the animals that have the biggest impact on climate change and planetary health.”

For Meatable right now, price remains an issue. The company is currently producing meat at roughly $10,000 per pound, but, unlike its competitors, the company said it is producing whole meat. That’s including the fat and connective tissue that makes meat… well… meat.

Now with 35 employees and new financing, the company is trying to shift from research and development into a food production company. Strategic investors like DSM, one of the largest food biotech companies in Europe should help. So should angel investors like Dr. Jeffrey Leiden, the executive chairman of Vertex Pharmaceuticals; and Dr. Rick Klausner, the former executive director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and a founder of Juno Therapeutics, GRAIL, and Mindstrong Health, after leaving Illumina where he served as chief medical officer.

Institutional investors in the company’s latest round include Google Ventures founder Bill Maris’ new fund, Section 32,  and existing investors like: BlueYard Capital, Agronomics, Humboldt, and Taavet Hinrikus. 

The company’s first commercial offering will likely be a lab-grown pork product, but with expanded facilities in Delft, the location of one of the top universities in The Netherlands, a beef product may not be far behind.

“[Meatable has] a great team and game-changing technology that can address the challenges around the global food insecurity issues our planet is facing,” said Klausner. “They have all the right ingredients to become the leading choice for sustainably and efficiently produced meat.”

Waterfund commits $50M to OurCrowd’s water and agtech portfolio

By Frederic Lardinois

Waterfund, an investment and trading firm that specializes in acquiring and managing water-related infrastructure assets, today announced a deal with Israel-based crowdfunding platform OurCrowd that will see the Waterfund team commit $50 million to build a water- and agtech-focused portfolio of 15 companies. The first of these investments is in Plenty, a well-funded vertical farming startup.

In addition to these direct investments, the two companies are also working together on a new water-focused platform called Aquantos, which aims to issue so-called Blue Bonds and other financial products related to the water industry. Comparable to Green Bonds that focus on projects with environmental benefits — and which have been around for more than a decade now — Blue Bonds are still a new idea and focus on projects that could benefit the oceans.

“We are working to issue Blue Bonds that can be both climate bonds-certified and backed by sovereign or sub-sovereign borrowers,” said Waterfund CEO Scott Rickards. “This new financial tool and others are being designed to enable water projects in the Middle East to acquire leading technologies to address water scarcity in a fundamentally new way.”

Rickards argues that a lack of private capital has held back innovation in the water sector and that this new partnership — and the equity and debt financing opportunities it brings with it — will help change this.

OurCrowd, meanwhile, currently has about $1.5 billion in committed funding and has made investments in about 250 companies across its 25 funds. Among the companies the platform has invested in are the likes of Lemonade, Jump Bikes and Beyond Meat. Its portfolio also includes a number of existing agtech startups, and last November, OurCrowd partnered with Sprout Agritech (a company in its portfolio) to run a new agtech accelerator in New Zealand.

“The Abraham Accords present a huge opportunity to bring new water and agricultural technology to the water scarcity challenges of the entire Middle East,” said OurCrowd founder and CEO Jon Medved. “Alongside Waterfund, it is our mission to invest in and help build game-changing technology companies. We are excited to be working together with Waterfund to drive more private capital to address the critical challenges of water.”

Redefine Meat is moving plant-based proteins from patties to steaks

By Jonathan Shieber

The Israeli startup Redefine Meat, which has developed a manufacturing process to make plant-based proteins that more closely resemble choice cuts of beef than the current crop of hamburger-adjacent offerings, has gotten a big vote of confidence from the investment arm of one of Asia’s premier food brands.

The company has raised $29 million in financing from Happiness Capital, the investment arm backed by the family fortunes of Hong Kong’s Lee Kum Kee condiment dynasty, and Hanaco Ventures, an investment firm backing startups in New York and Israel.

Investors have stampeded into the plant-based food industry, spurred by the rising fortunes of companies like Beyond Meat, which has inked partnerships with everyone from Pepsico to McDonald’s, and Impossible Foods, which counts Burger King among the brands boosting its plant-based faux meat.

While these companies have perfected plant patties that can delight the taste buds, the prospect of carving up a big honkin cut of pea protein in the form of a ribeye, sirloin or rump steak, has been a technical hurdle these companies have yet to overcome in a commercial offering.

Redefine Meat thinks its manufacturing processes have cracked the code on the formulation of plant-based steak.

They’re not the only ones. In Barcelona, a startup called Novameat raised roughly $300,000 earlier this year for its own take on plant-based steak. That company raised its money from the NEOTEC Program of the Spanish Center for Industrial Technological Development.

Both companies are using 3-D printing technologies to make meat substitutes that mimic the taste and texture of steaks, rather than trying to approximate the patties, meatballs, and ground meat that companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible have taken to market.

Backing Redefine’s path to market are a host of other investors including Losa Group, Sake Bosch, and K3 Ventures.

The company said it would use the new funding to expand its portfolio and support the commercial launch of its products. Redefine aims to have a large-scale production facility for its 3-D printers online before the end of the year, the company said in a statement.

In January, Redefine Meat announced a strategic agreement with the Israeli distributor Best Meister and the company has been expanding its staff with a current headcount of roughly 40 employees.

“We want to change the belief that delicious meat can only come from animals, and we have all the building blocks in place to make this a reality: high-quality meat products, strategic partnerships with stakeholders across the world, a large-scale pilot line under construction, and the first-ever industrial 3D Alt-Meat printers set to be deployed within meat distributors later this year,” said Eschar Ben-Shitrit, the company’s chief executive, in a statement. 

 

After raising $150 million in equity and debt, Nature’s Fynd opens its fungus food for pre-orders

By Jonathan Shieber

Nature’s Fynd, the food technology company with a new food offering cultivated from fungus found in the wilds of Yellowstone National Park, is releasing its first products for pre-order. 

Pitching both a non-dairy cream cheese and meatless breakfast patties, Nature’s Fynd had managed to attract some serious investors including Al Gore’s Generation Investment Management and the Bill Gates-backed investment fund, Breakthrough Energy Ventures. The company most recently raised $80 million in its last round of funding.

The company is part of a wave of innovative products using a range of bacteria, fungi, and plants to create meat alternatives.  Last year, companies developing meat alternatives raised well over $1 billion in financing and investors show no sign of slowing down in their commitments to the industry.

The commercial launch of the Fy Breakfast Bundle, vegan and non-GMO alternatives to traditional breakfast products will be the first commercial test for Nature’s Fynd as it looks to go to market.

These limited release bundles are available for $14,99 plus shipping, according to the company, and the products will be available across the 48 contiguous U.S. states.

The company’s product is grown using fermentation technology to cultivate the bacteria that Nature’s Fynd’s chief scientists discovered during their research into organisms around Yellowstone National Park.

Nature’s Fynd touts the resilience and efficiency of the microbe it discovered, leading to a more sustainable production process that uses a fraction of the land, water, and energy resources that traditional animal husbandry requires, the company said.

“We choose optimism so that we can find a way to do more with less. Using our novel liquid-air surface fermentation technology, we’re creating a range of sustainable foods that nourish our bodies and nurture our planet for generations to come. We’re really excited to be at the beginning of this journey with the launch of our first-ever limited release of Fy Breakfast Bundles,” said Nature’s Fynd CEO Thomas Jonas. “We’ve deeply studied our consumers and we know that Fy’s unique versatility, which delivers great tasting meat and dairy alternatives for every occasion, is highly appealing.” 

Nature’s Fynd chief executive, Thomas Jonas. Image Credit: Nature’s Fynd

MIT develops method for lab-grown plants that eventually lead to alternatives to forestry and farming

By Darrell Etherington

Researchers at MIT have developed a new method for growing plant tissues in a lab – sort of like how companies and researchers are approaching lab-grown meat. The process would be able to produce wood and fibre in a lab environment, and researchers have already demonstrated how it works in concept by growing simple structures using cells harvested from zinnia leaves.

This work is still in its very early stages, but the potential applications of lab-grown plant material are significant, and include possibilities in both agriculture and in ruction materials. While traditional agricultural is much less ecologically damaging when compared to animal farming, it can still have a significant impact and cost, and it takes a lot of resources to maintain. Not to mention that even small environmental changes can have a significant effect on crop yield.

Forestry, meanwhile, has much more obvious negative environmental impacts. If the work of these researchers can eventually be used to create a way to produce lab-grown wood for use in construction and fabrication, in a way that’s scalable and efficient, then there’s tremendous potential in terms of reducing the impact of forestry globally. Eventually, the team even theorizes you could coax the growth of plant-based materials into specific target shapes, so you could also do some of the manufacturing in the lab, by growing a wood table directly for instance.

There’s still a long way to go from what the researchers have achieved. They’ve only grown materials on a very small scale, and will look to figure out ways to grow plant-based materials with different final properties as one challenge. They’ll also need to overcome significant barriers when it comes to scaling efficiencies, but they are working on solutions that could address some of these difficulties.

Lab-grown meat is still in its infancy, and lab-grown plant material is even more nascent. But it has tremendous potential, even if it takes a long time to get there.

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