Cheese is one of those foods that when you like it, you actually love it. It’s also one of the most difficult foods to make from something other than milk. Stockeld Dreamery not only took that task on, it has a product to show for it.
The Stockholm-based company announced Thursday its Series A round of $20 million co-led by Astanor Ventures and Northzone. Joining them in the round — which founder Sorosh Tavakoli told TechCrunch he thought was “the largest-ever Series A round for a European plant-based alternatives startup,” was Gullspång Re:food, Eurazeo, Norrsken VC, Edastra, Trellis Road and angel investors David Frenkiel and Alexander Ljung.
Tavakoli previously founded video advertising startup Videoplaza, and sold it to Ooyala in 2014. Looking for his next project, he said he did some soul-searching and wanted the next company to do something with an environmental impact. He ended up in the world of food, plant-based food, in particular.
“Removing the animal has a huge impact on land, water, greenhouse gases, not to mention the factory farming,” he told TechCrunch. “I identified that cheese is the worst. However, though people are keen on shifting their diet, when they try alternative products, they don’t like it.”
Tavakoli then went in search of a co-founder with a science background and met Anja Leissner, whose background is in biotechnology and food science. Together they started Stockeld in 2019.
Pär-Jörgen Pärson, general partner at Northzone, was an investor in Videoplaza and said via email that Stockeld Dreamery was the result of “the best of technology paired with the best of science,” and that Tavakoli and Leissner were “using their scientific knowledge and vision of the future and proposing a commercial application, which is very rare in the foodtech space, if not unique.”
The company’s first product, Stockeld Chunk, launched in May, but not without some trials and tribulations. The team tested over 1,000 iterations of their “cheese” product before finding a combination that worked, Tavakoli said.
Advances in the plant-based milk category have been successful for the most part, not necessarily because of the plant-based origins, but because they are tasty, he explained. Innovation is also progressing in meat, but cheese still proved difficult.
“They are typically made from starch and coconut oil, so you can have a terrible experience from the smell and the mouth feel can be rubbery, plus there is no protein,” Tavakoli added.
Stockeld wanted protein as the core ingredient, so Chunk is made using fermented legumes — pea and fava in this case — which gives the cheese a feta-like look and feel and contains 30% protein.
Chunk was initially launched with restaurants and chefs in Sweden. Within the product pipeline are spreadable and melting cheese that Tavakoli expects to be on the market in the next 12 months. Melting cheese is one of the hardest to make, but would open up the company as a potential pizza ingredient if successful, he said.
Including the latest round, Stockeld has raised just over $24 million to date. The company started with four employees and has now grown to 23, and Tavakoli intends for that to be 50 by the end of next year.
The new funding will enable the company to focus on R&D, to build out a pilot plant and to move into a new headquarters building next year in Stockholm. The company also looks to expand out of Sweden and into the U.S.
“We have ambitious investors who understand what we are trying to do,” Tavakoli said. “We have an opportunity to think big and plan accordingly. We feel we are in a category of our own in a sense that we are using legumes for protein. We are almost like a third fermented legumes category, and it is exciting to see where we can take it.”
Eric Archambeau, co-founder and partner at Astanor Ventures, is one of those investors. He also met Tavakoli at his former company and said via email that when he was pitched on the idea of creating “the next generation of plant-based cheese,” he was interested.
“From the start, I have been continuously impressed by the Stockeld team’s diligence, determination and commitment to creating a truly revolutionary and delicious product,” Archambeau added. “They created a product that breaks the mold and paves the way towards a new future for the global cheese industry.”
Sydney, Australia-based Fable Food is the latest plant-based food startup to announce funding. The company, which uses mushrooms in its meat alternatives, has raised $6.5 million AUD (about $4.8 million USD) in a seed round led by Blackbird Ventures, the Australian venture capital firm whose portfolio also includes Canva, Culture Amp and SafetyCulture. Other participants included agriculture and food tech venture firm AgFunder, sustainability-focused Aera VC and Better Bite Ventures, along with Singapore-based produce importer Ban Choon Marketing and former Sequoia Capital partner Warren Hogarth.
Fable is preparing to launch in the United States by the end of this year. In Australia, its products are available at retailers like Woolworths, Coles and Harris Farm Markets, along with restaurants including Grill’d, which recently started serving its Meaty Mushroom Burger Pattie at 136 locations. Fable’s products are also available at restaurants in Singapore and the United Kingdom.
The startup was founded in 2019 by fine dining chef turned chemical engineer and mycologist (mushroom scientist) Jim Fuller, organic mushroom farmer Chris McLoghlin and Michael Fox, whose previous startup was Shoes of Prey.
Fox, Fable’s chief executive officer, told TechCrunch in an email that after being a vegetarian for six years, he recently became a vegan “for a mix of health, environmental and ethical reasons.”
“Talking to my friends and family, a lot of people want to reduce their meat consumption for the same reasons but they find it challenging because they love the taste and texture of meat and giving it up is hard,” Fox said. He wanted to find a way to make it easier for people to transition to plant-based foods, and spoke to several chefs who suggested using mushrooms as a base ingredient. Then Fox met Fuller and McLoghlin, who were in the process of developing meat alternatives using mushrooms.
“When we met, we realized we shared the same values and goals and had complementary skill sets,” said Fox. “We shared a common desire to help end industrial agriculture and wanted to make our food system more ethical, healthy, sustainable and lower its greenhouse gas emissions.”
Fable’s first products include a substitute for pulled pork, braised beef and beef brisket (Fuller grew up in Texas eating slow-cooked meats and wanted to recreate the experience), along with a line of ready-made meals. The company uses shiitake mushrooms, which Fox explained are “very flavorful with their natural umami flavors, they are a slow-growing mushroom so they naturally have the fleshy fibers that give the meaty bite you typically get from animal proteins, and have the right chemical composition that when cooked allow us to taste flavors that are found in animal products.”
Fable’s ready-made meals. Image Credits: Fable
Fuller serves as Fable’s chief science officer and the startup leverages his experience as a chef/chemical engineer/mycologist to create the right combinations of flavor, aroma and texture while keeping processing and ingredients to a minimum. For example, its braised beef alternative is made with shiitake mushrooms, seven other ingredients and salt and pepper.
Fable also announced today it has appointed Dan Joyce, who was previously safety and compliance software company SafetyCulture’s general manager of Europe, the Middle East and Africa, as chief growth officer to head global sales and marketing. It will launch in the U.S. through a combination of partnerships with restaurants and meal kit companies.
Other startups that use mushrooms as basis for meat alternatives include Meati and AtLast. Fox said a main difference is that those two startups ferment mycelium, or the root structure of fungi, instead of using mushrooms, which are the fruiting body of fungi.
Fable’s new funding will be used for research and development, expanding its production and manufacturing capacity in Australia and other countries. The company is keeping its product pipeline under wraps for now, but Fox said it plans to develop mushroom-based substitutes for pork, chicken, lamb and other animal proteins.