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.
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.”
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.
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