2030 Finance | February 27, 2019

Motif’s $90 million launch raises the stakes in the alternative protein race

Dennis Price
ImpactAlpha Editor

Dennis Price

ImpactAlpha, February 27 – Investors and food companies are putting big money into the discovery of alternative proteins that have been historically derived from animals.

Alternative ingredients company Motif Ingredients launched with $90 million in Series A financing to use biotechnology and fermentation – rather than animal agriculture – to “engineer dozens of proteins derived from dairy, egg and meat without compromising the functionality, taste and nutrition of animal-based ingredients,” the new company said in a statement.

Backers include the $1 billion Breakthrough Energy Ventures, backed by Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and other billionaires, which has a goal of reducing methane emissions from cattle by developing lower-emission replacements. Food processing corporation Louis Dreyfus Company, dairy cooperative Fonterra and hedge fund Viking Global Investors also backed the new firm.

Motif Ingredients, the second startup to launch from Boston’s Gingko Bioworks, will leverage Ginkgo’s biotech platform to develop new fermented ingredients, particularly new proteins. Already fermentation with genetically engineered yeasts and bacteria, in a similar process used for brewing beer, is used to make vitamins, amino acids, enzymes, flavors and other food ingredients.

With the meat industry contributing nearly one-fifth of global greenhouse gases, there’s a rush on for less resource-intensive, healthier alternatives.

Products from other alternative meat companies are in high demand, and have raised serious money from investors. Impossible Foods, maker of the Impossible Burger, has raised nearly $400 million. Beyond Meat has filed for an initial public offering (the firm raised fresh funding early this month from a group of athlete investors). Gates is an investor in both companies.

Impossible Foods raises a juicy $75 million for its meatless burgers

Motif believes it can deliver alternative protein ingredients that will allow food companies to deliver such products at an accessible price and mass scale.

Sustainability and accessible nutrition are among the biggest challenges facing the food industry, said Motif CEO Jonathan McIntyre, who has led R&D at Indigo Agriculture and PepsiCo. Motif aims to deliver “affordable, sustainable and accessible ingredients that meet the standards of chefs, food developers, and visionary brands.”

As alternative proteins become cheaper and tastier, we could see a rapid shift away from meat, predicts venture capitalist Paul Graham. While such a shift would boost sustainability of the food system, it could also exacerbate inequality, he warns. “The replacements for meat will be created by startups, which means more Bezoses, and will simultaneously put lots of small farmers out of business.”