- Brightseed, a three-year-old upstart that acts as a "search engine" to find phytonutrients, or small molecules, that could have the biggest health and nutrition benefits in humans, raised $27 million in funding led by Lewis & Clark AgriFood. The money will be used to scale-up its artificial intelligence platform, bring its first phytonutrient to market and fund research for partnerships it expects to strike with companies in 2020.
- Brightseed also announced new advisors to help on strategy, provide industry connections and offer business advice. Those individuals include Indra Nooyi, former chairman and CEO of PepsiCo; and Walter Robb, former co-CEO of Whole Foods Market.
- Jim Flatt, the company's CEO, said Brightseed has seen increased demand for its business during the coronavirus outbreak as consumers look to eat healthier and businesses search for ways to quickly and more efficiently meet those needs. "All companies are impatient and want to meet these unmet consumer needs and so, for sure, we honestly have more interest than we can handle as a development-stage company," he said.
Brightseed has had a busy 2020 as it benefits from growing demand from food, beverage and other companies who are looking to improve the health and nutritional benefits of their products. In June, Brightseed announced a partnership with Danone North America to uncover hidden nutrients in soybeans that it could then consider incorporating into its plant-based brands.
While a lot is known about plants, Brightseed and other companies are hoping to delve into the unknown small building blocks that create coveted flavors or nutritional and functional benefits. A plant's genome can be eight times as complicated as a human one because it not only helps the plant grow, but do other life-sustaining tasks like attract bees for pollination or repel pests. The same plant also can exhibit different characteristics depending on the climate or the soil that it is grown in.
In the case of Brightseed, its work in fruits, vegetables and other plants is particularly sought after because it is taking what the plant already offers rather than making genetic modifications that are frowned upon by some consumers. It's no wonder that one reason Brightseed is raising money is to fund new partnerships that it needs to grow its young business. The team of advisors it is adding to the fold will no doubt play a major role in helping Brightseed connect with other food and beverage companies to use their service.
Flatt compared phytonutrients to plant-based meats that are increasingly popular today as a replacement for traditional animal offerings. A few years ago, the space was largely untapped, but as consumer interest in eating healthier and protecting the environment gained momentum, it attracted upstarts such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods as well as big food giants like Conagra Brands, Tyson Foods, Kellogg and Nestlé.
As consumer trends continue to shift, Flatt is optimistic that phytonutrients will soon be a ubiquitous term throughout the food and beverage industry. Beneo, a supplier of functional ingredients, estimated 75% of consumers globally said they plan to eat and drink healthier as a result of the pandemic. In the long run, Brightseed could be a major beneficiary.
"I fully think phytonutrients will be a common term five years from now," Flatt said. "There is a bit of missionary effort here but it's with a pretty strong tailwind."
In humans, phytonutrients support health with anti-inflammatory, cardioprotective and neuroprotective activities. Examples of phytonutrients include resveratrol in red grape skins, or lycopene, found in tomatoes. Less than 1% of the world's phytonutrients have been identified, according to Brightseed.
Much like sequencing the human genome helped in the discovery of drugs to address unmet medical needs, uncovering even a small portion of these phytonutrients could lead to major dividends later on when it comes to new food and beverage creations. As CPGs look to ditch processed ingredients in favor better-for-you ingredients and compete with nimble upstart companies, Brightseed and others in its space stand to be among the biggest beneficiaries.