- Startup Gingko Bioworks announced the launch of its Motif Ingredients company with a $90 million funding round. Investors included Breakthrough Energy Ventures — which has Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Michael Bloomberg and Richard Branson on its board — Louis Dreyfus Company, Fonterra and Viking Global Investors.
- The biotech firm said the new company will use Ginkgo's biological engineering platform to recreate proteins from dairy, egg and meat to use in plant-based alternatives.
- Motif CEO Jonathan McIntyre said in a release that consumers wrongly believe plant-based foods will be more expensive and won't taste or function like animal-based foods. "Motif will be key to propelling the next food revolution with affordable, sustainable and accessible ingredients that meet the standards of chefs, food developers, and visionary brands," McIntyre said.
Ginkgo Bioworks is launching Motif Ingredients to try and locate the next big thing in protein alternatives. Consumer demand for meat substitutes and plant-based beverages jumped 17% last year, the company noted, so this could be the optimal time for a company like this.
According to CNBC, Ginkgo CEO Jason Kelly started strategizing on a new ingredients company in 2017 because of the success of Impossible Foods and its plant-based Impossible Burger that "bleeds." Bill Gates has also invested in Impossible Foods, according to Crunchbase, and he seems to have an ongoing interest in funding and developing more sustainable protein products. No doubt it will help to have such heavy hitters backing the new company.
There are plenty of plant-based competitors out there besides Impossible Burger. Beyond Foods is staking its future on the plant-based Beyond Burger, as well as plant-based sausages and chicken. Gates has financially backed Beyond Meat as well, which has posted net losses in previous years and filed for an estimated $100 million IPO last fall. Other plant-based burgers already in the market, or coming soon, include the Lightlife Burger from Lightlife Foods and Nestlé's Garden Gourmet Incredible Burger.
However, Motif Ingredients sounds like it will be a somewhat different animal — literally. While the new company will be exploring plant-based alternatives, it will also be recreating proteins from animal-based sources, such as dairy, egg and meat, and supplying those protein ingredients to other companies. Ginkgo said this approach will deliver on nutrition and taste and also lower the price so ingredients can be introduced to food markets on a mass scale.
"Using biotechnology and fermentation — rather than animal agriculture — Motif will engineer dozens of proteins derived from dairy, egg and meat without compromising the functionality, taste and nutrition of animal-based ingredients," the company said in the release.
This approach no doubt appealed to Fonterra, a New Zealand-based dairy processor, and explains why the company participated in the Motif funding round. Judith Swales, COO of Fonterra's global consumer and food service business, told Food Business News that working with Motif allows them "to be part of this emerging area."
"To help feed the world and meet consumers’ evolving food preferences, traditional and complementary nutritional sources need to coexist," she said.
While the sustainability factor could be a winning approach with consumers when it comes to Motif's ingredients, they might not be as keen on using genetic engineering to recreate these proteins. However, if these proteins are supplied to other manufacturers, consumers may not be aware of their presence in the final product.
It's not clear yet what Motif's first ingredients will be, but since the company has been in the works for a couple of years — and also because McIntyre is its CEO — it's likely they will be in demand and market-savvy. McIntyre previously was senior vice-president for R&D for PepsiCo's snack division and also led R&D for startup Indigo Agriculture, so he likely knows plenty about how to position a company and make sure its initial products respond to manufacturing needs. Animal- and plant-based proteins are some of the hottest products in the food and beverage industry today, so there will probably be plenty of companies looking to do business with Motif.
Motif has a novel approach, but it is not the only player in this space. JUST, known for its vegan products including JUST Egg, its namesake line of dressings and sauces, and desserts, does similar work. While the San Francisco-based company formerly known as Hampton Creek does not bill itself as an ingredients company, it has a patented method that combines robotics, proprietary plant databases, artificial intelligence and predictive modeling to scan and identify useful plant proteins. Many of those findings are now channeled into its own products, but it has previously worked with CPG companies on ingredients — like once making an egg replacement for General Mills. According to Crunchbase, the company has raised $220 million over six funding rounds, though CEO Josh Tetrick has told Food Dive the company is worth more than $1 billion. JUST is also working on using this process to develop a medium for cultured meat.
Another biotech startup, Sustainable Bioproducts, raised $33 million last month from the venture capital arms of Danone and Archer Daniels Midland, along with participation from Breakthrough Energy Ventures. The company is producing alternative protein sources through fermentation and from research into microbes from the volcanic springs in Yellowstone National Park. However, Sustainable Bioproducts said commercialization of its protein products is still a few years away, so it's possible Motif's ingredients may hit the market sooner due to its higher funding level.