- Fermented protein company Nature's Fynd raised $45 million through venture debt and equipment financing commitments, the company announced. The funding, from Oxford Finance and Trinity Capital, will enable the company to accelerate its go-to-market strategies, introduce different products and be more efficient with large purchases.
- The company also announced several CPG veterans would be joining its senior ranks. Baljit Singh Ghotra, former vice president of food research at Archer Daniels Midland, is Nature's Fynd's new senior vice president of food innovation. Emilie Runac, who spent 16 years in plant management and innovation roles at Bel Brands USA, is the new director of manufacturing. Pat Dalugdug, coming from Kind Snacks, is the new director of sales. And 16-year Cargill veteran Tom Frey is the new director of project engineering.
- Nature's Fynd is one of several companies that plans to use fermentation to create substitutes for animal-based food. The Good Food Institute calls fermentation the "next pillar" of the alternative protein industry. As of September, a total of $435 million had been invested in that space in 2020.
As it moves toward a product launch next year, Nature's Fynd — which builds its products from a protein found in a geothermal spring in Yellowstone National Park — is bulking up both its cash reserves and team.
After a huge scale-up in 2020, which included an $80 million funding round, a 35,000-square-foot manufacturing facility, and changing its name from the clunkier-sounding Sustainable Bioproducts, the company seems on track to bring another fermented protein option to the market. The increased capital and the new hires give Nature's Fynd more flexibility and expertise, both of which will be useful as it seeks to break into the marketplace with a completely different sort of product.
Founded in 2016 by Thomas Jonas, Nature's Fynd was the result of a scientific trek to some of the more remote areas of Yellowstone. Jonas and other scientists were studying what might survive in an environment unlike that on Earth, and they found a protein-rich fungus. The company ferments the fungus to create food, and has trademarked the key ingredient as Fy. The fungus had an adaptable taste, a quick growth rate, a filamented organizational structure that resembles muscles and remarkable efficiency in using resources to grow and sustain itself, Jonas said in an interview last year.
Fy is highly adaptable to several applications, the company has said. It's unclear what kinds of products are being targeted for the first launch. The company's website features pictures of products ranging from yogurt and burgers to nuggets and creamy spreads.
Both the adaptability and the intriguing backstory of Nature's Fynd present challenges and opportunities. An experienced team is key to being able to engineer a launch that intrigues and delights consumers, while telling the company's story and working to produce innovative products at scale. According to the release from Nature's Fynd, Ghotra has more than two decades' experience in building R&D platforms for food ingredient development and overseeing manufacturing. These are the types of skills needed to drive product development, but also to work with the company to build and release products in a thoughtful way. And a seasoned sales professional — especially someone like Dalugdug who comes from a paradigm-shifting company such as Kind — can help tell Nature's Fynd's story to retailers and foodservice so that they want to bring its products to consumers.
On the manufacturing front, Frey is an expert in designing and implementing fermentation technology for food products, according to the release. It's vital for the company to be working with someone who knows how to make the product according to FDA regulations. Runac, an experienced plant manager, also led the North American launch of the Mini Babybel Cheese & Crackers product, giving her the kind of experience that could help create batches of totally new products for Nature's Fynd.
While this all seems new, protein fermentation is actually relatively old technology in the food business, pioneered by Quorn in 1985. A report on the space from The Good Food Institute identified 44 fermentation companies focused on alternative proteins. Almost half of them launched between 2019 and the first seven months of 2020. With its team and funding, Nature's Fynd is in a good position to beat many of these newcomers to market. Its product versatility and sustainability backstory could put it in line to be another company that perseveres.