Although Motif FoodWorks is still in its R&D phase, the ingredients innovation company is ramping up its growth efforts.
With $117.5 million in funding raised this year, the company has been stacking its teams with experienced hires and continuing to build up its biological engineering platform to recreate proteins from dairy, egg and meat to use in plant-based alternatives. Motif's Chief Commercial Officer Michele Fite told Food Dive that the company is working to create high-quality, animal-free ingredients that meet consumer demands for sustainability.
"We want to develop ingredients that don't compromise between taste and their values," Fite said. "We want to be a company that changes the eating experience for consumers in the plant-based world. We're a group of food scientists and food lovers, and we want to create a better food experience."
The company is preparing to launch products by 2021, Fite said, and investments have been pouring in. At the beginning of the year, startup Gingko Bioworks announced the launch of Motif with a $90 million funding round. Motif's partnership with Ginkgo allows the ingredients company to use its biological engineering platform.
"We want to be a company that changes the eating experience for consumers in the plant-based world."
Chief commercial officer, Motif FoodWorks
Then in August, Motif raised an additional $27.5 million on its own. The company said at the time it planned to use the funds to accelerate development of animal-free ingredients derived from more sustainable processes.
Fite said Motif will be the "secret sauce" that helps CPG companies develop plant-based products that have better taste, texture and nutritional profile. Motif is working with partners now and has plans to test samples next year, Fite said, but she couldn't reveal specifics.
"Our R&D efforts are moving at a rapid pace," Fite said. "The penetration is still so low and there's so much room for growth. We also see that there's still so many unknowns and so much room for improvement, in terms of improving the taste, nutrition and functionality profiles of the product, and that consumers are still compromising on all of those aspects."
There are a growing number of players getting into the plant-based food space, and Fite said many CPG companies are already coming to Motif and asking to work with them to help improve products.
"Our ability to move into the space is based on a value shift in the industry, so we have time to get in and start improving products," Fite said. "We have time to continue to improve products over the next 10 years because this is a long-term shift that is happening within this industry. The move into plant-based foods and plant-based protein is a change that is here to stay."
Consumers have pushed for food and beverage companies to launch more sustainable products, and the market for plant-based food has grown rapidly. Plant-based food sales jumped 11% in the past year, reaching a total market value of $4.5 billion, according to figures released by The Good Food Institute and the Plant Based Foods Association.
Motif has been building its top-level team since the summer, tapping seasoned pros and well-known innovators from CPGs and big businesses. This month, Motif announced two new hires in its executive team: Michael Leonard as chief technology officer and Elizabeth King as vice president of people and culture.
Leonard previously served as vice president and head of R&D for white space innovation and commercialization at Kraft Heinz. Before that, he was VP of process technology for global snacks R&D at PepsiCo.
He said in a release announcing his position that he made the move because Motif is paving a new path for more functional, nutritional and sustainable ingredients.
"The role of food in peoples' lives is changing, and animal-free options are increasingly top of mind for many consumers," Leonard said.
Fite, who was hired in June and has experience in companies like Nestlé, DuPont and Kerry, said she also made the change from Big Food to Motif to be part of the "revolution that's going on in the food industry."
"I've been in this business for over 30 years and these are the kind of things that just don't happen often, where you see a major change in how consumers behave, and the opportunity to impact that with a significant technology," she said. "So I just wanted to be a part of that."
Big Food has long been criticized for its lack of mobility to move on trends. Fite said it is harder for large corporate companies to focus on innovation and changes in the industry when they need to focus on their core business and drive growth in legacy products.
"In a company like Motif, we can be 100% focused on the discovery needed, the new science and innovation, finding new business models, finding new avenues and new opportunities to invent. And it just gives us the freedom and the flexibility to be in this new space," she said. "That's why you see people like myself and the new hires that we're are bringing in that are just moving and rushing into these new exciting companies like Motif so they can have the freedom to operate in that space."