Making a burger (or chicken nugget, or egg) out of plants that tastes like the real thing is no easy feat. It takes years of R&D, teams of scientists, and large amounts of funding, and for many small startups, the development process is a slow struggle.
A new company is working to make it easier for plant-based protein companies to develop better products. Today Ginkgo Bioworks, a Boston-based biotech company (and unicorn), unveiled Motif Ingredients, a spinoff company developing ingredients to replace animal protein. The company’s off to a running start: today it also announced it has raised a 90 million Series A funding round from Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Fonterra and food processing giant Louis Dreyfus Co., among others.
Motif will use engineered microbes (like yeast) to “brew” food proteins that can mimic the same ones that give animal products their unique taste and texture. The resulting ingredients can be used to make everything from regular ol’ cow milk and chicken meat to more unique offerings, like sturgeon eggs and camel milk.
Established players like Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat, and JUST have their own dedicated R&D labs, filled with robots sussing out plant properties and teams of scientists with extensive backgrounds in biotechnology and food science. Big Food — along with its extensive resources — is also entering the plant-based protein space. In fact, Tyson recently announced plans to develop its own meatless products internally.
But for smaller startups, developing their own plant-based ingredients can be a prohibitively expensive and time-consuming process. By partnering with Motif, however, these companies could outsource the costly R&D process and accelerate their product development.
If successful — and with $90 million in funding and a unicorn parent company, I don’t see why they wouldn’t be — Motif’s services could help usher in a flood of new plant-based protein companies. Plant-based camel milk, here we come.