Today Stockholm, Sweden-based Noquo Foods announced it had raised a €3.25 million ($3.6 million USD) seed round. Investors included VC firms Astanor Ventures, Northzone, Inventure, Purple Orange Ventures, and Creandum. Henry Soesanto, CEO of mushroom-based vegan food line Quorn, and a handful of angel investors also participated.
Noquo Foods was founded one year ago by Anja Leissner and Sorosh Tavakoli. The company has a singular goal: make vegan cheese that actually tastes good.
As it turns out, that is surprisingly complicated. (If you don’t believe me, go and taste some of the plant-based cheeses currently on the market — there’s a lot of room for improvement). During a phone call yesterday Tavakoli told me that current vegan cheese offers are usually made from coconut oil and plant starch, or else nuts. Both fall short when it comes to emulating cheese, and nuts have the added burden of being expensive. Animal-free cheese made from fermentation — like that from Perfect Day, Legendairy and New Culture — is certainly promising, but it may be a while before it’s widely available (or cost competitive).
Instead of coconut or cashews, Noquo Foods is making their cheese out of legumes that are formed into what Tavakoli calls a “stable matrix.” This, he claims, will allow their cheese to slice, melt, and taste like the real thing, and also have more protein than some other vegan options.
The key word in that sentence is will. Despite their notable fundraise, Noquo Foods actually doesn’t have a product to market yet. They’ve developed a few prototypes — including one for a feta-like cheese — but haven’t even done a significant public taste test. Tavakoli is aware that they have a ways to go, and told me that the company will funnel most of its new capital into R&D. “We haven’t totally cracked it yet,” he added. At least at first, they’re focusing specifically on cheddar-like cheese meant for melting and slicing. He hopes to bring a product to market by the end of the year.
Initially Noquo Foods will sell its plant-based cheese to foodservice providers in Sweden in a similar model to Impossible Foods or Oatly. Down the road Tavakoli said they would create their own branded product line for retail.
Having $3.6 million in their pocket is certainly helpful, but Noquo Foods still has an uphill battle ahead of them. The company is quite small; Tavakoli and his cofounder just hired their first two employees — food scientists — in November. There’s also the fact that making cheese from plants is hard. If companies with even larger warchests and teams of R&D scientists are struggling to make vegan cheese that tastes like the real thing, I’m guessing Noquo Foods will also face plenty of hurdles.
There might not be many tasty vegan cheeses available right now, but consumers are hungry for them. A study by the Good Food Institute showed that sales of plant-based cheese grew by almost 70 percent from 2017 to 2019.
Looking at Noquo Foods’ seed round, I’d say that investors are pretty hungry for the next generation of vegan cheese, too.