Plant-based cheesemaker Nobell Foods announced a $75 million Series B fundraise and launched out of stealth mode this week.
The round was led by investment group Breakthrough Energy Ventures and included participation from new investors Hillhouse Capital Group and Footprint Coalition. Existing investors AgFunder, Andreesen Horowitz, Mission Bay Capital, Fifty Years, New Crop Capital, Germin8 Ventures, former Muse frontman Matt Bellamy, and Pear VC also took part. Nobell has now raised $100 million in total, according to Fast Company, which was first to report the news.
Nobell will use the new funds to commercialize its first plant-based cheese products, including mozzarella, which the company makes from soybeans that are genetically edited to produce casein. Casein, a protein unique to milk, is a major contributor to the texture, taste, and melt-a-bility of cheese. It’s also an element most plant-based cheeses out there lack, which is why so many fall short of the mark when it comes to adequately mimicking the real thing.
Nobell effectively trains soybeans to produce this casein. The company has been quietly developing this method for the last four years, and says it could wind up being cheaper than the costs of producing cheese using cow’s milk.
Cheese comes with a heavy environmental footprint. As demand for dairy has increased, so too has the percentage of global emissions the sector produces. Cheese, in particular, is highly resource intensive.
There are many, many plant-based cheese options out there. Most of them can’t replicate the taste, texture, and mouthfeel of dairy-based cheese yet, largely because they don’t contain the aforementioned casein.
However, Nobell isn’t quite the only company out there producing the protein from alternative sources, though it’s the only one using plants for the process. A company called New Culture uses genetically modified microbes like yeast to produce casein, training these microbes to make the protein. Alt-dairy company Perfect Day also uses genetically modified microbes.
In a statement on the Nobell website, founder Magi Richani says that cheese is “the last frontier, the insurmountable thing” most consumers won’t get up. With Nobell, she aims to ensure these consumers don’t have to give it up and can still enjoy, stretchy, melty, tasty cheese without further compromising the health of the planet.