Plantible Foods, a San Marco, California-based startup making alternative protein from aquatic plants, has raised a $4.6 million seed round. The round was co-led by Lerer Hippeau and Vectr Ventures, with participation from FTW Ventures and eighteen94 Capital, the corporate venture arm of Kellogg’s.
Founded in 2018, Plantible processes lemna, also known as duckweed, to create a high-protein powder called Rubi Protein which it sells to B2B partners. As we wrote when we profiled Plantible earlier this year:
Plantible’s scientists developed a proprietary process to extract the grassy flavor from lemna, leaving a protein that’s on par with pea or soy nutrition-wise, but is completely colorless, odorless, and flavorless. The perfect blank canvas for a variety of animal alternative products.
Speaking to me on the phone this week, Plantible’s co-founder Tony Martens said the company has now raised a total of $5.8 million in funding. He also told me he and the Plantible team had decamped to live out of trailers on their two-acre lemna farm as soon as California enacted its shelter-in-place measures. Despite the circumstances, the small team is continuing to produce the Rubi Protein and push forward with R&D.
The company plans to use the fresh funding to scale up production. Right now Plantible is only able to utilise about 4 percent of the lemna grown on the farm, which they process in a lab on wheels (“like something out of a Breaking Bad episode,” Martens said). The goal is to be able to invest in a larger processing facility so that they can start turning all of the lemna from the aquatic farm into Rubi Protein.
Of course, our conversation quickly turned to the coronavirus pandemic. Martens said that for now, they’re still planning to plow forward with commercialization. For the past few months Plantible has been testing its Rubi Protein Powder with several corporate partners and they still hope to have a product featuring Rubi Protein out in the market by late 2020 or early 2021.
But Plantible isn’t immune to the effects of COVID-19. “Lots of plant-based foods are priced at a premium,” Martens told me. “Smaller brands might have a tough time surviving the recession that could result from the pandemic.”
Indeed, Plantible will be more costly than some other plant proteins, at least initially. But Martens is confident that they’ll quickly be able to undercut the price of egg whites — one of the ingredients that Rubi Protein can replace — and will eventually be cheaper than pea protein.
CPG companies are looking for ways to cash in on the plant-based foods craze. With this new funding, it looks like Plantible will have a chance to prove its worth in the canon of alt-protein ingredients — coronavirus or no.