Plantible Foods, a local agriculture-tech start-up developing a plant-based protein, raised $21.5 million in Series A funding.
The Series A financing was led by Astanor Ventures, a Belgium firm that focuses on agrifood impact investing. Additional investors include Piva Capital, CJ CheilJedang, Good Friends, Bradley Horowitz, SVP of Product at Google, Trevor Martin, founder of Mammoth Biosciences and Chris Bryson, founder of Unata.
Returning investors included Vectr Ventures, Lerer Hippeau, eighteen94 capital, Kellogg Company’s venture capital fund, FTW Ventures and Unshackled Ventures. A notable early investor is the Kellogg Company which owns MorningStar Farms, a division that produces vegan and vegetarian food.
The company was founded in 2018 by longtime friends, Tony Martens and Maurits van de Ven. Plantible has raised $27 million to date and this new infusion of capital supports the company in its mission to reimagine the food supply chain through its plant-based protein.
Changing the Supply Chain
From Martens’ perspective, he said they’re not competing with other plant-based proteins on the market, rather they are all moving the needle toward eliminating chickens and cows from the food supply system. In fact, the company’s name means “plant-based made possible.”
With this in mind, Martens said in order to tackle issues such as climate change, starvation and the coronavirus pandemic straining supply chains and food processing plants, we need to consider new possibilities for where we source food.
“If you really want to make a change in the way we produce food, and… how we provide nutrition to the population — we need to start from scratch,” Martens said.
Plantible’s co-founders flew out from the Netherlands in 2017 to take over a former algae farm for free which they turned into their San Marcos pilot facility.
Now, the start-up grows its lemna, also known as duckweed, in large vats that look like swimming pools. According to the company, lemna doubles in mass every 48 hours, which offers a higher yield than other plant or animal-based proteins alike.
The company identified an enzyme called, RuBisCO which is extracted from the lemna plants. RuBisCO is the key to Plantible’s operation as it mimics and functionally replaces egg whites and whey, two very common proteins used in food production, van de Ven said.
“There’s a lot of ingredients that go into differently packaged foods, and those ingredients are usually very hard to replace because they’re there for a reason,” van de Ven explained. “They perform a technical function. And those are particularly the ones that we try to replace with this plant-based RuBisCO protein, versus the animal-based protein.”
Martens said they started processing the plants in a small Vitamix blender, and now they’ve scaled up production 150 times. For context, they went from being able to process about 22 pounds of biomass per day to approximately 3,600 pounds at their facility.
Part of the Series A funding will help the start-up scale up its production capacity beyond the San Diego operation.
The retail market for plant-based foods is currently worth $7 billion, according to the Good Food Institute, an international Y Combinator funded nonprofit that promotes plant- and cell-based alternatives to animal products.
The sheer number of alternative milks and vegan-friendly options at the grocery store illustrates that consumer appetites for plant-based alternatives are trending upward.
As for the businesses who make these products, one of Plantible’s investors, Bennett Cohen, partner at Piva Capital, said the plant-based protein market is also in a position for growth.
“Tony and Maurits have tenaciously pursued a unique approach to Lemna cultivation and RuBisCO extraction, producing a plant-based protein that is more affordable, better functioning and more planet-positive than any other protein source,” Cohen said. “The market for plant-based protein alternatives will grow to $290 billion by 2035, as consumers continue to seek the health and environmental benefits of plant-based foods that taste delicious. We look forward to partnering with this exceptional team as they scale commercially.”
The company currently has 24 employees based in San Diego and is looking to grow its team by 50 people over the next year and a half. Additionally, Plantible has its sights set on building its first commercial facility to launch and commercialize its product in 2022.
FOUNDERS: Tony Martens, Maurits van de Ven
HEADQUARTERS: San Marcos
BUSINESS: B2B food technology company developing a plant-based food protein.
EMPLOYEES: 24 employees
NOTABLE: Kellogg Company’s venture capital fund, eighteen94 capital, participated in the Seed and Series A funding rounds.