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Monday, May 27, 2024

Plantible Pursues an Unusual Protein

Plantible Foods, a business-to-business food technology company announced it closed a $4.6 million seed round from investors to scale its plant-based products and execute its commercialization plans.

The money came late March, after the pandemic disrupted the food supply chain nationwide, especially for animal proteins. Over the last decade, the plant-based protein industry has steadily built up momentum as consumer dependence on animal proteins declined and plant-based foods went mainstream.

In fact, the global plant-based protein industry was tracking to reach $40 billion by 2025, before the COVID-19 crisis. 

Looking to snatch a piece of the alternative protein market is Plantible Foods. The San Marcos-based startup uses duckweed — an aquatic plant that grows on the surface of water — to extract a plant-based protein ingredient that will eventually allow food companies to use plant-based products to replace animal based products. 

Founded in 2016, by co-founders Tony Martens and Maurits van de Ven, Plantible Foods recently completed a series of trials with several corporate partners testing its product called Rubi Protein Powder. 

Companies are interested because the protein powder has the ability to imitate the function of dairy proteins, egg whites, and meat proteins, making it well-suited for food products including meat and dairy alternatives, and protein beverages, among others.

Seeking FDA Approval

After four years, the company is now working towards Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. “Despite the coronavirus pandemic, we’re still planning to plow forward with commercialization. For the past few months we have been testing its Rubi Protein Powder with partners and hope to have our Rubi Protein on the market by late this year or early 2021,” said van de Ven.

The latest financing was co-led by Vectr Ventures and Lerer Hippeau. Other participants include eighteen94 Capital (Kellogg Co.’s venture capital fund) and FTW Ventures. Prior to this, Plantible Foods completed an undisclosed pre-seed funding round led by Unshackled Ventures in 2018. To date, the company employs 7 local staffers.

Plantible Foods’ investors are backing the seed-stage company because they can compete on balance for nutrition, price, and taste compared with competitors, according to the company. Its proprietary plant protein is considered to be one of the most sustainable and nutrient-dense (Duckweed) plants in the world, enabling the company to potentially become a leader within its sector.

Innovative Process

“We believe the Plantible Foods team has developed an innovative protein extraction process that preserves the many powerful properties of the lemna plant to create a leading plant protein,” managing partner of Lerer Hippeau, Ben Lerer said. “Plantible Food’s co-founders have the vision to revolutionize the food industry, the mission to do so while bettering our world, and the market insight to employ a unique and differentiated strategy.”

Plantible Foods can produce roughly 10 times more protein per acre than soy while recycling nearly 95 percent of the water it uses, the company claims. Duckweed (also known as lemna) multiplies every 48 hours and grows 365-days a year, and the crop is a highly sustainable source of protein. 

Growing Consumer Demand

Consumer demand for plant-based alternatives to meat, dairy and ready-to-drink formulations are on the rise. Last year, foods made with plant-based proteins generated $4.5 billion in the U.S. which was up 11 percent from 2018.

Other Issues

Van de Ven said, Consumers are not only looking for healthier options, but are also increasingly aware of how the food we eat impacts issues like climate change, resource conservation, and animal welfare.

The company predicts demand for plant-based proteins will increase causing food manufacturers to continue looking for best-in-class ingredients for their products. However, they are not looking to replace other plant-based proteins but instead add value by delivering the functional and sensory attributes that make food products better.

Entering an emerging sector, other alternative well-funded protein competitors include Clara Foods, FUMI Ingredients and Aquafaba, Plantible’s advantage lies within their team’s experience, their ability to build and iterate rapidly.

The co-founders worked in roles touching supply chain management, consumer packaged goods, mergers and acquisitions, and exited two companies before coming together to create Plantible Foods. Originally formed in the Netherlands, they moved to the U.S. to expand operations and scale their indoor aqua farms.

Choosing San Diego

Van de Ven said they choose San Marcos because of its proximity to specialty suppliers, serving as a hub for engineering— or manufacturing-related processes. 

“We can find expertise locally and procure quality products quicker and cheaper than we could elsewhere,” he said. “There is value in the wide variety of specialty suppliers and small manufacturers, especially in Vista, San Marcos, and Escondido. We can actually get the products much faster and at better rates from local suppliers with a lot of good support.”

In response to the statewide lockdown, the team is currently living out of trailers on their two-acre lemna farm, despite circumstances, continuing to produce the Rubi Protein and pushing forward with its research and development. 

Alternative Dairy

Looking ahead, Plantible Foods sees its biggest opportunity in the alternative dairy market where replicating food products like yogurts and cheeses poses greater technical challenges.

“As momentum in the plant-based protein space continues to grow, there is a massive opportunity to produce a truly distinct and high performing ingredient that addresses the evolving consumer needs, said Alan Chan, managing partner at Vectr Ventures. “We are very excited to work alongside the Plantible team and a group of likeminded investors to create a new market standard in the plant-based ingredient space.”


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