The news about Ginkgo Bioworks spinning out Motif Ingredients signals an acceleration in the race to create an alternative meat. Plant-based meat has opened the door to consumer acceptance. Now the challenges are overcoming production bottlenecks and improving the taste, feel and versatility of the products.
With $90 million of fresh capital, an impressive set of investors and a pedigree from Ginkgo Bioworks, the race is on.
Spotlight on burgers
Plant-based burgers are making the news, with the latest offerings including the UAE-based Global Food Industries product, Nestle’s Incredible Burger, Lightlife Foods burger, or the Impossible Burger 2.0. Heme – Impossible Food’s key proprietary ingredient – gives the burger its meatiness. What Motif has that is unique in the industry is a platform for finding and making the next 100 hemes.
The secret sauce – engineered microbes
Ginkgo Bioworks enables rapid prototyping and custom designs of cultured ingredients, improving strains and discovering new enzymes. Ginkgo has been developing specialized markets, in part through partnerships, forming a joint venture with Bayer, called Joyn Bio, to focus on microbial crop probiotics for more sustainable agriculture. Spinning out Motif Ingredients, to use engineered microbes to brew new ingredients for alternative protein products is an extension of this strategy. The investors in the founding Series A round included Breakthrough Energy Ventures, which last month announced an investment in Sustainable Bioproducts – a developer of protein fermentation technology using extremophiles. Other investors also have a stake in the food markets; Fonterra, the worlds largest dairy producer is looking for options to future proof their business, and Louis Dreyfus Companies (LDC), a global merchant and processor of agricultural products, is doing the same.
Every race has winners and losers
As the race heats up, other microbe engineering firms like Zymergen could put a stake in the ground. Alternatively flavours and fragrances giant Givaudan could establish a position through recently launched MISTA, with Danone, Mars and Ingredion, to provide a pipeline of key alternative protein ingredient providers for itself and its corporate sponsors. The creation of Motif also highlights a lack of manufacturing capacity in key processes such as protein extrusion, which has led to production bottlenecks and failed product launches. The inclusion of LDC as an investor highlights the opportunities for food processing companies in this market, as does Bühler’s co-launching of the Future Food Initiative alongside Givaudan, Nestlé, ETH Zurich and Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne.
Keep an eye on the companies that make the ingredients to see if there will be a clear winner in specific categories, a highly fragmented market or vertical integration. Plant-based food is growing over 20% a year, there is room for innovation, success and failures.