Disclosure: AFN’s parent company, AgFunder, is an investor in Black Sheep Foods.
San Francisco-based Black Sheep Foods has raised $5.25 million in seed funding to grow its business focused on “lesser-known, bold tasting” plant-based meats, it has announced.
Investors in the round included AgFunder; Bessemer Venture Partners; New Crop Capital; Siddhi Capital; Meera and Ashok Vasudevan, co-founders of organic foods brand Tasty Bite; and individual investor Smita Conjeevaram.
Black Sheep is focused on imitating meats that haven’t gotten as much attention from plant-based protein manufacturers as North American favorites like beef and chicken; its initial product range features lamb analogs built around pea protein (Towards the end of last year, it entered a partnership with Israeli seed genetics company Equinom, which will supply the US startup with its 70%-protein yellow pea concentrate.)
While fairly tight-lipped at this point about its technical process, Black Sheep Foods says it uses “analytical chemistry” to identify taste and smell compounds that give sheep meat its characteristic ‘gamey’ flavor profile, and recreate these in its products.
The company is one of several alt-protein startups looking beyond the standard burgers, nuggets, and grounds that have dominated in the US market, with a view to providing alternatives to meats popular in other food cultures while also diversifying the world’s protein choices.
Australia’s Vow and US-based Orbillion are both working on cell-cultured versions of game and ‘heritage’ livestock breeds. Magic Valley, another Aussie startup, is cultivating lamb in the lab; while India’s GoodDot has launched “UnMutton” keema (curried ground meat) and biryani made from soy, chickpea, and vegetable proteins.
Black Sheep’s choice of meat is also partly for environmental reasons. Lamb tops even beef in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, according to US nonprofit Environmental Working Group.
That said, there isn’t much demand for sheep and goat meat in the Americas. However, they rank among the most popular animal proteins in Africa, Asia, Australasia, and Europe – where Black Sheep is currently seeking EU regulatory approval.
While it sets its sights on reaching those mutton-loving markets overseas in the not-too-distant future, Black Sheep will use the seed funding to expand closer to home in the US.
In an interview with Bloomberg, Black Sheep Foods co-founder Sunny Kumar said that the company is already working on raising its next funding round, as well as new product lines including duck and other wild game and heritage livestock breeds.
Its plant-based lamb — designed to mimic meat from the heritage Tunis sheep breed — debuted in Bay Area Greek fast-fine chain Souvla last October. Following this week’s seed round, the product will be added to the menus of several other regional restaurants, including aperitivo aficionados Chezchez; Arabian ‘comfort food’ cooks Beit Rima; Detroit-style pizza chain Joyride; Mediterranean grill Mazra; purveyor of classic American fare, Monica’s; and Indian-Californian fusion place, Ettan.
Rooh, a contemporary Indian restaurant with locations in San Francisco, Palo Alto, and New Delhi, will also start offering Black Sheep’s alt-lamb to its diners.
In a statement, Rooh San Francisco chef de cuisine Pujan Sarkar said it’s “an incredible product with impeccable taste and texture” which “opens up new possibilities for gluten-free and vegan recipes.”
“We love the fact that the company is local too,” he added.