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Brightseed lab bench
A lab bench at Brightseed headquarters. Image credit: Brightseed

Danone partners with nutrient discovery startup Brightseed amid ‘plant-based 2.0’ push

August 4, 2021

Disclosure: AgFunder, our parent company, is an investor in Brightseed. 

Danone is significantly expanding its partnership with Brightseed, a US startup using artificial intelligence to explore novel nutritious compounds in plants, as it pushes farther into the plant-based foods segment.

The French food and beverage giant will work with Brightseed to “co-build unparalleled understanding of the world’s most common crops,” as well as “lesser-known plant sources,” it said in a statement.

San Francisco-based Brightseed entered into a pilot collaboration with Danone’s North America business last year to explore largely unchartered compounds occurring in the soybean plant that could have health and nutrition benefits for humans.

Brightseed’s AI-powered platform, Forager, is able to discover and identify phytonutrients. These are natural biochemical compounds produced by plants that allow their hosts to resist disease and predation – advantages that, it is argued, can be passed on to humans including the compounds in our diet.

“In our initial work with Danone North America, Forager uncovered 10 times more bioactives than previously known and seven new health areas in just one plant,” said Brightseed co-founder and chief operating officer Sofia Elizondo.

“More work needs to be completed for scientific validation, but in a very short time frame Forager proved its power as a breakthrough discovery tool and an enabling platform to accelerate Danone’ s ‘One Planet, One Health’ mission […] We will be eager to share with Danone how these new discoveries from our first collaboration will translate into new plant-based, health-forward products for consumers,” she told AFN.

“From the moment we’re born, we’re going to know exactly what foods we should eat, for what purpose.” Hear more from Brightseed co-founder Sofia Elizondo on the Future Food podcast, here

While the first project focused in on soybean, the expanded partnership takes the collaboration global and includes “all plants that power Danone’s current and future plant-based portfolio,” Elizondo said, adding that Brightseed’s work with Danone North America is ongoing.

“The collaboration is all encompassing of Danone’s global plant supply chain. Without detailing out all of those crops and plants, Forager will seek to analyze various sources and strains from around the world,” she said.

Brightseed will generate an income from partnership, she added.

In an H1 2021 conference call earlier this week, Danone interim co-CEO — and Danone North America CEO — Shane Grant said the company is preparing for the evolution of the plant-based foods market.

“Beyond the core of today [is] ‘plant-based 2.0,'” he said. “The current landscape in beverage is based on an ingredient analog: almond, oat, soy. The opportunity we see is really the challenge of that convention.”

Noting that around 60% of beverage consumers in the US refrain from plant-based alternatives to products such as dairy, Grant said that Danone believes taste and texture to be the biggest obstacles to further growth.

“We will launch against this opportunity new dairy-like technology under [our brands] Silk NextMilk, So Delicious Wondermilk, and Alpro Not Milk. We know from consumer testing, we can match or better traditional dairy milk preference, recruiting new plant-based users, and we intend to launch these platforms with scale later in H2,” he said.

Elizondo told AFN that, while she can’t speak to Danone’s corporate strategy, Brightseed shares the corporate’s vision “around ushering in a regenerative food future.”

“That can only come with more data on how plants impact human health – data that is severely lacking in order to move health and food industries forward.”

Brightseed’s most recent fundraise was a $27 million round led by Lewis & Clark Agrifood in September last year.

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