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Dr. Mike Leonard, CEO, MycoTechnology
Dr. Mike Leonard, CEO, MycoTechnology

Exclusive: Motif FoodWorks CEO departs as firm ‘refocuses priorities’ and creates ‘leaner organizational structure’

November 13, 2023

Motif FoodWorks CEO Dr. Mike Leonard has left the Boston-based foodtech firm and has been replaced by Brian Brazeau on an interim basis as the company engages in a fresh round of layoffs, AgFunderNews has learned. Brazeau is the startup’s third CEO since it spun off from Ginkgo Bioworks in 2019.

Brazeau, who has held senior roles at DSM, Cargill, Ginkgo, and Novozymes, was most recently a partner at Ferment.Co., which works with synthetic biology company Ginkgo Bioworks to create new companies deploying Ginkgo’s cell programming platform.

A spokesperson for Motif told AgFunderNews: “Brian Brazeau has replaced Michael Leonard [who took the helm in summer 2022 replacing former PepsiCo exec Jonathan McIntyre] as interim CEO of Motif FoodWorks.

“To support the continued optimization of our innovative ingredient technology and plant-based finished products, Motif is also refocusing priorities with the intent to maximize our position and value in the current marketplace. As a result, we have brought on Brian, a respected biotechnology industry veteran, created a leaner organizational structure, and are implementing other value-driven, strategic decisions that we expect to announce soon.”

Motif—which engaged in a round of layoffs last summer—would not share how many staff had been laid off in the latest restructuring, but told us: “We are focusing our resources on priorities that maximize the greatest value for our customers and investors—building out our ingredient technology pipeline, advancing our foodservice business, and strategically positioning Motif in the marketplace.

“We’ve restructured our organization to execute on the above priorities, the result of which has been a tightening of our employee headcount.”

High-impact, low-inclusion ingredients

Motif has raised $345 million since it launched in 2019. It makes high-impact, high-value, low-inclusion-rate ingredients for meat and dairy alternatives, market sectors which have not grown at the rate investors believed they might back in 2019.

To date it has commercialized three sets of products: HEMAMI ​​​myoglobin, a heme protein claimed to deliver the flavor and aroma of meat that Motif makes via precision fermentation; APPETEX​​​, a hydrogel combining plant-based proteins and carbohydrates that Motif claims can replicate the “springiness, juiciness and bite associated with animal-based connective tissue;” and finished products (plant-based chicken, beef, and pork) containing HEMAMI and APPETEX targeting the foodservice market.

The finished products have brought Motif into direct conflict with Impossible Foods, which makes a heme protein called soy leghemoglobin via precision fermentation and has accused Motif of patent infringement​​​ in a lawsuit described by Motif as a “baseless attempt to stifle competition.”

The spokesperson denied that the increasingly ugly litigation with Impossible had deterred potential customers, and told us: “Our three commercially finished products… are performing very well in foodservice. We are growing our distribution across the US, with our plant-based beef and pork products already selling into a variety of restaurants and chains. We announced one of our first finished product agreements with Foxtrot, the next generation corner store and café, which is now offering Motif’s alternative beef product in a premade meal across its 30 locations.”

Motif has also acquired exclusive access to prolamin [a group of plant proteins] technologies enabling plant-based cheese to “melt, bubble, and stretch,” and oleogels enabling more authentic fat textures in plant-based meats.

The spokesperson added: “Our corn prolamin technology is advancing well, which is the engine of our delicious plant-based cheese. We are slated for a commercial launch of our cheese in the first half of 2024.”

‘We’re going to see some consolidation’

Speaking to AgFunderNews in March, Leonard said Motif was producing HEMAMI “in metric ton quantities with a manufacturing partner” and had “customers very close to finalizing formulations with APPETEX.”

Asked about the recent slowdown in sales of meat alternatives in US retail, he said: “The majority of consumers are still to be reached with plant-based foods, and the reason we haven’t crossed that chasm is because of taste, texture, and nutrition. That’s one of Motif’s fundamental hypotheses, and why we’re so focused on developing solutions.”

He added: “We’re going to see some consolidation. Short-term volatility is a natural consequence of the technology maturation cycle. But I don’t see a secular shift in how plant-based is going to be viewed.”

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