Nobell Foods grilled cheese
A grilled cheese sandwich made with Nobell Foods' plant-based cheese. Image credit: Nobell Foods

Plant-based cheesemaker Nobell Foods nets $75m from a16z, AgFunder & Breakthrough Energy

July 22, 2021

Disclosure: AFN’s parent company AgFunder is an investor in Nobell Foods.

Alt-protein startup Nobell Foods has raised $75 million in a Series B round led by Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV) – the climate-focused investment group founded by Bill Gates and backed by numerous other billionaires including space travelers Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson, as well as Mukesh Ambani, Michael Bloomberg, Ray Dalio, Jack Ma, and Masayoshi Son.

New investors joining the fray included Chinese private equity giant Hillhouse Capital Group and US actor Robert Downey Jr’s Footprint Coalition.

Also participating in the round were existing investors AgFunder, Andreessen Horowitz (a16z), Pear VC, New Crop Capital, Germin8 Ventures, Fifty Years, Mission Bay Capital, and Matt Bellamy – frontman of UK rock band Muse.

Nobell’s board — which previously comprised the startup’s founder and CEO, Magi Richani, and a16z partner Vijay Pande — will double in size following the Series B round. BEV’s Chris Rivest — a veteran biotech founder and investor — will join the board along with serial entrepreneur Kyle Vogt, the founder and chief technology officer of General Motors‘ self-driving subsidiary Cruise Automation.

Founded in 2016 as Alpine Roads, the recently renamed Nobell Foods has largely remained in stealth mode until today’s funding announcement.

It says it is “creating cheese for the 99% of people who are unwilling to compromise on taste and price,” using “the power of plants to create a radically better food system for all.”

According to Nobell, cheese is “one of the highest offenders when it comes to carbon emissions,” and is the food protein with the third-highest carbon footprint after lamb and beef. This is because the vast majority of cheese is produced from cows’ milk – and resource-intensive, greenhouse gas-producing cows are a major contributor to emissions.

The startup’s goal is to offer a plant-based alternative to animal-derived cheese which retains the desirable taste, texture, and cooking characteristics of the latter. Many plant-based dairy products have fallen short when it comes to these features, largely restricting their uptake to consumers who can’t or won’t eat animal-derived dairy because of health, ethical, or cultural concerns.

Nobell overcomes this by using soybean plants to produce casein, one of the key proteins found in cows’ milk and responsible for giving cheese made from the white stuff its “stretch, melt, and mouthfeel,” it says on its website.

“Like all proteins, caseins have a unique genetic code. [Founder and CEO Magi] Richani and her team at Nobell discovered how to recreate this genetic code in soybean seeds and grow plants that have the same dairy caseins found in animal milks,” the startup said in a statement.

“Today, Nobell can produce more caseins per acre more efficiently, sustainably, and cost-effectively than cows.”

The startup said it will use the Series B funds to expand its team, scale up production, and build farming partnerships. It expects its first products to launch in public by the end of this year.

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