Blue Prairie Brands, a startup producing chicory flour to replace white flour in food, has raised $6 million in Series A funding.
One of the main components of chicory roots is inulin fiber, which is a prebiotic and is known to improve gut health and even heart health.
Blue Prairie uses proprietary agronomy and cultivation methods, select seed varieties and processing methods to produce chicory flour that is not bitter, but still high in fiber.
Just over a year after its $750k seed round, Chicago-based S2G Ventures led the round. Another new investor to the company was DSM Venturing and existing investors Middleland Capital and Invest Nebraska also joined the round. A strategic venture fund is also understood to have invested, but Blue Prairie did not disclose any further details.
“This is the first investment we’ve made in an ingredient company that’s focused on gut health and microbiome,” said Chuck Templeton, partner at S2G and lead on the deal. “There is compelling science around the positive impact fiber has on humans health and so consumers are trying to get more of it into their diet. We are looking for ways to enable both of those things to happen.”
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Since the seed round last year, Blue Prairie appointed David Woodburn as CEO. Woodburn consulted the company for a period before his appointment, which involved him managing the Series A process, according to Scott Horner, partner at Middleland Capital. Woodburn has worked at a range of biotech startups in the past. Uday Gupta, Blue Prairie’s cofounder and former CEO, has transitioned to new opportunities after launching Blue Prairie and securing its first seed round in early 2015. Gupta remains engaged in the ag and food industries as a consultant and advisor to other early stage companies.
Traditional methods of extracting inulin fiber have involved heavy chemical extraction process, which was not a natural method and often produced a bitter product, according to Scott Horner, partner at Middleland Capital. It’s also rarely produced for use in flour form.
“The founders found a way to produce a product that’s not bitter but in fact has a slightly sweet component to it and can be used as a gluten-free replacement for flour in pasta, cookies, bread, brownies and so on,” Horner told AgFunderNews. “And it passed a taste test with my kids!”
The gluten-free, natural, healthy fiber label it allows food processors to use makes the ingredient very “mum-friendly” added Horner. The investment fills a gap in the fund’s current food and ag portfolio.
“It’s our first investment explicitly in the ingredients space; we’ve done early stage ag inputs and later stage consumer products, so this is right in the middle and checks a big box from a macro standpoint as there is a huge pull in the market for clean labels like this,” he said.
Last year, BluePrairie put its first pilot crop in the ground and will now use this funding to expand production to produce large enough quantities for potential customers. The startup contracts farmers in the “chicory belt” of Nebraska that have the capacity to meet Blue Prairie’s growing demand, according to Horner. Blue Prairie supplies the specialized equipment and seeds needed for these farmers to grow the root according to its proprietary methods.
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