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Starfield Master Black Pepper Plant Beef
Starfield's Master Black Pepper Plant Beef. Image credit: Starfield Food Science & Technology

Starfield scores $100m in China’s biggest alt-protein round to date

January 13, 2022

Starfield Food Science & Technology has raised $100 million in China’s largest recorded funding round for an alt-protein startup to date, according to AgFunder data [disclosure: AgFunder is AFN‘s parent company.]

Beijing-based investment firm Primavera Capital Group led the Series B round. Alibaba‘s chief strategy officer, Ming Zeng, participated in the fundraise alongside existing investors Joy Capital, Lightspeed China Partners, Matrix Partners, and Sky9 Capital.

In a statement, Starfield CEO Kiki Wu said the company “will continue to launch more affordable, delicious, and healthy plant-based green foods based on plant protein technology, and create a better eating experience for our target market of Generation Z – in turn, delivering more sustainable lifestyles.”

It will use the Series B capital to boost its production capacity and R&D capabilities, with a view to making further improvements to the texture and flavor of its plant-based meat analogs. Funds will also be directed towards hiring new talent, marketing, and brand building.

The startup is also in the midst of building its first commercial-scale production facility. The factory will be able to produce “hundreds” of different product formats, including ground meat, sausage, meatballs, patties, steaks, and hams. Its in-house design and central location in Xiaogan, Hubei province, will allow Starfield to reduce both manufacturing and logistics costs – which it claims will eventually take end prices below those for similar, animal-derived meat products.

B2B2C model

Starfield describes itself as operating under a ‘B2B2C’ model where it sells its self-branded products via third-party retailers. It says it has partnered with over 100 brand owners, while its products are now available in more than 14,000 outlets across China. Partners include beverage chains Heytea, Luckin Coffee, Nayuki, and Tim Hortons; convenience stores 7-Eleven, FamilyMart, and Lawson; fast food restaurant Dicos; and Alibaba’s tech-enabled supermarket, Hema.

The startup ascribes this apparent success to its technological credentials, fuelled by collaborations with a variety of academic research teams from institutions such as Beijing Technology & Business University, Jiangnan University, and Wageningen University & Research.

Starfield claims to have achieved “innovative breakthroughs in the texture and flavor of plant-based protein.” Through methods including “refined enzymatic cross-linking” it has been able to imitate muscle fibers, enabling the development of ‘whole cut’ products such as plant-based hams and beef joints. The company says it has submitted close to 30 patent applications.

Among Starfield’s most recent products is a black pepper-crusted beef analog similar to pastrami, but at a lower price point and without the addition of nitrite and other preservatives. According to the startup, ‘Master Black Pepper Plant Beef’ is made from non-GMO soybeans and “truly achieves zero cholesterol and zero trans fatty acids, is high in protein, and low in fat, taking both deliciousness and healthiness into account.”

In the near future, it plans to launch new product lines including braised beef, chicken thigh steaks, and pork chops.

In a statement, Primavera Capital Group founding partner Wang Yang said that “Starfield’s products are in line with [China’s] national carbon neutrality development goal, and have clear health advantages from the consumer level.”

“They are more in line with Chinese tastes and are more affordable [than other meat alternatives]. They are localized and younger.”

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