It’s been a tough few months for alternative protein startups, particularly those developing plant-based meat, dairy, and seafood alternatives (as opposed to those in the cellular agriculture space).
Sure, it’s been tough for startups across all sectors thanks to layoffs and much of the stock market being in the doldrums. But the plant-based protein sector has proved especially worrisome of late as several data points show a pullback in consumer interest — and purchases — for these products.
There are many arguments as to why. On these pages, brand strategist Adam Hanft wrote that he thinks the issue is that companies have not progressed with their branding to truly identify and connect with their customer base. Another guest contributor, Johan Jorgensen, thinks it’s because the products are still not good enough replacements. The health profile is another concern.
Investors are now backing away from what was once foodtech’s most-hyped sector, with anecdotes of down rounds and possible casualties not far off. Even in cultivated meat, we’ve seen some significant pullbacks. Just last week New Age Eats revealed it was letting go of its 90% complete pilot facility into which it’s made significant investments since 2021.
As we start to curate the data for this year’s AgFunder AgriFoodTech Investment Report from our parent company AgFunder, we wanted to see what the top deals in alternative protein looked like given this macro backdrop.
A noticeable pullback despite some bumper deals
While the pullback for some startups began back in the spring of 2022, it wasn’t until much later in the year that the down rounds and flat rounds started to appear. However, the top 10 companies raised $1 billion less in 2022 than in 2021 — a 44% drop.
Some deals were still pretty impressive, although the vast majority of them closed during the first few months of 2022. There was also just one deal of over $200 million compared to six in 2021. That said, 2022 had many more deals above $100 million than the year before.
While it appears that North American alternative protein startups dominated the top 10 biggest rounds, a South American company that’s going beyond production to create an AI foodtech tool also made the cut.
Ten startups with the largest alt protein tickets last year include:
Last funding round: $400m Series C, April 2022
Year founded: 2015
Founders: Uma Valeti, Nicholas Genovese, Will Clem
The round was led by Temasek and Abu Dhabi Growth Fund (ADG) who were joined by “a broad coalition of financial, impact and strategic investors,” that included Givaudan, Ballie Gifford, and Synthesis Capital, among others.
A couple of months later, Upside became the first startup to receive regulatory approval by the FDA to sell cultivated meat in the US. (It still needs approval from the USDA before it can actually sell products.)
Last funding round: $150m Series C, July 2022
Year founded: 2016
Founders: Tyler Huggins, Justin Whiteley
Plant-based meat company Meati raised its Series C to increase its output and make its products more accessible.
Meati manufactures whole-cut meat analogues for chicken, steak, jerky, and other products, which it claims are 95% to 98% composed of mushrooms.
Last funding round: $135m, January 2022
Year founded: 2018
Founder: Eshchar Ben-Shitrit, Adam Lahav
Israel-based Redefine Meat claims its technology can fully mimic beef muscle via 3D printing. It had launched its beef and lamb cuts in 2021 in Israel and Europe. In 2022, a distribution deal saw the startup expanded its product range and distribution.
Last funding round: $120m Series B, January 2022
Year founded: 2019
Founders: Aviv Wolff, Ori Cohavi
Remilk is a B2B startup that’s using yeast-based fermentation to manufacture protein identical to that in milk, which can be used in the production of vegan ice cream, cheese and yoghurt. Food giant General Mills recently said it would use Remilk’s proteins to produce vegan cream cheese.
The funding was led by Hanaco Ventures, a venture capital based both in New York and Tel-Aviv that invests in Israeli startups.
Existing investors like Tnuva, which is one of Israel’s largest food manufacturer, cheese producer Hochland, Jerusalem-based early-stage investor OurCrowd and Israeli pre-seed investor fresh.fund participated in the round.
Next Gen Foods
Last funding round: $100m Series A, April 2022
Year founded: 2020
Founders: Timo Recker, Andre Menezes
The financing went towards the company’s international and US expansions as well as boosting its research capabilities in a new facility in Singapore.
The Series A included Temasek, via its Asia Sustainable Food Platform, GGV Capital, K3 Ventures and Chinese foodtech VC firm Bits x Bites. Indonesia-based Alpha JWC, Singaporean global investor EDBI and UK-based MPL Ventures also participated.
Last funding round: $100m Series B, February 2022
Year founded: 2016
Founders: Aryé Elfenbein, Justin Kolbeck
Wildtype‘s Series B round was led by L Catterton with participation from Cargill, Bezos Expeditions, Temasek, S2G Ventures Oceans and Seafood Fund, Robert Downey Jr’s FootPrint Coalition, Leonardo DiCaprio among other angel investors.
The San Francisco-based startup known for seafood cultivation extracts cells from salmon and cultures them to produce “sushi-grade” salmon.
Wildtype announced its first retail and restaurant agreement in December 2021 when it partnered with SNOWFOX and Pokéworks to make the cultivated seafood accessible via their 1,230 groceries and 65 restaurants, respectively.
Starfield Food & Science Technology
Last funding round: $100m Series B, January 2022
Year founded: 2019
Founder: Kiki Wu
The Series B round was led by Beijing-based investment firm Primavera Capital Group, joined by existing investors Joy Capital, Lightspeed China Partners, Matrix Partners, Sky9 Capital as well as Alibaba‘s chief strategy officer, Ming Zeng.
At the time of the raise, Starfield was building its first commercial-scale production facility to produce various formats of plant-based meat from seaweed protein.
Last funding round: $85 million Series E, March 2022
Year founded: 2013
Founders: Alan Hahn, Jim Langan, Brooks Kelly
Colorado-based MycoTechnology uses a fermentation platform to manufacture alternative proteins.
Besides expanding geographically, the startup partnered with the Oman Investment Authority (OIA) to scale up and commercialize the production of alternative protein ingredients in Oman by using leftover dates.
The OIA had also led the Series E investment, alongside existing investors Tyson Foods‘ Tyson Ventures, Continental Grain Company, Bunge‘s Bunge Ventures, Maple Leaf Foods, S2G Ventures, Evolution VC Partners and Gaingels.
Last funding round: $72 million Series B, September 2022
Year founded: 2019
Founders: Christoph Jenny, Eric Stirnemann, Lukas Böni, Pascal Bieri
In addition to running an online store for European customers, Planted Foods distributes its products through restaurants and retailers based in Switzerland, Germany, Austria, France, Italy, and the UK.
It also offers the public access to its production facility, a glass-house in Kemptthal, Switzerland.
NotCo (The Not Company)
Last funding round: $70m Series D1, December 2022
Year founded: 2015
Founders: Matias Muchnick, Pablo Zamora, Karim Pichara
Coming from Chile, NotCo uses sweet pineapple, tangy cabbage, wholesome seeds, and plants to replicate animal-based foods like chicken, meat and dairy.
The startup has also built an AI tool called Giuseppe that analyses a product’s molecular structure and replicates it, only with plant-based components. Part of the Series D funds is going towards building out a B2B platform to let other ingredient manufacturers use Giuseppe.