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There’s another Aussie player in the plant-based meat race, with Nourish Ingredients raising US$11 million ($14.4 million) in seed funding to develop its animal-free fats, designed to make alternative proteins taste and feel a little more like the real thing.
Founded in 2019 by former CSIRO scientists Dr James Petrie and Dr Ben Leita, Nourish Ingredients uses a fermentation process to create fat compounds comparable to those found in animal products.
It’s about finding a more sustainable solution to manufacturing plant-based meats, the founders say, but it’s also about creating a better experience for the consumer.
It’s all in what Petrie calls the “mouth feel” of the product.
If we’re being realistic, some alternative protein products come with “the alternative experience”, Petrie says.
The fat component has been largely overlooked, thus far, he notes.
Plant-based meats have previously relied on fats from palm and coconut oils, which don’t bring the same quality as animal fats. Perhaps more importantly, supplies of these oils are also finite and dwindling.
Addressing this issue could be the catalyst that leads to mass adoption of plant-based proteins.
The founders believe there’s a huge, global market opportunity here. And, the $14 million seed investment when the product is still in the prototyping stage, suggests they are on to something.
The round was co-led by Main Sequence Ventures — the investment fund of CSIRO — and by Horizons Ventures, the US fund that was also an early investor in Impossible Foods, the US$4 billion giant of this sector.
That’s “absolutely a validation”, Petrie says.
“It’s deeper than that though … it’s an indicator of how much of a problem this is, and how much of an opportunity it is for the sector.”
Now, the co-founders are doubling down on R&D, and further developing the prototype product.
Where they’ve previously outsourced this activity, the funding allows them to bring it in-house, as well as using external providers.
They’re also building partnerships with prospective customers, and building up their team to grow from five personnel to more than 20.
It’s all “basically so we can go faster”, Leita explains.
As scientists, these founders never necessarily saw themselves getting into business. They got into this research to try to change the world, Leita explains.
They had discovered the process, identified the opportunity and they had the skill set and technology to take it further.
Starting a business gave them the freedom to move more quickly than they might have been able to otherwise.
And in a space as fast-paced as this one, speed is of the essence.
Demand for alternative protein products is only growing, and any business working in the space needs to keep pace, or risks being left behind.
“There’s so much hype around the plant protein space,” Petrie says.
“We’re on a good path to being able to solve a problem for the industry as a whole.”
This has been a buzzy space for some time, and Australia has seen its fair share of the action.
V2food, for example, which is backed by Hungry Jack’s boss Jack Cowin and Main Sequence Ventures, raised a total of more than $100 million, got its products into various fast food outlets, partnered with Deliveroo, and launched in Woolies and Coles stores — all in its first 12 months of business.
Last year, Proform foods also opened its $11 million manufacturing facility for plant-based meats, while startup Vow partnered with celebrity chef Neil Perry to create a range of gourmet dishes using lab-grown meats.
It’s often been cited that mass adoption hinges on two things: cost and quality.
But, Leita and Petrie are not too concerned about the former. They say the inflection point hinges on the eating experience.
Taste is the “number one” barrier, Leita says. And by taste, he means “the actual experience of eating”.
People won’t buy a product they don’t enjoy eating, regardless of the price point, he notes.
“Fat is a flavour enabler … what we bring to the table will help these products go to the next level.”