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Why we invested in Nourish

Yummy animal fats without the animal

I will always associate Nourish board meetings with the smell of roast beef. That smell. It reminds us how important fat is in our food. I’ll tell you why at the end.

The best way to appreciate the value of fat in the kitchen is to try to imagine cooking without it. What would vinaigrette be without olive oil, sausage without pork fat, a baked potato without sour cream, a croissant without butter? Pointless, that’s what. Without the flavours and textures that fat makes possible, food would be immeasurably less pleasurable to eat. In other words, fat is essential for achieving the full spectrum of flavours and textures of good cooking.

Salt Fat Acid Heat: by Samin Nosrat, Wendy MacNaughton, and Michael Pollan

This realisation hits you like a brick when working on alt-protein food solutions. In our Feed 10b People challenge at Main Sequence, we have a number of companies including v2food and Clara Foods. Alt-protein products have come a long way since the first almond milk or Quorn but we are quickly hitting a threshold that we can’t cross until we can make animal-free fats that are as remarkable as those that animals make.

Because of this, I was very happy to receive this one-line email from James Petrie on May 1 2019:

“It would be great to have a quick chat about the animal-free dairy (and meat) lipids”

I had met James Petrie and Ben Leita 2 years earlier in 2017 when I was leading them through the CSIRO ON Accelerator program with a different technology that they called NextOil at the time. This company would allow plants to continue growing oil in the main biomass rather than just in the seed. This in turn would lead to new, sustainable sources of oil for food and fuel driven by the increased yields that were possible.

Bringing a new crop to market is not for the feint of heart and is generally only done by the “ABCDs” — the cropping behemoths — ADM, Bunge, Carghill and Dreyfus. The development is scientifically complex and requires a long time because iterations take as long as a season takes to grow a new variety. Then the regulatory process is gruelling, and then the supply chain is complex and hard to penetrate.

James and Ben, who worked together in the CSIRO in their Plant Oils Engineering Group were one of the rare of examples of small teams who had brought a new crop to market when they developed the first land-based source of Omega-3 oil in a new Canola that is now sold by Nuseed.

Together we spent about a year building an investment case for the company that was then called Folear. During this time we learned about the opportunity to create new sources of oil and we could see how few people in the world understood it as well as James and Ben. But we failed to get over the blockers that make this kind of business hard for venture capital to invest in.

But the fire in James and Ben’s belly was lit.

Coming back to that email:

“It would be great to have a quick chat about the animal-free dairy (and meat) lipids”

James and Ben had tuned in to the emerging opportunity exploding from alt-protein’s need for better, more sustainably produced fats. They had also reflected upon the challenges of developing oil in crops and figured out how they could develop new fats with yeast fermentation and greatly increase their iteration velocity.

Insulin for example is produced at scale by genetically modifying yeast to make human insulin instead of alcohol when it eats a feedstock like sugar. The insulin itself is not genetically modified but it is made from yeast that has been.

Before we had this technology insulin was extracted from pigs and 8 tonnes of pig pancreas was needed for every litre of insulin. This new approach makes the same stuff, cleanly and efficiently at a massive scale.

Nourish is making fat in the same way and is an example of a growing cohort of inspiring Australian companies who can build a massive new industry together, selling game-changing, nutritious food at scale to the rest of the world.

Nourish has been quietly coming together since our first investment in January 2020. We’re working closely with ‘partner customers’ to deliver alt-protein food that does not have an alt-experience.

And so we come back to that board meeting. At an early board meeting in Covid lock down, the company had sent me some test tubes to heat in the oven while we talked. My family trickled home from work and school during this time, expressing their excitement about dinner — roast beef! They were a little sad to see that the source of that cozy, yummy smell came from a test tube.

I will always associate Nourish board meetings with the smell of roast beef.

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Nourish Ingredients