Why we invested in planetary: the picks and shovels of the fermentation boom
Can you ferment your way out of the food crisis?
VC investment flows are suggesting it — and much more. Ever since the “renaissance of fermentation” that started a few years ago and is now top of every food investor’s mind (try talking to a food investors for 10 minutes without precision fermentation being brought up), more and more bullish claims have been made on what the BioBoom can deliver — up to 60% of all material goods produced today according to some sources (i.e. McKinsey).
Developments in fermentation technology have driven advancements across industries from food and agriculture to textiles, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. Within the food space alone, fermentation tech promises to deliver sustainable and functional replacements for meats, milk, cheese, eggs and more. The tech is attracting so much attention from investors that investments in fermentation enabled alternative proteins alone topped $1.7 B in 2021, nearly three times the amount invested in 2020.
It’s fair to say that we can expect tremendous innovation in the domain in the coming years and — hopefully — exploding demand for the products that are released as a result. Brave new world! So far, so good.
Why scale matters
All this innovation and attention is producing some quite delicious and nutritious options, however in order for these to have a serious impact potential, affordability is the key parameter. What is the key to affordability? Production at scale.
For commercial precision fermentation for food at large scale, 500,000 liter tanks or more are necessary in most cases to achieve profitable operations for products selling under $75 per kg (kudos to Mark Warner).
The capacity conundrum
For fermentation-enabled food products to create a significant change in the food system, they need to be affordable and widely available. In order to be cost competitive with conventional products, we will have to produce these products in very large quantities.
Here’s the catch. There simply isn’t the bioreactor capacity to produce the stuff, globally. Really, not at all. And while fermentation technology is hailed as the holy grail of alternative protein, 95% of global fermentation capacity is designed for non-food products. And in the 5% that is enabled for food products the majority is already contracted for the foreseeable future.
On top of that, most of today’s capacity is in plants that are several decades old. Naturally, many are not designed for the digital age. As Troels Prahl, Director of Innovation at White Labs and Astanor advisor puts it:
“Almost all fermentation driven startups in the food space are basing their success and growth on production capacity that does not exist. And while this is scary, it is an unprecedented opportunity to rethink both equipment and process design, for example by deploying machine learning and artificial intelligence to better understand and tame the notoriously complex microbiology of fermentation.”
And then, here comes planetary
planetary is targeting this exact conundrum in the bioeconomy in a truly revolutionary way. They are laser-focused on scaling global upstream and downstream fermentation capacity to unlock the potential of alternative protein products across the planet.
1. Global network: While fermentation is an age-old food production technology (think cheese, kombucha and beer) fermentation-based alternate protein production is quite a young industry, with many companies still in early phases of R&D. planetary is building the bioreactor capacity to help these companies scale rapidly. They aim to build a global network of bio fermenters of 200,000 to 500,000 liters of production capacity each by 2030. Their continuously operating and digitally-advanced fermenters will enable efficiency and cost savings to accelerate the development of these products at costs competitive with their animal-based counterparts.
2. Local production: planetary’s secret sauce? Their reactors are designed with sustainability at the core of production, enabling fermentation-based protein producers to grow their products using locally produced carbon sources — decreasing dependence on international markets and providing a flexible, local and well-adapted production option.
3. Rockstar team: planetary’s founding team is no stranger to the unique challenges faced by young companies in the alternative protein space. With previous experience in founding and scaling alternative protein startups and advanced biotechnology research, they understand the roadblocks to production are well equipped to scale a solution that will support the production of fermentation-based protein across the globe.
Astanor led planetary’s $8 million seed round to accelerate the development of their flagship industrial-scale production facility in Switzerland. We’re looking forward to supporting planetary as they execute their plans to make fermentation-based alternative proteins a reality on cheese boards and dinner tables across the world.
Astanor Ventures is an impact investor that backs ambitious entrepreneurs across the world with disruptive, scalable solutions that will create systemic change across the agrifood value chain, from soil to gut. Astanor partners with founders who are committed to restoring balance and sustainability to the land and oceans, prioritizing nature and culture, nurturing change and feeding growth.