Our First Foray Into Molecular Food

Endless West is a San Francisco based- company creating spirits and wines without grapes, distillation or aging. They do this by breaking down and analyzing the molecular profile of beverages and then recreating them one constituent at a time in a scalable, cost-effective, and efficient way. (More on how they do it here).

Photo Credit: Kris Turner

Although somewhat overdue, we thought their official launch in Hong Kong would be a good opportunity to introduce Glyph — The world’s first molecular whiskey, by Endless West. We are super excited to share the story behind what the team is building and why we think this matters in the context of the future of food.

It’s easy to look at what is being written and said about food today and conclude that we are well on our way to figuring out how to feed 10 billion people by 2050. Indeed, meatless meat, dairy without cows, alternative protein companies that are based on algae, insects, mushroom, and others seem to be making perennial breakthroughs that on the surface indicate their imminent arrival to the market. While we do believe that ultimately these companies are going to play a significant role in our future diets, there are still a myriad of challenges that stand in the way before that becomes a reality.

  • For starters, cost. The cost of production is simply too high at this point in time for many of these companies to be commercially viable and therefore accessible to mainstream consumers. As an example, if we zero in on one of the more hyped areas within food — cellular agriculture (lab grown meat), we see the reports on cost put companies in this space anywhere from $1000–100/ per pound of meat. For comparison, the average wholesale price of beef as of earlier this year in the U.S. was $3.28/ per pound.
  • In many instances the tech just isn’t ready — the science needs to be able to scale not just economically but functionally. People often make the mistake that moving from benchtop to bioreactor is a relatively straightforward process when in fact the reality is very different.
  • Another area that is often overlooked, particularly with companies that want to be a consumer product is how will the company eventually get the products into the hands of consumers? A successful consumer product requires a well thought out branding and go-to-market strategy which many new age food startups lack at the initial stage while they put all their focus on product.

While Endless West is more tapered in its goal of changing the space compared to the other companies mentioned, there are still plenty of reasons to be excited by how the team are going to help bring the future of food mainstream.

The company has spent years of work on R&D obsessively focusing on optimizing cost and scale, which has put them in a position to be commercially viable from day one with any and every product they bring to market. Importantly, they will be able to do this without any drop in the quality and efficiency you would expect from a top tier brand. We see this as a significant competitive advantage and believe this will contribute to their ability to continually make their products accessible to consumers across all income segments.

Ultimately the technology goes beyond building a small cluster of products, the company has built a platform that will facilitate the development and launch of a wide spectrum of different products across the space. Two key features within their approach to R&D stood out to us as unique:

Efficiency- Rapid production times relative to current market standards that supercharge product development. They have the ability to produce new products in as fast as 1 day; and iterate on existing ones at a similar pace. This enables cumulative productivity, where the work done in one area can be cross applied to others, making development increasingly efficient and far less resource intensive over time.

Consistency- Focusing at the molecular level allows the company complete control over the most fundamental attributes (aroma/taste/texture) of their products, allowing them to control the flavor profile to match consumer demand (as it evolves) to a T.

By removing the agricultural input and subsequent footprint involved in how these products are made traditionally, the team distances themselves from a reliance on an increasingly limited supply chain while also generating impressive resource efficiency. Wine for example is grown in outdoor environments we cannot see, in areas where there is a high degree of pesticide usage and soil contaminants that are not adequately monitored and close to impossible to filter out. Endless West has created an environment where inputs can be monitored, scrutinized and controlled meaning zero contaminants, pesticides and heavy metals.

The story does not end with Glyph or even other spirits and wines. In fact, there is potential to use the same approach and technology to expand beyond the category and into other types of areas. For example, we see similar problems in the supply chain for chocolate as we do in wine. The work done at the molecular level in tannins will unlock possibilities for future engineering in coffee and tea — all potential target areas for the company down the road.

Ultimately all of this is possible because of the talent and energy that Alec, Mardonn, Josh and the rest of the amazing team have. Building a company in the food space is hard, so much is still rooted in traditionalism and the “new” shrouded in skepticism by consumers and incumbents alike. It’s going to take an exceptional and committed team to push things forward, and that’s why we are thrilled to partner with the Endless West team on building the business over the next exciting phase.

Investor @ BAce Capital | Ant Financial, former @ Vectr Ventures