Piva Capital Backs Plantible Foods To Sustainably Feed the World
By Bennett Cohen and Julia Reichelstein
Today’s agriculture industry faces major challenges — arable land and freshwater resources are stressed and production of animal protein in particular (meat, dairy and eggs) poses serious environmental challenges. Current food production methods are not sustainable, and food production is both contributing, and vulnerable to the risks of climate change. According to the EPA, Agriculture was responsible for 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in 2019 and continues to grow.
While the challenge of sustainably feeding the world is daunting, solutions are coming from unexpected places. Plantible Foods, a foodtech startup based in San Diego, is producing RuBisCO, an animal protein alternative from the humble Lemna plant. More commonly known as duckweed, Lemna is a free-floating, fast-growing aquatic plant the company grows in greenhouses on the surface of water. Plantible can harvest its crop daily, all year-round, resulting in a reliable and resilient supply of protein.
A proprietary process, a product with many uses
Although cultivating duckweed isn’t unheard of, Plantible Co-Founders Maurits van de Ven and Tony Martens are cultivating a novel Lemna variety and then extracting the protein via a multi-step, scalable mechanical process to produce a complete, high functioning protein. While RuBisCO can be found in other leafy greens, production processes have failed to scale cost-effectively — until now.
RuBisCO has many of the nutritional and functional attributes of egg white, and a neutral taste, odor, and color, making it a great ingredient for a wide range of food products. It’s a “hero ingredient” that is highly functional, and can help plant-based products taste more like the animal-based “real thing”. Due to its nutritional and functional properties, the availability of RuBisCO at scale has been a holy grail of the food industry for a long time, and Plantible is the first company to be able to deliver.
Plantible Foods: a sustainable solution for the climate and the growing population
At Piva, we support visionary founders transforming industry for a better tomorrow. We believe Plantible can help solve the immense challenge of sustainability feeding the world by delivering products that are delicious, nutritious and far less resource intensive than alternatives. The company is well positioned to sell both the pure RuBisCO powder, and formulated drop-in ingredients such as a liquid egg replacement. The company has signed a $6M contract with a major food ingredient company and has additional customers in late-stage trials.
Unlocking the plant-based economics for CPG companies
Consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies are especially interested because Plantible’s RuBisCO is already at cost parity for liquid egg formulations, and because RuBisCO is the “holy grail” of proteins. It is a tasteless, colorless, odorless complete protein, with strong functionality, including binding, emulsification, and water solubility. This high-functioning protein is also cheaper than other premium plant-based proteins.
Here for a tastier, greener, cheaper food future
RuBisCO produced by Plantible is greener (more sustainable) than alternatives — it’s the most environmentally friendly alternative protein. No arable land and minimal water are required, as 90% of water used is recycled. And RuBisCO from Lemna creates just 0.5 kg of CO2 for each 100 grams of protein, compared with soy’s 2.6 kg of emissions. Plantible also doesn’t use any pesticides or herbicides — unheard of across plant based protein alternatives. Consumers get an array of plant-based foods such as milk, cheese, mayo, protein drinks, and so on with the same taste and texture as animal-based counterparts. And, because RuBisCO is low-cost, CPG companies can provide cheaper plant-based products.
Animal-less food: A massive and growing market
Plantible is addressing a $90B alternative food market today that is projected to grow to $290B by 2035. Plantible has mastered a proprietary process for growing and processing Lemna that unlocks attractive unit economics for plant-based protein, and the company is scaling quickly. Its pilot facility near San Diego is up and running, with 12,000 kilos per day of biomass in production. Expansion is coming soon with Plantible’s first commercial scale aquafarm on 110 acres on track to come online in 2022.
A real proactive team
At Piva, we were immediately impressed with the Plantible team. Even while COVID-19 complicated matters both for Plantible and potential CPG partners, the Plantible team remained undeterred. Within days of the COVID lockdown, Maurits and Tony bought two RVs and moved to the Lemna farm to carry on their work at full speed. As a result, the company’s timeline toward key milestones hasn’t changed, and commercial partners are still lining up. The scrappy, can-do attitude is massively valuable in Piva’s eyes — making Plantible all the more attractive and aligned with our values.
Shaping the future of food
To feed a growing population, we must find ways to produce food and mitigate climate change at the same time. We are excited to back such an innovative company producing healthy, high-quality, plant-based protein — in a sustainable, inexpensive way that is easy on the planet. Innovators like Plantible Foods are finding solutions to the sustainable food crisis in the most unexpected places, and we are eager to help and support them in their journey.
With this investment, we are joined by impressive group of new and existing investors all aimed to address the challenge of sustainable, healthy food production through technology and process innovation including Astanor, CJ CheilJedang, Good Friends, Bradley Horowitz, Trevor Martin and Chris Bryson along with returning investors Vectr Ventures, Lerer Hippeau, Kelloggs / 1894 Capital, FTW Ventures and Unshackled Ventures.