Motif FoodWorks raises $226m in Series B, gears up for launch of ingredient to transform flavor and performance of plant-based meat

By Elaine Watson contact

- Last updated on GMT

Motif FoodWorks recently opened a 10,600 sq ft office and lab space in Boston’s Seaport neighborhood. Picture credit: Webb Chappell
Motif FoodWorks recently opened a 10,600 sq ft office and lab space in Boston’s Seaport neighborhood. Picture credit: Webb Chappell

Related tags: Motif Foodworks, precision fermentation, alternative proteins

Motif FoodWorks – a Boston-based startup focused on high-impact ingredients that can be added to plant- based meat and dairy formulations in small quantities but make a significant difference to the eating experience – has raised $226m in Series B* funding, bringing its cumulative funding to $345m.

Powered by Ginkgo Bioworks​'​​​ ​bioengineering platform, Motif FoodWorks​ was founded in early 2019, and will commercialize its first ingredient – designed to improve the flavor and performance of plant based meat​ – by the end of this year, with a second ingredient focused on improving texture in plant-based meat, to follow in early 2022.

The latest funding will be spent on R&D, new hires, and scaling up production ahead of the commercial launch of Motif’s first ingredients, said the company, which says plant-based meat and dairy alternatives have improved considerably, but do not yet match consumer expectations on taste or texture, especially when it comes to ‘craveable’ products such as cheese and meat.

First ingredient billed as 'real game changer in the industry for plant-based meat flavor'

CTO Dr Mike Leonard - who recently spoke to us​ about technologies licensed from the University of Guelph and Coasun Inc. that create melt and stretch in plant-based cheese, and fat marbling in plant-based meat - said the new funding was “a huge deal​” in the alt meat/dairy space.

He told FoodNavigator-USA: “We’re a food tech company working to make plant based foods better tasting, more nutritious, and so desirable that people actually crave them… and this​ [the latest funding round] is another vote of confidence in the approach that we're taking.”

Dr Mike Leonard, CTO, Motif FoodWorks landscape
Dr Mike Leonard, CTO, Motif FoodWorks: 'We’re not just focused on one type of technology.' Picture: Motif FoodWorks

Motif’s first ingredient - which is being produced via precision fermentation (via microbes that have been engineered using synthetic biology to produce target molecules using Ginkgo’s bioengineering platform) - is a ‘muscle protein’ that is “going to be a real game changer in the industry for plant-based meat flavor,” ​claimed Leonard, who said more details will be shared later this year. 

He did not provide a timetable, but said Motif was going through the GRAS notification process with the FDA for the ingredient.

 “We're thrilled with the interest that we've seen industry-wide for this protein.”

'We’re not just focused on one type of technology'

While plenty of other players are now deploying synthetic biology and using DNA sequences like strings of computer code to instruct armies of tiny microbial food factories (yeast, bacteria, fungi etc) to produce everything from flavors and sweeteners to ‘animal-free’ egg and dairy proteins, Motif’s relationship with Ginkgo BioWorks gave it some key advantages, claimed Leonard.

“We have an exclusive partnership ​[with Ginkgo BioWorks] to generate animal free ingredients for use in food, so​ [the point of difference] it’s really around the high-throughput screening and strain development capabilities that they bring to the table. That's important because it means that we can take a lot of shots on goal at the same time.”

'We have a broader aperture than other players in the industry'

Motif cheese
Motif FoodWorks recently gained exclusive access to technologies designed to address two key challenges in plant-based formulations: achieving melt and stretch in plant-based cheese, and healthier fat that enables marbling in plant-based meat. Picture: Motif FoodWorks

Investors, he said, also appreciated that Motif is not just looking at precision fermentation (its recent work on extrudable fats and corn prolamin protein technology​ does not involve microbes) and is taking a holistic approach to improving taste, texture and nutrition that incorporates a wide range of ingredients and disciplines, from materials science to synthetic biology, to new approaches to texture and sensory analysis such as invitro oral processing​.’ 

“We’re not just focused on one type of technology, we pick whatever technology is the most suitable to address consumer needs, so we have a broader aperture than other players in the industry.”

On a more practical level, he said, investors could see - from feedback Motif has had from potential customers for its first ingredients - that there is a significant market for its products and approach.

“The evidence out in the marketplace was very tangible and the investment community saw that and was able to connect the dots to say Wow, Motif’s approach is going to work and could make an impact in the market very quickly in a meaningful way.”

*The round was jointly led by Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board, and funds and accounts managed by BlackRock. Other investors in the round include AiiM Partners, Wittington Ventures, Rethink Food, Rellevant Partners, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, CPT Capital, General Atlantic, Louis Dreyfus Company, and Viking Global Investors.

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