California Cultured, the US company making lab-grown chocolate, has raised $4 million in a new financing round. Led by cellular agriculture investors Agronomics, the startup says the round’s proceeds will go towards further R&D of its ethical and sustainable cocoa product.
California Cultured has secured at least $4 million in its future equity round, led by Agronomics, which poured $2.2 million into the startup. The financing comes in the form of a SAFE, which is expected to convert into a Preferred Stock of the company. The round also saw participation from existing investor IndieBio.
California Cultured is a food tech based out of Davis, California, and uses cellular agriculture to produce chocolate. More specifically, the firm is culturing cocoa products and ingredients—think cocoa powder, chocolate, cocoa butter and flavanol—directly from cocoa cells.
By using cell-based technology to recreate identical cocoa products, the company is tackling the litany of ethical and environmental problems associated with cocoa production. Currently, around 70% of the world’s cocoa is produced in Western Africa, where cultivation of the crop has been linked to deforestation and labour rights abuses.
Commenting on the funding and partnership with Agronomics, the food tech’s co-founder and CEO Alan Perlstein said: “Agronomics’ network of resources within biotech along with our mutual interest of radically transforming food and agriculture made them an easy choice as an investor and strategic partner. With Agronomics and our other investors behind us, we are well on our way to changing the way we eat chocolate.”
Perlstein founded the company with Harrison Yoon, and the startup was in the 11th cohort of IndieBio’s accelerator program.
‘Cell-based chocolate is true premium chocolate’
IndieBio managing director Po Bronson says that what California Cultured is working on is unique, and stands out from other companies that are also working on sustainable and ethical chocolate alternatives.
“Startups are attacking chocolate’s dark secrets in a number of ways, from upcycling ag waste to using precision fermentation for flavours. But only cell-based chocolate is true, premium chocolate,” says Bronson. “California Cultured’s chocolate tastes absolutely amazing. The cacao cells are grown in the lab very economically, and then they’re made into chocolate in traditional methods.”
“Synthetic cocoa products [won’t] impede on the natural environment,” added Jim Mellon, non-executive director of Agronomics. “Their technology should support stabilising production of cocoa in the future, and has the potential to enable future chocolate demand to be met.”
Lead image courtesy of Unsplash, all other images courtesy of California Cultured.