Chicago-based vegan meat startup Nature’s Fynd has just secured US$80 million in a Series B round from investors including former United States vice president Al Gore. The latest funding will help the company drive its expansion into Asia, and in particular China, where African swine fever and the coronavirus pandemic has brought about greater interest in the stability, sustainability and safety of plant-based meat alternatives.
In a recent Series B funding round, vegan meat startup Nature’s Fynd attracted US$80 million of investment, bringing its total funding amount to US$113 million. Notable investors included Al Gore, the former vice president of the United States, through his sustainable investment firm Generation Investment Management. The company is also backed by Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a US$1 billion tech fund led by Bill Gates and supported by other major figures such as Alibaba founder Jack Ma, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, and SoftBank founder and CEO Masayoshi Son.
Founded in 2012 and recently rebranded from Sustainable Bioproducts in March this year, Nature’s Fynd was born out of microbial research conducted for NASA in Yellowstone National Park. The startup’s technology produces a complete plant-based protein with a fraction of the resources needed compared to traditional animal agriculture, and is planning to use the latest injection of capital to prepare its expansion into Asia.
Its Asia-expansion plans came as the region battled African swine fever (ASF), which wiped out pork supplies and sent prices skyrocketing, and the recent coronavirus pandemic that resulted in greater attention on the health, environmental and safety concerns of the animal industry.
In China, which has borne the brunt of both ASF and Covid-19, foreign imports of pork to compensate for the pork supply shortage have been hit hard due to global travel bans and economic standstill in most parts of the world. As the virus appears to have eased in China over the past few weeks, the epicentre of the pandemic has shifted to Europe and the United States, which are major exporters of premium meat and dairy products to China.
Nature’s Fynd believes that their plant-based protein is the solution. “In countries such as China you would have to import pork, or soybean as the hog feedstocks. Our technology enables the growth of locally-sourced protein using simple sugar sourced in Asia,” said co-founder and CEO Thomas Jonas.
The startup is now seeking regulatory approval from China and Hong Kong, with the timeline scheduled within the next 18 to 24 months. To gear up for its Asia launch, the company is adapting its plant-based protein into Chinese dishes, such as dim sum. Meanwhile, its production is scaling-up in the United States, and the company has plans to make its products commercially available on the US retail market within the next year.
“With the global impact of livestock-related illnesses like coronavirus and swine flu that have disrupted the world economy, it’s more critical than ever to build a clean and sustainable food supply,” said Andrew Chung, managing partner of 1955 Capital, a firm that was an early investor in Nature’s Fynd.
A number of other plant-based companies are eyeing the Chinese and wider Asian vegan meat market as well. From attracting well-known US alt-meat companies such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods to regional and home-grown startups such as Omnipork and Zhenmeat, there is no shortage of competition vying for the rapidly growing demand for plant-based analogues in Asia.
Lead image courtesy of Nature’s Fynd / Charles Cherney Photography.