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Alt-dairy molecular farming startup Nobell Foods has just bagged $75 million in a new Series B round, led by Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures. The startup, until now operating under stealth mode, programs soybeans to produce casein, the ingredient that makes cheese stretchy. Fuelled with new funding, Nobell plans to launch its vegan mozzarella and cheddar cheese by end of 2022.
Nobell Foods has raised $75 million in a Series B funding round led by Breakthrough Energy, the VC founded by Gates and backed by Jack Ma, Jeff Bezos, and George Soros. Participating investors include Hollywood star Robert Downey Jr’s Footprint Coalition, Asian private equity giant Hillhouse Capital and Andreessen Horowitz, among others.
Notably, Matt Bellamy, the frontman behind the British rock band Muse, also backed Nobell. The latest round brings Nobell’s total funding to date to $100 million.
Making stretchy cheese from plants
While there is no shortage of plant-based cheeses on the market, many argue that existing options lack the stretchiness that cheese-lovers crave and desire. That’s why there’s been an emergence of precision fermentation startups like New Culture or Change Foods, who are working on creating bioidentical dairy proteins for sustainable cheese alternatives.
But Nobell believes that plants are still the way. Founded by Magi Richani, Nobell (formerly known as Alpine Roads), are genetically programming soybeans into casein-producing factories. Casein is the dairy protein in conventional cheese products that give its stretch, melt and mouthfeel.
“Cheese was the food I loved eating the most. As I began researching cheese, I learned that unique proteins found in cow’s milk make cheese cheese,” explained Richani.
“They’re what give cheese its ability to melt and stretch, be grated and taste so good. If I wanted to create cheese without cows, I had to somehow create those proteins but without cow’s milk.”
Launching by end of 2022
Fuelled by new capital, Nobell plans to accelerate its commercialisation plans. It’s set the timeline to launch in the U.S. by the end of 2022 or in early 2023. While they can use their plant-based casein to make any type of vegan cheese, Nobell says that mozzarella and cheddar will be their first products.
“They make up 60% of the cheese consumed in the US. To have the biggest impact, we know we must go after the largest market opportunities,” said the company.
In terms of cost-competitiveness, Nobell believes that because it focuses on plants, their cheeses will be affordable to mass consumers. It’s a part of the firm’s mission to make cheese alternatives for the “99% of people who are unwilling to compromise on taste and price”.
In doing so, they hope to disrupt the unsustainable dairy industry, which is “one of the highest offenders when it comes to carbon emissions”.
As part of the Series B, Nobell will be expanding its board of directors with new members. Breakthrough Energy’s Chris Rivest and General Motors’ self-driving arm Cruise Automation’s founder and CTO Kyle Vogt are among some of the names.
All images courtesy of Nobell Foods.