A new company, Motif Ingredients, wants to use fermentation to create animal proteins for foods and beverages without involving actual animals. Based on organism-design technology from Boston-based Ginkgo Bioworks, Motif is starting life with $90 million in funding from a mix of investment firms and food companies.
Motif is one of a number of companies aiming to capture growing consumer demand for alternative proteins. US sales of plant-based alternatives increased 17% in the 12 months ending last August to more than $3.7 billion, according to the Good Food Institute, a trade group for the industry.
Supermarkets host a proliferation of plant-based milks, egg replacements, and meat substitutes. But Motif says food makers have had to compromise on taste or nutrition—and that its ingredients will help them close the gap with traditional, animal-based foods.
Today’s animal-free alternatives are made with plant proteins that have been processed to mimic their animal-derived counterparts. For example, the start-up Just for All recently launched an egg substitute made from mung beans. In development but likely years from the market are products from living animal cells that are cultured in factories.
In contrast, Motif plans to use standard fermentation to make proteins that traditionally come from animal milk or meat. It will offer them to food companies seeking to formulate meat alternatives that are more like the real thing.
“Ingredients in plant-based milks have functionality problems—they separate. They don’t have the mouth feel of milk and are lacking in nutritious proteins,” says Jason Kakoyiannis, a member of Ginkgo’s business development team. “We can generate proteins through fermentation that add the nutritional profile of animal proteins, and the payoff is they are also more rich tasting.”
Motif says its potential customers include trendy food start-ups as well as traditional food companies. Two investors in Motif are the dairy company Fonterra and the agricultural-goods processor Louis Dreyfus Company.
To fill its discovery and development pipeline, Motif will have access to Ginkgo’s organism foundries, which already design organisms that spit out ingredients for fragrances, foods, and cosmetics. This is Ginkgo’s second spin-off; in 2017 it launched Joyn Bio, a joint venture with Bayer that is pursuing microbes for agriculture.
Motif is not the only biotech start-up looking to expand the palette of proteins available to food companies. Perfect Day plans fermentation-derived casein and whey for use in dairy products. And earlier this month, Sustainable Bioproducts launched with $33 million from investors, including the venture arms of Archer Daniels Midland and Danone. The company says it is developing fermentation technology for edible proteins inspired by extremophile organisms living in Yellowstone National Park’s volcanic springs.