Nobell Foods Locks $75M Series B to Make Casein From Soybeans
By Lynda Kiernan-Stone, Global AgInvesting Media
The dairy-free category has been at the tip of the spear for the plant-based dietary shift. However, vegan cheese has proven particularly difficult to formulate – thanks to the challenge of replicating casein – the protein that gives cheese all those characteristics that humans love.
Nobell Foods, however, is cracking the code, and has closed on a $75 million Series B backed by Robert Downey Jr.’s VC firm FootPrint Coalition Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz, and Breakthrough Energy Ventures (the VC founded by Bill Gates and backed by Jeff Bezos, George Soros, and Jack Ma) as well as, Unovis, Germin8 Ventures, Fifty Years, AgFunder, Pear VC, GL Ventures, the venture capital arm of Hillhouse Group, and Mission Bay Capital.
The capital from this round is in addition to $25 million previously raised by the company, bringing total funding to-date to $100 million.
Founded in California by Magi Richani, and launched out of Y Combinator in 2017, Nobell creates key dairy proteins, including casein, from high-quality soybeans, enabling the production of plant-based cheeses that melt, stretch, taste, smell, and even age, like their animal protein-based counterparts.
This is no small feat. Since the emergence of plant-based cheeses on the market, consumers have been hopeful yet somewhat disappointed due to the inability of plant-based cheese to match the mouthfeel, texture, taste, and characteristics of animal-based cheeses.
Twenty-four billion gallons of milk are used every year in the production of cheese - more than what is processed as milk to drink. Most of these cheeses are mozzarella, cheddar, and processed American - and the market is enormous. In the U.S. alone, the cheese market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 5.25 percent between 2020 and 2027 to reach a value of $45.5 billion.
Having the wherewithal to disrupt this market would be incredibly lucrative. But breaking into the natural cheese market is particularly difficult for plant-based options. We love our cheese. Almost as much as we love our bananas. Sales of both natural and processed dairy-based cheese posted double-digit dollar sales growth in the 52 weeks ending January 24, 2021, according to data from market research firm IRI.
An engineer by training with a masters in engineering & project management from UC Berkeley, Richani saw cheese as “the last frontier” in animal-free foods, and understood the critical role that casein, as an essential dairy protein, plays in the making of good cheese. She also realized that casein has a unique genetic code.
Following four years of research and development, she and the Nobell team discovered how to replicate this genetic code in soybean seeds through genetic engineering to grow plants that have the same dairy caseins present in animal milk.
By using such an omnipresent crop, Nobell can produce more caseins per acre, in a more efficient manner, more sustainably, and more cost effectively than cows. Using proprietary processes, Nobell extracts the caseins and uses them in the production of cheeses that stretch, melt, and taste as great as cheeses made from cow or goat milk.
With the funds raised through this round, Nobell plans to expand its team and its farming partnerships, scale up production, and to launch its cheeses to the public by the end of next year.