Funding ‘massive impact’: Plant-based, cell-cultured and fermentation tech sectors to benefit from new APAC fund
The new investment fund is dubbed Better Bite Ventures, which recently announced the initial 10 companies in its portfolio which will benefit from its US$15mn fund. Of these, four are cell-cultured firms, three are plant-based and two use fermentation technology, signifying the fund’s aim to cover all the bases.
“We will be investing in 20 to 30 start-ups overall for this fund, and these initial 10 companies in the portfolios [are a good representation of what we want to do] as they come from various geographies and technology approaches, [all of which] we believe has the potential to transform the food system for the better,” Better Bites Ventures General Partner Michal Klar told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“We do think all these technologies have a role to play in transforming the protein market, so we decided to support them all - Plant-based products are obviously here and now and scaling up fast, [whereas] it's more early for fermentation and cultivated products, but they are also gradually coming to the market, e.g. in Singapore, the first country to approve cultivated meat products.
“Ice cream made with precision fermentation-derived, animal-free whey protein are [also already] available to buy in Hong Kong, [and] in the coming years, many more of these products [made with these various technologies] will launch across APAC.
“There are great founders building start-ups in each of these fields in APAC, [and] a strong talent pool [so we believe] great founding teams will come from here, both on the plant-based as well as cellular agriculture side.”
In order to make the most impact, Better Bites Ventures is first focusing its investments on firms that are working to change the more ‘massive’ animal-protein categories.
“We believe the true impact and returns can only be made in a market that is large enough, that's why we invest in alternatives to massive categories like meat, seafood, dairy and eggs,” Klar added.
Many of the names in the fund are very familiar to FoodNavigator-Asia, including Australia’s Change Foods and Fable Food, Indonesia’s Green Rebel Foods, and Singapore’s Next Gen Foods which have been around for some time, in addition to newer players such as China’s CellX (cell-cultured meat) and Blue Canopy (biomass fermentation), and Australia’s Me& (cell-based milk).
Several of these firms have also received support from Klar and the fund’s other General Partner Simon Newstead even before the launch of Better Bites Ventures, such as Green Rebel Foods. When we spoke to the firm’s Co-Founder Helga Angelina in February last year, the firm had just closed its seed funding round and was focused solely on local expansion, but in just over a year its sights are now set on international markets.
“We maintain a strong focus on authentic Indonesian and South East Asian flavours as well as strong nutrition profile [as our main value proposition because] these can help boost the appeal of plant-based foods here,” Angelina told us.
“Michal and Simon believed in us and our potential from the earliest days, through all the ups and downs. Having their support and advice has really helped as we’ve grown and are now expanding internationally [to more markets such as Singapore and Malaysia]”.
In addition to its locally-inspired plant-based meats, Green Rebel also has vegan cheese in its portfolio and has signed partnership contracts with several big names in Indonesia such as Starbucks, Domino’s, Pepper Lunch, IKEA and more.
“Successes such as these [show that] these products are beginning to go mainstream in Jakarta and other large SEA cities too, [and] we believe alt protein will ultimately go mainstream in all markets in APAC, but of course, some will be faster than others,” Newstead told us.
“This development is typically related to demographics, and so far we see consumers in Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand most interested in these products - The consumer studies in those markets show one-third or more of consumers identifying as flexitarians and the number is growing - but we also see great potential in China, India and large South East Asian markets.”
Early stage for greatest impact
In addition, the fund is also focused on investing in the early stages of a start-up, and is encouraging all alternative protein firms within the APAC region to apply for this.
“We invest in very early stages, often before there's any product available or only an early prototype,” said Klar.
It is all about building a foundation for future growth – depending on the technology profile, cultivated meat or seafood start-ups may use [the funds] to [boost] their R&D, e.g. make the first prototype; whereas plant-based start-ups may use it to scale up production and finance early sales & marketing efforts to get their product to more consumers.
“Both Simon and I have been founders and operators [so in addition to the monetary support], we also have a wide network and relevant connections [that can help] firms in our portfolio fuel their growth, whether this be media, partners or more investors for future rounds.”
When asked what will likely be the next stage of development for the alternative protein industry at this stage, with plant-based products already in the lead and on retail shelves but cell-cultured and fermented products somewhat further away from becoming mainstream, Newstead said that the next phase is likely to be hybrid plant-meat products.
“We believe in hybrid products - for example, plant-based meat with some cultivated fat - will take current products to the next level when it comes to taste and mouthfeel,” he told us.
Better Bites Ventures is also funding an as-yet anonymous molecular farming start-up as part of its first batch of investments.