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  • Motif FoodWorks just raised $226 million, including from Blackrock-managed funds.
  • The company plans to use the money to scale up production of ingredients for plant-based foods.
  • Its products make the taste and texture of plant-based foods more like animal-based ones.

There’s big money in tiny but vital food ingredients for alternative proteins.

Boston-based Motif FoodWorks raised $226 million in a Series B funding round led by investment manager Blackrock-managed funds and the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board, the company said Wednesday.

Other investors in the round include CPT Capital, General Atlantic, Viking Global Investors, Louis Dreyfus Company, Rethink Food, AiiM Partners, Wittington Ventures, Rage Capital, Rellevant Partners, and Breakthrough Energy Ventures. The round brings the total that Motif has raised to $345 million, according to the company.

Unlike other companies focused on the $7 billion US market for alternative proteins, like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, you won’t find Motif-branded burgers on the shelves at grocery stores. Instead, Motif focuses on creating ingredients that make plant-based and other alternative proteins taste, feel, and look more like their animal-based counterparts. It makes prolamin, for instance, a protein that makes plant-based cheese gooey like the cow-based kind.

One use of the money from Wednesday’s fundraise will be producing those kinds of ingredients at a scale large enough to sell them to major food companies, Motif CEO Jon McIntyre told Insider. Right now, the company has nine ingredients that it plans to start producing commercially over the next two-and-a-half years, he said. Doing that will involve building factories and making new hires.

"The company is going through a transition," McIntyre said. "It was an R&D-centric organization with aspects of really understanding the market and understanding consumer trends and consumer insights to a company that's now a full-product company."

Until now, Motif has focused on the science behind ingredients like prolamin. It spun off from biotechnology company Ginkgo Bioworks in 2019, though Motif still works with Ginkgo on research into new ingredients.

That's an advantage that McIntyre said Motif has over food companies trying to expand their alternative protein businesses. While many food companies are eager to capitalize on interest in alternatives to animal protein, many aren't willing to spend money to develop them.

"That process can be ridiculously slow," he said. "In the food industry, and to some extent, the traditional food ingredient manufacturers, expenditure on R&D and product development is small."

About two-thirds of Motif's ingredient portfolio is focused on ingredients made through precision fermentation, whereby microbes are modified to produce animal proteins. Companies like Perfect Day, which makes ice cream using milk proteins created through precision fermentation, have also raised millions from investors.

In addition to developing the ingredients, Motif also creates specific recipes that utilize their ingredients.

"By the time we talk to a major CPG [company], we've already figured out exactly how to use it, what system makes it work the best, and, in some cases, a full formula," he said.

But Motif doesn't have any plans to jump into direct competition with the likes of Beyond or Impossible by putting branded products in front of consumers. "Will we participate in developing a consumer brand internally? I don't think so," McIntyre said.

Still, he said, Motif is interested in formulating ingredients as well as identifying use cases for them. "There's nothing stopping us from making a car and selling the batteries," he said.

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