The tech entrepreneur’s venture company invested in Nobell Foods – which has created casein (a protein found in cow’s milk) from a plant source in order to make vegan cheese with the same realistic ‘stretch, melt and mouthfeel’ of dairy cheese.
Billionaire Bill Gates has led a $75 million funding Series B round in the alt-dairy startup Nobell Foods through Breakthrough Energy, the VC founded by Gates and backed by Jack Ma, Jeff Bezos, and George Soros.
The funding round also attracted investment from Hollywood star Robert Downey Jr’s Footprint Coalition, Asian private equity giant Hillhouse Capital and Andreessen Horowitz, among others.
Moreover, Matt Bellamy, the lead vocalist for British rock band Muse, has also invested in Nobell.
The food technology brand formerly known as Alpine Roads is founded by Lebanese entrepreneur Magi Richani.
The latest round brings Nobell’s total funding up to $100 million.
While the vegan cheese market is thriving, existing options lack the stretchiness- a characteristic attributed to casein, the dairy protein in conventional cheese products.
This gap led the San Francisco-based start-up to work on creating casein from a plant source in order to make vegan cheese with the same realistic ‘stretch, melt and mouthfeel’ of dairy cheese.
“Milk is made up of water, fat, sugar and protein and to create that delicious mouthfeel, texture and everything we love about it, we need those specific proteins that only cows produce,” Richani said.
“We found a way to turn plants into small factories for making casein, so you don’t have to rely on animals anymore.”
Nobell used genetic engineering to modify soybeans so that they produce casein. Since the crop is relatively plentiful, it’s easy to grow them to produce plant-based casein.
The soy-derived casein is also cost-effective and therefore easier to make these plant-based cheese products get to price parity with dairy cheese.
Nobell plans to use the new funding to scale production and expand its team and farming partnerships. Moreover, it aims to launch its first dairy-free mozzarella and cheddar products in the US by the end of 2022 or in early 2023.
“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,” the company said in a statement.
Gates has invested in multiple plant-based brands in the past, such as Beyond Meat, fungi-based technology startup Nature’s Fynd, and cultured-meat company Memphis Meats.
It is part of his efforts to fight climate change.
According to the tech entrepreneur turned philanthropist, animal agriculture is at the forefront of the climate crisis and transitioning to ‘synthetic’ beef can help to reduce food-induced carbon emissions.
While Gates has been sceptical about the commercial viability of lab-grown meat, he said Beyond Meat and rival Impossible Foods have a ‘quality road map and a cost road map, that makes them totally competitive.’
He added that if consumers buy more plant-based, it would also help ‘drive down’ its premium price.