Motif FoodWorks: The Key to a Plant-Based Future

Our investment in Motif FoodWorks was announced earlier today. We were fortunate enough to be part of a round jointly led by Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board, through its Teachers’ Innovation Platform, and funds and accounts managed by BlackRock. This investment marks Wittington Ventures’ first investment in our “future of food” pillar. Motif sits at the center of a seismic shift in consumer preferences towards plant-based foods. Simply put, Motif makes plant-based foods better tasting and more nutritious.

Plant-Based Foods … Without the Sacrifice

The shift away from animal-based food towards plant-based food that started some time ago has only accelerated in recent years. Retail sales of plant based food jumped 27% in 2020, nearly 2x the growth rate of total food sales, and this trend shows no signs of slowing.

There’s good reason for the shift. An increase of plant consumption in the traditional western diet is healthier and more nutritious. Furthermore, a decrease in animal consumption is good for the planet as prominent scholars and foundations are in agreement that the consumption of animal proteins will not be able to keep pace with the forecasted growth of the human population.

This shift has occurred even though many of today’s plant-based alternatives are lackluster in taste or texture, or pricey compared to their meat analogs. With Canada Day and July 4th BBQs around the corner, meat eaters are served a stark reminder that it is currently very hard to replicate the ‘je ne sais quois’ of animal products — the sizzling sear of a burger on the grill, the stretchiness and stringiness of a cheesy pizza, the perfect colour of a medium-rare steak. None of these really have a scalable, plant-based substitute today.

Consider this — when the iconic NYC restaurant Eleven Madison Park announced last month that it was going fully plant-based, most reactions we saw on Twitter were along the lines of “booo — will need to find another dream restaurant for the bucket list” rather than “good for them, what a bold environmental move.” For the majority of consumers, there is a certain X-factor to animal-based products that is illusive and hard to replicate.

Eleven Madison Park, an iconic Three Michelin Star restaurant in New York, shocked the culinary world in May 2021 by announcing that they’d be fully plant-based upon re-opening.

So how are we going to further accelerate the shift towards plant-based alternatives to meat? How are we going to satisfy the traditional meat-eater’s craving for a cheeseburger in paradise? We at WV believe a component of this answer is plant-based foods that include killer performance ingredients that deliver the attributes we love best about their animal analogs.

Why We Backed Motif Foodworks

Our investment thesis in Motif was predicated on the following:

  1. Plant-based foods are best positioned to win the race in the shift away from animal products.
  2. Food technology will develop ingredients that improve the taste, texture and nutrition of plant-based foods.
  3. Motif is at the forefront of the plant-based food wave, using bioengineering to develop great products across multiple categories.

#1: Plant-based Foods Will Win Over the Next Decade

In the race to develop alternative food sources for the world’s global population, there are a few emerging technologies. If we zero in on meat as a major opportunity area, plant-based alternatives and lab-grown (sometimes called cultured meat) are the two major contenders.

We believe that there is plenty of room for both approaches to be successful and gain adoption. And frankly, we need both of them to be successful if we are going to keep up our meat-eating habit for generations to come. However, over the next decade or so, WV believes that performance plant-based foods have fewer hurdles to overcome. Plant-based alternatives to meat exist today and their production is well understood. Conversely, cultured meats are currently very expensive to reproduce and will need continued research and development to climb down the cost curve to a level that can feed consumers at scale. The regulatory landscape for cell-based meats is more complex — in some jurisdictions, companies must navigate individual submissions for products, requiring time and capital. Near-term, we believe that plant-based meat alternatives will continue to grow their market share.

#2: Killer Ingredients will be Key

When we say performance plant-based foods will win, we don’t mean your standard veggie burgers and cashew cheeses. This is where Motif plays a starring role. We believe that plant-based products, enhanced by carefully engineered “killer ingredients,” can taste as good (or maybe better) than their animal analogs. Through these innovations, WV believes that we can achieve taste and texture parity. Consumers, especially those who are not vegan or vegetarian, won’t have to choose between the more sustainable choice and the tastiest choice — they will crave these foods.

#3: Motif’s Portfolio-Based Approach is a Cut Above

So what are these performance ingredients? And how is Motif planning to develop them? Motif was originally spun out of Ginkgo Bioworks, and has now raised a total of $345 million to date. There’s plenty of “secret sauce” and Motif’s food-technologies are developed through precision fermentation and numerous material science breakthroughs.

To Parity and Beyond

Whether you’re a die-hard vegan, plant-curious or a hardcore carnivore, we believe that Motif’s products have the potential to win you over and do some good for the planet and humanity along the way. As we pave our way to a more craveable plant-based future, we’d be remiss if we did not thank the Motif team for a warm welcome to their plant-based family. We’re thrilled to partner with you and the other investors, and are excited about where Motif is headed.

Venture capital firm in search of disruptive innovations in food, commerce, and healthcare