As demand for plant-based food like fake burgers heats up, biotech start-up Ginkgo Bioworks is launching a venture to bring scale to the rapidly growing industry.
U.S. retail sales of plant-based foods that replace animal products grew by 17 percent to $3.7 billion in 2018, according to data from Nielsen and the Good Food Institute.
Impossible Foods took the top prize at the Consumer Electronics Show in January for the latest version of its burger known for its realistic bleeding. Beyond Meat, which sells products like Beyond Sausage and Beyond Burger on the shelves of Kroger, Target and Amazon's Whole Foods, has filed for an initial public offering.
It's the success of Impossible Foods that drove Ginkgo to begin planning Motif Ingredients in mid-2017, according to Ginkgo co-founder and CEO Jason Kelly.
Silicon Valley-based Impossible Foods genetically engineers heme, a protein that makes the vegetarian-friendly burger taste like meat. The company, started by a Stanford University scientist, received a key FDA approval last July for its protein, but its plan to sell uncooked Impossible Burgers in retail grocery stores requires a separate FDA color additive review, which is still pending ahead of a planned retail launch this year. Kelly said it is difficult for other companies to follow in Impossible Foods' footsteps, because few people have both the experience to build a successful food brand and a Ph.D. in biotechnology.
That's where Motif thinks it can play a role as the plant-based protein market matures. The Boston-based start-up will help food companies — both large and small — find the next big thing in laboratory-based food by developing the key ingredients and leaving the rest of the work to the food companies, Kelly told CNBC. The company plans to use biotechnology and fermentation — rather than animal agriculture — to engineer proteins derived from dairy, egg and meat.