Earlier this month, Beyond Meat completed what became a blockbuster IPO followed by a continued valuation surge in public markets. This performance may be representative of the surging interest in alternative food companies. In fact, investors have shown an appetite for private companies poised to disrupt the food we all eat. Based on our analysis of Pitchbook data, the amount of money food product companies raise has accelerated.
The specific criteria for companies included in our analysis are: currently venture capital backed, U.S. based, founded after 2009, and in the food products industry. Impressively, this cohort of private companies has raised nearly $3 billion in less than 10 years.
In our deep dive of this food vertical, we found that a few companies are driving the collective funding markedly higher, while many smaller players have seen a multiplicity of primary rounds– the private market appears to provide companies the capital they need to satisfy the hunger growth requires.
Our analysis identified six “Private IPOs” - a primary funding round generating $100 million in funding or more - of which two companies have taken all but one. These six rounds account for 33 percent of all the funding this larger cohort has mustered so far. This concentration is significant given over 400 distinct funding rounds have taken place for the queried companies.
The food products industry only has two current unicorns. Again, we only included currently VC backed firms founded after 2009. Those unicorns are Impossible Foods and Just.
Impossible Foods, founded in 2011 by Stanford biochemist Patrick Brown, is a leading developer of plant-based meat. The Redwood City, California based firm is currently scaling the manufacturing of its Impossible Burger - a ground beef substitute - and is developing other meat substitutes to replace animal agriculture at large. The Impossible Burger is sold in thousands of restaurants worldwide. According to climate scientists, animal agriculture contributes roughly 30 percent of annual greenhouse emissions. This scale of emissions is the reason Dr. Brown gives for leaving Stanford. In its current form and according to the company, Impossible Burger uses 96 percent less land, 87 percent less water, and generates 89 percent fewer emissions compared to traditional beef. Investors have shown they too see value in changing how we produce meat– Impossible recently raised $300 million at a $2 billion valuation. Current investors include Gates Ventures, Khosla Ventures, Jay-Z, and UBS. We will continue to monitor how Impossible’s heme-oriented pursuit continues.
Just was also founded in 2011 by CEO Josh Tetrick and Josh Balk under the Hampton Creek Foods name. The company develops plant-based food. Currently, Just produces plant-based eggs that they use in four different products: scrambled eggs, mayonnaise, dressing, and cookie dough. The company also produces Power Gari, a fortified cereal, and is developing a cultured meat process to bring Wagyu to the world– just not from a cow. This Unicorn is taking a diversified approach to disrupting foods, starting with the ubiquitous egg and addressing malnutrition in the developing world. Clearly this company is not putting all their faux eggs in one basket. Just is in the process of raising a targeted $200 million, which is on top of the $150 million it raised in 2017 to become a unicorn. Current investors include Horizons Ventures, Khosla Ventures, Marc Benioff, and KBW Ventures.
If funding in food product companies continues to accelerate, we expect more unicorns to be minted from the industry. Albeit, this thesis is far from certain. These companies benefit from secular tailwinds vis-à-vis the rise in private funding and the recent Beyond Meat success coupled with changing climate consciousness in consumer preferences. It might have seemed impossible to change the way we eat just 10 years ago, but the innovation economy engine continues to prove cynics wrong.
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